Commodore 64

Branding Lessons From The Ranch – Part 2

Anytime we venture into the realm of the intangible, there is a natural tendency to look back to the physical world for context and direction.  The familiar metaphors of windows, desktops and folders make the virtual environment of personal computers more familiar and approachable.  A popular personality profile tool taps into the imagery of lions, otters, beavers and golden retrievers to make the characteristics of various temperaments easier to understand.

Metaphoric Support

In the essential but intangible marketing discipline of branding, the cattle ranch can be a valuable source of insights for marketers.  In many ways branding a company in the marketplace is like branding a cow on the ranch.  Part 1 of Branding Lessons From the Ranch explored how the two forms of branding are similar.

But if you take the ranch concepts of branding and transplant them wholesale into the business world, you’ll make some serious mistakes.  There are some key differences between the ranch and marketplace forms of branding.

Is Brand Just Another Word For Logo?

In the ranching world there is a huge focus on the physical brand – the mark that gets seared into the backside of calves.  In cattle country there are entire museums dedicated to these brand marks and the irons used to produce them.

The ranch’s physical brand fixation might tempt you to think that a marketing brand is nothing more than a company’s logo.  Logos are incredibly important elements in a company’s overall identity.  Great logos are like pictures – they speak a thousand words.  The Golden Arches instantly communicate McDonald’s even to preliterate preschoolers.  The profile of a common piece of fruit with a missing bite identifies products as coming from Apple.

While logos are important, they are not the brand.  If you have an appealing logo, you have an appealing logo.  Don’t be misled into thinking that paying a graphic designer to concoct a corporate moniker is the same thing as developing a brand.

Dig Deep To Discover Identity

Your brand does not exist in the bright colors and smooth flowing lines of a logo.  Your brand is a much deeper and more emotional entity.  If you want to develop a bona fide brand, you need to do some corporate archaeology and dig deep into the principles, concepts and personality traits that your company genuinely possesses and holds to.

Once you’ve thoroughly discovered your company’s inner identity and expressed it in a one page Brand Identity Statement, then you’re ready to enlist the services of a graphic design professional.  If the first discussion of your brand doesn’t take place until you’re talking logo design, then you’ll have a shallow, surface level brand at best.


Cattle branding is one of the annual rites of spring on the ranch.  The calves that were born over the winter months and early spring are rounded up.  Each calf has a personal appointment with the ranch’s branding iron that has been pre-heated on a nearby campfire.  The mark that identifies ownership of the calf is applied from the outside in.


In the marketplace the best branding is always Inside-Out, not Outside-In.  Inside-Out brands have a clear set of core values and a consistent philosophy that drives their business.  Inside-Out brands are committed to something beyond the company itself and as a result deliver more than just a product.

Outside-In companies on the other hand, are driven by external events, not internal values.  They discover the flavor of the month and then wrap a new advertising slogan around it.  They live in the world of “me too.”

In the coffee world, Starbucks is the Inside-Out brand that sets the standard in taste and customer experience.  Your local convenience store may have upgraded its beans in response to Starbucks, but it offers an imitation product at best and as a result commands imitation prices at best.

Inside-Out brands lead the way in experience, innovation, price and profit.  Outside-In companies are chameleons, forever destined to be imitators who compete solely on price.

A One-Time Event?

On the ranch, branding is a one-time event.  Once a calf has been marked with the ranch’s brand to establish ownership, there’s no reason for a repeat engagement.  It’s also highly unlikely that you’d ever get any self-respecting calf within searing distance of a hot branding iron for a second time.

Cattle brands are static, permanent physical things.  Marketing brands need to be living, evolving entities that remain relevant in a changing world.  In the marketplace, brands, just like the companies and products they represent, need to respond to changes in technology, changes made by competitors, and changes in customer expectations.

Back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Cadillac was the de facto standard in the luxury car market.  Cadillac land yachts, with suspension systems inspired by the pillow top mattress, ruled the day.  Then Mercedes, BMW and later Lexus redefined what a luxury car should be.  According to the new philosophy a luxury car should be tight, powerful, responsive, sporty and painstakingly engineered.  Affluent motorists bought into the new ideas and stopped buying Caddies.  Cadillac’s market share went into free fall.

How Cadillac Got Its Groove Back

Cadillac spent a decade trying to catch up by developing new models that would zig and also presumably zag.  Customer response was decidedly under-whelming.  The Cadillac brand became as relevant as the Commodore 64 is today.

By the late 90’s it was time for a bold reinvention of the brand.  Cadillac embraced a radical new “Art and Science” design concept that featured stacked headlights and sharp angular lines.  In 2002, the first new look Cadillac, the hyper-stylized CTS, hit the streets and instantly turned heads.  Today the CTS tops its category in the Consumers’ Most Wanted Vehicles survey.  So does its larger look-alike sister model the STS and the Escalade SUV, a favorite choice among rap stars and affluent suburban moms.

Cadillac is no longer imitating or following.  It’s leading the way.  And if you take a look in just about any new car showroom today, you’ll find models that have borrowed heavily on the “Art and Science” design.

If Cadillac had followed the ranch philosophy of one time branding it would be on a deathwatch.  Instead, it has reinvented its way back to prominence.

One time branding makes sense on the ranch.  In the marketplace it is a recipe for disaster.

Applying These Ideas In Your Company

What’s the status of your company’s brand?  Has it fallen into some of the traps of ranching concept branding?

Do you have a crystal clear one page Brand Identity Statement that captures your company’s essence?  Have you clearly articulated your philosophy and core values?  Is your brand up to date?  Does it need of an update?

If your brand suffers from any ranching concept branding woes, or if you just want to make it stronger, register for the Branding Breakthrough Workshop taking place in Calgary on Tuesday September 18, 2007.  You’ll learn powerful strategies to make your brand and marketing messages much more targeted, appealing and effective.