Branding: An essential skill in today's world.

By Johannes Frederik Christensen

By the year 2030, roughly 125 billion devices will be connected to the internet (1), more than 90% of the world’s population will be online (2), and approximately 84 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas (3). Meanwhile, some of today’s most advanced companies will be displaced by emerging market superpowers: The average life-span of companies in the S&P 500 has fallen from 30-35 years in the 1970s to only 15-20 years today, and it continues to decline (4).

Progress is not a given in this swiftly changing world and individuals and organizations alike must keep up with the accelerating speed of life. There are some distinct challenges presented in this new era that require a different set of tools and skill sets. Let’s look at what they are, and retrace our steps to figure out how to navigate the future successfully.

Accelerating stasis

Today we produce as much information in two days as we did from the beginning of mankind up through 2003, and with this, the number of choices we are forced to make on a daily basis continues to increase. The proliferation of information can be both a force of resistance and acceleration behind the evolution of humanity and our culture.

While this pattern has existed for quite a while already, one thing that doesn’t change is that we have limited time, capacity, and resources to process information. On average, a human being absorbs approximately 11,000,000 bits per second through his or her senses, however our capacity to process this information and translate it into rational thinking is limited. Consciously, we are only able to process approximately 50 to 100 bits per second (5).

Too many choices means too many decisions to make. This can be overwhelming, paralyzing at worst—to a degree that leads to its opposite: no decision at all—standstill.

If not to this extreme, it more often leads to dissatisfaction with the decision we end up making, as piled-up expectations throughout the lengthy decision process aren’t actually met at the end.

Even though we all praise the great opportunities that so called big data might bring, we’re not yet always aware what tools and skill sets are needed to deal with the quantity of data produced, saved, and delivered. We run the risk that the worship of big data replaces our quest for great ideas, insights, and understanding.

The struggle to rise beyond 'The survival of the fittest'

Historically, as human beings strive to grow and evolve, we aim to be perceived stronger and more attractive, to find the best partner in order to secure the existence of our kind. “The survival of the fittest” was, for generations, the main mechanism of life.

For a long time, it was enough to fight a battle or two, to mark one’s territory or claim leadership, and spread the word through the village to ensure you were seen and heard. For most people, the world was rather small, and everyone knew everyone. But times have changed, and our worlds are growing ever larger.

A single assertion of power, or an expressed claim of leadership has lost its impact and meaning—and spreading word throughout the village isn’t sufficient any longer to be seen and heard. The way we form relationships, create communities, and institute change is drastically different.

While we still thrive to be stronger and better, to be seen and heard, to be more attractive, evolve, and grow, our tactics have changed—we have started to adapt to the changing environment.

Emergence of a new era

From the birth of civilization to today, as the ways and distances across which we trade and share goods and information became more diversified, people started using signs and symbols as both marks of ownership and as means of communication.

Early tribes marked their dwellings and faces with shared symbols to express unity and convey stories to others and the next generations. From the Mesopotamians to Ancient Egyptians, members of the Shang Dynasty and on, civilizations across the globe relied on symbols to document glorious achievements and record holy tales. And somewhere around 1000 BC (6), symbols began being used by merchants in various places around the world to mark their pottery or glass work and brand their livestock as they got sold and traded over ever-greater distances.

Today, we use signs and symbols to a greater extent than ever before to communicate with each other in an emerging global language across geographies and cultures, as well as to equip ourselves with signs of strength, wealth, health, and status.

The rising relevance of our quest to belong

In a world that has increased in speed and quantities at an unprecedented pace, we seek to be associated with groups that use these signs and symbols as a means to express and identify themselves, to stand out and stand apart, to define who they are in what increasingly becomes one global village.

We want to become part of those groups, to leverage their perception of strength for our own advantage and personal growth, to communicate who we are or who we one day want to be.

Besides gaining an advantage through shared perception of strength, we also gain collective power to effect change. As we come together in groups that share a common something, we increase our chances of achievement. This could be through sharing a time-limited goal such as playing and winning a game of soccer, or a set of common values that leads to something greater and longer lasting, such as the construction of a new cathedral or the revolution of a political system.

What arises when we come together in groups that share a common something is trust. And trust is a powerful force, for both individuals and organizations.

When we’re surrounded by the ones that share our values and beliefs—such as our families, our teams, our co-workers, or club members—we take more risks, we try more things, we go further and try harder. Why?

Because we trust that those around us will pick us up if we fall; help us out if we fail trying something new; support us as we continue learning, adapting, and growing. We know that only together do we have the strength to achieve our goals and ultimately succeed. Only together were we able to build skyscrapers and bridges, cross the oceans, construct rocket ships, and travel to the moon.

Even though we constantly compete, driven by our quest to survive and by our inherent desire to be perceived as the fittest, we more than ever strive to belong. We have started to realize that this is the most effective means to our ends and that the whole is actually greater than the sum of its parts. We share information, goods, and spaces to travel further together than we would ever be able to alone.

In today’s hyper-connected, but at the same time highly anonymous world, every human being wants to belong. Belong somewhere, to something; belong to a family, to a partner, to a team, to a company, to a nation, to a cause or belief. Belonging breeds strength and personal fulfillment; but it also makes us feel protected, secure, and safe in an increasingly volatile world. But how do we decide where we belong?

Strong brands as decision accelerators

As processes become much faster and choices more manifold, the speed and quality of our decisions becomes the greatest currency of success—there’s little time to second guess.

Finding the right partners, the right people to trust, and the right information to rely on—this will create true competitive advantage in the future, for people and businesses too. But who offers what is needed; who shares what is believed?

People need something to provide orientation, something that enables them to make the right decisions faster, with better outcomes and a greater degree of sustainability.

Strong brands do just that, and more.

Brands, as I understand them, are sums of signals that identify a specific source, the entity behind a value proposition. As such, brands help people to navigate a world that has gotten much bigger than they can deal with, at much faster speed than they can cope with.

Brands help people to cut through the noise and complexity; they provide orientation within a vast sea of information, a quick understanding of what is presented, and trust that decisions made will pay off.

Brands are also central to business growth. They help organizations to be seen, heard, and chosen. They signal to people what is offered, and, at best, communicate a shared belief, and thus enable the ones whose needs are addressed—and that might even share the same beliefs—to make the right decisions.

Brands enhance decision-making and help to build mutually beneficial relationships that are the cornerstone of sustainable value creation, and progress at large.

As such, brands are the most effective and efficient tools to help humans and organizations progress in today’s world: to communicate the right messages, to attract the right people, and to ultimately grow by satisfying the most fundamental need for human survival in today’s world—our need to belong.

Leveraging a brand's full potential

While increased access to information bears many opportunities, the fundamental challenge for any organization is to maintain a deep understanding of the ever-changing needs and desires of their target audiences. They must create meaningful value propositions and translate those into authentic and relevant signals—their brands—which need to form a coherent thread throughout their communications and experiences. Only those organizations will thrive and grow.

From the Catholic Church to Kongō Gumi, Barclays, GE, Coca-Cola, IBM, Google, and many more—the same holds true for all institutions: Only those that put a profound understanding of how brands are being built and leveraged at the center of all their decision-making will remain relevant, evolve, and thrive over time.

As a branding consultant, my role is to help organizations navigate this ever-changing world, to remain focused and anticipate the changes that the future will bring. For this, I leverage a combination of my own knowledge, experience, curiosity, instinct, and rigor to guide them on this never-ending journey to attract and to belong, to be seen and heard, to bring a message from one place to another. Most importantly, while always being able to believe in that message, and engendering that same belief in people.

I believe in the good of what organizations can do, for us as individuals as well as for society at large, and that brands are the most valuable tool they have to stand out, to be seen and be heard in today’s world.

I believe that each one of us has a responsibility to shape tomorrow.

I believe that there is no way back, and that it’s never too late to reset, reevaluate, and start shaping a better future—together.

I believe a profound understanding of branding, what it is and how it works, is one of the most powerful tools to have in your arsenal to succeed in today’s world.

As the 17th century polymath and optimist Gottfried Leibniz once reasoned, we do live in the best of all possible worlds (7) and it is only human beings, with our innate desire to grow, that have the power to make it ever better.



(2) CYBERCRIME Magazine

(3) United Nations – Population Data



Temple, Robert K.G. (2007). The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (3rd edition). André Deutsch, London

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1710): Essais de theodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme, et l’origine du mal. David Mortier, Amsterdam

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