Brands flourish in open cultures run by candid managers. A brand’s success reflects transparency. Our fast-moving world demands that a brand be intelligible intuitively even when it isn’t grasped easily on an analytical level. In fact, a successful brand today will have multiple layers of depth – but almost always has instantly recognizable validity.

With today’s emphasis on value, some may wonder how customers would expect greater customer service, but they do. Customer service doesn’t necessarily mean serving a customer’s needs in the traditional sense. Nor is it rolling out worn-out clichés and formulas. The foremost brands today have a reputation for customer service if they are skilled in listening and solving. These creative companies engage themselves in listening and responding each time a problem emerges. Once I had a problem with a product I bought at Radio Shack. Finally I was so angry I called the CEO. An aide got on the line, actually listened to the problem, and pledged to get back to me in an hour. She did just that and told me exactly what would happen. She treated me on a very personal level in a way I had never been treated before. My attitude shift was remarkable . . . from anger to admiration, and I must have told a hundred different people about my satisfaction. My testimony was a down-to-earth viral campaign – far outdoing conventional advertising.

Often companies train their people to deal with customers as if there were a psychological echo in which the service representative is just reiterating company dogma: a dangerously destructive approach.

As Shakespeare said, “To thy ownself be true.” Recently I went to a dentist for routine teeth cleaning, and I was immediately told I needed other services and treatment. I felt as though I was being handled, and that is not an appealing sensation. Authentic brands don’t try to manipulate customers as though they are products or mere profit opportunities. Brands are being scrutinized very intensely, and wary customers increasingly want to be satisfied that the people managing the brand have authentic, legitimate passions and that the brand is not out to exploit.

The brand needs to have the stamina and the openness to allow the customer to share in its definition and evolution. This process isn’t passive for the brand owner. A brand must be managed in such a way it effectively solicits input through providing customers the tools by which they can influence the brand. Facebook is a great example of this. This social network website has 200 million users, but there’s no reason why that list shouldn’t mount into the billions. Facebook provides users with an intuitively based template that allows them to create the brand through inviting personal expression. Facebook hasn’t resist its brand being shaped by its constituents . . . it enables this design involvement. Facebook has chosen to guide rather than to control.

It is very difficult to build a brand experience and especially to develop an array of touchpoints that allow the brand to be recognized in a fluent, reliable way. The most powerful brand experiences are of two sorts: solutions and surprises. It could be anticipating a problem a customer might well need solved when they are working down a particular store aisle . . . or a small surprise gift, a meaningful thank you from the CEO, or a coupon in a shopping bag that you discover when you open the package at home. Such events are one-on-one dialogues with a brand. There are a huge number of inexpensive, low-hanging fruit options to positively surprise the customer.

Starbucks is rich in offering sensory brand experience in the very design of its stores. These are not overblown touches but disarming elements to make people in the store feel happy. Today’s public is attracted by presences that are not over-the-top. A very different example: Look at the transformation that has taken place in Hollywood film villains . . . from Scarface to David Carradine’s “Hi, kid, how ya’ doin’ today?” manner in the Kill Bill movies.

Effective branding is about creating and maintaining a vital, living experience. Achieving any of these steps often requires painstaking attention to detail. Brand building is as much art form as it is science. Don’t flaunt the analysis you may need to do. As with any art, much of its magic comes from seeming to be effortless.