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What Is A Brand? Really?

What is a brand Duane Benson

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a brand is: “a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name.”

That’s true, but that definition’s simplicity harkens back to the days of identifying cattle on the open range. Use in the business world of today has evolved to encompass a far more complex set of meanings. Today “brand” covers so much more than just a pattern burned into thick skin.

Brand, as commonly used in the business world, is the internal imagery and emotion evoked in someone’s mind when they hear a name or see a logo. It’s more than just an identifying mark, it is the identity, the personality, and the definition.

Going back to the Old West metaphor, think about a couple of range hands spotting someone else’s cattle. They see the mark branded into the animals. If they’ve met or heard about the owner, they will have an emotional reaction.

If the cattle belong to Hank, across yonder dry creek, and Hank’s a mean son of a gun that won’t take nothin’ from nobody, the reaction upon seeing the mark might be one of fear. On the other hand, if they belong to the kind and open Miller family, down by the big oak tree – the one with the crooked trunk – the reaction might be warmth and memories of fresh Apple pie and good conversation. That’s the brand: “Hank” = fear at the point of a gun. “Miller” = good times and good food. The mark isn’t the brand. It just represents the brand.

Most companies aspire to have a positive brand, but regardless of aspiration, it is behavior that determines what the outside world thinks of a company. And that’s the given brand: what people outside the company think.

The “given” brand is more important than the aspirational brand. It’s what counts. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what you think; if you don’t act to inspire the brand you want, you won’t have it.

What this means is brand is not just something used in the marketing department. Even if the company doesn’t consider or put effort into the brand, it will still have a brand. Everything you do; everything that anyone sees; it all goes into the brand that outsiders assign to you.

How do you get the brand you want?

Building and nurturing a brand comes from your behavior. That’s why most small companies have a brand that is very much a reflection of the personality of the proprietor. A person usually acts in a small business as they are in person.

It gets more complex when employees are involved. Unless all of the employees share the same personality traits, the company brand will devolve from that of the owner. It will become a conglomerate of the most prominent personality traits of all employees.

A sales rep that’s perpetually grumpy, and vocal about their grumpiness, can cause the company to be given “grumpy” as a brand attribute. A half dozen polite, but quiet sales reps may not be able to cancel out one loud and grumpy rep.

A strong, positive, marketing campaign can start to create the image of a helpful company, but it can only start the process. The company, through its behavior, will outweigh anything that’s in print. That weight can be either positive or negative, based on behavior.