Part 1 of Building a Vital Corporate Brand:
The Architecture of Breakthrough Branding.
By Bryce Winter, Brand Architect

Successful brands grow through evolution, not revolution. According to the Best Global Brands report in Business Week, the world’s #1 brand, with a brand equity valued at $66B, is still Coca-Cola. Despite the best efforts of hundreds of other global brands, and stratospheric rates of growth in high tech brands over the last ten years, Coca-Cola, introduced to the market in 1886, remains number one, registering a two percent gain in brand value through 2008.

Coca-Cola bottle
The icon.

Coca-Cola’s mark was designed in 1885. In 1915 the company produced a brief for “a bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.”* The result was the iconic bottle shape which, added to the existing mark, became the genesis of Coca-Cola’s image as we know it today.

Although Interbrand’s president credits the success of Coke to his interpretation that it “continues to reinvent itself,” the facts say otherwise: of the 15 new Coca-Cola brands the company has introduced since 1983, only a couple are still around. The most notable “reinvention” (New Coke, in 1985) was one of the greatest marketing boondoggles of the last century.

Old vs. new. Oops.
Old vs. new: Oops.

Advertising agencies peddle the idea that ‘rebranding’ can improve on corporate success despite the fact that numerous brands have already hit upon a successful formula and really don’t need reinvention. When it ignores brand function, rebranding has little to do with sales—but it is a great money-maker—for the advertising agency. Really, the only certain thing we have learned from ad agencies about branding is that they’re good at selling their own brand of baffledegab.

The tragedy in this is that the advertising industry has created the impression that branding is not a serious business discipline; instead it has become for many, a frivolous exercise in aesthetics without objective standards or effective application.

Pepsi gravity?
Pepsi gravity?

A remarkable 27 page brief leaked from the same Arnell, (of Tropicana fame) discussing the rebrand of Pepsi itself is typical. It compares the recently introduced new design with masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and physical phenomena such as gravity. Poor Pepsi—the perennial number two, has once again taken the bait. If only they had looked inward instead. Scientific brand analysis would have provided them with the answers they are seeking outside. The promise of the Pepsi brand (as of all true “red-blue” brands) is indeed change—of the Pepsi drinker—not of the brand itself! Pepsi brand application should impress existing marks while promising change (for you).

Individuals in positions of influence have become deluded into believing that they are more than caretakers—they actually believe they are the source of branding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The source of a brand is the private experience that occurs when a specific name with visual or other qualities becomes associated with selected memories (i.e. you reaching for a cold carton of orange juice from the refrigerator).

Branding occurs when a name [mark] becomes wedded with a selection experience [brand]. Everything that follows either reinforces the brand mark experience, or it does not. From this memory generation point-of-view it is evident that all expectations for the brand are from the consumer’s perspective. Therefore, a brand caretaker’s job is to learn as much about consumers’ expectations as possible—and then deliver.
Unlike a livestock brand, a corporate brand’s purpose is not to prove ownership, but rather to trigger memories. A corporate brand is made valuable by the ingrained memories of its customers. The brand ‘ownership’ belongs not to the corporation, but to consumers. Revolutionary, indeed.

Bryce Winter is Creative Director and Chief Breakthrough Branding Architect at The MarkBrand Group. He may be reached at brycewinter@markbrandgroup.com