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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).



Boris Johnson – probably the best brand in Westminster.

So what can we learn from the Boris case study in brand development? What’s the secret of his brand success?

From the viewpoint of a brand consultant (admittedly a minority group…), he appears to tick all the boxes in the ideal brand definition.

A man with a clear vision and mission – he knows where he’s going and he believes he knows where London (and the country) needs to go. He anticipates and plans for the future.

Precise positioning – enlightened (?) conservative, ecologically attuned.

Strong core values - not dictated to by focus groups – he stands for what he believes in.

Bold personality – bumbling, quintessentially English, posh toff, outrageous, funny, self-deprecating.

Striking visual identity – the hair is almost as well recognized as the Nike swoosh.

High profile – never misses an opportunity to be seen or heard, piggy backs on any major event.

Strong brand associations – Boris Bikes, Boris Island, Boris Cycle Lanes.

All the components of a successful brand. It’s so good, you could almost believe it was the work of a brand agency. Or perhaps not...


A lot has been said, written and practised about achieving the perfectly rounded and aligned brand. There’s a growing feeling that a company has to have everything in place in order to compete and win. So you have to be really good at what you do, be perfect to work with, have some key points of difference, be innovative, be a wonderful employer, have excellent communications, adhere to business ethics – the list goes on – a corporate role model in fact. It begins to sound like one of those job ads where the paragon of virtue described simply doesn’t exist.

The reality, of course, is that there are few companies that are capable of ticking all those boxes. And maybe it’s also true to say that many customers don’t necessarily want perfection.

Do people care if their heart surgeon has a brusque bedside manner? Probably not. What really matters is that he’s really good at what he does and has done it plenty of times before.

Do people care if a political leader is a philanderer? If it offends their personal values, maybe. But some might say that, as long as he or she is really good at running the country, philandering is an irrelevance. Provided there’s no pretence about being a loyal family person. That would be a breach of trust.

The point is that people make trade offs all the time. They know that things are rarely perfect and are willing to forgive the imperfections, provided that what’s important to them is delivered.

Ask yourself, why do so many people still fly with Ryanair, when they are regularly insulted by its CEO?
Why do people still do business with Goldman Sachs, when its true character has been so clearly exposed?
Why is McDonalds No7 in the top global brands league and rising, when everyone you meet claims to hate it?
Why is Ikea such a global force when the shopping experience is so awful?

The answer – they are all very clear about what they do and for whom they do it – and they do whatever that is extremely well.

A brand needs to be clear about what it does and doesn’t deliver. And about to whom it does or doesn’t deliver. That’s what a brand is about – delivering something relevant to a specific person or group of people.

Striving for perfection in everything, albeit worthy, often leads to vanilla brands – brands that don’t really stand for anything and neither do they stand against anything, for fear of upsetting some people.

Hence our vanilla politicians... except for Boris of course.

Values image


More than ever before, given today’s open access to information, organisational brands have to be authentic. What they are inside has to reflect what they stand for outside.

As customers lose trust in institutions of all sorts, they are more inclined to ask whether the organisations to which they give their business share their values.

And the people who work in those organisations are more attuned to gaps between their personal values and what they perceive are the values of the organisation.

The public looks to government and regulation to bring rogue businesses into line, but the reality is that it is values that will make the difference.

Values are at the heart of organisational branding. Yet few organisations truly understand what are their real values. Not the values that appear in the website but the values that are experienced daily by the people who work in the business. The values that are evident from the behaviour of the leadership.

Enter the Barrett Values Centre. Since he wrote his seminal book “Liberating the corporate soul” (terrible title, good read), Richard Barrett and team have been tireless advocates for values driven organisations. And they have developed a very neat survey tool (Cultural Transformation Tools or CTT for short) for measuring values.

CTT compares the personal values of the workforce, with actual current values of the organisation and the potential values required to compete successfully in the future. The resulting information is frequently absorbing.

CTT puts hard data at the centre of what is too often regarded as a “soft issue”.

To give people a taste for the tool, Barrett Values Centre have just introduced the Personal Values Assessment (PVA). This helps you decide what are your core values and what they mean for you – takes just 10-15 minutes. If you’re interested in thinking more about your personal values over the Christmas break, follow the link below. And if you want to know more about organisational values and their role in branding, drop me a line.

UNBRANDING CIGARETTES (a personal rant...)

I do love the way vested interests continue to pedal their wares in the belief that we’re all too naïve to see through their motives. The campaign by the tobacco industry against “unbranding” is one such example.

Their argument is that, a) the evidence that unbranding will reduce smoking is very limited and b) without branding, the consumer will be exposed to cheap and potentially dangerous illicit products.

What they fail to admit to is the real issue - that unbranding will ruin their businesses.

They will have no way of building consumer demand, no way of forcing distribution, no way of creating recognition, no way of enhancing margins through premium pricing, no way of continuing to pump out the message that smoking has some intrinsic value to the world.

The very power of branding in the cigarette business (and in any market place) is clearly demonstrated by the millions they are spending on the campaign against unbranding.

So let’s get on with it. Take away their brands, put them out of business and run the risks. The only losers will be the shareholders and those unfortunate (or misguided) enough to work in or with tobacco companies.

Wow, I feel better for that...!