What is a ‘brand’?

I saw this question posted on a discussion group. I was going to reply but I realized it’s a more thoughtful definition than could be written in a follow up, so I’m going to write it here. 

What is a brand? A brand is the perception of a company that lies in the minds of consumers. That’s pretty philosophical, huh? It’s true. A brand isn’t a logo or a catch phrase or a value statement. This is precisely why changing merely a company’s logo does nothing to change the perception of the brand.

A brand is what consumers think of when they think of a company – how good their products are, how easy it is to deal with the company, how owning their product makes them feel and so on. All of these feelings and experiences make up a company’s brand.

Truly great brands make sure that they hone every aspect of the customer experience to make sure it fits with what the company wants to be. IBM does a phenominal job of overseeing the entire customer experience, which is why ‘no one ever gets fired for choosing IBM’.

The brand is bigger than the logo. The logo is just shorthand for what the company stands for. It’s a little signal that says the product or service that bears the logo ascribes to everything we percieve the company as a whole is about. We know that everything that has the Apple ‘apple’ on it will have the same high standards and warranty as the rest of the line. This is why companies protect their logo.

When a company looses that logo stewardship it runs the risk of destroying the promise its brand offers. We all know of companies who license brands promiscuously. We trust those brands far less. Customers are smart and can smell carelessness and that’s when a brand can work against itself. Just as  you can extend a company’s brand promise to other products, a stretched brand, operated by a careless licensee, can send terrible tremors back to the brand.

Because a brand is not a logo or a saying, changing them will not change perceptions of the company as the experience of the company is still the same. If calling customer service is more infuriating than actually using the broken product, no softer typeface on a company’s website is going to change how a disgruntled customer is going to explain their experiences to prospective buyers.

It is important, when thinking of your brand, that you think of that brand as every way that the customer interacts with the company. This extends from the easy things like what happens when a customer uses your product or when it contacts the company and it matters in the indirect things like what the company aligns itself to and how the company carries itself in the world. All these things are taken into account by the customer when they consider supporting your brand (and your company).

If a company acts concerted in its mission as it exerts itself then its reward is a strong brand. A strong brand yields a solid and rewarding following of customers.

Think of a brand as the idea of law enforcement. The logo is a policeman’s badge. The badge does not make the lawman trustworthy or uphold the law. The words and deeds of that lawman does. If the lawman is corrupt, the shape or color of the badge will not fix the corruption to those who know – and soon enough, everyone will.

A company’s brand is a company’s ‘badge’. The company’s actions forge the meanings of the badge – not the other way around.

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