Developing and applying an integrated, sensible brand for a large organization is a daunting, long-term task, with uncertain results. Multinational corporations such as BP have completely redefined their brands, as have some notable nonbusiness organizations, including not-for-profit and educational organizations, although these have generally taken longer than the corporate sector acknowledge the importance of developing coherent brand identities.

Some mega-corporations have solved their branding issues by pretending they don’t have a brand, choosing instead to focus on the brands of their individual business units, products, or services. Others, like Mitsubishi and GE, have opted instead for the long march of building and maintaining a corporate mega-brand. In the world of branding and marketing, opinions remain divided as to whether this is a good idea. The benefits seem to be primarily in business-to-business dealings, since consumers tend not to care as much about big, monolithic corporations as about things they can actually buy.

In the early 2000s BR the multinational oil company formerly known as British Petroleum, decided to begin a process of transformation. Their first steps toward recasting the brand as “green energy” met with skepticism and outright derision. “Big Oil” is not known for its dedication to environmental sensitivity, and many doubted that BP was sincere. The new logo, a yellow-and-green sunburst, was mocked by some designers for its spare, geometric look.

BP appears to be succeeding in its attempts to lead the way in “clean” energy usage, supporting technologies that reduce carbon emissions and investing in solar power. Although it still has some serious issues to overcome, BP’s actions show that its new brand is not a simple veneer, but a representation of real commitment.

What’s the difference between branding a nation and branding a government? The two intersect in a number of ways. After all, it is usually governments that sponsor programs of national or regional branding.

One difference is that nation branding tends to be aimed outwards, at visitors and investors, while governmental branding tends to be aimed inward, at its own citizens. In most countries there is little or no concerted effort at projecting a coherent identity beyond using official names and coats of arms. However, there are a few democracies, mostly European, in which more progressive governments have come to understand that a good branding program can give the illusion of a participatory democracy by making government services easier to navigate, more responsive to the people and, because of their greater success in satisfying the demands of the electorate, more effective in power.