A new role for brands—at the core of business

The time has come to recognize a new role for brands—and the brand team—at the core of business. As shown in the Brand Core Model below, brand building is moving to a crucial position at the strategic center of business operations. At this vital confluence of company, product and customer, the brand team provides the vision and the platforms to create new forms of value, and to create and grow the customers that will drive the business forward.

And that, folks, is a big deal.

Brand Core Model

Creating value at the core

The Brand Core Model illustrates how brands have moved from symbols and slogans at the periphery of business to a value-creating activity at the heart of the enterprise. Brand practice belongs at the company core because the brand logic of creating customers shapes the allied fields of marketing, product development and customer development. From this central position, the brand team emerges as a key player in determining how customers are created, and how customers can be grown into new market opportunities.

Brand as the hub of a value network

Within the brand-centric enterprise, the brand is the core of a value creation process and the hub of a value network, feeding the innovation pipeline within the company, and between the company and its customers. This new brand environment differs radically from that of traditional brands. The brands produced are action-based. They’ve moved beyond the symbols, gestures and identities of conventional brand campaigns. These new brands are digitally enabled platforms and programs of value innovation. They pump value through the company, into the customer, and back again, gaining power and reach via network effects. While old brands beg for attention, these new brands join their customers as allies, directly adding pop and pulse to their lives.

Brands move from periphery to core

For most companies, this will be a dramatic new role for brands and the brand team. It marks the progress of brands from a communication layer on the periphery of business to a value innovation engine at the core.

In this process, brands are finally emerging as a strategic business practice in their own right. They’re no longer a subset of marketing, advertising, design, packaging or communications. Brand strategy can drive the business. Brand practice brings its own vision, platform logic, customer creation process, methodology, tools and resources.

Brands reinvented

From their new locus, brands are situated to reinvent themselves, sloughing off antiquated, top-down approaches for a new fusion of culture, technology and social software. They’re free to morph to customer needs, large or small, from a panorama of the possible to pocket-size, a pin, or a pixel. As we’ve said before: “Brands are tools that enable customers to interoperate with the universe. The genius of brands is that they have no limits. The value of brands is that through them, customers have no limits.”

A new role for the brand team

The Brand Core Model illustrates the central importance of the brand team. Through a collaborative process, the brand team brings together company vision, business priorities, platform logic and freewheeling creativity, all focused on creating and growing customers. The role of the team is to guide and augment value innovation through the company, and then through the customer, insuring that resulting customer growth can return new forms of value back to the business.

Yes, this is a new and different brand team. Instead of creating perceptions, their mission is to create customers. Their patron saint makes high demands, and pays high rewards.

Brand central: how it works

The Brand Core Model illustrates how innovation and value are co-created by groups inside and outside the company, mediated by the brand. The brand provides a collaborative framework for value innovation, cutting across internal divisions and other boundaries, and speeding innovation to market.

Looking at the diagram, here’s how I see things working:

At the intersection of Company and Product, the brand shapes Marketing by defining the platforms and programs that will create and grow the customers to grow the business. Brand platforms and programs become the structure for marketing imagination.

At the intersection of Product and Customer, the brand shapes Innovation in three ways: 1) by providing clear brand platform and customer platform direction to R&D, product development and engineering; 2) by helping develop cost-effective, high-value prototypes, and 3) by enlisting customer initiative and intelligence to augment the innovation process.

At the intersection of Customer and Company, the brand shapes Value by using collaborative methods and value networks to establish an exclusive context of mutual (company/customer) value. This helps synchronize brand platform deliverables with customer platform needs. Because the brand is committed to creating customer freedoms, it does not lead to backwater pools where innovation stagnates in an attempt to contain customers.

At the core—and at the edge

While the new locus of brand is at the core of a company, the brand team operates at the edge. Yep, brands are an edge force. The brand team leads. That means they thrive at the far edge of the customer, leading the customer, along the untamed frontiers of the market. Your brand team is a large part of your edge competence. You want them cracking open new worlds, not tending a hearth. They have a home, to be sure, but like all great explorers they’d rather be hacking the wilds.


1. This diagram is hardly etched in pixels, let alone stone. It’s how I currently see things coming together. As I drill into different layers, I’m sure I’ll find inconsistencies that will result in changes to the global model. All comments are much appreciated.

2. For reference, see earlier discussions of brand platforms and the brand team mission here and here.


9 Responses to “A new role for brands—at the core of business”

  1. Jack Yan Says:

    I am a huge believer in brand being at the core, something I have tried to steer clients into doing. After all, many clients, especially in the west, cannot compete on price. Processes may be unique but they can hardly connect to every member of the organization. And structures and finances usually lack differentiation. The brand model has not been shown to fail, only its misapplication (as in where a company says it has a brand orientation, but does not actually implement it).

  2. Brian Phipps Says:

    Well, it’s going to be a long haul, but I think we will eventually get there. The logic of “leading with your brand” is so strong that companies just can’t ignore it. Or, they can ignore it and wind up like GM, and a long list of others.

  3. Jack Yan Says:

    You’re right, Brian: GM is a very clear example of where it failed. They went through a brand structure some years back—or so they said. On closer examination, it was just a renamed, confused sales structure.

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  6. Scott Hauman Says:

    Your new brand core model is a fantastic visual. It tells the whike story very quickly. Thanks for sharing. I hope to incorporate this model in my “client education” sessions.

  7. Brian Phipps Says:

    Thanks for the comment. Please note that the contents of this weblog are subject to copyright, and are not intended to be freely “shared.” The brand core model is proprietary and is used as an anchor concept in our brand consulting practice. As such, it’s the intellectual property of Tenaya Group LLC. It is part of what differentiates our approach from that of mainstream brand consultants.

    That said, we are always looking for ways to expand our relationships with other consultants who see the brand challenge as we do. Drop me a line at bphipps@tenayagroup.com. Perhaps there are ways we can agree on a working relationship that can include sharing of elements such as the brand core model. This agreement would be necessary before you could incorporate the brand core model in your “client education” sessions.


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