Brand extraction

Brands_1Here’s a startup idea: a consultancy that goes into corporations to discover ideas and innovations that languish there.  The job: to extract brands.

Let’s be honest.  The corporation has many great ideas that it never manages to harvest.  These are notions sitting in reports from consultants, buried in internal committee work, neglected on the lab bench, ideas taken up and then let slip. 

The culprits are clear enough.  Some ideas are murdered in committee.  Some are destroyed by the roller derby punishments of politics.  Some drop between stools as personnel come and go.  And some merely get lost in the very considerable shuffle of corporate life. 

The corporation is now so good at mobilizing to address the present opportunity that it sometimes has a hard time keeping an eye on the alternative ones.  What doesn’t get operationalized straight away tends to disappear from view. 

The costs are enormous…and unacceptable.  If BusinessWeek is right to say that we now live in a creative economy, no corporation can afford to practice infanticide of this kind.  Really good ideas must be identified, brought forward, and be allowed to find the light of day.  Shareholder value depends upon it.  New ideas, increasingly these are what they pay us for.

It is entirely possible that the Razr, the phone that saved Motorola, might have languished in the lab, where it not for the brand extraction heroics of Geoffrey Frost (see link below).  And that’s a chilling thought, that a struggling corporation might have missed its opportunity to return to greatness because, well, there was no brand extractor standing by.  (To be sure, Frost was an insider.  The "brand extraction" proposition makes sense when there is no insider standing by.)

The brand extractors would have to have several qualities.  They would have to have a gift for absorbing vast qualities of data and the ability to detect patterns therein.  This pattern detection in its turn depends upon a deep knowledge of the industry, the market, the competition, and the opportunity in question. 

Furthermore, brand extractors would have to have the ability to proceed with the utmost diplomatic finesse.  No idea that is forgotten or foresaken can be returned to usefulness without political consequences.  That means that the incumbents will sometimes conceal ideas and they will sometimes resist extraction.  When these both fail, the incumbents will attempt to influence the brand extractors one way or another.  The brand extractors must be utterly unswayable and as politically adroit as they are intellectually nimble. 

Brand extraction will likely look a little like the "book extraction" I proposed a couple of weeks ago (see link below).   It will have to be a process that is swift and merciless, a lightning intervention more than a laborious inquisition.  As long as due diligence is performed, in matters of brand extraction, faster is better. 


Tom Asacker and I have been kicking ideas back and forth the last week or so, and his characteristic intelligence and acuity have clarified things for me here.  Thanks, Tom. 


McCracken, Grant. 2005.  Remembering Geoffrey Frost.  This Blog Sits at the… December 19, 2005. here

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Book Extraction (Supplying the long tail).  This Blog Sits at the…  October 12, 2005. here.

6 thoughts on “Brand extraction

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  3. Anonymous

    Graphic design, industrial design, and brand design firms do all of this already.

    See Corporate Design Foundation and numerous design firm web sites on info and case studies. Also see

  4. Grant

    ME-L, I know this case too well, having taught it at HBS. With your distinquished exception, no one seems to get that it’s about cultural meanings, a cultural repositioning as it were. Thanks, Grant

    Anon, if only they did. They work with a blank slate, always starting over for the client. Thanks, Grant

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