designing ebooks and other fun things


What is a brand, anyway?


Branding, personal branding, re-branding, disease branding, sensory branding… The word is everywhere, isn’t it? Yet there seems to be a bit of confusion on what a brand actually is. And no wonder. If you try to explore the topic, to learn more about branding, you will find all sorts of confusing information.

From Wiki’s explanation that might have been responsible for spreading the belief that the logo is the brand:

A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan.

to meaningless gibberish from companies explaining how their special branding service will help you:

...a proprietary process when professionally executed, delivers a clear and measurable competitive advantage to your firm by helping you establish a positive connection and value-relationship with your customer…
(Are you sold yet?)

Most of the time when we talk about branding, what we mean is the brand image — what others perceive you as. (As opposed to the brand identity, which is what Wiki’s definition is.) It’s difficult to explain because it’s difficult to control. But let me give it a try.

Imagine if you will a giant spiderweb, strands glimmering in the light, moving and changing before your very eyes.

At the very center is a large sphere. Inside it, hidden from the eyes of the onlookers, is your business in its entirety:

Everything you stand for.

Your values and beliefs, your products and services, the benefits, the quirks, the hopes and the plans. Everything.

It’s beautiful and unique, sparkling and changing. Unfortunately, there is nobody in there to see it. Just you.

Nobody else will ever have the same understanding, the same vision of the whole picture.

What they see is the strands. Growing and connecting, changing and breaking.

The strands coming out from the center are the messages you send about your brand:

  • Your products
  • Your services
  • Your customer support
  • Your packaging
  • Your logo and tagline
  • The line in your store
  • Your brochure
  • Your website
  • If these messages are consistent among themselves, the strands form connecting strands. And grow stronger.

    If the messages contradict one another — for example, if your tagline or brochure promises quick, efficient customer service, yet when the customer calls, he is put on hold for ten minutes — these strands weaken, or even break off.

    If the messages are inconsistent, even in small things as visual details — for example, if your packaging is sleek and modern, but your website looks like it was last updated in 1984, the connector strands will never form. In best case scenario, those two messages will stay separate in your customer’s mind, never linking that outdated website she accidentally clicked on to your sleek product she often buys. In the worst case scenario, the weaker link (the website) wins, weakening your credibility, and your brand image.

    If the messages you are sending are strong, clear and interesting, an amazing thing happens — the strands take on a life of their own. They grow and sprout new strands:
    People talk about your messages. Someone recommends you to a friend. An article is written about your product.
    (Of course, these things can be positive or negative. You can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. And you don’t have to.)

    New strands are born. New connections between them formed. The web grows stronger and more beautiful.

    But here is the catch:

    Your customer can not see the whole thing. Only some portions of it, some strands he came into contact with. And this is different for every single person.

    You can’t control what he sees, or how, or when, or whether he will pay attention when he does. Only the main messages you send out there.

    But you know what? That’s enough. Rather than spend time worrying over things you can’t control, worry about the ones you can. The messages you send. The ideas you share. If they are consistent all across the board, that elusive brand image that each customer holds in his mind will be much closer to what you envision it to be.

    Call me optimistic, but I believe that every single business has a unique, strong and clear message, hidden somewhere inside that shiny core, ready to become the main brand champion. It’s not always easy to identify, I know. There is so much going on in there. Your values and beliefs, your perceived image of your customer, your product or service, all the hard work that went into its development… It’s difficult to pick just one thing, one message. There is so much that could be said! But in order for anyone to want to learn all the details, there should be that one message first. The one that sets you apart.

    Sometimes all it takes to identify this message at the core of your brand is stepping back a bit. Letting go of the it-has-always-been-done-this-way philosophy. Stepping into your customers’ shoes and seeing it from their point of view. Asking, “How does this product change his life for the better?” Or “Is there anything more it could do?”

    The strongest message you can send is right there. Finding the way to say it clearly and eloquently is the next step. And if it’s a message that comes straight from the core of your business, staying consistent (and contributing to your brand image) should be easy.