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The End of Branding
by Julie Cucchi


I recently read an interview with a designer of several iconic, youth-targeted brands, announcing that beginning Spring 2010 he would give up all efforts to brand any of his, well, his brands.  'No more logos!' He declared his decision to 'quit branding'  the way someone might announce they’d quit drinking. "I've become uncomfortable with this business of branding and brand identity" he continued, besides, "I'm not the type of person who buys something for the brand name."  

You might expect statements like these to unnerve the owner of a brand consultancy. It did—but not because I fear his point of view signals a shift in the zeitgeist.  What alarms me is that someone who has created and marketed several successful brands could be so clueless about what ‘branding’ is. And isn’t. In the interview, this designer equates branding with the creation, and prominent display, of a logo. His equation was absolutely assumptive, a casual statement of fact and a dangerous synecdoche (a substitution of the part for the whole).  Dangerous, as it appears to absolves C-suite executives and marketing directors everywhere of their responsibility to carefully manage the totality of their brand's behavior –both external and internal –which defines their brand with, or without, a logo.

Imagine if Starbucks were to remove its logo and all its proprietary signage and naming from its coffee houses. How long would it take you to know you had entered a Starbucks?  If someone were to hand you an iPhone stripped of its logo, would you know it was Apple? What about a user manual for a MacBook minus the Apple icon on the front? Many New Yorkers would recognize the ‘vibe’ of a Danny Meyer restaurant even if they hadn't heard he was the owner. The tone of voice on the pack copy of a bottle of Vitamin Water is enough to signal its provenance without the logo on the front. If you were led blindfolded into the cafeteria at Google headquarters you wouldn’t be surprised to learn who ran the enterprise.

As consumers, as employees even as business partners, we intuitively know that a brand's 'essence' is found in the experience we have interacting with the brand (emotionally, financially, physically…). Like people, brands have a unique and defining way of moving through the world. Some operate with unconscious arrogance, others with cultivated selflessness. Some speak with bold clarity of purpose, others with muddled confusion. One brand might be democratically inclusive while another encourages an insider, members-only following. A witty tone of voice is adopted by one brand while a sappy, saccharine tone defines its competitor.  One brand feels so ergonomically correct it's a joy to use. Another is awkward and annoyingly counter-intuitive. While one brand prides itself on consistently stellar customer service, another's slavishness to the bottom line creates a high turnover of disgruntled users. Not a single logo is necessary to define these brand identities. 

A savvy marketer knows that a brand's logo and its other visual assets are actually the final expression of its soul. First come the defining pillars:  its values, mores, behavioral doctrine, founding beliefs. If all these are thoughtfully defined, carefully articulated and executed with conscious consistency, the logo could be removed and the brand would stand tall.

Meanwhile, the designer who thinks he can successfully 'un-brand' by removing his logo will experience one of two fates: either his brand will thrive without a logo, proving that many other attributes already define his brand and delight his customers or it will fail, proving that insufficient thought and effort had been put into creating a great brand experience. Which, in the end, is the fastest way to 'quit branding.'


The Author


Julie Cucchi is co-founder of 98pt6, a brand expression agency. Visit .

Many more articles in Branding in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2009 by Julie Cucchi. All rights reserved.

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