Infamous advertising guru David Ogilvy originally defined a brand as “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” Ogilvy always had a way with words and found clarity in simplicity. While his definition is clear, logical, and concise, it only scratches the surface. Brands, like people, aren’t easily defined. Both are complex and just plain messy. It is so complicated that Heidi Cohen pulled together 30 branding definitions to help brand owners. To turn a product into a brand, we help answer the big questions of Who, How, What and Why.
The Who – The Product
The brand story always begins with a product. Without a product, there is no brand. Authors P. Kotler and K. Keller define a product as “anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need, including physical goods, services, experiences, events, persons, places, properties, organizations, information, and ideas.” Let’s suspend the concept of services and talk about a product made from physical materials.
So much time and thinking must go into designing, building, testing, refining, and producing a product. Decisions such as how and where to manufacture? The ingredients and materials. How, where, and when will it be marketed? Who will be the best customer? The look and feel of the product. The product’s smell and colour. All of these attributes replicated each time perfectly. At the same time, you are continuously monitoring, analyzing and adjusting the logistics and distribution, the support, the partnerships, the price, and the reactions of the customers and competition. Then you need to assemble a team of employees to execute the production schedules, logistics, marketing and sales plans. All of these tasks are daunting.
The last thing you are thinking about is its brand identity, brand personality, brand value, brand purpose, and brand vision. Without a product, there isn’t a brand or a who.
The How – Product Attributes
How the product works in making a consumer’s life better is the start of a beautiful relationship. Product attributes are the unique physical and abstract aspects of how the product works, such as speed, size, weight, material, finishing, durability, functionality, flexibly, and features. The brand experience begins the day the customer positively interacts with the product features and attributes. The interaction can be instantly gratifying or build over time through repeated usage or elaborate steps of anticipation. In some of these situations, the brand is orchestrated in minute details or ultimately defined by the consumer. The consumer’s interpretation of how the product makes their life better is when the brand relationship begins.
The What – Visual & Audio
The visual and audio manifestations are the “whats” that allows the brand to transform with physical and emotional human characteristics. Unlike a human, a brand can build its brand identity from the ground up. This brand identity begins with a name, colour palette, design, logotype, symbol, and, where possible, stimulating consumer’s senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Every interaction with the brand directly or indirectly through visual or audio content must support and build the brand experience. Every branding channel used must feel like it coming from the brand’s ethos.
The challenge is expressing what people feel about your brand. Based on these feelings and emotions, this is the emotional bond. Ze Frank’s said it beautifully; its the “emotional aftertaste.” A great brand should taste like a fantastic 2000 vintage Bordeaux wine, preferably from the left-bank.
The Why – Brand Action
Action is louder than any brand identity where the brand walks the talk. The brand’s guiding principals must be reliable and based on its purpose of why it exists. The best time to watch a brand shine is when things go wrong – especially terribly wrong. What a brand does when it fails to deliver on its promise is a real moment of truth.
In essence, a brand is all the positive physical and emotional brand attributes combined into a consistent, memorable experience with a product or service. Please note that the interactions don’t need to be direct. Advertising and storytelling play a significant role. We all love a great story. Great brands tell great stories that inspire a passion for life and illustrate the why and how behind the product.
What is Branding
Branding is the act of showcasing your brand purpose, promise and personality. Its the articulation of why your brand exists. Consumers aren’t interested in the how and what. Consumers care why brands do what they do; it gives customers a reason to embrace a product. Successful brands always start with the brand’s why. Consumers want to understand why they should care about your brand. As Cheryl Burgess, CEO of Blue Focus Marketing, says, “a brand is a reason to choose.”
Branding is actively showing how your brand’s personality is desirable, relevant, unique, and fresh. Never underestimate the cool factor. To have any value, your brand must always be relatable, reliable, consistent, but also change with the times and with consumer’s needs. Jeffrey Harmon, the founder of Harmon Brothers, explains that “branding is the experience marketers create to win that attention.” All branding elements must be defined by what the brand represents, including in advertising and social media.
Branding is Big Business
Clutch.co, a company that evaluates marketing agencies, has identified over 28,121 branding agencies currently working in the US and Canada. Branding agencies come in all sizes from a one-person shop to hundreds or a company with thousands of employees in offices around the world. The cost of hiring a branding consultant or agency is hugely variable. The scope of work determines the price. A consultant could be only developing the visual elements or completing a complex task like developing the brand position and communication elements that support the brand strategy and business plan. The cost could range from thousands of dollars to over a million.
A brand can have an enormous monetary value existential reference points that the consumer can embrace. According to Brandz Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brand, the world’s most valuable brand in 2019 was Amazon at $315.5 billion, followed by Apple at $309.5 billion.
Brand is a Concept
Humans are creatures of meaning, not transactions. Successful brands live in consumers’ minds. Defining and building an emotional connection is the most challenging but essential step. Branding agencies are worth their weight in gold if they get this right. The deeper the link, the stronger the relationship. The stronger the ties to the brand, the more valuable the brand becomes. The trick is giving the consumer the power to own the brand but ensuring that the brand is still actively steering the relationship with positive brand activities and associations. Lester Wunderman, the author of Being Direct, says, “Advertising becomes a dialogue that becomes an invitation to a relationship.”
People are attracted to people (and furry friends). The quickest way a brand can relate to people is through an authentic and distinct personality. This personality is made by how the brand and its employees act and speak. Recruiting the right people to represent the brand is a good start. Shaping the brand’s values will set the stage for the brand’s personality.
You must decide what characteristic is paramount. Define what the brand will not compromise on, such as quality, safety, transparency, sustainability, trust and customer service. You can also define what the brand will not be. These values will drive the brand’s tone of voice. Being witty and funny might not suit certain brands but being caring, empathetic, and lovable might. Once determined, all of the brand’s messaging and marketing must reflect its determining personality traits.
A brand evolves as do its customers. An EmotiveBrand blog post on the topic says: “Brands mean different things to different people at different times.” Amy Daggett, the owner of Dagget Design, says a brand “is an associative memory in the brain of the consumer, who connects–or associate–the brand with a set of brand attributes, benefits, impressions or emotions. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering–both factual and emotional.”
Brands are complex and always evolving. A tremendous emotional advertising campaign that connects with customers can make a brand famous. But if the product doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s dead in the water. Every product offering, every service, every message, advertisement, and digital manifestation, every internal policy, email, and business decision must be congruent with what the brand stands for. Each brand element and touchpoint must be strategically and creatively aligned to have maximum impact. To help navigate all the complexities of branding, I have complied several graphics to help guide brand stewards.
Combine all of the brand essential elements, and collectively you have the essence of the brand.
The Anatomy of a Brand
Brand culture is the set of experiences, attitudes, values, and meanings shared by the brand, its employees, and the customers. As Benoît Heilbrunn said in his book Brave New Brands: Branding Between Utopia and A-Topia, “A brand may be viewed not solely as a sign added to products to differentiate them from competing goods, but as a semiotic engine whose function is to constantly produce meaning and values.”
There are five possible brand structures to support a master brand and various sub-brands. Most brands don’t have the luxury of building the architectural brand model first. They adopt the best solution for their ultimate goal of capitalizing on existing brand equity.