“Unbranding” – A New Approach in a Digital World

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Branding – Unbranding: To Be or Not to Be

Branding is paramount to how your business, region or destination is perceived. Ideally a little says a lot. Branding can have a lot to do with the success of your business. If you have a recognizable brand with resonance, meaning and awareness it can take your business along way to meeting your goals.

Here is a good brief outline of the importance of branding.

While I’m a big believer in clearly defining one’s brand. I’ve embraced the idea of “Unbranding”, a term that I coined about 8 years ago.

Unbranding as I define it … skips traditional branding methods, engages “ambassadors”, provides tools for those ambassadors to tell your story for you, has those ambassadors’ story telling define and promote your brand. Get a copy of my Unbranding Cheat Sheet here.

As the owner of the brand you create a framework for your brand; that is having the fundamentals defined and then skipping traditional branding methods. Instead of going deep on traditional branding methods create storyline frameworks that define your brand and engage brand ambassadors to tell your story for you. Brand ambassadors can be anybody, ideally people who have reach, influence and credibility, such as your staff, visitors and clients and definitely the media, new and old.

In the process they help further define your brand – which is kind of brilliant. Why? Because they will see your brand through their eyes and make it relatable and hit on touch points that you may or may not have thought of and that will likely resonate with your target audience. The brand becomes more authentic and credible, because it is being defined by others in many cases your target audience. The branding will be in their voice not yours. This is very powerful stuff! It’s a more bottom up approach vs. a top down. Try it and see what happens, I think you will be surprised how effective and impactful it is.

Unbranding a Discovery of Trial and Error

I wish I could tell you that I came up with this idea in some brainstorm of brilliance, but I didn’t. I stumbled across it through trial and error and due to circumstances, my particular background and skill set (not overly sophisticated) and budget ( I didn’t really have one!)

I discovered this process when I worked on developing the brand for Prince Edward County, it was an organic and long term process. We had a simple logo and tagline that never really factored into building the brand. We told stories, many stories over and over and over again, to all kind of audiences, especially the media, new media and traditional. They kept telling our story for us, through their eyes. It was so incredibly powerful.

We could have never afforded the kind of media exposure we got, pages and pages in newspapers and magazines, hours and hours on radio and television, tons of tweets, Facebook postings, blogs etc… We literally received millions of dollars of media exposure from low thousands of dollars of investment. We did not have a good way to measure the total impact but if I were to guess, I would say it was close to 50 or 100:1 return on investment (ROI). One initiative alone got over $2,ooo,ooo in earned media for a few thousand dollars of investment. While that is an extreme example it was not unusual. We repeated similar results over and over again with 10, 20 and 50:1 ROI.

Essentially, Unbranding starts after your brand has been defined. Typically this is when the traditional branding, with logos, tag lines, etc…comes into play. It’s very formulaic.

A typical brand formula looks something like this

  1. Discover what the brand is and is not
  2. Review your industry’s market place
  3. Review your place within the industry
  4. Discover your current brand
  5. Define your desired brand
  6. Place the brand within na new realm
  7. Finally Deliver the Brand experience.

Check out this infographic on branding.

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While I find it hard to argue with these steps. It’s overwhelming. It may or may not be too much for a larger corporation but for a small and medium size enterprises its just too much.

So what does Unbranding mean exactly and how can you put it into practice? The essence of unbranding is that you don’t overthink your own brand and you don’t over define it. Can you have a logo and a tag line? Sure, just don’t stress and fret over it.

What’s your story? 

At the heart of unbranding is to have a story. With respect to your brand you want to include the following:

  1. Who are you and who do you want to be – from a brand perspective?
  2. What’s your proof? What kind of examples exist that support who you are and who you what to be.
  3. Create a handful of storylines to support your story telling.
  4. Storylines should include a Headline / Theme or Header and bullet points or very short paragraphs outlining your story.
  5. A picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure you have photographs and or video to help support telling your story.
  6. Testimonials, either written, audio or video are helpful too. They need to be from real people, willing to share their identity.
  7. Pick and define your “ambassador” targets (Staff, Clients/Visitors/The Media, etc…)
  8. Ask your targets to tell your story. As the layers of story tellers tell your story, they build your brand through this unbranding method and your brand becomes stronger and stronger.

If your ambassador target is staff & clients / visitors, provide a blog format on your web-site for them to tell their story, encourage them to repost via, social media. If it is the media wait until my upcoming blog on marketing and the media for more details, or contact me if you need to know right away.

To get a copy of my at a glance Unbranding Cheat Sheet, click here.

Here are some other resources for traditional branding that may help you lay the foundation and get the basics in order to begin unbranding. Don’t go too deep through. Focus on story telling and your unbranding ambassador targeting and engagement.


Unbranding is the forth step in my 9 Step System for Marketing Success. You can download a copy of my “Cheat  Sheet” for free here.

Tweet: To #brand or not to #brand? Is that even a question? Is #Unbranding the new black? http://ctt.ec/qFPUQ+ Is that even a thing?

Is Unbranding the new black? Is that even a thing? I don’t know. What I do know is the effect of unbranding is the most powerful marketing concept I have ever discovered.

If you liked this article, please share it with somebody who could use the information via e-mail or your other social media links. If you didn’t like the post or see room for improvement please share that with me as well. If you want to share my Unbranding Cheat Sheet, share this link.




Let me know if you have any projects you need help getting started on in 2016.

I work with companies on their marketing, lead generation and sales throughout their life cycle – from start ups, to expansions to exit strategies and the sale of the company. My clients are from the private sector and public sector including economic development and tourism based organizations.

I offer FREE 60 minute strategy sessions to get people started or back on track. For more information e-mail me or give me a call today.

Is your marketing working the way you would like it to, do you need help, want more leads and more business? Download my 9 Step System for Marketing Success “Cheat Sheet” , the system is designed to get substantial free publicity and new business. This is the exact formula I used to create $150 million in incremental development, 400% growth in tourism, millions of dollars in free publicity (national, regional and local newspaper, magazine & blog articles, radio & tv interviews and programming) more than 10 x my marketing budget and helped to create and a new identity for an old “brand” and community. Don’t let those big numbers scare you. This is a process and a system that is scalable up or down.

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