Over the years I have found many an agency that was willing to give companies exactly what they were looking for - to sell Brand as the Holy Grail of marketing, the appropriate packaging and spin included.
This dis-connect comes probably from many of the factors I will point out in a moment. We are looking for science and certainty in the wrong places.
I have been reflecting upon how Mark Earls, a highly respected brand guru, articulated thoughts from his own experience in an interview with Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid. The quoted part with a bit of editing (emphasis mine):
Let's start with the good stuff about "Brand": it's clearly a popular idea, it's spread far and wide into politics and self-help books. It's useful, in that it allows us to talk about the cluster of stuff that floats around reputation and perception and so on. It looks like we can measure it because it's something that seems like folk out there in Consumerland can talk about.
So what's wrong with it: well, first of all "Brand" is a metaphor. It's not a thing, even though we talk about it as if it were: it's a way of talking as if.
Second, it's a fat-metaphor: there is no agreed definition, so we can use it to mean just about anything we want - to pre- or proscribe whatever we want. Most brand conversations need an agreed set of definitions or...
Third, "Brand" is what you get as a result of doing great, not a good guide to what to do - it's the scoreboard, not the game.
Fourth, "Brand" is a distraction from the main game, which is doing great stuff for customers and staff ("baking it in", as for example the Zeus Jones go on about). P***ing about in Brandland is a good excuse not to really get to grips with the stuff you need to get to grips with, and it tends to lead you off into "communications" rather than actually doing something.
Fifth, "Brand" perpetuates the myths we like to hold tight to, about the power of marketing and communication - sometimes when you hear brand folk talk, they seem to imagine they are sorcerers and magicians, weaving binding spells and illusions. More often than not, they like to use military metaphors. The truth of course is that mostly were neither of these things and have a marginal effect at best.
If you read the rest of the interview, you will find that Mark proposed an alternative to talking about brand as the end-all/be-all - the purpose-idea. It seems pretty simple, the purpose-idea explains to customers why they should buy your product or service and it tells employees why they come in early and stay late. There is nothing very strategic about passion, and engagement, and sentiments like those. They just are.
When you think about what business you're in, the best way to articulate it is not a long list of what you do, even when that is carefully researched and crafted. The truth is more around what you believe in and what drives you - and what makes you believable, thus driving customers to choose you. Reputation and perception emerge from stories of execution and experience with your service.
If I were to craft a series of conversations with customers and employees about a company, I would start with why it exists - the big idea, not a slogan. Then I would make it come alive with a story or series of stories. To make it real it needs to connect with the experience of those who are in the conversation with that company. It needs to be real, it needs to be something people actually can care about.
Business is about making things people want. Everything the organization does is marketing, not the other way around.