April 2015
What Specifically is a Brand?

Jeffrey Spear - President, Studio Spear

Jeff Spear

I want to set the record straight. A brand is not a logo. It’s frustrating to hear senior level executives talk about branding and have the conversation limited to some great new logo, stationery set or brochure. While these folks aren’t completely wrong, they aren’t altogether right either.


When I think of branding, my mind drifts back to images of the Old West. This is where cowboys branded their herds by burning distinctive marks onto an animal's backside. What was important then, as is now, is that the brand generated expectations of quality and assigned ownership. So I went to the dictionary and looked up branding. In three short words, I found a definition that just about sums it all up: to impress firmly. What a perfect statement. When I think about brands such as Coca-Cola, Google, McDonalds, Apple and FedEx, this is exactly what they have done - impress firmly.

How these companies have achieved their reputations is not a simple matter of distinctive packaging (hourglass bottle), simple interface, unique logo (golden arches), distinctive product design or speedy and reliable service. What they have done is invest a tremendous amount of time, effort and resources to make sure that everything they do, everything they say and everything that is said about them is in line with their own philosophies and objectives.

So let’s be clear. Branding embraces and integrates every aspect of the business. It demands purposeful communication to both internal and external audiences and actions that speak louder than words. This includes creating and maintaining effective relationships with the media, industry analysts, suppliers, employees and, most importantly, customers.

A strong brand positions the company as the undisputed industry leader and is something that marketing alone cannot achieve. Do you remember Pets.com? They used extremely effective marketing (humorous sock puppet) to create top of mind awareness and very positive emotional associations for their brand. Unfortunately, their Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and competitive advantage were undefined and failed to attract customers. The company went out of business within its first year and investors lost millions. While there was an excellent marketing effort, it is obvious that more was needed to build this brand.

In my book, the top line items that are needed to effectively build a brand (in no particular order) are:
•   Company, by name, is well known - top of mind awareness
•   Demand is strong - unique selling proposition (USP) surpasses competition
•   Undisputed quality in all aspects of operation - value for money/added value
•   Company enjoys excellent relationships with employees and suppliers

A strong brand also demands consistency. Imagine where McDonalds would be if there were no controls on consistency. One of the key elements to their value proposition is that, no matter where you are on the planet, the experience you have at any McDonalds will always be the same. Ever had a burger at a McDonalds in Europe? or Australia? Except for adjustments to suit cultural differences, what they deliver is always the same.

So what exactly is a brand? It is a united effort made on behalf of a company by all of its stakeholders in support of a specific philosophy and business objective. It is usually driven and coordinated by top level executives, especially those in marketing departments, but must also be understood, embraced and supported throughout the organization. The CEO must know that his great new logo is not enough. It also means that, while extraordinary customer service is certainly valued and applauded, it must be matched in quality by every other aspect of the operation.

In a nutshell, a brand is a business tool that impresses firmly.


If the time has come to overhaul, update and re-invigorate your brand image, or you'd like to change up your marketing program, please call 904 685 2135 - ask for Jeff Spear. You can also contact Jeff via email: jeff@studiospear.com.

Designed by Studio Spear