What Exactly Is A Brand?

This subject has been so much on my mind over the last few week's I'm pretty shocked I haven't written about it yet. But I've been contemplating and asking the question, What is a brand, anyway? How do we distill it down and quantify it's effects? How does it guide our advertising and reach our audience? How can we define it?

The reason this keeps coming up for me is the unending parade of people who don't seem to get the value of branding. Whether it's the direct marketer enamored with results or the B2B marketing director who says everything comes down to promotions and sales for them, there is a sense that branding only works for the "big-boy" consumer products companies — and even there the measurement is often suspect. And I think the reason people don't get it comes down to a basic misinterpretation of what a brand is.

Your Brand is NOT Your Ad Campaign

I won't ask anyone to raise a hand, but how many times have you heard (or said), "They have a great brand," in reference to a TV spot or magazine ad? Or how many times have you heard people trash a company for terrible branding, commenting solely on the quality of an ad?

Admittedly, we do communicate our brands through our ads. But to say a brand is good or bad based on that work alone is misleading. A company can have a perfectly acceptable brand — even an endearing brand — but still be running terrible ads. The ads themselves may help or hurt that brand, but they are not the brand.

Further, the brand can be communicated in all sorts of ways outside of advertising. Personal meetings. Point of sale experience. Customer service calls. All of the touch points with a customer are potential branding opportunities. 

So what is a brand?

Your Brand is a Feeling

We can shape a brand. We can mold a brand. We can shepherd a brand. And we can do all this with ads. But it's time to accept that a brand itself is still what the customer feels when they become aware of your message, buy your product and engage with your people. 

This is not saying that the customer owns the brand. Far from it. We are still responsible for making a brand what it is. But the brand is not a font choice, logo creation or a clever idea. Those are only tools we use to communicate a brand. The brand is bigger than all that. The brand is the equity we build in the hearts of people. 

We are transcending the tools here, which is why we use descriptive words like, "Brand Essence." We're trying to communicate a core understanding of the impressions we want to leave with our target markets. We need something that's unchanging and ongoing. 

Ad campaign will come and go and they need to come and go to keep the interest of a public with a shortened attention span. But no matter how different the ads are, they need to always be leaving the targeted individuals with a familiar feeling, building on that storehouse of equity we have been depositing in their hearts and minds.

Emotion Always Influences Buying

I've talked many times here on the blog and on The BeanCast about how buying decisions always come down to emotions. Even B2B purchasing, as fact-based and analytically as it can be, often comes down to, "I like them the best" as the tie breaker. So this is why a clear understanding of what your brand is becomes so essential. Promotions buy customers, but brands keep them coming back and maybe telling their friends and associates. Or another way to look at it is, a promotion is selling a can of soda, but a brand is buying stock in the soda company. 

Brands are an investment that pay dividends over time if managed well. We can probably survive without them. But there's a reason why those with strong, well-managed brands are such dominant players. It's not all economics of scale. It's also economics of emotion. Think about it.

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