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The wrong end of the stick

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A thoughtful comment by Brian Phipps on Musings on meaning of brand about what powers brands.

A company’s brand should translate employee value into customer value. That’s where real connections occur. In other words, it’s far more productive to envision brands as programs to create value and to create customers, rather than abstract "campaigns." And brands are a mutual endeavor from the get go. They’re powered by customers as much as they are powered by the company.

It is hard to disagree with Brian’s points. So far from disagreeing, I will merely shift the emphasis towards the people within companies. Brands are powered by employees. If powered by customers you may just as well have agencies continue slicing and dicing the demographics as this is nothing new – for most ‘enlightened’ brand people it has always been customers that owned or co-created a brand.

But I will keep repeating that branding is what you do to cattle. When thinking about what we call a brand as an identity, it becomes more obvious that it is employees who determine how a company is perceived by others. It is true that most brands today are not seen that way but the internet is changing this.

The internet’s impact on businesses is akin to removing a roof from a house. Instead of a visitor arriving via the front, being lead down a more or less tidy path to a more or less beautiful façade, everyone can now peer through the top, over the façade, often not even bothering with the door. Branding, advertising, marketing, PR and other corporate communications are all part of the front. But what is the point of building expensive façades when it is the inside that people can now see and judge?

It’s time for some interior design. Not the kind that is impossible to live in after the designers have left. It cannot be a one-off re-arrangement but one that everyone in the company can live and work with. The furniture has not only to look prettier – it is now on display – but also be part of everyone’s daily job. How can this possibly be done (and maintained) by a third party?

The lip service paid by a growing number of marketers and advertisers to Cluetrain is still getting the wrong end of the stick – the customer end. There is another end to the stick and it is the people who work within companies that are holding it the right way up. Cluetrain pointed out that a) employees are people just like your customers (even executives given enough love and care can make good pets) and b) online conversations are putting pressure on the polished façades of corporations. They are doing so in bypassing them, i.e. looking inside companies through the ripped away roof. It is the double pressure from customers on the one side of the edifice and employees on the inside that causes the tension within industries, business models and corporations.

So the message to companies – give your employees freedom to start moving the furniture around. They will make the place look better and probably a lot more functional too. If not, why are you employing them?

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2 Responses to “The wrong end of the stick”


  1. Johnnie Moore
    on Apr 25th, 2007
    @ 7:25 am

    A big yes to letting the employees move the furniture (and the customers too). Branding folks use the word brand as a noun when really it’s verb… a brand is a piece of shorthand for the stuff employees and customers do and it should credit them with the intelligence to make it up themeselves.


  2. Adriana
    on Apr 25th, 2007
    @ 10:18 am

    I agree. The customers do come into it, of course, but not until the employees have done their bit, so to speak. :)

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