What is a brand?

I often get to talk to different audiences about marketing and inevitably get asked about brands. What is a brand? How do you define it? What does it do for a company or a product?

The root of the word has to do with marking cattle- literally branding with a hot iron a mark on an animal to distinguish ownership.  The word brand comes from an old Norse word brandr to burn. Ouch. 

Simply put, a brand is a set of values. 

It is an emblem that represents attributes. It isn’t about the features that the products has, it represent a much higher level of benefit for the consumer or business that uses this product or service.

Brands can have shallow or deep values: Think of a swimming pool with a deep end, a middle range and a shallow end. Some brands are in the shallow end because the values aren’t well-articulated or communicated regularly.

Emotional connections strengthen brands: The deeper the brand connection to a consumer/customer, the greater the ability to move away from commodity and category into true differentiation. Brands like Apple and Starbucks are often the best illustration of a set of values with very deep emotional bonds that keep consumers willing to pay premium prices for consistently superior products.

But what about the small to mid-sized business who wants to make their mark? How do you build a deep connection without millions of dollars? 

I have two suggestions for creating strong brands.

Emotional connections strengthen a brand
STAND FOR SOMETHING THAT CONNECTS EMOTIONALLY: You can’t be another player in a category and expect anyone to care. Find a unique and special way that you show your brand doing something that reinforces your message. For example, if you are a financial services company that emphasizes that you are providing comfort to seniors in retirement, why not have as a regular activity a collection of coats and blankets for seniors in nursing homes to provide warmth to them. Your actions reinforce your message and you can share this with your clients through social media.

BE CONSISTENT IN ALL YOUR ACTIONS: You can’t earn trust by showing your values sometimes and not others. That won’t work. Imagine a small dry cleaner that has a reputation for immaculate work and great attention to detail. What happens to your brand when your employees dress in a sloppy fashion, your signs are cheap-looking or your store front (website, Facebook page) looks disorganized or distressed?  The brand’s value has to be your filter or lens for everything you do.

Try this experiment. Take two products/services in a category and try and write down how you feel about both of them. (it could be two toothpastes, two supermarkets or two tax services). Try and find one or two words that represent the essence of your feeling and experience. Now see if there is any emotional connection and if they are inconsistent. The stronger brand will do both.

How well does your brand connect emotionally and consistently with your customers? Can you weave together different marketing threads to strengthen the bonds?

Labels: , ,