The world changed rather dramatically toward the end of the twentieth century. The end of Soviet communism; the advent of the World Wide Web; an economic boom across Asia; the unification of Europe; investment in fiber-optic and wireless networks; the success of big-box retailers like Tesco and Wal-Mart; protests against economic globalization; AIDS; the events of September 11, 2001; and wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq point to how change—on a global scale—has come to the consumer lifestyle and commercial culture of the world’s citizens.During this period, people began applying the term brand—previously reserved for soups and soaps—to just about everything: corporate reputations, football players, tourist destinations, and even churches. This probably resulted from the convergence of several trends. First, people began questioning the purpose of marketing in a society oversaturated with commercial messages. The desire to cut away the noise associated with advertising, together with an explosion in the variety of goods and services produced, led marketers to try and pinpoint the simple things that make us buy A instead of B.Second, large American firms, adjusting to the end of the postwar boom, looked at their competitiveness against international challengers and started to obsess about things like quality, excellence, and innovation.Meanwhile their counterparts in Europe, facing a wave of privatization and new competition from the East, began to focus on their image as never before.Third, the spread of desktop computers meant graphic design became both cheaper and more fun. A small firm could produce work on a par with a big firm.Finally, the rise of the Internet forced markets to become efficient and transparent. Competition was suddenly just a click away. It didn’t take long to realize that elements of soap branding could be—had to be—applied to corporations and destinations too.A product is fairly easy to brand. Modern manufacturing makes it simple to ensure that the brand promise is kept—satisfaction guaranteed! Every can of Campbell’s soup is of the same quality; the label makes that promise and the customer can focus instead on personal issues such as, “Will I like this flavor?” or “Does this contain too much salt?” or “What will my family say if I buy this?” A simple image or story can be repeated ad infinitum.A service is harder to brand, because it involves interactions between humans, who are changeable. Big service brands tend to overpromise; customers can be left feeling unsatisfied. Since a steady relationship is vital, service companies have to work very hard on training to make sure employees understand they are the brand.Organizations offer their own unique challenges. A university, church, museum, corporation, or nonprofit organization can have a strong brand only if it has strong leadership with a clear and compelling vision.Places—neighborhoods, cities, regions, nations—acquire their brands organically, the result of thousands or millions of people visiting and forming their own impressions. Changing a country’s brand image requires leadership and political skills as well as the coordinated effort of many entities.People can rebrand themselves at will. Madonna has made a career of it. That’s good news for anyone who feels underappreciated or misunderstood—but you must convince your family and friends (your biggest fans) that you really mean it!