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The deep brand: a cybernetic and practical exploration of organisation identity

Cybernetics offers a unique blend of wisdom, technical knowhow, theoretical concepts and tools, and experience related to real-world problems. It is in...

Written by Angus Jenkinson · 3 min read >
Deep brand triptych (Jenkinson)

Cybernetics offers a unique blend of wisdom, technical knowhow, theoretical concepts and tools, and experience related to real-world problems. It is in that spirit that I am delighted to say my paper has been published in the Journal of Brand Strategy. Whether it gets close to achieving the wisdom and the rest that I mention, I leave you to judge. But I know it marks a significant stage in my development of a more complete and useful understanding of how companies work and co-create value. It is centred on identity, the equivalent in a company of the deep identity of the human, the one that cannot be stolen like a passport.

Identity is relevant to VSM practitioners, where it creates the master regulative and governing framework (System 5) of just what the company is, actually does, and how, and why. Its principles of coherence. Identity is what appears when a good company ticks. So “deep brand” focuses beyond marketing at the need of any organism to maintain its integrity. Ant colonies need to recognise invaders and enable good foraging. Cybernetic principles are at work in both. Humans do the same to stay healthy and fulfilled. Whether you look at it conventionally, via the systems sciences, through an autopoietic lens, or via cybernetics, unless the company is clear about all its key identity parameters it cannot regulate itself, people are unclear what they are doing, and the value delivered will come short.

No #brand  model has been generally accepted across the industry as adequate, nor is there a comprehensive, theoretically grounded solution to its design, population and use. #DeepBrand puts that right, or at least on the right course, I believe. While #creativity and innovation are desirable, the current gap in #knowhow diminishes company and marketing coordination, strategies and customer-focused alignment. It has adverse effects on leadership decisions, on employee and team morale, on projects and processes, corporate health and on investor wealth. Communication and customer experience suffer. The approach aims to help with these by offering a new theory of organization called propriopoiesismaking itself according to itself. That harks back to Aristotle’s entelecheia, being-at-work-staying-itself. But when what “self” is is unclear how can you regulate anything? Propriopoiesis is a deeply researched and tested alternative transdisciplinary methodology with its brand laws. Proposed logic and methods draw on cybernetic insights — which also transformed and underpin the design industry.

A case study of application to the IBM Brand System is included in a critical examination of brand practice. The open source, novel but proven, toolset is called #Virtuoso.

To illustrate this less abstractly… Hertz

A brand/company such as Hertz (picked at random) is ‘a car hire company’; that defines it generically. But Hertz is unique and began like that.  This has been further refined and evolved through decades in relation to changing contexts, markets, customer needs, industry technologies… A customer who books a car rental and takes delivery enters multiple streams of activity. These involve car industry norms and car procurement/supply choices, finance, legal terms, guarantees, software/systems technology, individual and team training and procedures, channels, geography, marketing, pricing, offers, advertising, historic associations, social comment, and so forth.  The event, the transactional moments of truth that are the hire itself, can be analysed from all of these and other aspects. They arise in Hertz as a result of its choices, its culture, its business model, its process designs; the flow of identity. All key dimensions of the company play into the facts as observed, the situational mix in each ‘brand’ experience.  Any aspect can cause a failure.

The CEO of Hertz is responsible — obviously by delegation and systemic management — of a myriad of co-ordinated decisions and processes that have evolved over the decades and is executed by different functional groups or even divisions. The hiring event has a designated spectrum of proper behaviour and outcomes (including qualitative psychological aspects—how it feels, beliefs—formed by customer and employee) that should satisfy all parties not merely generically, but in the manner belonging specially (by ‘nature’, intrinsically) to Hertz according to its promise(s). This should be true whether considered from the viewpoint of the financial, HR, operations, legal, or marketing officers, the service persons, customer, or investor.  Systemically, it should be the integral source for the distinction and partial separation of three key aspects of identity observed from the outside (typically by customers, brand), from the inside (typically by employees, culture), and analytically by investors (business model). And it is repeated with appropriately tuned a variation tens of thousands of times each day across the world and on from day to day to day, the ongoing maintenance of which sustains the ability to maintain the ongoing.

Thus Hertz has a thematic and practical way of doing things very similar to other car hire or rental companies, but with its own distinctive character, presence, and history, institutionally remembered and repeated. This is designated as its functional identity or ‘deep brand’, which has evolved and learned and led with the industry and its changing customers — its ecosystem. Its identity (which also is expressed as brand) is intrinsic in all these aspects.

Making a difference

Cyberneticians I have met seem to want to make a difference. I think that the problem of better companies — NGOs, government institutions like universities, services departments, police, law, and hospitals — is a valuable one. And I do think its worth remembering that it is the surplus value created by healthy commercial companies (who pay their taxes and share fairly) that funds education, public derives, employment and life style, and all the rest. A proper solution will meet real needs. Needs of C-Suite, of executives in such directly concerned spaces as R&D design, CX, brand, agency services, and of course customers.   IT includes a full set of identity dimensions, in accord with how companies conserve organisational unity of identity while enabling rich diversity of practice. That is more than just a rhetoric: it is an operational logic. It deals with the central knotty problem of all enterprises, including NGO and government, to encourage creativity and recognise the individual while maintaining alignment and an integrated brand experience, profitably (or with efficient and effective use of funding).

It needs both theory and practice — #scientific and #business logics supporting self-regulation that empowers individuals. A way to coherent unity in action. I see this as an opportunity to develop a space of co-research and to invite multiple engagements, not only amongst practitioners but also academics. I hope it might be interesting to fellow members of the Cybernetics Society.

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