What is a brand?

Before we can talk about Brand Strategy, we need to agree on what a brand is. 

Wikipedia says “a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising. Name brands are sometimes distinguished from generic or store brands.”

Hmm. Ok. Seems to lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

 

What do the gurus say?

Apparently everything, according to an almost endless list of quotes that author Heidi Cohen put together: 

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“Brand is a known identity of a company in terms of what products and services they offer but also the essence of what the company stands for in terms of service and other emotional, non tangible consumer concerns. To brand something is when a company or person makes descriptive and evocative communications, subtle and overt statements that describe what the company stands for. For example, is the brand the most economical, does it stands for superior service, is it an environmental responsible provider of x,y,z service or product. Each communication is deliberate in evoking emotion in the receiver to leave him/her with an essence of what the company or person stands for.

Donna Antonucci

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“A brand is a reason to choose.” 

Cheryl Burgess – Blue Focus Marketing

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“A brand symbol as “anything that leaves a mental picture of the brand’s identity.” 

Leo Burnett

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“Brands are shorthand marketing messages that create emotional bonds with consumers. Brands are composed of intangible elements related to its specific promise, personality, and positioning and tangible components having identifiable representation including logos, graphics, colors and sounds. A brand creates perceived value for consumers through its personality in a way that makes it stand out from other similar products. Its story is intricately intertwined with the public’s perception and consistently provides consumers with a secure sense that they know what they’re paying for. In a world where every individual is also a media entity, your consumers own your brand (as it always was).”

Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies

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“In today’s social, customer-controlled world, marketers may be spending their money to build a brand. But they don’t own it. In their influential book, Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff state “your brand is whatever your customers say it is…” As a marketer, this means that, while a brand is the emotional relationship between the consumer and the product, you must engage with consumers and build positive brand associations. The deeper the relationship, the more brand equity exists.”

Neil Feinstein – True North

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“Brand is the sum total of how someone perceives a particular organization. Branding is about shaping that perception. “

Ashley Friedlein – Econsultancy

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“A brand is 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. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. “

Seth Godin – Author of Linchpin

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“Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are. Or quoting Ze Frank, it’s the “emotional aftertaste” that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service or company.  (Also, it’s the mark left after a red-hot iron is applied to a steer’s hindquarters.)”

Ann Handley – MarketingProfs, Author with C.C. Chapman of Content Rules

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“A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitor. “

Phillip Kotler – Author of Marketing Management

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“That old “a brand is a promise” saw holds true, but only partially true.” 

Rebecca Lieb, author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization

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“A brand is the meaningful perception of a product, a service or even yourself –either good, bad or indifferent — that marketers want people to believe based on what they think they hear, see, smell, taste and generally sense from others around them.” 

Josh Moritz

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“A brand is “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” 

David Ogilvy, Author of On Advertising

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“A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.” 

Al Ries – Author of Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind

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“A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” 

Sergio Zyman, Author of The End of Advertising As We Know It‘

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Summing It All Up

One of my fave gurus, Marty Neumeier, defines a brand by first describing what it is not: “A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product.” He then declares that “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”

Finally, the last word goes to Calin Hertioga + Johannes Christensen writing for Interbrand, who point out the obvious:

“Experts do not share a common view of what “brand” means. They call it everything from a gut feeling, a living memory, or an interface, to an intangible sum of attributes, or a business asset. To confuse matters further, many are using “brand” when they actually mean something else (e.g., “company” or “image”) 

Or “logo” as Marty said. That’s the most common thing I hear people refer to as a brand. Nope. Not it.

 

Just to be clear…

A logo is not a brand. 

Same brand, different logos.

How I Define a Brand

Let’s go back to Hertioga + Christensen, who wrap things up with this definition: 

“A brand is the sum of all expressions by which an entity (person, organization, company, business unit, city, nation, etc.) intends to be recognized.” 

Ok. That works, though it still lacks a little je ne sais quoi. 

Which leads me to my definition. Along the lines of Hertioga + Christensen and Jay Moritz, here’s how I see it:

A brand is the result of your attempts to influence how people perceive you.

The ‘you’ in this case is a slightly expanded version of the list from Hertioga + Christensen:  a person, place, thing, organization, company, business unit, city, nation,  etc. 

Because a brand is all about perception, I tell clients that they don’t control a lot of the final result. That’s up to their customers, their community, their competitors, the press, etc. But they do control some of it — how it looks, what it says, what the values behind it are and how they’re expressed.

And that’s why they sometimes hire someone like me to help them figure that stuff out.

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Portland, OR / Santa Rosa, CA / Remote Everywhere

chris@chris-cobb.com

503-765-6437

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