The Unexpected Truth About Branding: A Deeper Look



We live in a world where everything is branded. People, movements, cities, ideologies—you name it, there's a brand attached to it. But here's the unexpected angle: while branding has the power to shape perceptions, today's savvy consumers are more discerning than ever. They can differentiate between a brand's authentic narrative and brand message, and a mere sales pitch. As Heraclitus once said, "Character is destiny, and the same rings true for brands—their identity, not their marketing, determines their fate.

The Hard Truths About Branding

One of the hardest truths about branding is that it isn't a deceptive game of smoke and mirrors but a genuine reflection of a company's core identity. The narrative a brand weaves aren't about manipulating perceptions but about embodying the brand's authentic values, mission, and culture. 

Many brands still operate under the misconception that branding is about surface-level aesthetics. But it's the brands that understand the depth of branding—those that let their core principles guide their business decisions—that resonate with today's informed consumers. 

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For instance, Netflix, originally a DVD-by-mail service, successfully evolved into a streaming giant and content creator by understanding its mission: providing convenient, home-based entertainment. 

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On the flip side, Blockbuster, once a video rental titan, faltered because it clung too long to its brick-and-mortar model, ignoring changes in entertainment consumption. Netflix's success and Blockbuster's decline illustrate the importance of aligning a brand's mission and values with market dynamics.

The Double-Edged Sword of Pushing Boundaries in Branding

Pushing the envelope in branding can result in monumental success or catastrophic failure, and it's a fine line to tread. The key lies in knowing when and how to push these boundaries while staying true to your brand's core identity. 

Consider the bold move by Burger King in 2020, when it launched its "Moldy Whopper" campaign. The ad featured a Whopper burger slowly decaying over 34 days to highlight the brand's elimination of artificial preservatives. It was a risky move; showcasing a moldy burger isn't the most appetizing of images. However, the campaign resonated with consumers and sparked conversations about food preservatives, catapulting the brand into the limelight for its commitment to healthier fast food.

Yet when pushing boundaries backfires, it can cause significant damage to the brand's reputation. A glaring example is Pepsi's infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner in 2017. The advertisement trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing widespread criticism. Despite Pepsi's attempt to be topical and edgy, it crossed a boundary of social sensitivity, resulting in the brand having to pull the ad and issue an apology.

In the next segment, we'll dive into the phenomenon of brands turning into sensations and what sets them apart from the rest. We will also look at how honesty is shaping the branding landscape in 2023 and which crucial aspects of branding can no longer be ignored.

The Rise of Sensational Brands: A Closer Look

Ever wondered why some brands skyrocket to stardom while others fail to make their mark despite having a seemingly great product or service? The difference often lies in the narrative they weave and how well it resonates with their target audience.

For instance, consider the explosive growth of the successful brand Slack. While there were other communication platforms available, Slack succeeded in building a strong brand around simplifying and humanizing digital workplace communication. They understood the need for a less formal, more conversational platform of marketing communications that could bring teams together, and their brand narrative focused on this. It wasn't about the technology or the features, but about fostering better collaboration and camaraderie among teams. Slack didn't just sell a product; it sold an experience.

On the other hand, Quibi, a short-form streaming platform, despite raising over $1.75 billion and having Hollywood A-listers, fell flat. Why? It failed to create a compelling narrative around its brand image. The platform didn't offer a unique value proposition that set it apart from competitors like Netflix or YouTube. Quibi's demise underlines the importance of a well-defined brand narrative in determining a brand's success or failure.

The Honesty Wave in Branding

In 2023, consumers are seeking more than just products or services from a consistent brand; they seek honesty. Brands that champion transparency, showcase their authentic selves, and embrace their flaws are the ones that are creating waves.

Everlane, a fashion brand, is a prime example of this shift. Known for its 'Radical Transparency,' Everlane shares details about its supply chain, production costs, and markups with its most loyal customers. Authenticity and honesty have made Everlane one of the most trusted fashion brands.

Similarly, the skincare brand, The Ordinary, breaks away from the industry norm of mystifying ingredients and high price tags. It focuses on simple, effective formulas and is transparent about what each product contains, even integrating the chemical names into their product titles. The Ordinary's straightforwardness has resonated with consumers, making it a sought-after brand in the skincare industry.

Brands can no longer afford to mask their practices behind marketing jargon. Honesty is not just a virtue; it's a brand necessity.

Don't Ignore These Branding Aspects

As the business landscape evolves, so too should the approach to branding. Let's explore the aspects of the branding process that companies can't afford to ignore in today's world.

Purpose-driven Branding

Today's consumers care about more than just a good product; they want to support companies that align with their values. A brand that stands for something—whether it's sustainability, like Patagonia, or championing body positivity, like Dove—creates a strong connection with its customers. 


Brands need to reflect the diversity of their audience in their messaging product packaging, imagery, and product offerings. Rihanna's Fenty Beauty is a classic example of a brand successfully capitalizing on inclusivity. By offering an extensive range of shades for all skin tones, Fenty Beauty filled a significant gap in the beauty industry and resonated with a broad consumer base.

Customer Experience

A brand is more than just a logo or a tagline; it's an experience. Every touchpoint, from website navigation to customer service, shapes the overall brand perception. Companies like Zappos and Amazon have built strong brands based on outstanding customer experiences. 


The ability to pivot in response to changing market trends is critical. Consider Netflix's evolution from a DVD rental service to a streaming behemoth. Netflix's willingness to adapt and innovate has kept the brand relevant and competitive.

The Unexpected Element: Employee Branding

When we think of branding, we often think of how a company presents itself to its customers. But there's another audience equally critical—its employees. Employee branding refers to how a company brands itself to its existing customers, employees, and potential hires. In an age where attracting and retaining top talent can be a competitive advantage, employee branding is an unexpected truth about branding that cannot be overlooked.

Take Adobe. Known for its innovative products, Adobe also stands out for its robust employee branding. It has created an employer brand centered around promoting creativity, diversity, and a positive work-life balance. This strong employer brand helps attract talent who are innovative and forward-thinking, driving the company's business success.

Just like brand management and external branding, employer branding needs to be authentic and aligned with the company's overall brand values. This includes everything from the company culture to employee benefits to how employees are engaged and motivated.

Different Manifestations of Branding

We often think of strong branding as a logo or a distinctive color scheme. However, effective branding goes far beyond the visual. It taps into multiple senses and extends to every interaction a customer has with a brand.

For instance, spatial branding, is a realm where brand recognition in the physical environment becomes an extension of the brand itself. IKEA is a master of spatial branding. The layout of IKEA stores is designed to reflect their brand values of functionality, simplicity, and affordability. As customers navigate the labyrinthine showroom, they encounter curated, practical living spaces that perfectly embody the IKEA lifestyle. The self-serve warehouse further reinforces the brand's commitment to efficiency and value for money. From the moment you step into an IKEA store, you're not just shopping for furniture; you're experiencing the IKEA way of life.

Besides, olfactive branding is always overlooked. Lush Cosmetics has this down to an art. Walk by a Lush store, and your senses are immediately greeted by a mix of natural fragrances from their fresh, hand-made cosmetics. This not only lures customers in but also reinforces Lush's brand promise and commitment to fresh, ethical, and handmade products.

But it doesn't stop there. Brands are now venturing into auditory branding, creating unique sounds or tunes that become synonymous with their visual identity. Intel's distinct four-note 'bong' is a brilliant example. This soundbite has become so recognizable that just hearing it brings to mind the brand, signaling reliability and innovation in computing.

Equally important is digital branding. In an increasingly online world, the way a brand presents itself digitally is paramount. Amazon excels in this area. Its user-friendly interface, personalized recommendations, and dependable service, all make online shopping a breeze. Amazon's core brand value - customer obsession - is embodied in every pixel of its digital presence.

Brand stories aren’t necessarily easy

While these branding facets are fascinating, branding's true power emerges during difficult times. Brands that understand their core values and brand identity well can leverage this to survive and even thrive during adversity.

In the world of video games, few brands have demonstrated the power of branding better than Nintendo. In the mid-2000s, the company was struggling. It was being overshadowed by Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox, both of which targeted hardcore gamers with high-performance hardware and graphically intense games.

Nintendo, however, has always positioned itself differently. Its brand was built around fun, innovation, and accessibility. Instead of trying to compete directly with Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo chose to stay true to its brand values.

This led to the development of the Nintendo Wii, a console that was less powerful but introduced motion controls, inviting a whole new demographic into gaming. It wasn't just about playing a game anymore; it was about physical involvement and shared fun, aligning perfectly with Nintendo's own branding strategy.

The Wii's launch was a gamble, but it paid off. The console became a phenomenal success, outselling its more powerful competitors and breathing new life into Nintendo. The brand's success can be attributed to its understanding of its core identity and willingness to innovate within those parameters, even in the face of fierce competition.

See you at Bolder

The unexpected truth about branding is its ubiquity and depth. Branding is a holistic experience that engages multiple senses and defines every customer interaction. It's a brand's DNA, a compass that navigates it through calm and stormy weather alike.

At Bolder, we're passionate about helping businesses bring their brands to life in unexpected, compelling ways. Our team of experienced strategists, creatives, and storytellers is ready to guide you on your branding journey, from your brand guidelines to identifying your core values to manifesting them in ways that resonate with your audience.

No matter where you are in your branding journey, whether you're starting from scratch or looking to reinvent your brand strategy, we're here to help. Reach out to us for a consultation, and together, let's create a brand that is not just seen or heard but felt and remembered.

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