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The last thing you want is more stuff in your inbox. But it's sometimes good to read about new thoughts and ideas. Brand Matters aims to communicate a few ideas about Brand in the shortest possible time. It will come out occasionally, when we have something worthwhile to share. We hope you like it and find it useful. Let us know (either way).

ABC for 2016

A new year tends to stimulate new thoughts. During January, mine have strayed yet again to brand (surprise) and to three words we might consider in 2016 – Authenticity, Balance and Clarity. Each of these comes to mind as a result of experiences in 2015. Each is highly relevant to brand strength and has broader implications for a world in turmoil.



I did a lot of work in the charities sector last year and learnt a lot from them about authenticity. People working in charities are often (rightly) suspicious of branding. They don’t want to be “branded” in the conventional sense of the word. They do want the brand to be a true and authentic expression of who they really are and what they are striving to achieve. They are ruthless in their rejection of any signs of brand/marketing spin. The language has to be pure. As, of course, it should be for any brand that seeks authenticity.

The success of the All Blacks was another significant event in 2015. Reading James Kerr’s book, “Legacy”, it became clear that their success in recent years has been almost entirely attributable to their culture. Their mantra is “Better people make better All Blacks”.

Authenticity is one pillar of this special culture. They define it as “the alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet”. In other words, thinking, saying, feeling and doing the same thing consistently.

Authenticity is the basis for the development of a strong brand – personal or organisational. Alignment between who we think we are, what we say about ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, how we behave and how others perceive us. Head, mouth, heart and feet.

This can be a tough call for many individuals, let alone organisations. It all starts with a realistic and objective assessment of the brand, without a marketing mindset. Put aside the spin and the straplines. What’s the organisation really like? What values are really played out day to day? What really matters round here?

Describe all that in plain language and you have the beginnings of a platform to build an authentic brand from the inside out.


The world seemed to move towards extremism in 2015. Religious extremism – or the hijacking of religion for extremist purposes – was one manifestation from ISIS/ISIL and other groups.

Another (at least in the UK) was political extremism, most notably in the form of the highly authentic politician, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn’s authenticity was clearly his main attraction to a jaded electorate. But his relatively extreme positioning may stand in the way of his electability. Arguably, a more balanced position, allied to authenticity, would be an attractive electoral proposition.

The interesting thing is that, while extreme views can be attractive to some, the majority of people prefer and tend to live by a sense of Balance. Hence the longer term move towards the political centre ground.

Balance can be a powerful asset for brands. Indeed some of our best-loved brands manage to balance two apparently irreconcilable characteristics:

Apple – high tech and human touch
Volvo – safety and performance
Lloyd’s of London – originality and tradition
John Lewis – competitive pricing and outstanding service

There is something attractively sustainable about Balance.

The All Blacks certainly think so. Another mantra highlighted in “Legacy” relates to their leaders - “successful leaders balance pride and humility – absolute pride in performance, total humility before the magnitude of the task”.

Balance can be a tough position to defend in a world where there appears to be a demand for strong views for or against something. But the truth is that the ability to hold two opposing ideas together can be highly potent.

So perhaps the time of the balanced brand is upon us – worth considering in 2016.



A new year brings thoughts of clearing out, de-cluttering, clear goals. As a coach, I find that people walk around all the time with unresolved issues. Sit them down for an hour or so to talk about them and they invariably reach a clearer view.

Sometimes, what starts out as a rational issue turns out to have deeply emotional roots. Digging, challenging, asking the right questions, listening usually help uncover the emotional issues and lead to greater clarity.

So it is with brands.

I am frequently surprised by the number of organisations walking round with an unclear view of what their brands are about. The number of sales and business development people who struggle to articulate what’s special about their organisation.

A frequent source of confusion is misunderstanding of what a brand is about. People associate brand with big marketing spends, large re-branding projects, new logos and visual identities.

It doesn’t have to be like that. All that is needed at its most basic is clarity on why they exist at all, where they are going, what they really stand for, what’s really important to them, what value they offer, what they are like and what’s different about them.

This doesn’t have to cost a lot or take a lot of time. But like coaching it needs intense focus. It needs someone with the skills to ask the right questions. It needs a willingness to talk about emotion. And it needs honesty, authenticity and a realistic, balanced view of the organisation’s good and bad features.


…my brand mantra for 2016.