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Your Business is Your Brand

Your ‘business’ is your ‘brand’

I see a troubling disconnect between holistic brand-building and the relentless pursuit of measurable growth everywhere I look.

Where are all my ‘B2B SaaS’ folks at? Just kidding.

This fixation on numbers has led many to view brand-building as a “fluffy” endeavour, relegating it to a mere checkbox on a marketing to-do list or isolating it in the corner of their plan.

The crux of the problem lies in a system of misaligned incentives that prioritizes short-term growth over long-term brand health. This is exacerbated by CEOs’ pressure to deliver rapid, measurable growth to appease impatient shareholders.

The consequence?

A narrow focus on tactics disguised as “revenue marketing,” which overemphasizes immediate demand generation and capture while neglecting sustained brand building.

This approach fails to recognize a crucial truth: enduring revenue growth is rooted in creating powerful, resonant brands that inspire loyalty and command premium pricing.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

—Albert Einstein

By favouring quick wins over long-term brand value, companies expose themselves to significant risks. They become vulnerable to commoditization, erosion of customer loyalty, and diminished ability to maintain profit margins in an increasingly competitive landscape.

The AI disruption we’re experiencing is a great example of that.

This myopic strategy ignores the vital symbiosis between a strong brand and consistent revenue growth, ultimately undermining the very financial goals it seeks to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong, while metrics and immediate returns are important, they often fail to capture the intangible yet critical elements that build lasting brand value.


And then there’s the IQ folks trying to dismiss EQ.

The notion that those who advocate for a holistic brand approach are merely “traditional marketers” is a dangerous oversimplification that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what brand truly encompasses. This view fails to recognize that holistic brand thinking sits far above and beyond the realm of marketing.

A holistic brand approach is not about clinging to outdated marketing practices or resisting data-driven strategies. Instead, it represents a comprehensive, enterprise-wide philosophy that permeates every aspect of an organization. It goes beyond marketing to influence product development, customer service, human resources, corporate strategy, and even financial decisions.

Those who dismiss holistic brand thinking as “traditional marketing” are often trapped in a siloed view of business operations. They fail to see that a strong brand is not just a marketing asset, but a powerful business driver that affects every touchpoint of the customer journey and every facet of the organization.

Moreover, a holistic brand approach doesn’t reject metrics or data-driven decision making. Instead, it advocates for a balanced perspective that recognizes both quantitative and qualitative factors. It acknowledges that while numbers are crucial, they don’t tell the whole story of a brand’s value or a customer’s experience.

In reality, embracing a holistic brand approach requires a more sophisticated, nuanced understanding of business dynamics than a purely metrics-driven approach. It demands the ability to navigate complexity, balance competing priorities, and think long-term – skills that are anything but “traditional” in today’s fast-paced business environment.

By relegating holistic brand thinkers to the category of “traditional marketers,” organizations risk missing out on the strategic insights and competitive advantages that a truly integrated brand approach can provide. This dismissive attitude could lead to short-sighted decisions that prioritize immediate gains over long-term brand health and sustainable business success.


Business and brand are two sides of the same coin.


Inside-out, it’s business strategy.
Outside-in, it’s brand strategy.

While business strategy focuses inward on core competencies, operations, and value creation, brand strategy looks outward at customer experiences and market positioning.

However, these are not separate entities but two sides of the same coin. Every internal decision and action shapes how the brand is perceived externally.

Companies like Apple, Nike, and Amazon exemplify this alignment, demonstrating how a strong inside-out business strategy drives a compelling outside-in brand perception.

Inside-out: At its core, business strategy is an inside-out process. It’s about building a company from within, focusing on:

  • Core competencies and capabilities
  • Operational efficiencies
  • Product development and innovation
  • Resource allocation and management
  • Organizational culture and values

This inside-out approach is the foundation upon which successful businesses are built. It’s the realm of executives, stakeholders, and employees who work tirelessly to create value, improve processes, and drive the company forward.

As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” This inside-out perspective is all about creating that value proposition that will attract and retain customers.

Outside-in: While business strategy looks inward, brand strategy gazes outward. It’s about how people perceive your company, products, and services. Brand strategy is inherently outside-in, focusing on:

  • Customer perceptions and experiences
  • Market positioning and differentiation
  • Emotional connections and associations
  • Touchpoint consistency and quality
  • Stakeholder relationships and reputation

This outside-in perspective is how your business is viewed and experienced by the world. It’s the sum of all interactions, impressions, and feelings that people have about your company.

As branding expert Marty Neumeier puts it, “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” This encapsulates the essence of the outside-in brand strategy.


Why do I have a beef with the term ‘brand marketing,’ and why do I think it’s a misnomer? Because it misleads businesses about the true nature of their brand.

Most people believe the brand is something a company creates and controls through careful marketing efforts. However, this perspective ignores a crucial truth: a brand isn’t what a company says it is; it’s what people think it is.

In reality, every interaction a potential or existing customer has with a business contributes to their perception of its brand. This includes not just the carefully curated marketing messages but also the quality of the product, the responsiveness of customer service, the behaviour of employees, and even the company’s stance on social issues. In essence, a brand is the sum total of all these experiences and perceptions.

Daniel Kahneman’s work on System 1 and System 2 thinking provides insight here. Consumers’ gut reactions (System 1) to brand interactions shape their perceptions more than rational analysis (System 2) of marketing messages. This means that the lived experiences of customers have a more profound impact on brand perception than any advertising campaign.

Let’s look at Patagonia.

Patagonia is renowned not just for its high-quality outdoor gear, but for its genuine commitment to environmental sustainability. This commitment is reflected in every aspect of its operations, from sustainable manufacturing processes to bold environmental advocacy. This alignment between brand promise and business practices has earned Patagonia a loyal customer base that deeply trusts and resonates with its brand.

On the other hand, consider the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Volkswagen marketed itself as an eco-friendly brand, but when it was revealed that the company had been cheating emissions tests, the disconnect between its marketing and its actual practices severely damaged its brand. The fallout demonstrated that no amount of advertising could salvage a brand if the company’s actions contradicted its promises.

These examples lead us to a counterintuitive conclusion: you can’t really “market” a brand in the traditional sense. Instead, a brand emerges organically from the totality of a business’s operations and its place in society.

Let’s consider another pop culture analogy. In the TV show “Breaking Bad,” Walter White’s identity isn’t defined by what he says about himself but by his actions. Similarly, a brand is defined by the actions of the company behind it, not by its marketing slogans.

Move away from ‘Brand Marketing’ to ‘Holistic Brand Management.’

This approach recognizes that every aspect of a business contributes to its brand and seeks to align all operations with the desired brand perception.

While we can conceptually separate business strategy and brand strategy, in practice, they are two sides of the same coin. Your business strategy drives your brand, whether intentionally or not.

Every decision made internally (inside-out) has the potential to impact how your brand is perceived externally (outside-in).

For example:

  • A decision to invest in quality control (business strategy) can lead to improved product reliability, enhancing brand perception.
  • A choice to prioritize customer service (business strategy) can result in positive word-of-mouth, strengthening brand loyalty.
  • An initiative to reduce environmental impact (business strategy) can boost the brand’s reputation for sustainability.

Here’s why business owners, founders and executives struggle. You can’t read your own label.

For internal stakeholders – executives, employees, and investors – the focus is primarily on business strategy. They’re concerned with operations, financials, and growth trajectories.

For consumers and external stakeholders, however, the brand is experienced as a set of signals forming a perception in their minds.

They care less about the intricacies of your supply chain and more about how your product makes their lives better or how your service makes them feel.

The key to success lies in aligning your inside-out business strategy with the outside-in brand perceptions.

This alignment ensures that:

  • Your internal capabilities match your external promises
  • Your organizational values are reflected in your brand experience
  • Your operational decisions enhance rather than detract from your brand

Some case studies:

Apple

Inside-out: Apple’s business strategy focuses on design excellence, ecosystem integration, and user experience. They invest heavily in product design, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Apple develops its own hardware and software, ensuring tight integration across its product line. They also place a strong emphasis on creating intuitive, user-friendly interfaces and maintaining strict quality control over their products and services.

Outside-in: These strategic choices translate into a brand perceived as innovative, premium, and user-friendly. Consumers see Apple products as cutting-edge technology wrapped in sleek, desirable designs. The brand is associated with simplicity and ease of use, despite the complex technology behind their products. Apple is also viewed as a premium brand, with products that command higher prices but are perceived to offer superior quality and status.

The result is a seamless alignment between what Apple does (business strategy) and how it’s perceived (brand strategy). Their internal focus on design, integration, and user experience directly feeds into their external image as a brand that offers beautiful, easy-to-use products that “just work.” This alignment is evident in everything from their minimalist product designs to their carefully crafted marketing messages and even their retail store layouts.

Apple’s success demonstrates how a company’s internal operational choices and values can directly shape its external brand perception, creating a powerful and cohesive market presence. Every decision, from the materials used in their products to the way their software interfaces are designed, reinforces their brand promise of innovation, quality, and user-centricity.


Nike

Inside-out: Nike’s business strategy focuses on product innovation, athlete partnerships, and global marketing campaigns. They invest heavily in R&D to create cutting-edge athletic wear and footwear, collaborate with top athletes to develop and endorse products, and execute large-scale, emotionally resonant marketing initiatives.

Outside-in: These strategic choices translate into a brand perceived as performance-driven, aspirational, and culturally relevant. Consumers see Nike as a company that helps them achieve their athletic potential, inspires them to push their limits, and stands for more than just sportswear – it represents a lifestyle and attitude of determination.

The result is a seamless alignment between what Nike does (business strategy) and how it’s perceived (brand strategy). Their internal focus on innovation and inspiration directly feeds into their external image as a brand that empowers athletes of all levels.


Amazon

Inside-out: Amazon’s business strategy focuses on customer-centricity, operational efficiency, and continuous expansion into new markets. They invest heavily in logistics and technology to improve delivery speeds, use data analytics to personalize user experiences, and constantly explore new business verticals.

Outside-in: These strategic choices translate into a brand perceived as convenient, reliable, and innovative. Consumers see Amazon as a one-stop shop for almost anything, known for its fast delivery, vast selection, and customer-friendly policies. The company is also increasingly viewed as a tech innovator, expanding beyond e-commerce into cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and more.

The result is a clear alignment between Amazon’s internal focus on efficiency and innovation (business strategy) and its external perception as a convenient, customer-focused brand (brand strategy). Every improvement in their operations directly enhances the customer experience, reinforcing their brand promise.

In each of these examples, like Apple, we see how the company’s internal strategic decisions and operational focus directly shape their external brand perception, creating a powerful alignment between business and brand.


a. Combining these approaches creates a powerful synergy:

  • Relevant Differentiation: The inside-out business strategy ensures the company focuses on what it does best, while the outside-in brand strategy ensures these strengths are communicated in ways that resonate with customers.
  • Innovation with Purpose: Internal capabilities drive innovation (inside-out), but customer needs guide its direction (outside-in).
  • Adaptive Execution: The company maintains a stable core based on its strengths (inside-out) while remaining adaptable in how it presents itself to the market (outside-in).
  • Balanced Growth: Business expansion is guided by core competencies (inside-out) but shaped by market opportunities (outside-in).
  • Cultural Alignment: Internal values and skills (inside-out) are expressed in ways that connect with external stakeholders (outside-in).

b. To implement this dual strategy:

  1. Conduct a thorough internal audit to identify core competencies and unique strengths.
  2. Perform extensive market research to understand customer needs and perceptions.
  3. Align internal capabilities with external opportunities, bridging the gap between what you do best and what the market wants.
  4. Develop a brand narrative that authentically communicates internal strengths in ways that resonate with target audiences.
  5. Create feedback loops that allow external insights to inform internal strategy and vice versa.

c. Challenges and considerations

This approach isn’t without challenges. It requires:

  • Balancing potentially conflicting priorities
  • Maintaining clear communication between internal and external teams
  • Ensuring that the brand promise aligns with operational capabilities

However, this method can create a powerful, authentic, and adaptable business model when executed well.


In the end, while we can separate business strategy and brand strategy conceptually, they are deeply interconnected in practice. Your business strategy is the foundation upon which your brand is built. Every internal decision, every operational choice, every resource allocation contributes to how your brand is perceived externally.

For business leaders, the challenge is to maintain this dual perspective:

  • Build your business from the inside out, focusing on creating real value and operational excellence.
  • Simultaneously, be acutely aware of how these choices shape your brand from the outside in.

As Simon Sinek famously said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By mastering this balance, companies can create a powerful alignment between their internal capabilities and their external perceptions, driving both business success and brand resonance in the marketplace.

Remember, in the eyes of the consumer, your brand is not just what you say it is—it’s the sum total of their experiences with your business. Make every part of your business strategy count towards building a strong, resonant brand.

By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.