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  • iRH Designs


Updated: Jan 21, 2019

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. - William Shakespeare

There’s an enormous amount of confusion, especially among small businesses, as to what a brand is, and as the average person is exposed to upwards of 5,000 brand messages per day, it is important to get it right.

The word “brand” is one of those that is widely used but unevenly understood. Forbes defines it as the name given to a product or service from a specific source; and in this sense, “brand” is similar to the current meaning of the word “trademark.” In the latter part of the 20th century, marketers began to grasp the concept that there was more to the perception of distinctive products and services than their names; “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes” (David Ogilvy), and therefore, marketers realized that they could create a specific perception in customers’ minds concerning the qualities and attributes of non-generic products or services. What became commonplace was, a “brand”; a prospect thought of when people heard a brand name; i.e. everything the public thought of or knows about a brand, both factually and emotionally.

A brand therefore becomes fixed and exists objectively; people can see it. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind. According to Marty Neumeier, author and speaker on all things brand, “A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product…a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”

A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is. - Scott Cook

While still not clear, we must firstly remember that brands mean different things to different people at different times. A brand is or should be something unique to each person – be it a current customer/consumer, potential customer/consumer, employee, recruit, or just within the world at large, and therefore are dynamic. They can play a different role depending on who they interact with and when. Some people connect with certain aspects of a brand, while others connect meaningfully with another. A person’s relationship with a brand can also really develop – increasing trust, loyalty, meaning, and engagement. Smart and successful brands work on reaching all different audiences who matter to their business and aim to further their brand relationships with each individual.

Furthermore, brands are nebulous and infinite, and can be the sum of brand experiences or interactions, which have infinite possibilities, accommodating for growth and change – so the brand can develop, expand, respond, and shift with the times.

Brands are about feelings, and feelings are complicated. “Why” people prefer, like or choose a particular brand over another, might be for both rational and logical reasons. In the end, it often comes down to a feeling; how the brand makes them feel? Why they come back for more of that feeling? Why that feeling means something to them? And therefore, successful brands are always emotionally infused, making that brand loved and respected.

Managing your brand is not a singular event but is a continuous process. - Semira Khaleeli

Think of a brand as “a promise”. What you see (the identifying icon or symbol of the brand), to you, is an implied or overt promise, maybe based on the brand’s advertising or your experiences with it. Although subjective, a “promise” may be of quality, dependability, good health, excellence, feeling good, etc. A brand is the way in which a company, organization, or individual is perceived by experience.

A brand is a promise. A good brand is a kept promise. - Muhtar Kent


Let’s take the brand of Apple as an example. Ranked number 1 in the world by Forbes (2018), with a brand value of $182.8 billion and a brand revenue of $228.6 billion (US). Impressive yes, but the Apple brand isn’t about the computers, phones and other cool stuff we can’t live without, as they are just the products Apple manufactures. It isn’t the slick TV ads or dramatically staged presentations or chicly minimalist storefronts either as that’s all marketing and advertising. So, as it turns out, the Apple brand isn’t anything in the true sense of the word. You can’t hold it or hear it or even touch it. The Apple “brand” is therefore intangible but starts with where the brand lives; people’s minds – a perception.

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. - Steve Jobs

Branding therefore is the act of shaping how a company, organization, or individual is perceived. As such, customers don’t go out and buy iPhones, but rather their perception dictates their behaviour, and therefore brands have the profound ability to affect how we act. Research in experimental social psychology has shown that while we might think we’re in total control of our actions, our behaviour is often influenced by stimuli we are completely unaware of. How an individual perceives a brand (consciously or unconsciously) wholly determines how he or she will engage with that brand.

Branding or getting a brand right, therefore requires the fundamental elements of the brand compass, company culture, name and tagline, identity, and voice and messaging.

  • The Brand Compass - a summary of the most fundamental truths about a brand showing its direction and why, made up of Purpose, Vision, Mission, Values, and Strategic Objectives.

  • Company culture - a spirit of collective purposes and inspiration that drives the brand, founded on a brand’s core values and principles that define how the brand engages with the world and why.

  • Brand personality- the unique spectrum of thoughts, emotions, and behavioural patterns that are intrinsic to a brand, including a brand’s most individualistic traits. In the example of Apple, this is evident in the chic, minimalist auteur personality of the brand. Therefore, a brand’s personality is the reason it is identifiable to its loyal customers and the basis for the highly personal relationships they form with it.

  • Brand architecture - is the coordinated system of names, colours, symbols, and visual language that defines a brand or brands, highly intentional and intuitive, founded on research into customer experience. They can be categorized as either monolithic (a singular master brand), endorsed, or pluralistic (parent brands with varying relationships to the divisions over which they preside). 

  • A brand’s name and/or tagline are its most immediate face to the world, replete with meaning, either intrinsically or as the result of methodical brand narrative. A strong name conveys a brand’s unique value propositions, differentiating it from its competition and leaving a strong impression on those who experience it.

  • A brand’s identity is more than just its logo and therefore the visual encapsulation of the deep truths revealed about your brand in strategy and positioning. An effective identity will embody all of the defining characteristics of a brand, including its personality, promise, and purpose, the stamp on the world—an aesthetic symbol full of meaning that has the power to communicate your brand’s essence in a visual instant to all who experience it.

  • Brand voice and messaging are critical to a brand’s engagement with the world, as they distinguish a brand from its competitors, humanizing a brand, making it identifiable to customers and consumers, recognizable in a landscape of competition.

The power of branding to architect consumer reality is why companies like Apple spend millions of dollars on it every year. When effectively leveraged, the ability to architect reality, sways consumers’ purchasing behaviour in immeasurably valuable ways. Branding has the power to shape our perceptions because such perceptions are susceptible to being shaped, practically crying out for it, whether we know it or not. As humans, we are constantly searching for meaning and order in the world around us, wanting our realities to make sense. Without it, we’re lost. As far as the human brain is concerned, there’s no practical difference between perception and reality. What you perceive to be real is and that is where the real power of branding lies. If branding can shape our perceptions (malleable), and our perceptions are our reality, branding has the power to shape reality.

If you want your brand to benefit from word of mouth you’d better give consumers something worth talking about. - Ken Peters

Investing in quality branding therefore has no price tag, and even more difficult to budget as there is no guarantee that branding will be successful, offering quantifiable returns. Therefore, when thinking of “branding”, it is best thought of outside a company’s marketing budget, and more as integral to influencing customer/consumer behaviour, more than just a tactic. It is a long-term strategy with a potentially life-long yield by:

  • attracting the ideal audience, not just those more likely to buy what you’re selling but making them significantly more loyal in their relationship with your brand;

  • increasing marketing effectiveness; marketing efforts are more effective if liked to the brand they stem from. A brand is cohesive and well-articulated and should be reflected in marketing initiatives encompassing the essentials that define core messaging, brand personality, and tenable marketplace position. The benefits that come out of effective branding will save you time and money on the content of all your future marketing and advertising initiatives.  

  • closing deals more easily; a well-defined, strategically positioned brand is easier to sell, due to the value propositions built into the brand narrative, whereby a good portion of the “selling” work has already been done well before face to face engagement with potential customers. Effective branding gives you sales force and a unique advantage, better enabling you to close deals quickly and confidently.

  • command higher prices; customers don’t buy products, they buy brands, and often are willing to pay premium prices for brands they perceive as superior. Effective branding enables you to position your company as an industry leader with value propositions that none of your competitors can offer, a differentiation with tangible value built into it, solidifying your worth, goods or services.

  • boost your business value by the power of brand equity; a positive effect on your share price. Stronger brands realize stronger financial performance and the long-term result of effective branding is that your company itself is worth more and delivers valuable returns when (if) the time comes to negotiate a selling price.

As outlined, branding is an indisputably powerful process, whether you are leading an industry as an organization, outpacing the competition, or empowering employees (giving them the best tools to reach customers). Understanding what a brand is and how it is created, the true power of effective branding becomes evident, paying dividends over the life of a company. 

Effective branding comes down to creating a sense of comfort, recognition, and trust in your engagement, your message, and your products. It is more about the content and message than the logo and the colours. - Loren Weisman

Forbes’ list of the 21 World’s Most Powerful Brands (2018) by revenue

Apple $87.1 billion

Microsoft $54.7 billion

Coca-Cola $50.2 billion

IBM $48.5 billion

Google $37.6 billion

Intel $32.3 billion

McDonald’s $37.4 billion

General Electric $33.7 billion

BMW $26.3 billion

Louis Vuitton $24.5 billion

Toyota $21.9 billion

Mercedes-Benz $21.8 billion

Honda $20.9 billion

Samsung $19.3 billion

Disney $19 billion

Budweiser $18.6 billion

Hewlett-Packard (HP) $18.3 billion

Nescafe $17.4 billion

Gillette $16.8 billion

Nokia $15.5 billion

L’Oreal $14.5 billion

Brand is everything, and perceptions are 90 percent of a brand. - Paul Kedrosky

Brands have a reason for existing; they can make you smile, laugh, cry, and more. Each brand carries a set of values that are embodied by the product, the corporation as a whole, and the individual employees who support it.

There are three types of brands:

  • Corporate: The name, logo, and personality of any company. Corporate branding refers to using a corporate brand name to promote a product. A corporate brand exists through products and services that hold its name.

  • Product/ Service: From a pen to a guitar to a car, a product is something you can touch. From lawn care to a haircut to legal advice, a service can’t be touched but makes your life better nonetheless.

  • Personal: Unlike a corporation, you don’t need to put your name on a product to sell yourself. A person is a type of product and, like a product, requires marketing.