Branding and the Power of Meaning

Lean and mean content

Joana Vieira
May 16, 2017 · 7 min read

Hi there! This is me making a case for Meaning and its importance within a Brand. I also make an introduction to Branding, its role and context in History. Hope you find this useful and not a great deal of nonsense.

You can also read about the Brand Discovery Framework that I prepared with knowledge that i’ve been collecting through the years.

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling…” — Marty Neumeier

First of all, “Branding” wut?!

There’s a lot of different ways to define what the words “Brand” and “Branding” actually means, but I’m going to trust this three beautiful quotes to do the job:

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.” — Marty Neumeier

“Brand is the promise, the big idea, and the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service or company.” — Alina Wheeler

“It’s often said that a brand is like a person. What I would add to that is that branding is about finding the very best in that person.” — Mike Rigby

Deep stuff…

All of the existencial questions in our heads.

Why should we care about it?

Branding is going deeper into a company’s existence. Is the understanding of how it exists, why it exists and the process to strategically positioning it. It gives clarity to a business and improves its relationship with the customers. It gives a way of expression and assures brand alignment throughout the company and in all of its parts.

I would even say that branding is power and infinite opportunities for companies and customers since it can absolutely change lives and minds. But also, just like for Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility and it’s always good to have that in the back of our minds.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek

Close enough…

How can we do it?

If we search a little bit about branding, we will start seeing many different approaches and frameworks that we can use to create a brand, but I would say that all of them have at least 3 parts in common.

I call them Research, Definition and Creation. Research is the phase where we do customer analysis, competitor analysis and self-analysis. Definition is where we do the brand articulation, a product platform and touchpoint definition. And Creation is where we create a pallet of words, visuals and experiences to fully construct the brand.

Each one of this phases raises tons of questions and things to think about. But my plan is not to overwhelm people with loads of questions and jargon.

My plan is to bring context, an understanding on Meaning and provide a simple framework focused on part of the Definition phase to help you start your own brand positioning.

Please, stop shoving stuff in our faces. Thank you and bye-bye now.

Companies focus during History

Back in the 19th century, marketeers thought that the product’s features were the thing that customers really wanted. Eventually realized that’s not true. So through time, they went from focussing on technicalities, to functions, to feelings, and to finally to focussing on meaning. They found out that what really creates and preserves a high quality customer/company relationship is in fact Purpose.

Now, let’s eliminate time!

Although Purpose should, and is, the main focus for today’s thriving businesses, features, benefits, experience and meaning need to coexist in harmony and clarity within a company. They all serve as guiding stars for each other so they should be clear and well defined to be able to shine.

That’s right! Now let’s use them.

How can we structure all this?

I’m calling this pyramid (scroll down a little) the Brand’s Ladder of Focus. It’s an illustration of structure for the different brand parts and attribution of different classification levels.

I’m putting a ladder in there because although your company’s focus should be at the top part of the pyramid, you can actually choose where do you want to position the focus at any moment. You should be able to go up and down that ladder, fully understand all of your brand’s parts and none of them should fall short.

At the bottom, you have the tangible aspects of your product/service. Things that are palpable and easy to measure and quantify. They are something like your brand’s physical body, the basics of your company.

Now, at the top, you have the intangible aspects that are directly related to your customer. Things that are subjective, far from easy to measure but should guide your business. They are your customer’s feelings, needs and values, which should be your company’s heart, thoughts, aspirations, and guiding stars.

(I found some versions of what I’m calling the Brand’s Ladder of Focus but none that would perfectly fit the points that I’m presenting. In case my research failed me and this concept already exists somewhere, I’m really sorry to the person who created it.)

So, “Meaning” is at the top… but why?

Let’s take a look at the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s theory suggests different levels of importance for human psychological and physical needs. At the bottom you have the basic needs, in the middle the psychological needs, and at the very top, the self-fulfillment needs. This top section includes things like meaning, purpose, reason and fulfillment.

This is powerful stuff! Is the kind of thing that moves people in a meaningful way, it touches us in our core and gives us a “why”.

The best thing a brand can give to its customer is, in fact, something beyond the product or service. We shall give meaning, something they can believe in, the sense of belonging, evolution, a community, approval, support to ones identity… But remember, a brand without a product/service is not a company, is a movement.

(I’m here, tracing a parallel with the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but there’s a lot of issues and gaps in his theory… Maybe I’m even hurting my case by doing so. I don’t know. Feel free to read more about it and form your own vision and opinion on this.)

I like Adidas… Is it noticeable?

But why is this important for a company?

When people believes and shares the same values with a brand, they care. And when people care, they talk, they share and they are glad to speak for the brand. People can become avid ambassadors for your brand and lifelong loyal customers which is far easier and less expensive to maintain happy customers that being constantly seeking and trying to persuade people to buy stuff. Meaning improves customer satisfaction and it will guide your company’s actions coherently while setting you apart from your competitors.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

All of the ideas that I presented didn’t appeared out of thin air. If you are interested in better understanding the concepts and go deeper into Branding, check out the links below!

The Futur — Awesome Youtube Channel
Design Matters — Awesome Podcast
The Brand Flip — Marty Neumeier’s Awesome Book
The Brand Gap —Marty Neumeier’s Awesome Book
Designing Brand Identity — Alina Wheeler’s Awesome Book
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us — Seth Godin’s Awesome Book

If you enjoyed this article and are curious about what do I do, check out my website on or my page on Behance. Feel free to say something, open a discussion, leave a comment or just say “hi”! Also, here’s my email:

“Next time, ask: what’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end … And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you … And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” — Audre Lorde

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