The emperor's new brand

Copywriter Paul Pilbeam on brand gurus and charlatans

If you’re contemplating your brand, you don’t need to look far to find a guru. But how do you know that they’re not a charlatan? And that what they say will benefit your business?

Brand is not a cure

First thing first. Most brand specialists, consultants or agencies will avoid a very important truth. A truth that has a sting in the tail, if your reasons for looking at your brand aren't the right ones. Changing your visual identity or re-branding will not fix or save your business. It won’t increase sales, it won’t improve loyalty and it won’t increase the productivity of your people.

Please, don’t get me wrong. A well-articulated and authentic brand will bring loyalty and induce passion, from your people and your customers alike. But that takes time. And you’ve been building it since day one, whether you realise it or not. Your brand should be part of the solution, in fact it will guide you to it. But it’s rarely the solution in its own right.

So, what are the right times to look at your brand?

Good times

There are a few times you should reflect on your brand.

You need to reach a new audience or you’re doing new things. It’s likely that you’ll need to re-articulate the reason you exist in a way that’s understandable to your new audience. This may or may not need you to consider your brand identity. Your brand is your baby. Help it grow, don’t throw it out with the bath water.

You’ve done it! You’ve established your business. Now you need to recruit the best to continue your work. They need to know what to believe in, why they are here and what to do when making a decision. Now is the time to solidify what you have always known; you need to tell your brand story.

This is unlikely to require a change to your brand identity, but it should be in line with it. If it isn't, you may want to think about developing your visual identity and tone of voice.

If people don’t like your brand it can mean one of two things. They don’t understand something about it. Your visual identity is unlikely to be the cause of this. It will be the way you explain what you stand for and what you do.

They are the problem, not you. Your brand might be as solid as a rock. If you believe it is, be brave and think about whether you need these people onside. You’ll find that you don’t.


Your brand is your guiding light. It’s what your customers and your people believe in.
It guides everything you do. It’s more than your visual identity and tone of voice. But it should define them both.

Brand Architecture

The reason everyone in your business gets out of bed in the morning. The reason people believe in you and want to be part of what you’re doing. An undefined purpose won’t stop you from starting. But as you grow, you’ll need to know how to articulate it. Every business has a purpose, it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. But you may need to dedicate some time to revealing it.

Important: Unless, you’re actually saving the world or humanity, don’t have your purpose be about saving the world or humanity. If you’re making a widget or provide a service it’s unlikely you’re doing either, and that’s ok. If you want to do good deeds, do good deeds. But don’t mascaraed them as your reason for being.

Or beliefs. These enable you and everyone in your business to stay true to your purpose. Making the right decisions without question or hesitation.

Important: ‘Doing the right thing’ and similar generic expressions are not company values. They are personal moral and ethical values. If you need to remind your people or guide your business decisions by them, you have bigger problems than your brand.

Everyone needs a target. Your vision is the next milestone you want to achieve. But it will only inspire those around you if it’s an articulation of your strategy. The strategy you’ve chosen to achieve your purpose.

  • Purpose: I exist to make people happy.
  • Strategy: I’ll be kind to people.
  • Vision: By 2025 I’ll have shown kindness to everyone in my neighbourhood.

Your vision is an expression of your brand. It will help you make commercial and operational decisions.

Important: A vision is not tactical, for it to be believable it needs to be long term. It has to stick. Your brand should guide tactical decisions, not be affected by them.

Everything your customers and your people see, hear and understand about you. It’s very simple, but it’s a gargantuan task to keep on top of unless you set clear guidelines. The way you look and sound. The very feelings these induce about your business have to be an expression of your brand.

Important: Tone of voice is often ignored. Or paid lip service to. Don’t underestimate the importance of how you sound. It builds your brand in ways nothing else can. From your websites 404 page to an inspiring talk by a senior leader. Your tone gives you character, it makes you relatable and builds relationships.

Brand Bravado Bingo

Here are five traits, that if you spot them, might save you from a brand charlatan. If someone drops them all in one conversation, call house and get the hell out of Dodge.

  • Insisting a brand re-fresh will solve your commercial woes.
  • Suggesting that reconsidering your brand is healthy “especially during unprecedented times like these”.
  • Not asking why your business exists. Or what it stands for.
  • Only ever talking about logo, colour palette, typeface and templates.
  • Explaining that your purpose is the service you provide or product you sell.

Bonus round
Beware the brand guru that references other brands. Especially one that asks you if you see anything you like…

Do you think the most loved brands look to others for inspiration? Especially when it comes to their reason for being and what they want people to believe about them?

Navel gaze
Knee-jerk reactions that change your brand will have you going around in circles.

If you don’t already, take the time to understand your brand. If you need help, find someone that understand brand anatomy. And the power of a well-articulated one.

Be self-indulgent and brave.

It will pay-off.