Rants & Raves
July 11, 2021
What Is a Brand?

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, website 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, 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), 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.

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.

    So what exactly is a brand? It is a unified 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. 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.