What is a Brand?
I am very often asked, “What is a brand?” And my response always is, “There is no simple answer.” Yes, it is very easy to say AT&T, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Xerox, Colgate, Kleenex, and Avis are all brands, as are a million other names. No, these are brand names. So then, what is a brand?
In its own way, “branding” is a modern day phenomenon. Yet, it is a very old concept.
Forty years ago, advertising and consumer behavior textbooks devoted just a few paragraphs to this topic.
Today, there are over 200 books on the subject of “branding.”
In the mid-to-late 1800s, Procter & Gamble and a few other consumer products companies started branding their products. Between the 1600s and 1800s, criminals were branded. Literally!
In the 1200s, England required bread makers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths to put their “marks” on goods they sold.
As far back as 1300 BC, potter’s marks were used on pottery and porcelain in China, India, Greece and Rome.
From a historical perspective, it does appear that branding originally served one primary purpose – identify the source of the product. This led to providing product differentiation, honesty, and quality assurance.
A few years ago, a SVP of a global advertising agency asked me to expound on the words “brand” and “branding”. My response:
• Every company, product, or service can be branded. Those that are not are essentially generic.
• Every brand has a soul. Normally, this resides in the head of the CEO of the company originating the brand (product or service).
• Branding is the process of mining the head of this CEO to search for the soul and finding that one nugget; developing a communications platform for the findings; and, effectively and efficiently communicating the “values” of the brand to all the constituents or stakeholders.
• The most important constituent for a company, or a product, is the consumer. Other constituents include the shareholders, the suppliers, the employees, and all other parties that are involved.
• Branding is a strategy developed to own a piece of a specific target audience’s mind share for the product or service.
• When this strategy has been developed and the brand’s values are communicated to its target audiences, identity and image are the two outputs.
• A company’s, or a product’s, identity is defined by its name, its logo (the design, typography and colors), and its tagline.
• A company’s, or a product’s, image is defined by the perception the consumer has of the company or the product.
• A brand is not “all things to all people”. A brand will own a piece of the mind of a very specific set of consumers. This is attained through the process of “positioning” and is normally reflected in the brand’s tagline.
A brand is not what you see or hear. It is what you feel.