What Is A Brand? We Really Should Know By Now


It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t know how to define brand. This applies to people that don’t work in marketing, those that work in marketing and even worse those that work in brand. I think a brand is:

A construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values

Sure, it’s a bit complicated and involved. But brands are complicated and involved. It fits. This is how I arrived at this definition….

When defining something it’s important to be clear on what it is and is not. A brand is not a logo.  If you take away the logo there is nothing there. You have no brand. This is a shockingly simple statement yet if I had received £1 for every time I have used that sentence I would be typing this blog from my villa in the Seychelles (as opposed to from a train leaving London!).  Lovely thought….

So what is a brand? It’s lots of things.  Branding Prof Leslie de Chernatony (and colleagues) have developed a helpful model where a brand can be considered from an input, output or evolutionary perspective.

From an input perspective i.e. something the marketer ‘creates’, a brand is:

–      A legal instrument e.g. ‘™’ or ‘®’)

–      A logo e.g. ISO standard etc.  

–      A company e.g. British Airways

–      An identity system (how the organisation wants to be perceived by stakeholders) e.g. Body Shop and being ethical.

–      A shorthand device that facilitates the recall of brand benefits e.g. McDonald’s golden ‘m’

–      A risk reducer due to brand familiarity e.g. Wells Fargo insurance

–      A value system where the brand is a cluster of functional and emotional values.

–      A vision which provides brand direction, focus and purpose.

Definitions developed by the American Marketing Association (in the 1960’s and more recently in 2009) tend to focus on the first two areas – trademark and logo. This approach oversimplifies brand. Brand name, term, symbol etc., play an important role in brand. They’re not a brand per se. They’re physical manifestations of the emotional bond brands look to develop – the key to branding. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

The concept of ‘values’ is important. Values inform behaviour and act as an emotional ‘common denominator’ for the bond or connection a brand develops with its stakeholders. Aligned values are crucial if brands plan to make an emotional connection.  

From an output perspective i.e. a brand exists in the consumers’ minds, brands can be considered as:

–      The image in the consumers’ minds e.g. Singapore Airlines and an exceptional flying experience.

–      A way of adding value to the purchase e.g. AMEX and airport services

–      A personality e.g. Nike and competitive sport / winning.

–      A relationship between the brand and its stakeholders e.g. HSBC your local bank.

The notion of a relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders gives rise to mutual expectations being formed between the brand / organisation and its stakeholders. I think it’s better to consider this as a ‘connection’ or ‘bond’. Brands, by nature are not human so cannot reciprocate as part of a relationship as people do.

The evolutionary perspective regards brands as evolving from an input to an output perspective. Brands are a fluid and dynamic. They ‘evolve’ and ‘develop’ from a brand owner to consumer focus.  The brand moves from being something the brand owner does to the consumer to something the consumer does with the brand to express their ‘self’ as part of an iterative dialogue.  Witness the rise of social media.

These three perspectives don’t consider brands as promises. I think this is useful. With most brands, especially services, a promise is being bought with a brand. You don’t know if you’re going to be happy until you’ve paid your money.  If you’re buying a car you can test drive it. Service brands don’t have this luxury.  This makes service branding especially challenging so the promise has to be right and delivered against.  

So, how can I define brand as I do? Well, I consider brands as: a construct i.e. something that is perceived, which helps with the delivery of brand-related promises made by the seller / corporation to its stakeholders; facilitating the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller / corporation its stakeholders; being guided by functional and an emotional element.  Combining these points leads to my definition of brand where a brand is a construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values

It’s kind of complicated. But so is branding.

Contributed to BSI by: Dr. Darren Coleman, Managing Consultant, Wavelength Marketing®

Here’s another view on what a brand is by Brad VanAuken.

Sponsored By: The Emotional Connection Workshop

(Via Branding Strategy Insider.)


One response to “What Is A Brand? We Really Should Know By Now

  1. A nice definition and explanation of what ‘Branding’ is, that I found some months ago on the Internet check it out, nice posting btw.


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