Sonic Branding - from belief to brand

This week's extract from Sonic Branding: An Introduction, describes how, over 30 years ago, Howard Schulz (founder of Starbucks as we know it) used positive emotional investment to draw stakeholders and build momentum for his European-style coffee-shop chain in the United States idea.

Chapter 11 - Turning beliefs into brands

As already stated, belief is a strange concept that is not easily described but I like to think of belief as being an ‘investment of emotions’ and where the emotional investment is considered to have a beneficial end state, as with brands, then it can be said to be ‘positive’. Treating belief as an investment allows us to see how important belief is to a brand. We know that without investment, all entities fail.

Positive emotional investment (PEI), a catch-all term for such concepts as love, caring and nurturing, is what leads people into making all the other investments that brands require: time, capital or purchase. Quite simply, the more people that invest, the stronger a brand becomes. That PEI is actually at the top of the investment hierarchy, far beyond the kind of financial investments usually talked about, and can be demonstrated through a simple case study of how a belief is at the origin of a brand.

All brands start with a person or small group of people who share a belief. For example, Starbucks was apparently founded on the belief that European-style coffee shops were cool places to hang out. Let us put this 'belief’ in a little box so we can examine it. It gives us a starting point for a neat chart that we can use to define the essence of a brand and the process of branding.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks as we know it, then made a PEI and started telling people how good these places were. More than that he invested his time into coming up with an idea. His idea was to open a European-style coffee shop in the United States.

At this point, the idea became more important than the initial belief. With an idea, Schultz now had an even better vessel for his PEI. He told other people his idea and because of his enthusiasm, they agreed with him.

The more people he told, the more he was told in return that his was a good idea. In this way, he encouraged other people to make a PEI into his idea. Each person that was convinced became a stakeholder in the brand.

The stakeholder is a key component of a modern brand definition. Stakeholders are all the people who believe in a brand, from the founder’s mother to the customer in a remote country. It is the broadest definition of a brand’s constituency and acknowledges that family, staff, the financial world, the media and every customer are important to the brand.

As the number of stakeholders grew from one, Howard Schultz, to many, the ‘I’ of idea became a ‘we’. A momentum built and has been building ever since on a big wave of PEI. This is shown in particular and abstract in Figures 11.4 and 11.5 (shown below).


This is a simple model but it is not yet a brand because it is still only an idea, albeit a popular one. Ideas exist on an ethereal plain and it would be very hard for even a talented businessman like Howard Schultz to generate wealth, financial or emotional, simply from an idea. It is always worth remembering that ideas are not own-able in law. It is impossible to copyright an idea. In order to turn an idea into a brand, we need to consider the challenge of making something tangible, something real-worldly, so that many more people can believe in it.

Daniel M Jackson, CEO - CORD