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 succinct, 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. That being said, I have broken this topic into Who, How, What and Why to help explain what is a brand.
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.” For the moment, let’s suspend the concept of services and talk about something that is made from physical materials.
So much time and thinking must go into designing, building, testing, refining, and producing a product. Decisions must be made on how and where it will be manufactured? What ingredients and basic materials will be used? How, where, and when will it be marketed? Who will be the best customer? How will the product feel? What will it look like? Smell like? What colour is it? All of these physical product attributes must be replicated perfectly each and every time. The logistics and distribution, the support, the partnership, the price, the competition and the consumer must be analysis and selected. 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 to a wonderful 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 completely orchestrated to minute details; in others, the brand experience is wholly 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 what is all of the visual and audio manifestation that moves a product beyond the who and how into transforming it with human characteristic with physical and emotive features. 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. This means every branding channel used must feel like it coming from the brand’s ethos.
The challenge is expressing what people think about your brand. This is ultimately where your brand lives in the consumer’s mind, based on feelings and emotion. Some branding experts describe it as the brand promise or the emotional bond. I like Ze Frank’s definition as an “emotional aftertaste”. A great brand should taste like a wonderful 2000 vintage Bordeaux wine, preferably from the left-bank.
The Why – Action
Action is louder than any brand identity. This is where the brand walks the talk. The brand’s guiding principals must be solid 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 true 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 big 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/or personality. Its the articulation of why your brand exists. Consumers don’t care about 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 cool. 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 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, who evaluates marketing agencies, list over 28,121 branding companies 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 extremely variable. The scope of work determines the cost. A consultant could be simply 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.
If a brand is cultivated with meaningful existential reference points that the consumer can embrace, the brand can have enormous monetary value. 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 the emotional connection is the most difficult but the most essential step. This is where the branding agency is worth their weight in gold. The deeper the connection, the stronger the relationship. The stronger the relationship 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, 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. A brand’s personality can’t be manufactured but it can be built with the right tools. 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/or 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 determined personality traits.
A brand evolves over time as do its customers. An EmotiveBrand blog post on the topic says: “Brands mean different things to different people at different times.” Amy Daggett, 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 great 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.