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What exactly is 'brand'?

09 Oct 2018 by Mike Tisdall

'Brand' word made up of wooden letters

It’s just one of those words, isn’t it? So open to interpretation. So dependent upon the predisposition of the listener or reader. Even after all these years in the branding and communication game, there are still plenty of client folk out there who hear ‘brand’ and think ‘logo’.

In my blog post on Brand Lingo, I talked about all the branding terms that get bandied about and attempted to lock down some logical definitions that help differentiate one from the other. But even the word ‘brand’ itself means different things to different people at different times. I alluded to that in the opening paragraphs of that earlier post, where I let slip my most favourite of definitions, Jeff Bezos’ “A brand is what people say about you after you leave the room.”

But over the years, I’ve actually quietly been collecting quite a hoard of definitions of the word. Some of them are actually really good, others not so much. And from my select few favourites, I tend to pick the one most relevant to the client discussion at hand that will help them move their thinking forward in the most appropriate context.

The best ones, like Bezos’ ‘after you leave the room’, have a go at deflecting thoughts of ‘logo’ and ‘visual identity’ to something a lot broader that captures the total sum of parts ethos.

Here are a few more that I can find myself nodding to:

“A brand is a promise. It’s a promise that your company can keep. And you make and keep that promise in every marketing activity, every action, every corporate decision, every customer interaction.”

“A brand is an authentic reflection of the company’s true vision.” 

“A brand is the organising principle of how a company operates and communicates.”

“Part art, part science, ‘brand’ is the difference between a bottle of soda and a bottle of Coke.”

and

“A brand is really a way of remembering what something is like for future reference. Something you value. Something you feel attracted to.”

 

Beyond the above succinct one-liners, I’ve also collected a few slightly more fulsome narratives that help give boundaries to the word ‘brand’.

“The brand is the character, style and purpose that serves as the foundation for your business, like the roots of a tree. You have to stop thinking of ‘the brand’ as a layer of polish that makes your brand pretty.”

“Businesses often think about branding after they’ve built the core of their business, when the branding should have been the core of the business.”

And a series of sage phrases from brand strategist, Matthew Fenton, out of Chicago:

“Think ‘experience’ not ‘branding’, and your branding will get better.”

“Branding is not about logos, taglines or heartstring-tugging ads – they are merely coats of paint.” 

“Brands are built in the doing, not the saying.”

 

What’s your favourite definition of the ‘brand’ word? 

If we can narrow the frame of reference, individual words can actually mean what we think we’re saying. Just don’t get me started on ‘sustainability’!

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