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This blog about branding is a reflection based on a lecture by Nader Tavasolli at London Business School.


A brand is a promise to the customer. It’s meant to differentiate products and services from those of other competitors. Branding is not only about how customers perceive the company. It’s about an integrated approach. If it’s well done, a brand can change how associations are made in our minds.
The thing is that features can be easily copied, but not a brand. If you want to try some associations that brands generate go to
If a brand is to differentiate from other brands, there are three questions we need to answer:

  • What is the brand differentiator? What do you do that other brands cannot?
  • Why would you brand your product/service/company like that? What are the benefits?
  • How will you make it happen?

The Power of the Brand

Brands can be really powerful. Strong brands lead to higher engagement, higher productivity, lower staff attrition, lower training cost. And this has value. Of course it’s not easy to assess the value of a brand. One model is the Aaker model on Brand Equity.
The most interesting is when a brand becomes a symbol. That’s the case for Apple, one of the most powerful brands in the world. You can check an article on how the Apple brand motivates people to think differently here.
I was at the Apple flagship store in Regent Street a month ago. It was amazing. A lot of people, lots of staff, the buzz and the vibe. I talked to one of the people there who advised me to buy headphones that were not on sale in the store if I really wanted to have the best ones for classical music. So I’ve asked him if he could say that just like this. His answer was simple: “I can. The only think I cannot do is talk negatively about other products. I’m not here to sell. I just have to talk to you. People come in here to buy anyway, so I don’t need to sell.”
Selling without selling. What a great concept. And how easy it must be for someone in the Apple store to just be him or herself and talk about the things he or she is passionate about.
So it’s about People and Culture.

The “How” of Branding is a matter of culture

And culture is related to the attitudes and values of people. If your people are not convinced that the brand matters, you’re in trouble. The question “how” challenges us on our commitment to execute any plan. It requires a consistent alignment of the various elements that make a brand come true.
And it starts with how we think and speak of customers. Do we talk about them in board meetings? Are they invited to product development workshops? What about value creation? Do we create value for the customer or on the customer?

Do not extract value out of customers

Some companies “discover” how important their customer is. Well, if you get your branding right, it’s not just about the appearance or about the ROI. It’s about getting it right.

Customer Experience and Branding

And the problem seems to be that we are too generic. Branding must be concrete, tangible, both in services and products. I was at Lush in Antwerp last week. When you enter it’s very clear what the product is about. Natural, locally made and ethical cosmetics. The way the people in the store talk to you, how they rub the products on your skin just to make you experience the product is very consistent with the message they want to send out. There’s a big difference between Paris XL, Body Shop and Lush. And that’s what counts: make it differentiated and make customers experience it.

Building a consumer oriented culture

What’s the culture in your company? Is it generic or is it specific? How does the culture support your brand? Is the behaviour of the staff in line with what the brand promises?
Adding technology to the equation is easy. Changing behaviour is difficult. If we create connection through technology without any content or emotion, we only have traffic. We need to do more.

Branding creates Value

And then the big question pops up? Where is value created? Most companies think they create value. But maybe value is created during consumption. And therefore the value is created by the customer who experiences your product or service in a certain way.
Focusing on the experience of the customer or consumer can make your brand successful. But do we really know how to design experience? Apple does. But Apple might have a problem as they become too big and not exclusive enough. We need to know why people are choosing our brand instead of any other brand. And we need to find ways to add value to the equation.
But are we working enough on that. A PWC report on disruption shows that 70% of CEO’s focus on cost-cutting. We know that we cannot grow through cost-cutting. And we know that cost-cutting has its limits. So let’s look at the customer experience instead and we might be able to grow by binding our customer to ourselves, based on a symbolic brand that makes it unthinkable to consider any other product or service.
This video show the power of branding for Apple. Consumers do not base their decision to by an Iphone on the criteria the salesperson uses.

This blog is a reflection after a lecture by Nader Tavasolli at London Business School.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Tom Hermant says:

    Great article David. It reminded me of an example in “The HR Scorecard” . At Sears, Roebuck and Co they articulated a new vision : For Sears to be a compelling place for investors, the company must become a compelling place to shop. For it to be a compelling place to shop, it must become a compelling place to work”.

  • Branding is a serious thing. If it is done right, it can be similar to brainwashing (as it can be seen in the video). Once you manage to understand the culture and to create value, the results can be simply outstanding.

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