Back to Basics (A working definition of Branding and Brand)
You say tomato, I say tahmahto.
He says branding, she says marketing. Is it brand harmonization or brand alignment? Is Brand a noun or a verb? What is the definition of branding?
No doubt, the semantics of marketing and branding can be very confusing. Every advertising firm, consultant, author and marketing professor has a slightly different spin on the subject of branding.
So I’m going to aggregate the best definitions, and boil it all down to some branding basics you can actually use in your day-to-day business. I’m going to answer these fundamental questions:
- What exactly IS the definition of Branding?
- How is that different than Brand?
- And why should the average business owner care about either one?
Let’s start with why…
Why should anyone who’s NOT in marketing, care about the definition of branding?
Because every business is a brand, of some sort. And everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters…
The words you choose. The way you behave. The conversations you have. The card you hand out. The promises you make. The people you hire. The values you hold dear. The values you could care less about. The vendors you choose. The companies you’re affiliated with. The money you make, or don’t make. And, of course, the experience people have with the product or service you provide.
It’s the culmination of all those little things that makes “the brand.”
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion about the definition of brand and misinformation that suggests the only people involved in branding are the graphic designers and the ad agency dudes.
An article on Entrepreneur.com says “ The foundation of your brand is your logo.”
Nonsense. The logo is a symbolic reflection of your brand.
Another prominent website missed it completely when they defined branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”
Branding is not, exclusively, a marketing practice. It’s also a customer service practice. A management practice. An HR practice. An R&D practice. Even a manufacturing practice.
The first thing to do is distinguish between “brand” as a corporate mark or logo, and “brand” as an overriding business concept.
When business executives talk about “the Nike Brand” or “the Pepsi Brand” with a capital B, they’re not referring to the logo. They’re referring to something more wholistic. More conceptual. And far bigger than just design elements.
This, from Wikipedia: “A brand is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.”
“Symbolic Construct” seems a bit academic to me. How about “gut feeling.” Or “mental concept.”
Or this simplified definition, from the book, BrandSimple: “A brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s minds. Brands live in your head… Mental associations that get stirred up when you think of a particular car or camera or watch or pair of jeans.”
Scott Bedbury, of Nike and Starbucks fame, concurs: “Brands become living, psychological concepts we hold in our minds for years.”
In Brand Warfare, David F. D’Alessandro, CEO of John Hancock said, “A brand is whatever the consumer thinks of when he hears your company’s name. Branding is everything…”
And everything is branding…
Notable New York ad guy, Donny Deutsch, gave this definition of branding: “Great brands present an ethos, a religion, that people bond with. They go, ‘yes, I got that. I like the way you think. We’re on the same page. Let’s go!’ ”
Which leads to another worthwhile distinction: The difference between the noun “brand,” and the verb “branding.”
“Some companies equate branding with marketing,” says Jasper Kunde, author of Corporate Religion. “Design a sparkling new logo, run an exciting new campaign, and voila, you’re back on course. They are wrong. Branding is bigger. Much bigger.”
If a brand is a set of mental associations about a company, then BrandING is the process of helping people formulate those associations. If advertising is “getting your name out there,” Branding is attaching something meaningful to your name.
Your brand is a promise, both emotional and rational.
Branding is a never-ending effort to conduct business in a way that will result in a better “brand”. It goes way beyond advertising or marketing communications. Because what you SAY does not carry as much weight as what you DO.
Branding is really about doing the right thing.
In The Best Of Branding, James Gregory said: “A corporate brand is the product of millions of experiences, with vendors, employees, customers, media, etc.”
If you’re doing right by all those people, your “branding” efforts will pay off in spades. On the other hand, if your company has no heart — and stands for nothing more than making money — then your branding efforts will flounder in a sea of unkept promises and unbelievable marketing hype.
Starbucks stands for something.
Howard Shultz said, “we built the Starbucks brand first with our people, because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. Their passion and commitment made our retail partners the best ambassadors of the brand.”
The foundation of your brand is your values and your beliefs. And at Starbucks, the operational values revolved around two things… the people and the product.
The Saturn Brand was never about the cars. It was about the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant right here in the USA, the no-haggle sales process and the dealer business model. In other words, it was about the whole operation, which really was a fresh new approach in the automotive industry.
Unfortunately, the brand behind the brand was GM.
Management guru Tom Peters says, “Branding is ultimately about nothing more and nothing less than heart. It’s about passion… What you care about. It’s about what’s inside you, your team, your division, your company.”
The trick is figuring that out. Defining your passion. Naming your values. Being true to yourself. And then aligning your operation accordingly. So everything you do comes from the heart.
That’s why every business owner and executive should care about branding.
Do you have a better definition of branding? Let’s hear it.
For more on the definition of branding, check out THIS post.