Defining Brand: What is it Really? (And Why Should You Care?)
Ready to finally get clear on the definition of a brand? Here's what the experts have to say.
If you want to be competitive in today’s market, you have to attract the attention of your audience. But that requires a lot more than a top-notch product and a fancy logo. To turn heads and win over new customers, you need to invest real time and resources into building a unique, powerful brand.
Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done. Not just because building a brand is difficult (as you’re dealing with a lot of moving pieces), but because there’s a lot of confusion about the concept of branding. Few people understand what a brand actually is, and even fewer can give a clear, succinct definition of a brand.
Today, we’re going to spend some time digging into some popular brand definitions (as given by the experts) to clarify branding for you. Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Brand?
When we talk about the definition of a brand, we typically use uniqueness, experience, and people as our defining features and determiners. Here’s why: each factor offers a different perspective on what a brand is. And together, they turn a vague, shapeless concept into a clearly defined entity.
Uniqueness is a differentiator between brands because it gives businesses a clear way to set themselves apart from other startups, corporations, and organizations. It makes them different (in a positive way) from businesses that sell the same products.
Why? Because uniqueness doesn’t really exist in physical products or services. It’s found in the way those products and services are presented and offered. Most often, it’s seen in the way a brand positions itself.
For example, a clothing company might decide to focus on being a high-end, luxury brand to attract people looking for fancier apparel or a more prestigious experience. Meanwhile, a direct competitor might choose to focus on strength, durability, and performance in its branding to pull in customers who are interested in clothing that will stand up to the wear and tear of exercise and outdoor activities.
Regardless of the direction they choose to go, both brands can capture the attention and loyalty of customers, by embracing the elements that make them unique.
At the same time, your customer experience plays on your positioning to meet and hopefully exceed customer expectations. It’s seen in the interactions, conversations, and support customers receive from you regularly.
Generally speaking, these types of interactions are similar. After all, everyone wants to receive fast service from pleasant associates. However, there are ways brands can differentiate their experience to make it memorable and desirable for their customers. All they have to do is lean into their uniqueness factor.
One place you can see this is while visiting a Chick-Fil-A. To top off their generally positive atmosphere, the employees respond with “my pleasure” anytime a customer expresses gratitude. While a small thing, this unique version of “you’re welcome” sets Chick-Fil-A apart from its competitors on the customer service front.
While both uniqueness and experience are key to defining brand identities, brands ultimately boil down to what people think and say about them.
And you don’t have to look any further than the brands you frequently buy from to see it. For instance, when customers complain or leave a negative Google review about an aspect of their experience, many businesses respond quickly with an explanation or some form of compensation.
The reason for that? Customers control your brand. It is what they believe it is. And while you can influence your customers’ perception of your brand and encourage them to see you in a certain light, they ultimately decide what your brand is.
What you’ve likely noticed at this point is that these three elements form a cyclical pattern. You define your positioning (i.e., your uniqueness factor) based on your customers’ wants and needs. Then you create an experience they can appreciate and enjoy. And as your customers interact with your business, they form opinions that define your brand. From here, you adjust and repeat as needed to continue the cycle.
5 Brand Definitions From the Branding Experts
Defining a brand by discussing each factor in detail can get a little long-winded, though. But there are some branding experts, branding agencies, and organizations who’ve managed to sum it all up really nicely.
A marketing guru and positioning expert, Al Reis has been helping businesses nail down their branding for the last 25 years. Along the way, he’s developed a thought-provoking way of defining a brand.
“A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.”
The genius of this statement is that it ties back to all three elements we discussed above. That your brand lives in the mind and emotions of people, and it’s influenced by the way unique positioning your brand takes on and the experience you build around that positioning. And ultimately, the success of your brand is determined by how effectively you’re able to positively influence your customers’ opinions.
Another branding expert and marketing mastermind, Jerry McLaughlin has had a hand in helping businesses build brands for over 20 years. In that time, he’s also contributed frequently to Forbes’ blog, which coincidentally is where one of his most powerful branding statements was coined:
“A brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your name.”
Similar to the other brand definitions on this list, this explanation highlights the “people” aspect of branding, by pointing out that it’s the leads and customers who interact with your brand that ultimately define it.
As the Director of CEO Branding at Liquid Agency, Marty Neumeier is hardly a novice when it comes to branding and marketing. But when you add in the fact that he’s also founded his own consulting firm and written multiple books, it’s no surprise that Marty has come up with a clear and succinct way to sum up a brand.
“A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company.”
Here again, this brand definition fits neatly into the “people” category, by claiming that brands are defined by the emotional reaction of their audience. This may not specifically be leads and customers, as employees, job seekers, and partner organizations also play a role in the overall perception of a brand. But it does mean that the way we position ourselves in the minds of our customers and interact with them daily is crucial to staying in their good graces.
As a digital and marketing expert and a founder of multiple businesses, Ashley Friedlein knows a thing or two about branding. While the CEO of Econsultancy, Ashley made a powerful statement about brands.
“A brand is the sum total of how someone perceives a particular organization. Branding is about shaping that perception.”
While this explanation highlights the importance of people in defining a brand, it also ticks the other two boxes, as well, by describing the effort businesses can and should make to influence their customers’ perceptions.
Like the branding experts on this list, we believe that brands are ultimately created by people. But ‘people” aren’t just your leads and customers. It also includes your employees, job seekers, agencies, external partners – and virtually anyone and everyone else who comes into contact with your brand.
“A brand is how they feel about you.”
Not just some of them, but all of the people you come into contact with. It’s how customers perceive the experience you provide and how job seekers feel about your unique purpose and promise.
Ultimately, a brand is a feeling, a purpose, a value, or a mission that you stand for and communicate with others. It’s the “why” that defines who you are, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it for.
The truth is: brands are complicated. They’re difficult to define and even more difficult to build. But having a clear brand definition helps you think about your brand correctly, so you can create and maintain it successfully.