A look at branding: Are you living in one of the 9 circles of hell?

Chris Heile

Chief Strategy Officer

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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Terrible winds from ceaseless storms or crawling through deserts with flaming sand – Dante’s Inferno describes a hell no one would ever willfully visit. Does the ancient allegory on sin and redemption also illustrate what can happen to a brand in need of salvation? I spent some time looking at the poem many of us read in high school and found comparisons to the struggles many brands we work with find themselves in. I’ve broken Dante’s nine circles down below and made my own comparisons to “hell” some brands can find themselves in:

1. Limbo

Limbo is a deficient form of heaven. For brands, this means a lack of story or direction, leading to muddy internal decision-making and confusion out in the marketplace.

2. Lust

So many brands lust after the logos, graphics or visual elements of other brands, often co-opting bits and pieces from them without any strategic underpinning.

3. Gluttony

A gluttonous brand is one that keeps expanding its portfolio of offerings without any clear strategic direction. Yahoo is an example here – the company has made hundreds of acquisitions and has no clear focus or direction.

4. Greed

A greedy brand takes more than it gives. They are easy to spot on social media – talking about how great they are, but rarely engaging in conversation or offering added value to its audience.

5. Anger

In Dante’s Inferno, the angry fight each other in the swampy waters of the river Styx. In a branding inferno, brands have siloed department heads and business units fighting for position and resources within the organization.

6. Heresy

This circle of hell is where Dante finds those who did not believe the soul lives on after the body dies, and instead chose to indulge in a life of empty pleasures. In the branding inferno, this circle is for brands that don’t put in the effort necessary to define who they really are, instead pursuing superficial schemes that only bring short-term gains.

7. Violence

Dante wrote that profligates — those who inflicted misery upon themselves by squandering their wealth and living reckless, wildly extravagant lives — were among those confined to this circle of hell. In the branding world, there are plenty of organizations that hurt themselves by throwing money at their problems, only to end up with no budget and little value in their brand.

8. Fraud

A fraudulent brand is one that doesn’t live up to its promises, letting its customers down. Are you pandering to potential customers on social media, only to disappoint them when they engage with you? Do you have a shiny digital appearance but nothing to support it?

9. Treachery

Dante describes traitors as those who violated a special relationship. Many brands have special relationships with key stakeholders and partners, and if those relationships are violated by anyone in your organization, your brand will be consigned to this circle of the inferno.