What is a Brand Anyways?

What is brand?

Brands are something we interact with every day. They’re part of every purchase we make and often invade every conversation we engage in. They change how we measure value and make decisions. Yet it can be hard to define just what a brand is.

So before defining brand, let’s start with…

What a brand is not.

A brand is not a logo or a name.

Logo is short for logotype: design-speak for custom-lettering that is turned into a trademark. And logotype comes from the Greek logos meaning simply “word”.

In any event — a logo is not the brand. It is one of many vessels for any brand.

A brand is not an identity.

Companies use an identity system to guide their decisions on brand marks, publications, advertisements, stationary, vehicles, etc. This identity system ensures that stylistic components like colour palettes and typography are consistent across the company.

….but these things are not the brand itself.

A brand is not the product.

Products have functional or aesthetic value. They can be copied, replaced or made obsolete by other products. They are managed and created by a company.

Brands are much less tangible. They are created not just by a company, but by the collective perceptions and experiences of consumers as well. And because they are dissociated from functional value, they can be timeless.

What is a brand?

A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.

A company can influence their brand. That is, can make decisions with the goal of shaping how the company and its products are perceived.

But in the end, brand is determined by the collective perceptions of individuals.

“It’s not what YOU say it is, it’s what THEY say it is” — Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap

Everything a consumer can see, hear or even smell becomes a part of the overall brand. In-store experience, employee dress code, tone of voice and product packaging…

Brand is the compilation of all these things and the overall feeling they give people.

Why is branding so important?

Customers are not loyal to a product. Functional value can always be copied or improved on and as soon as that happens, the customer will move on.

However, customers can be loyal to a brand. A brand cannot be replaced. Its value is subtle, emotional and often irrational — but extremely powerful.

This means that a good brand is a tremendous asset. It’s what sets a company apart from its competitors in the long-term. Although intangible, brand has a very real effect on the valuation of products and companies.

Creating a successful brand

A good brand needs to differentiate.

Our brains actually act as filters to protect us from too much information. We’re naturally programed to pick up on things that are different.

Marty Neumeier’s mantra for innovators:

Zig when everyone else Zags. How do you know when an idea is innovative? It scares the HELL out of everyone.

The most important thing when it comes to differentiating your brand is keeping people focused on the same thing: Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter? If you don’t have concrete answers to these questions , you need more focus.

Naming a brand

A brand needs a STAND OUT name. In Marty Neumeier’s ‘Zag’ he outlines a series of aspects a brand name should consider:

Distinctive: It stands out from the crowd, especially from other names in its class. It separates well from ordinary text or speech. The best names have include the ‘presence’ of a proper noun.

Brief: It’s short enough to be easily recalled and used. It resists being reduced to a nickname. Long multi-word names will be quickly shortened to less meaningful initials. No matter how hard you try — this will happen.

Appropriate: There should be a reasonable fit with the purpose and focus of the company. If a name would work just as well — or better — for another, dissimilar company, keep looking.

Easy to spell and pronounce: People should be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken. The name should also be easy pronounce after seeing in writing. A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant. Avoid using numbers if at all possible. The inclusion of numbers opens up potential errors when entering URL’s or searching for you online. It is not clear whether the company is branded utilizing numerals or spelling out the word. Make things as easy as possible for your audience.

Likable: People should enjoy using it. Is it fun to say? Names that are intellectually stimulating, or provide a good “mouth feel”, have a headstart over those that don’t.

Extendable: The name should lend itself well to visual interpretation and other creative executions. Great names provide endless opportunities for brand play.

Protectable: Check if your name can be trademarked, and whether it is available for web use (domain name, social identifiers, etc.)

Branding comes down to the question “Who are we? The best answer to this is something that is short and clear.

The answer cannot be, “this, and this, and, oh yes, this.” No matter how complex the reality is, a brand’s keynote expression must be immediately graspable if it is to have real power. And it still needs to be true.