The definition of “brand” is easy to find on the Web. The issue however is that the definition of brand can be quite different depending on whom you ask.
Ask a few structural engineers what a bridge is and it’s likely that they’ll all say something very similar to Wikipedia’s definition: “a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal across a river, ravine, road, railroad, or other obstacle.”
The same isn’t true in business when you ask a person to define the term “brand.”
Blogger and marketer, Heidi Cohen, pulled together over a dozen different definitions for “brand” alone in 2011, not to mention many other definitions of the term “branding.”
The question is why? Why can’t we agree on one common definition?
My sense is that it’s because at its root, a brand has to do with an emotional connection between a human being and another entity – a connection based on experience and some level of trust and expectation.
I tend to find that emotions are hard to define.
So, here is a collection of 31 different definitions of the term brand from business people, academia and organizations. I’ve collected them from various sources including: Heidi Cohen’s 2011 blog post (definitions 1-13); author of “Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits,” Debbie Millman (definitions 14-20); and my own collection (definitions 21-30). Check out the links to learn more about the people/organizations behind the definitions.
- The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
- “A brand is the essence of one’s own unique story. This is as true for personal branding as it is for business branding. The key, though, is reaching down and pulling out the authentic, unique ‘you’. Otherwise, your brand will just be a facade. The power of a strong logo in brand identity is that a simple visual can instantaneously communicate a brand and what it is about. Some large brands are able to do this by symbol only, without words, that is the Holy Grail that brands dream about. This seems to represent the very essence of communication at its most primitive roots. Few can pull it off. Logos are vitally important, but are just one component of what creates a strong brand. Logos should support the broader brand strategy that supports an even bigger brand story.” Paul Biedermann, Creative Director at re:DESIGN
- “A brand is a reason to choose.” Cheryl Burgess, CEO and CMO of Blue Focus Marketing
- “Brands are shorthand marketing messages that create emotional bonds with consumers. Brands are composed of intangible elements related to its specific promise, personality, and positioning and tangible components having identifiable representation including logos, graphics, colors and sounds. A brand creates perceived value for consumers through its personality in a way that makes it stand out from other similar products. Its story is intricately intertwined with the public’s perception and consistently provides consumers with a secure sense that they know what they’re paying for. In a world where every individual is also a media entity, your consumers own your brand (as it always was).” Heidi Cohen, President Riverside Marketing Strategies
- “In today’s social, customer-controlled world, marketers may be spending their money to build a brand. But they don’t own it. In their influential book, Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff state “your brand is whatever your customers say it is…” As a marketer, this means that, while a brand is the emotional relationship between the consumer and the product, you must engage with consumers and build positive brand associations. The deeper the relationship, the more brand equity exists.” Neil Feinstein, President of Zezo Digital
- “Brand is the sum total of how someone perceives a particular organization. Branding is about shaping that perception.” Ashley Friedlein, CEO of Econsultancy
- “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 (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” Seth Godin, Author of Linchpin
- “Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are. Or quoting Ze Frank, it’s the “emotional aftertaste” that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service or company. (Also, it’s the mark left after a red-hot iron is applied to a steer’s hindquarters.)” Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs
- “A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitor.” Phillip Kotler, International Marketing Professor at Northwestern University
- “That old “a brand is a promise” saw holds true, but only partially true.” Rebecca Lieb, digital advertising and media analyst at the Altimeter Group
- A brand is “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” David Ogilvy, advertising executive
- “A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.” Al Ries author and brand consultant
- “A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” Sergio Zyman, author and marketing executive
- “Branding is a profound manifestation of the human condition. It is about belonging: belonging to a tribe, to a religion, to a family. Branding demonstrates that sense of belonging. It has this function for both the people who are part of the same group and also for the people who don’t belong.” Wally Olins, Chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants
- “Branding is a process of meaning manufacture that begins with the biggest, boldest gestures of the corporation and works its way down to the tiniest gestures.” Grant McCracken, anthropologist, blogger and author
- “A brand is something you have an unexplained, emotional connection to. A brand gives you a sense of familiarity.” Phil Duncan, P&G’s Global Design Officer
- “Branding is an experience, and advertising is a temptation.” Bruce Duckworth, Principal at Turner Duckworth
- “A brand is an entity that engenders an emotional connection with a consumer.” Stanley Hainsworth, Founder and CCO at Tether
- “A brand is a product with a compelling story—a brand offers “quintessential qualities” for which the consumer believes there is absolutely no substitute. Brands are totems. They tell us stories about our place in culture—about where we are and where we’ve been. They also help us figure out where we’re going.” Cheryl Swanson, Founder of Toniq
- “A brand is not necessarily visual. It’s a promise of an experience.” Sean Adams, partner at AdamsMorioka
- “From the sender’s point of view and from the receiver’s point of view. I don’t want to make it overly complicated, but from the perspective of P&G or Dell or any other company, a brand might be a promise: a promise of what awaits the customer if they buy that particular product, service, or experience. From the receiver’s point of view, I think a brand is a promise.” Dan Pink, cultural critic and author
- “A brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation. These associations may be intentional – that is, they may be actively promoted via marketing and corporate identity, for example – or they may be outside the company’s control.” Design Council, UK based organization that champions great design
- “Your brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.” Jerry McLaughlin, co-founder and CEO of Branders.com
- A brand is the “effect of what an organization does, rather than the cause.” Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins
- “A brand is like a person…Take a piece of paper and write down the answers to these questions. First, how many people do you see in a day? Second, how many do you remember? Third, how many would you like to see again? Fourth, how many become your friend? You encounter a huge number of them every day, but you keep very few of them in your mind. Actually, you only remember the ones you love. In other words, great brands are like friends.” Luc Speisser, Managing Director at Landor
- “A brand is the emotional connection people make with an organization. A brand comprises many elements, both tangible and intangible, and is based on everything an organization says and does: its values and beliefs; the experiences it offers; and the messages it communicates, to name a few.” Case Western Reserve University
- “A brand is a promise. Think of some top brands and you immediately know what they promise. The creation of a brand and creating a visual entity and a value system around it provides a reservoir of meaning for consumers to tap into.” Hans Hulsbosch, executive creative director of Hulsbosch Communication by Design
- “A brand is a relationship. An incarnational, evolving and emotional relationship that exists uniquely between an audience and an organization… A living, breathing thing that is beautifully imperfect, fallible and unfinished.” Jeremiah Gardner, author
- A brand is that indelible mark left on a person’s psyche after s/he has had a direct or indirect experience with an organization, service product, place, person, or idea; that mental and emotional association drives a persons’ interests in engaging further or not. Favio Martinez, marketing and branding at the IDB
- “A promise that a firm makes to deliver functional and / or emotional and / or symbolic benefits to consumers; it is a promise that consumers rely upon and one which the firm needs to keep.” Sanal Mazvancheryl, Assistant Professor of Marketing at American University
- “A brand is a relationship with a set of expectations according to the reputation and promises made. A strong brand strengthens the link with the customer and helps build differentiation, preference and consideration, which are key indicators of future business performance and growth.” Adolfo Gaffoglio, Managing Director at Advise Research and Expert Advisors
So, is there a definition that speaks to you the most? Is there another one you’d like to add to the list? Let me know!
photo credit: Evan Leeson; http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecstaticist/