A definition of brand that’s actually useful

Can we really create a useful definition of brand? The term means something different to everyone and it seems almost a pre-requisite of brand experts to be woolly and vague. They have an impressive vocabulary of meaningless words (“essence” being a particular favourite) and as such tend to only appeal to their own kind

Brand is as fundamental to business as sales and cash flow. And yet, because it’s dominated by those with a penchant for the abstract, it has a tendency to alienate those who lean toward the specific and tangible (in other words, business people).

This is a depressing state of affairs. So, in an attempt to set things right, I’ve been on the hunt for a definition of brand that’s actually useful. One simple explanation that captures its true meaning in a comprehensive, succinct and actionable way.

I failed.

Explaining brand

My search for the perfect definition of brand – how did it go?

After hours of trawling the web I finally understood why brand experts so often revert to their marketing thesauruses. Brand is so complex and all-encompassing that the moment you simplify it you sacrifice something. Despite this I managed to get close. Here are some definitions of brand that are nigh on perfect.

The best definitions of brand – brought you courtesy of the World Wide Web

Let’s begin:

1. “Your brand is whatever your customers say it is…” – Charlene Li and Josh Bernie

I thought we should ease in with a simple one. Your brand isn’t defined by you or what your out of date mission statement says. It is defined by your customers. Think about it. If I asked 10 of your customers at random to describe your brand, what would the common themes be? Would they be positive and compelling? Would there even be any common themes??

2. “Successful branding is what you do, not what you say or show”  – Jim Siegel.

Another simple one, this time making the point that brand is not a superficial afterthought, which is how 95% of people view it. Brand is not an advertisement or logo or website; it’s the things you actually do. The superficial stuff is merely the icing on the cake, and one thing you notice about icing is that the cake always comes first!!

3. “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer” – Seth Godin.

A wordier quote this time, but, as usual, Seth pretty much nails it. Brand is everything that stops you from being another commodity. If you find yourself relying on price as a differentiator then chances are you have no brand.

Brand meeting

4. “Basically, if everyone else out there is producing X and X+1 and X+2, you’ve either got to be producing X times 10, or you’ve got to be producing Y” – Rand Fishkin.

My favourite comes from an unlikely source, the SEO and digital marketing wizard Rand Fishkin. In fact this quote wasn’t in a piece specifically about brand, but in a video talking about SEO and I think that’s why it’s so good. 

SEO’s are the least woolly kind of marketer. So, when Rand talks about about creating unique value, so your website is ranked as a trusted brand, he does so in the black and white way SEO’s will understand. 

Unique value (brand) cannot come from offering slightly more of the same thing. You either need to be offering that thing on steroids or doing something else entirely. Otherwise, once again, you have no brand.

Okay, so things may not have gone entirely to plan but if nothing else this failed exercise should have demonstrated:

  1. a) Just how difficult creating a definition of brand is
  2. b) How few (as in probably less than 5%) of companies ever really master it.
  3. c) Why the small number that do are able to charge whatever they want and still keep the customers coming.

In other words, it’s tough as hell and that’s precisely why it’s so important.


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