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By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster

If you are a senior leader, you have fought through multiple recessions, market fluctuations and dealt with flavor-of-the-month marketing initiatives. So you may view “branding” as the latest buzzword. As veteran marketers, we don’t blame you. However, branding is much older, much deeper and more business-centric than you may have been led to be believe.

Because of this perspective on branding, you may be supporting some mythologies that do not serve you or the best interests of your organization. In our conversations with leaders we’ve determined there are five common myths stopping a leader’s progress in this very fractured, competitive, information-saturated and meaning-starved marketplace.

MYTH NO. 1: Marketing is a magic wand. Marketing does not fix a damaged brand, a dysfunctional culture or an unprofitable business model. In fact, in the fishbowl of the modern economy, marketing that is out of sync with reality actually amplifies brand gaps, increases distrust and produces more apathy. At best, it makes an organization look tone deaf in the marketplace. At worst, it makes a leader look like a phony. Internally, magic wand marketing creates skepticism and cynicism and further erodes the frontline’s trust in executives and the direction of the organization. Finally, magic wand marketing does not fix bad math.

MYTH NO. 2: Slogans are messages. Slogans are a relic of the glory days of traditional media (tv, print and radio). Despite this era being long gone, too many CEOs think “if we just had a new/better slogan” sales would increase. The amount of time and money spent chasing the perfect slogan is staggering and puts a business even further behind. In the modern economy, slogans are either ignored, inherently distrusted or outright ridiculed. Instead of sloganeering, focus instead on the message you want to share, not the sound bite that you package it in. The message begins in your heart as the leader.

MYTH NO. 3: Ad spend correlates to business growth. If ad spend dictated brand success, then Google, Apple, Amazon and new power brands like The Honest Co., Zappos and Tesla would all be top spenders in advertising. But they aren’t. In fact, Microsoft spends three times more than Apple, yet continues to lose market share. We’re not saying stop spending money on advertising, especially when it comes to targeted advertising on social platforms, SERPs, native ads, digital campaigns and immediate calls to action. These modern methods reinforce a message and/or drive short-term results. But the era of using traditional advertising to build a brand is over.

MYTH NO. 4: Internal culture and branding are separate. The surest way to have a brand failure and waste a bunch of capital is by trying to rebrand in a vacuum — removed from the reality of the culture of the organization. In the 20th century, you could use snappy ad campaigns to cover up poor working conditions, low morale and bad leadership behavior. With social media, sites like and your competition using their culture as a key differentiator, you need to view culture and branding as one initiative. And remember, how you lead is your brand.

MYTH NO. 5: The marketing director’s job is marketing. Marketing is not a singular role in a modern organization. It’s not about marketing mix, ad design, tactical punch lists or the four Ps. Marketing is the amplification of a message, which is a role for every person in the organization. Business decisions cannot be made separately from branding decisions. Marketing directors are not order takers for other executives’ business initiatives. Nor are they wielders of the previously mentioned marketing magic wand. They live the brand in the most public way and should represent, adjust to and inform the leadership about the marketplace, trends and the humans who touch the brand. The CEO may be the face of the brand, but the marketing director is the eyes and ears.

The end of the advertising age has given birth to the age of branding. But in many ways, this is a return to timeless ideas based on core beliefs, business common sense and organizations rooted in a unified pursuit. This requires leaders who are eager to bust through myths and harness the power of truth to become a 21st century brand.


Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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