So…what is a Brand?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

Sometimes when I introduce myself, I’ll say: “Hi, I’m a Brand Strategy Consultant, the three most mis-understood words in business.”  I think I need a new introduction, but save that for another story. The problem about the word “BRAND” is a lot of really smart people still see brand as a name, a logo, an identity and possibly a slogan. I am writing this to stretch your minds a little, to start to see brand as an idea that can help make your business bigger.  

There’s a lot of debate in this industry on what makes a great brand.

  • On the one hand, there are those in the industry who want to believe that brand is all about the product or service.  Brand to them is very simple, 100% rational and there is almost a ‘what you see is what you get’ view of brand. The product is the brand. Even with a brand like Apple, they’ll say it’s because Apple has “great products”.
  • The other side believes that brand is all about equity and success comes strictly from an emotional connection, no matter how exciting or boring the category. They tend to think that great communication can over come any product deficiencies.

This division shows up in various places, including how companies organize their people and resources.  There’s too many companies set up with “product departments” and “brand departments”. I also hear the term “brand tax” where the product budgets pay percent of their marketing spend towards the brand. And finally, I’ll hear “no that’s not our decision, that’s BRAND’s decision.” And in walks the ad agency and the client might say “this is an equity spot, but we want to put a 5-second tag of the new flavour at the end”.

A brand is not just a logo. I think it’s important for Brand Leaders to know what a brand is so that they don’t do what The Gap did 3 years ago when their brand was in trouble. With The Gap in trouble for over a decade, instead of looking at what was wrong with the brand (dull clothing, internal culture, connecting to the target, and stretching the brand too thinly to baby gap and maternity gap) the management team did what too many leaders do–they changed the logo.  The new logo, heavily criticized, only lasted one week before they went back. 

So what is a Brand?

A Brand is a unique idea, perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer, consistently delivered by the experience,  creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve.

Let’s break that definition down.

Part 1: “unique idea”

Brands are based on a unique idea, promise or reputation. Yes, most brands start as a product or service, but the best brands find an idea to make the brand even bigger than the original product. The idea is big enough for consumers to love, and the brand’s idea becomes a DNA or Brand Essence that you’ll see and feel in every part of the brand. These days as things are so competitive, and consumers have so much access to information, I do think brands need to find a uniqueness, because there really are only four options for brands: 1) better 2) different 3) cheaper or 4) not around for very long. Push yourself to find your brand’s unique point of difference and create a big idea that you can use to manage every part of your brand.

The big idea for the Apple brand is that it takes out the complexity and makes it so simple that everyone can be part of the future. Everything from there falls under that big idea–the promise, strategy, story, freshness and the experience.


Part 2: “perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer”

The image of the brand is no longer owned by the brand, if it ever was owned. At best, we can send out brand messages but the consumer still gets to decide whether or not those messages fit with their perception of the brand.  I always say “there is truth in advertising, because all un-true messages are rejected by the consumer.” Too many Brand Leaders go rational, but the reality is that brands are 50% rational and 50% emotional. With social media, the consumer has even more ownership over the brand’s image as their own messaging now carries more weight than your basic TV ad. This is called co-creation, where both you as the brand leader and the consumer own the brand messaging together. I believe Brand Managers should make the choice to represent their consumer back to the brand, rather than representing the brand out to the consumer. You should act as the consumer advocate, telling your brand what your consumer wants.

Part 3: “consistently delivered by the brand’s experience”

A brand really is stamp to ensure consistency. Before Kellogg’s decided to brand their own corn flakes back in 1906, consumers would go into town and scoop out corn flakes out of a bin, with a random experience because who knows which farmer made them that day. But now with Kellogg’s the consumer could expect the same experience in every bowl.  Fast forward today, as the landscape is even more competitive and the brand experience is everything.   Look at the amazing brands in the market place, like Starbucks, NFL, Disney and Apple and you’ll see each brand backs up their brand promise by constantly over-delivering upon the expectations. As brands hit the loved stage, making sure you nail the experience helps re-enforce loyalty and builds brand rituals into the lives of consumers.

Part 4:  “creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve”

The most beloved brands are based on an idea that is worth loving. It is the idea that connects the Brand with consumers. And under the Brand Idea are 5 sources of connectivity that help connect the brand with consumers and drive Brand Love, including the brand promise, the strategic choices you make, the brand’s ability to tell their story, the freshness of the product or service and the overall experience and impressions it leaves with you.  Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers.  It is not just one or the other–it’s the collective connection of all these things that make a brand beloved.

Generating Love for the Brand

  1. The brand’s promise sets up the positioning, as you focus on a key target with one main benefit you offer.  Brands need to be either better, different or cheaper. Or else not around for very long. “Me-too” brands have a short window before being squeezed out. How relevant, simple and compelling the brand positioning is impacts the potential love for the brand.
  2. The most beloved brands create an experience that over-delivers the promise. How your culture and organization are set up can make or break that experience. Hiring the best people, creating service values that employees can deliver against and having processes that eliminate service leakage. The culture attacks the brand’s weaknesses and fixes them before the competition can attack. With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one.
  3. Brands also make focused strategic choices that start with identifying where the brand is on the Brand Love Curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and all the way to Beloved status. Marketing is not just activity, but rather focused activity–based on strategy with an ROI mindset. Where you are on the curve might help you make strategic and tactical choices such as media, innovation and service levels.
  4. The most beloved brands have a freshness of innovation, staying one-step ahead of the consumers.  The idea of the brand helps acting as an internal beacon to help frame the R&D.  Every new product has to back that idea.  At Apple, every new product must deliver simplicity and at Volvo, it must focus on safety.  .
  5. Beloved brands can tell the brand story through great advertising in paid media, through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media. Beloved Brands use each of these media choices to connect with consumers and have a bit of magic to their work.

Love = Power = Profit.  

Once you align all 5 of the connections, you’ll create a strong bond with your consumers.  That bond becomes a source of power for your brand, whether that power is with the very consumers who love your brand, versus retailers, suppliers, competitors, influencers, employees or even versus the media.  Once you’re able to generate power for your brand, you can then turn that into profit, whether driving price, cost control, market share or increasing the market size.


The more love you can create for your brand, the more power and profits you can generate.  This idea of brand love has to translate down into every detail of how you run your business.  The challenging message for Brand Leaders is that if you don’t love the work you do how do you expect the consumer to love your brand.  OK is always the enemy of greatness holding you back from achieving your full potential.

A Beloved Brand is an idea worth loving


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