What Is A Brand?

Brand. It’s a term we hear tossed around all the time. We say “the CocaCola” brand or the “Nike” brand. Loads of books have been written about the value of a brand and the effect it has on bottom line profits.

Since I’m not one for long definitions, I am going to make it easy. Brand is what people think of a product. Brand is the set of product concepts and beliefs that someone carries with them. It’s how people respond when you ask them “What do you think about ….?”.

Take this test. Do bananas have a brand? Sound ridiculous? Well, how would you answer the question “What do you think about bananas?”

What comes into your head if I were to ask what you thought about Nike… or about Apple or about Starbucks? The answer to each of these questions is “brand”.

Every product or service that you have been exposed to has a “space” in your brain. In that space is a set of concepts about that product. Those concepts are based on the experiences that you have collected about that product or service. Have a miserable experience with a rep at your local bank? That gets deposited in the brand space. Just experienced outstanding food and atmosphere at your local restaurant? Into your brand “brain space” it goes.

Once that information in in your head, it governs how you make decisions. That’s because the information in your brain gets categorized (good food, bad food) and rated against other concepts (Joe’s is a better restaurant than Blues). Eventually it is used to make buying decisions. That’s why brand is important to a company.

Once a brand is in your head it’s real hard work to change what occupies that space. First you first have to undo what you previously thought and then you have to re-form it into another (hopefully more positive) set of thoughts.

We are used to brands being associated with products but people have brands too (so… what do you think of Joe?) and in fact, you also have a brand (what do others think of you?)

Shaping or building a brand (shaping what people think about a product or about you) is a difficult and long process. Every touch point you have with a person effects how they think about you and what occupies that bit of brain-space they dedicate to you. This is why so much time and money is spent on branding and defending your brand from misconceptions.

Brand development should involve a reality check (is what I want the consumer to believe even possible), branding should start with an understanding of what people think about you now (or do they even have a perception) and branding should also influence each communication you have with your customer (is what I am communicating consistent with what they already think about me or is it going to cause a disconnect from previous experiences?) Brands influence communication plans, brands help govern what type of packaging you select, what the home page of your web site looks like and hopefully how your employees interact with customers.

In short… brand is everywhere and everything to a company. Branding is something worth spending time on. It’s not something that you can ignore and certainly it’s not just for the big-boys like Coke and Nike.