The Branding of Six Sigma

Brand yourself the same way

by Greg Hutchins

Six Sigma is hot right now. We've got Green Belts, Blaack Belts, disciples and Six Sigma gods. Six Sigma consultants are billing at rates I haven't seen in 10 years. And, we've got quality consultants who don't know their Cpk from their DOE.

Six Sigma has generated a firestorm of controversy. Everyone has a visceral reaction to it. Some love it. Others hate it. I've taken another tack. I do like what a few brave souls have done to resuscitate an old technology, reposition it and deploy it for the betterment of many organizations. Here's my spin on what I call the "branding of Six Sigma" and how that applies to "brand you."

The quality marketplace hates a vacuum. Quality has had a vision, leadership and voice vacuum since the heydays of W. Edwards Deming and J.M. Juran. Philip Crosby, our only remaining active stellar light, seems a voice lost in the quality wilderness.

So, the question I've heard is: What are quality wannabe gurus going to do to break out of the herd? The answer: quality branding. It's a concept that is used by the Six Sigma folks, and it's something that you've got to know and do.

First, what's a brand? "It's a way of encapsulating and communicating a product's power, pitch and position in the most succinct way: the combination of one name and visual image--a personality--that anyone, anywhere, will recognize and interpret in precisely the same way," say David Andrusia and Rick Haskins in Brand Yourself.1

What's personal career branding? "Brand you" is about breaking bounds and creating unmistakable value added products (projects) for identifiable customers. The products/projects become your braggables, according to Tom Peters.2

What's work going to look like? One common idea is that we're becoming actors in the theater of work. We'll move from job to job and project to project much like actors move from play to play and production to production on TV, radio, movies and Broadway. Some roles are starring--but most are supporting.

Why is your "brand you" so important? "Because in just a few words, through one image and ideally by its very name, a brand conveys to consumers a strong, positive sense of a product or service and why it's different and better than the competition. Most important of all, a strong image impels people to buy," say Andrusia and Haskins.3

So, back to Six Sigma branding: The wannabe quality gurus took their lead from the leading marketing books. These wannabes saw a market need with no quality voices and asked themselves, "What can we do about it?" Their answer was, "Why not rebrand some old quality tools as in Six Sigma and build brand equity around that." Hmm ... sounds like a great way to make lots of money.

To build Six Sigma brand equity, they did what marking experts advise. In Brand Leadership, leading product brand experts David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler say brand equity is created in these four ways:4

  • Brand awareness. Wannabe gurus write Six Sigma books to create awareness and buzz. They give talks and write columns. They establish a distinct look and feel.
  • Brand loyalty. Six Sigma customers, like GE's Jack Welch, praise Six Sigma to the heavens.
  • Brand perceived quality. Six Sigma as a tool or technology isn't very exciting. It's a statistical hammer. So, the wannabes created organizational mystique (Six Sigma samurais), processes (implementation strategies) and culture (the belt hierarchy) to ensure it becomes a religion and develops self-perpetuating legs.
  • Brand associations. ASQ and others have legitimized the technology.

So what does this have to do with "brand you"? Over time, your "brand you" becomes your brand equity, a lifelong asset that is your personal competitive advantage. As the marketplace, customers and companies change, what communicates core values or a sense of who you are? The answer is personal branding. A personal brand tells people who you are, what you can do and what they can count on from you. It becomes part of your character and personality.

In Brand Yourself, Andrusia and Haskins make the case for personal branding:

Branding is such a powerful tool in selling a product that it makes perfect sense that we as individuals should brand ourselves--thereby creating a strong, positive sense of ourselves (the product) and our services that is different and better than what our peers have to offer (the competition)--for the greatest possible career success.5

How do you create your personal and recognizable quality brand? It's a matter of creating your personal buzz. This may mean managing signature projects, writing best-selling books or simply talking at professional meetings. With the Web and Internet, it's easier than ever to create "brand you."


1. David Andrusia and Rick Haskins, Brand Yourself (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999), p. 10.

2. Tom Peters, The Brand You 50 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 41.

3. Andrusia and Haskins, Brand Yourself (see reference 1), p. 2.

4. David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 9.

5. Andrusia and Haskins, Brand Yourself (see reference 1), p. 3.

GREG HUTCHINS is a principal with Quality Plus Engineering, a process, project and supply chain management company in Portland, OR. He wrote Working It: The Rules Have Changed. Hutchins can be reached at gregh@europa.com or 800-266-7383 or on ASQ's members-only career forum at www.asq.org.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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