Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a dynamic, high-profile panel presentation on the critical role of branding in business success. The event provided a treasure trove of insight and experience from some of the top strategic branding experts in the region. It was an educational and at times even inspirational evening.

Yet, as a marketing professional, I came away with the distinct feeling that the event had perhaps come up short in terms of providing the practical guidance that many members of the audience had come looking for.

Fact is, the companies most cited by the panel as stellar branding examples—Nike, Coca—Cola, McDonald's, Intel, etc.—are masters of what I consider “deep pockets branding.” They have, to a large extent, bought their way into American's hearts and minds thanks to multimillion-dollar marketing, advertising and promotional campaigns executed, in some cases, over decades.

Behind these dollars, of course, are quality people, products, services and reputations that successfully fulfill each brand's promise to its customers, over and over again, year after year. Blessedly, money alone is not sufficient to create a world-class brand. Just ask or any of the dozens of dot-com flameouts that squandered their fortunes on big-buzz, style-over-substance branding campaigns.

Branding for the Rest of Us

So, does that mean branding is strictly a high rollers' game? Is $150K, as one panelist cited half-jokingly, the minimum price tag for discovering and conveying the soul of a company? Must organizations simply “go without” if they can't prudently make that kind of investment at this stage of their growth?

My answer is a resounding NO! I believe that there are many layers of value, both tangible and intangible, to the process of self-discovery that gives birth to memorable, lasting brands.

Even if the new logo and tag line never make it to four-color print and network television, the process that generated them helps to instill a deeply ingrained and thoughtfully aligned sense of purpose to the members of the organization. It can and will make a difference that customers, partners and eventually the accountants, too, will begin to notice.

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Richard Layton is principal/creative director of Transform Communications, a consulting practice. For more information, visit or email