We live in a 360° world. It’s archaic and dangerous to think that the environment we’re up against can be reduced to a single, simple, flat image neatly laid out in front of us. We’re not just encircled by a surround-sound world. We’re enveloped in it.

What does surround sound have to do with branding? For ages, a logo on a label has been the dominant icon for our idea of what a brand means. Today’s technologically-driven, information world is retooling that icon. A brand is becoming a surround-sound landscape of intangibles – point-of-sale, word-of-mouth, Web presence and countless others – triggering the collective brand experience.

Making this world even wilder (and more exciting) is a decisive transition. Brand definition is shifting out of the hands of managers and ad agencies and into the grasp of consumers themselves.

Pinpointing the date of this transformation is no easy matter, but one milestone breakthrough was surely Apple’s announcement in June 2007 that it would support 3rd party Web apps for its iPhone. It effectively made consumer/developers its business partners. A more accurate brand image would be that of an open-source network, much closer to that of Wkipedia. Talk with anyone in the prescription-pharmaceutical industry, and the potential for tailor-made drugs has ignited enormous buzz. Individual consumers are taking a stake in brands. Harnessing information through technology will revolutionize marketing just as the technology that enabled efficient mass production redefined the last century. That means brands – in manufacturing sectors we can scarcely imagine today – will increasingly become the interactive shared property of consumers.

In a surround-sound world, the brand truly occupies the corner office, as I have often said it should. If the CEO has been booted out of his or her old haunts, where should the top gun hang out these days? In the arena! Gone are the days of the CEO as lofty, remote command-giver, methodical measure-taker, and orderly disciplinarian. In a surround-sound world the CEO is a blend of navigator, engineer, artist, sleuth, and – above all – inspiring, empowering motivator: a force mobile throughout the organization. Brands touch the consumer in much different ways today; and a CEO’s job is to make sure that touch is as positive, impactful, and memorable as it can be.