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From St Mary Portas and that nice Jeremy Gutsche down to some expert on the internet you’ve never heard of. But what is a brand? With so many experts saying so much, it’s surprising that there’s so much mystery about it. And if making a strong brand follows a formula, then why are so many falling by the wayside?

On top of all the talk, there’s a long, long list of terms that go hand-in-hand with branding: Brand Equity, Brand Strategy, Brand Identity, Brand Engagement, Brand Vision, Brand Values, Brand Building, Brand Awareness… the list goes on and on, but what does it all mean?

First of all, let’s answer the question ‘what is a brand?’…

Branding then and now

The original term ‘branding’ comes from the Wild West, when ranchers marked their cattle with a sizzling iron stamp to identify them – like thatchers and masons had been doing for centuries. The ‘brand’ was the actual mark (or logo in today’s terms). Easy.

But through the growth of advertising and the increased sophistication of consumers, a brand has become much more than just a logo. If it were, you could remove it and the brand would cease to exist. Imagine Apple products and communication without their logo: still totally recognisable. The logo is just a symbol for the brand, it is the ‘mark’ that is burned onto their products.

Marty Neumeier’s best selling book ‘The Brand Gap’ is a must-read for any designer

In his best selling book ‘The Brand Gap’, Marty Neumeier explains a brand as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organisation”. This is a brilliant and accurate definition of what a brand is, but it only becomes brilliant once you delve deeper and discover how a brand is created.

The creation of a great brand

Now this is tricky. Many have attempted to define in a just a few words how to create a great brand, but I struggle to find one that does it well. More encompassing than Neumeier, but in true marketing speak is “A brand is a construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values.”

This is more informative, but very technical in comparison to Marty Neumeier’s emotional approach. My own simpler definition is “A brand is a person’s opinion about a product, service or company that is formed upon being exposed to influences. The key to building a successful brand is a very clear idea of what opinion you want people to form and an intelligent marketing strategy to deploy it.”

And while you can’t control people’s opinions, you can influence them at every stage of your marketing. The brand ‘idea’ is what makes a product or service unique or better than it’s competitors – and it must be clearly communicated at every touchpoint. So, Apple is about simplicity of use and superlative design; Innocent is about honesty and purity; Ikea is based on the idea that good design is for everyone, Volvo is safety – you get the idea. These central ideas are transmitted through all the brand’s touchpoints, including retail environments, advertising, staff behaviour, online plus the product or service itself.

The reason so many brands fail, is because they invest huge sums in marketing and advertising without really knowing why they exist, what they are trying to say and what makes them unique. Is there much difference between Starbucks and Costa Coffee? McDonald’s and Burger King? Gucci and Prada? People may dispute the intricacies of the product, but the big difference is the part of peoples’ minds that the brand ‘owns’.

To succeed, it is imperative to understand what it is that makes your offering the best choice in its category.

Defining the territory

Now we know that a brand is merely a person’s opinion about a company, product or service, the definitions become easier to understand:

Brand Strategy: The plan for how the brand intends to create customers. It is the strategy for delivering the influences.

Brand Proposition: The distinctive position that a brand adopts in its competitive environment to ensure that individuals in its target market can tell the brand apart from others.

Brand Awareness: A measure of consumers’ knowledge of a brand’s existence.

Brand Engagement: The process of forming an emotional and rational attachment between a consumer and a brand.

Brand Values: The amount that a brand is worth in terms of income, potential income, reputation, prestige, and market value.

Brand Equity: The difference between the prices that the consumer accepts to pay when the brand is known compared to the value of the benefit received.

Brand Identity: The visual aspects of the brand. A consistent look and feel, the style of which supports the idea.

Brand Guidelines: An instruction manual which lays down rules to ensure the idea is communicated consistently at every touchpoint.