I blogged yesterday on how I thought Goldman Sachs made the error of not defining its brand from the customers’ perspective, but rather making its brand more about Goldman Sachs vis-a-vis “the smartest guys in the room.”

Yesterday, I listened to Goldman’s Senate hearings and heard from a number of panels that certainly was made up of “the smartest guys in the room.” They were all sharp and addressed the committee’s questions with extremely well thought-out, if not arrogant, responses. However, there were a few points made that illustrated the importance of brand to both internal and external audiences. A senator asked a Goldman panelist about the first of a series of 14 “business principals” that they supposedly used as part of their “brand promises.” The principle simply states, “Our client’s interests always come first.”


After listening to the testimony yesterday, it was clear that this was not always the case in the way Goldman Sachs conducted its business matters. I am making no judgment as to right or wrong, but a brand strategist like me would note that Goldman Sachs certainly isn’t living up to its brand promise.

Not strictly following its prime business principal illustrates the difference between brand and business. A brand should be all encompassing within an organization, not simply written on a document that can be tossed away as conditions change. It is the very fabric that guides an organization in everything it does, what it says, and how it acts. When the brand is defined from the perspective of the customer, it becomes both more difficult for the organization to ignore it,  easier for the organization to build additional value, and more difficult for customers to leave them when things go bad.

If Goldman truly lived the principles as a dimension of their brand, it should have said, “We have not lived up to our promise of believing our clients’ interests always come first, and we humbly apologize. Because we are rededicating ourselves to this principal, we are going to  _____________”

Although Goldman Sachs may believe it is made up of “the smartest guys in the room,” I think Goldman Sachs may be underestimating  how large of a brand problem it really has, both in its failure to define a real brand and in the failure to live up to their business principles it claimed to have lived by.  Sometimes being too smart breeds arrogance, and being too smart blinded Goldman Sachs to see the importance of their brand.

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