What is a Brand?

7th September 2018

Brand is one of those words that is widely used in business, though not universally understood. Admittedly, that may be the reason why there are quite so many definitions out there.

Definitions

We’ll start with the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s definition: “The set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it – a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience.”

In the ‘Principles of Marketing’ (Philip Kotler/Gary Armstrong), it is defined as a “name, term, sign symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product”.

Now, we don’t for one minute question the intent or incisiveness of these interpretations or underestimate the unquestionable difficulty inherent in creating a universally agreed definition, they just leave us more than a little cold.

Because when you are creating a Brand – in other words your banner or motif that will ignite your business, illuminate your points of difference and inspire your torchbearers to spread your messages like wildfire – you’ll want to feel pretty red hot about it don’t you?

Seth Godin’s definition is getting closer: “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another…..But your brand is a story, a set of emotions and expectations and a stand-in for how we think and feel about what you do.”

Emotional Connection

This is certainly better in terms of expressing something of the emotional connection that we have with Brands but still doesn’t go far enough. You see, we just don’t think of a brand as a ‘stand-in’ for anything or anyone.

When we run our Brand Workshops we often start the process by asking participants to articulate what they have in mind when they think of the word, ‘Brand’.

What our clients find within these discovery sessions is that there are numerous dimensions as to what constitutes a Brand, some of which have greater resonance than others within the context of the cultural framework of their business.

Interpretations

The question, “What is a Brand” typically prompts a wide variety of responses. Here’s a glimpse at our top 10:

1. Identity
2. Perception
3. Differentiation
4. Promise
5. Trust
6. Reputation
7. Purpose
8. Experience
9. Values
10. Personality

Of course, all of these interpretations have more than a degree of validity, which serves to highlight the complex multi-layered, multi-faceted combination of factors that constitutes a Brand.

So, is it the cumulative impression of a business purpose, image, values, attributes, positioning, identity and experiences, both tangible and intangible that defines what the business stands for, why it stands out and what it means to people? Or does it go deeper than that?

Soul

One of our clients expressed his thoughts on the topic rather more poetically and, in my view, far more incisively by stating: “a brand is the face and soul of an organisation.”

If you believe that a Brand extends to a place far beyond a logo mark, then you’d be right. The spirit of a Brand is to be found in an entirely different dimension. An individual one. A distinctly personal one. And increasingly, in this age of intense competition, an emotional one.