THE BLOG
05/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Branding as Soul, Karma, and a New World

The boom in social media, my happy association with some very smart Generation Y people, and a good book or two (Me 2.0, among them, and Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz) have me very intrigued with a broader application of branding.

I was taught to think of branding as a collection of visuals that should work together: logo, letterhead, signage, packaging, business cards, newsletters, websites.

More recently I've started to see it as something much deeper than look and feel; something as core to existence as identity.

  • With an individual, it's the you that you and the world create together: not just your resume, not just you as you are for your family and friends, but you as you appear to others on the web, in your writing, the way you dress, your behavior at meetings, the way you speak, the way you deal with other people.
  • With a company, there too it's what you and the world create together. Aside from the obvious trappings above, it's your location, your space, the way you treat customers and employees, the decisions you make about pricing and service and product development, decisions you make about finance and investment and payments and receipts. It's your accumulated integrity or (heaven forbid) lack of integrity.

Several religions incorporate a consciousness of a soul or something like it, that carries a person's life deeds around on it like a permanent record. I was taught a Roman-Catholic-in-the-1950s version that had to do with sins as stains on the soul. I see it now as more of a Zen-Karma-like thing. But those two, and your idea of the same, don't really contradict each other.

And I like that idea as it applies to companies, particularly your company and my company, small businesses, and personal businesses. Every small decision you make, every interaction with customers, every product detail, every financial transaction, is your brand. Cut corners, cheat people, stretch the truth, and it changes your identity as a company. Your accumulated brand, over time, isn't what you say it is; it's what you actually do that affects people and the world.

I am not just asserting as true something that I'd like to have be true. I've seen it in business over and over again. And I see it more than ever, these days, with the new business landscape making our businesses more transparent every day. Reviews, tweets, comments, it's all something like word of mouth but magnified, like word of mouth cubed.

You want proof? Me too. All I've got so far is the increasing evidence that green environmentally and socially conscious companies do better on the stock market, in the long term, than the opposite. And lots of anecdotal evidence about companies that treated customers well, or badly, and were paid in kind.