31 definitions of “brand”

Photo by Evan Leeson

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. “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
  3. “A brand is a reason to choose.” Cheryl Burgess, CEO and CMO of Blue Focus Marketing
  4. “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
  5. “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
  6. “Brand is the sum total of how someone perceives a particular organization. Branding is about shaping that perception.” Ashley Friedlein, CEO of Econsultancy
  7. “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
  8. “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
  9. “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
  10. “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
  11. 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
  12. “A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.” Al Ries author and brand consultant  
  13. “A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” Sergio Zyman, author and marketing executive
  14. “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
  15. “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   
  16. “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
  17. “Branding is an experience, and advertising is a temptation.” Bruce Duckworth, Principal at Turner Duckworth
  18. “A brand is an entity that engenders an emotional connection with a consumer.” Stanley Hainsworth, Founder and CCO at Tether
  19. “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
  20. “A brand is not necessarily visual. It’s a promise of an experience.” Sean Adams, partner at AdamsMorioka
  21. “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
  22. “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
  23. “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
  24. A brand is the “effect of what an organization does, rather than the cause.” Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins
  25. “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
  26. “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
  27. “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 
  28. “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
  29. 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
  30. “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
  31. “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/


Hit these 7 notes to craft your brand’s slogan

Hit these 7 notes to craft your brand's slogan

Like many of the most memorable songs, brands have their own hooks, or slogans.

Wikipedia describes a hook as “a short riff, passage, or phrase that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to ‘catch the ear of the listener’”. They are phrases that are simple to understand and remember. They often paint a picture that helps illustrate in a person’s mind what the song is about.

Slogans do the same for brands as hooks do for songs.

Thoughtful slogans not only catch the ear of the prospective customer but also capture the essence of a brand. They are a call to arms that signal to people why the brand exists, and why people should be a part of the brand community.

So what should you consider when creating your brand slogan? Hit these 7 notes:

  1. Base it on research: You need to know the people you are trying to reach and keep. And the only way you can know them is to listen and talk to them. Check out what they are doing online; how they are interacting with your content; how they are engaging with your competition. You need to make sure you understand the need you are satisfying for them and how you are uniquely able to do so. Doing so will help you hit the right note when developing your slogan.
  2. Use it as a bridge to your community: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” anthem seamlessly connects him with his audience; all chanting “Born in the USA! Born in the USA!” Similarly, your slogan should be as much about your community as it is about you. Not only does it need to capture your brand’s essence, but it also needs to serve as that verbal link that brings you and your community together.
  3. Avoid jargon: Forget the marketing and brand jargon. Take a page from country music and be straightforward with your slogan. Use your community’s language. Think about how they talk about the problem that you have a solution for. Use that language to inspire the way you present who you are.
  4. Think of the long term: In “Hot N Cold” Katy Perry sings “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes” (yes, my wife made fun of me for knowing lyrics to this song). You need to think of a slogan that will stand the test of time (new competition, new products/services, economic shifts). Think of the relationship you are forging with your target community. The more frequently you change your slogan, the more likely they are to not know what you stand for. Make sure your slogan has staying power.
  5. Keep it short: A slogan doesn’t have to say everything you do or list every product/service you offer – that’s what marketing, storytelling and customer service are about. Your slogan needs to be that verbal cue quickly that let’s the people you are after, and those who are already under your brand tent, the essence of what you’ll do for them.
  6. Consider global/multicultural reach: If your brand aims to reach across borders and/or cultures you have a more daunting task in crafting a slogan that works well in different languages. You need to consider the words, double meanings, symbolism and overall impact that your phrase can have in the native languages of the communities you are reaching. Strict translation may likely miss the mark so you’ll need to find the best way to adapt it – Test it first. (Check out this amazing version of “Stairway to Heaven” by the Mexican duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela).
  7. A slogan is not the end-all-be-all: A slogan is meant to capture the essence of your brand. A great slogan for a brand that doesn’t deliver on its promise to its community is useless. Your community’s experience with the brand is what brings the slogan to life and makes it ring true.

It’s not an easy endeavor at all, but if you hit on these 7 notes, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a slogan that will be at the top of your community’s chart.

Let me know if you have any other points that should be added!

Need some inspiration? Communications strategist Sarosh Waiz has a list of 40 of the best slogans of modern brands.

5 steps to building a brand people want

"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action." Michael Angelo

Michael Angelo’s “David” – photo by D H Wright

Michael Angelo once said: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

Many entrepreneurs have a similar vision. They see the opportunity where others don’t. Like a sculptor, they are willing to chip away obstacles to bring their idea to life.

Here are 5 steps to turning that brand vision into a brand that people want:

  • Know what you are making – Just like Michael Angelo knew what to chip away at in order to reveal the sculpture, you need to know what you are building and why. Go beyond features and benefits and get to the heart of what your brand stands for. Simon Sinek’s TED presentation does an excellent job of explaining why you’ll want to start with answering the question “why.”
  • Know who you’re making it for – Sculptures aren’t for everyone. And that’s okay. Just like an artist recognizes that s/he doesnt have to be all things to all people, so should you. Once you’ve decided why your brand exists, identify the people you want your brand to connect with. Look at their demographics, psychographics and culturegraphics. Identify the size of your potential market and uncover actionable insights about what makes them tick. Doing so will help you craft the messages you need to deliver to cut through the clutter.
  • Use the right tools – Be it sculpting, woodworking, branding or marketing, there are always more tools and communications channels than you likely need to get the job done. Figure out what channels make the most sense to reach your audience. Then coordinate the use of those channels – email, social media networking sites, direct mail, etc.  Like the authors of “Marketing in the Round” explain, sync all messaging, strategies, and tactics and optimize every medium and platform to deliver the right targeted messages in an integrated manner.
  • Converse – Like great art, building a brand is about creating a conversation between the brand and a community. Using media channels to simply disseminate information is only one-way. Use your brand to elicit discussion about what matters to your audience. Create shareable content, respond to questions, provoke discussion, and listen.
  • Find out if they like it and what they like about it – The only way we’ll know if we’re delivering something that the people we care about actually want is if we observe and ask. Identify your key performance indicators for your business and for your communications efforts. Set benchmarks and then actively engage in the analytics. Google evangelist Avinash Kaushik suggests 4 social media metrics that will get you thinking about what you need to measure, and why.

There’s only one Michael Angelo. But then again, there’s also only one you. Use these steps to bring your vision to life and build a brand that people want.

If you have any other suggestions, please chime in!

“Loss aversion” – Understand what it means in order to rebrand successfully

I play soccer at least once a week in a 30+ league. While mentally I feel like an 18 year-old out on the pitch, my body reminds me that the “studs on my cleats” have been permanently worn down. I don’t run or turn as fast as I used to.

old soccer cleats

But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that feeling I get when being down by a goal (or more).

It’s like someone has taken something very personal away from me, and I’ll fight until the bitter end to get it back. I’ll sprint (it looks like I’m running in slow motion) after the ball, defend, and take shots up until the last second; doing everything in my power to help get our team to tie the game.

It turns out I’m not alone. From what we understand about our brain, we’re driven to fight harder to recoup what we’ve lost than to try to gain something in the first place. This is loss aversion.

“Loss aversion” and rebranding

An interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam about the theory loss aversion got me thinking about what this might mean for marketing professionals, specifically those trying to push forward change in an organization’s image.

Rebranding, specifically a visual and verbal brand identity changes (i.e. logo, icon, tagline), impacts an entire organization: departments, products, services, people. You name it, they are affected.

Groups that have to change their existing visual and verbal sub-brand identities to fit that of the new corporate one, will likely have immediate push-back. Why? Because it’s like someone has scored a goal on them – now they will fight to get back what they’ve lost; to at least even the score.

It doesn’t matter if the change will actually support their business objectives. Data and strategic insights be damned! Losing your identity is an emotional thing, just like losing a soccer game.

It’s the theory of loss aversion at work.

Turning “loss aversion” into a tool to build rebranding support

What if we use the theory of loss aversion to our advantage?

If you are leading a rebranding effort (assuming you are doing a rebrand for strategic reasons and not just for a “refresh.”) do your homework. Have a clear sense of how the business objectives and challenges the company is facing relates to the individual groups whose sub-brand identities are being altered. Then, look for a common “enemy” or “challenge” that the individual groups can jointly get behind – identify the losses and use it as a rallying cry so that all of the individual groups work as a team.

A common enemy could be:

  • a competitor that’s eaten up your market share;
  • economic shifts that have caused sales to drop; or
  • a new product or service another company is launching aimed at your target audience.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. However, you have to look for opportunities to bring people together rather than have them hunker down in their silos. Even a team of soccer all-stars can’t win a game if each of the 11 players works independently.

Do you have any examples of organizations finding a “common enemy” to focus on during a major re-brand? Please share.

Your brand needs a “belief framework”


Author and marketer Seth Godin defines brand as the “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision of one product or service over another.”

These expectations result from direct and indirect experiences that current and prospective customers, members or fans have with a company, organization, individual or idea.

So how do you put a connected framework around a brand to begin to create and deliver positive experiences that deliver a sense of value to people, and have them wanting more?

Patrick Hanlon, author of “Primal Branding,” proposes that organizations must clearly identify 7 assets that are the essence of a brand belief system:

  1. Creation storyAnswers the question where you came from.  This lays the foundation for why people should care about you. Every organization has one. It can and should be crafted and shared with employees, customers and prospects so that they get a sense of the organization’s roots. Examples of brands with compelling creation stories include Coca-Cola, Facebook, and FC Barcelona.
  2. CreedAnswers what you want the person to believe in. It’s a mission statement or tagline that your audience can easily understand and embrace. Examples include, “Just do it” or “Soup is good food” or “Think different”.
  3. IconsAnswers the question how a person can recognize you in such a busy world. Icon’s are not only logos, but also can include uniforms (think of your favorite sports team) and designs like the shape of a VW bug.
  4. RitualsAnswer the question how people can interact with you and the community in a unique way. Consider what the NFL has done to Monday and Thursday nights. The NFL brand has created must-watch events during the fall and winter, where two nights a week (not to mention Sundays) people sit in front of the TV, or pull out their tablet/smartphone and watch a live football game.
  5. Pagans/non-believersAnswers the question of who doesn’t like you. Just like a superhero needs a supervillain, brands also have their “enemies” – and this is good as it helps you draw a line in the sand. Examples include Coke vs. Pepsi, Eagles vs. Cowboys, the Republicans vs. the Democrats. By identifying non-believers, you are likely better able to define/understand what you stand for.
  6. Sacred wordsLike rituals, these are special words and phrases that only those who “belong” know. Starbucks has it’s own language for ordering (check out the Huffington Post article, “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders” for a laugh). Universities too have a long history of “sacred words” – Seattle Sounders soccer fans all know the songs and chants that are becoming a part of the team’s tradition.
  7. LeaderAnswers the question of who people should follow. These can be the founder or CEO, or a strong person within the organization that is able to bring people together and create a sense of purpose and unity. Consider Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or the late, Steve Jobs.

Once identified, you need to actively manage and communicate the 7 brand belief assets through the channels that make the most sense for your organization and audiences.

Examples for communicating your brand belief framework include:

  • Using your website to tell the story of where you came from (video, text, old images, etc.);
  • Building a tagline and/or key brand words into all of the digital and print materials you develop and ensuring spokespeople incorporate this creed into their presentations;
  • Incorporating colors and key images throughout digital marketing efforts in order for people to immediately recognize the brand, without even having to read text;
  • Capitalizing on the Christmas holidays and delivering messages that tie your product/service directly into the holiday, like Stella Artois did in its 2012 holiday commercials;
  • Creating videos that demonstrate exactly who you are and who you are not so that it’s clear who the pagans are (remember the Mac v PC commercials);
  • Creating a webpage like the University of Georgia has where fans can listen to and learn your “battle hymn” and “fight song” and participate in the game-day experience; and
  • Having your leader use Twitter or a blog to share her/his vision and personal perspective like Bill Marriott’s “Marriott on the move” blog.

So, does your brand have a belief system? Are you actively managing the seven assets?

Take the time to understand the belief framework you have to work with. Build it out so you can better market your brand and build long lasting relationships with customers and members, and transform them into believers.