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What Is a Brand

When people ask me to define “brand,” I say, “A brand is what you do and how you do it.”  This might not be the most common definition of what a brand is, but the one I use because it’s shorthand for the business school definition of a brand:  a product or service’s value that is delivered to its customers, and the way of doing business that is the basis of a company’s relationships with stakeholders.  This definition of a brand also captures the action orientation to brand-building – and it implies the tight connection between brand and business.

Some people define “brand” as “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  I would argue that’s your reputation.  Brand and reputation are very closely related but they’re not the same thing.  If your brand were only people’s opinions about you, then you wouldn’t have a brand if you were a start-up or new product – or a company would have a brand for some people (those who know it) and it wouldn’t for other people (those who don’t.)  Your brand exists regardless.

Others simply think a brand is a name, logo, or trademark – but those things are your name, your logo, and your trademark.  Your brand exists above and beyond those discrete, tangible elements.  When Federal Express changed its name to FedEx, the company didn’t become a new brand – it just adopted a new name.  Its brand remained the value of “absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” and attributes related to that positioning.

I’ve heard some people define “brand” as your image or message but that suggests that you can create a brand separate from the reality of what you actually do or offer.  Anybody who has tried to brand themselves this way soon finds out that it’s unsustainble because customers easily discover the gap between what you say and what you do and won’t stand for it.

In my latest book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, I chose to refer to a brand using the term “brand identity” because I thought it would help those who aren’t familiar with brands and brand-building understand the concept.  After all, the dictionary defines “identity” as “who someone is,” so your brand identity is who/what your brand is.  But I realize that identity can sometimes take on a meaning that suggests design or visuals, so it’s not the perfect terminology.

Perhaps the best way to define brand is not through words.  Recently, brand consultant, art director, and speaker Vanessa Elle asked me to draw my definition of “brand.”  It was a fun exercise, especially given how unartistic I am, but also perhaps quite revealing.  Take a look at this short clip from our conversation and let me know what you think of my rendition of what a brand is.

For more from me about what a brand is, check out:

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