Know Thyself: A 21st Century Branding Principle

One of the most surprising moments of a Root Session is when our beloved client has the realization their brand was already inside of them. We did not tell them what their brand is. They discovered it.

How is this possible?

It’s been taught that branding is an external thing. Something you want to be, some construct you build, one aspirational and slightly delusional brick at a time. The Marlboro man, Betty Crocker, Tony the Tiger … and that local car dealership owner who yells at the camera.

While there certainly is an external component to brand, a brand exists inside of you — and inside of your organization. Or more specifically, inside of each human who touches your brand. And it’s always been this way.

We call what we do intrinsic branding. This is not some new age-y, touchy-feely way of saying we do marketing. Intrinsic branding is the direct descendant of ancient principles being brought back to life due to massive shifts in society and business.

Know thyself.

This statement, chiseled into the stone courtyard of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in 500 B.C., is one of the world’s oldest philosophical directives. Socrates used the concept as a basis for his teachings, evolving it into the missive that an unexamined life was not worth living. Plato continued to encourage people to go inward, and claimed the essence of all knowledge was self-knowledge.

Over time, it has been the examination of life (our feelings, our experiences, our failures and hopes, our victories and successes, our empires and revolutions) that has informed and conveyed the crafts of oral tradition, art, poetry, plays, books, performance art, visual creation, journalism and advertising, communication, technology and virtual reality — as well as our business endeavors.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, can the unexamined mission, endeavor or movement be worth an investment of time and resources?

We posit it cannot.

Contemporary Brand Example:


This legendary outdoor gear manufacturer certainly knows themselves. Like many intrinsically-driven ventures, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard just wanted some mountain climbing gear that didn’t suck. So he started a company that was deeply rooted in his core beliefs. Chouinard and his team implemented many ideas that would seem counter to good business sense. They tell their customers to think twice before buying. They have a lifetime guarantee that is rigorously upheld. They don’t set profit goals (“We let our customers tell us how much money we’re going to make”, said Chouinard recently.) They tell their employees their philosophies are not rules, they are guidelines.

More recently, they used their brand equity to vocally and vigorously challenge President Trump’s proposed reduction in size of the Bear Ears National Monument in Utah — running a series of ads that state “The President Stole Your Land.” Chouinard himself, when invited to testify in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources, refused to do so and recommended the Chairman and the President refer to their public statements about the theft of public lands from the public. By sticking to their principles and high standards, Patagonia continues to grow as a brand and as a business (triple profits since 2008).

Brands that don’t know themselves tend to drift away from stated values every time the market shifts or a competitor does something aggressive. They tend to be much more extrinsic about their brand – obsessed with image and message control. Yet insecure and wishy-washy about taking a stand. Just like a person who doesn’t know themselves, these brands chase acceptance and approval from their audiences.

Root + River Client Example:

Cort Dial

Cort Dial believes the only leader who needs to change is you. Since he began building his brand in 2016, after decades of experience in the oil and manufacturing industries as a safety consultant, Dial has used this Root Belief as the center of his brand. Cort encourages leaders to be heretics — not by preaching at them but by living this himself every day.

In the last two years, Cort has grown from a non-existent digital brand, to an award-winning author, a recognized thought leader producing regular content, and a highly-sought after executive coach, whose clients are drawn to him. Cort knows himself, can consistently articulate his root beliefs and practices, which exudes a confidence and humility that attracts a specific type of leader to him.


Are you ready to know yourself as a brand? We help people find their way to the foundations of their brand and then articulate them. These truths become an organic attractant to your chosen audience. We always offer free exploration calls to find out if a Root Session is right for you, right now. Go here to schedule a call. 

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