The concept of Brand has taken hold. Even the most ardent stick-in-the-mud, head-in-the-sanders will tell you it holds “value” (even if absolving said value in their own sphere of operation).
And as the concept and acceptance of the importance of a brand continues to permeate throughout the business world, so does the apparent need to define this often-misunderstood concept. The problem is these definitions mostly (to use a highly technical term) suck.
While there is no doubt that many sophisticated brand thinkers truly do understand the concept, they often struggle to articulate it in a brief, succinct way.
Comparatively, there are many other smart, talented, experienced, respected, and successful folks who will attempt to peddle some definition – usually driven by a POV that supports their own agenda. For example, the design-centric tend to focus on the visual or creative assets of a brand. The business minded focus on the promise, or entirety of experience. The marketers focus on the perception of the consumer. And just about everyone else with a tertiary relationship use it as a catch-all buzzword. My apologies to the video producing “brand storytellers”.
The biggest issue I take with the vast majority of brand definitions is they are overwhelmingly externally focused. My favourite(see least favourite) is “A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. While we can certainly make a connection between the concept of brand and identity – the idea that anyone’s or anything’s identity is solely based upon the opinions of others is not only factually incorrect, but also kind of gross.
Short answer, no. Long answer, I don’t need one.
I will take the position that the problem squarely lies in the question. I contend that “What is a brand?”, is a futile question. For even if there was a definition that everyone could agree upon, how would that definition help anyone better leverage the concept?
To effectively understand what a brand is, is to first understand what a brand does (and ought to do).
Therefore, I propose the more pertinent question to ask is, “What is the role of a brand?”.
And to this, I do have an answer.
A brand has a job to do. And that job is simple. Not always easy, but pretty simple.
The role of a brand is to create clarity in the minds of all stakeholders – internal and external – about an entity and its offerings.
Let’s break this job description down a little further…”to create clarity in the minds of all stakeholders” means that everyone gets the schtick. There are a lot of who, what, why, and how questions (maybe even a couple when’s) that require answering to first establish what that idea/concept – or schtick or essence or soul or whatever you prefer to call it – is. Clarity, or understanding, is absolutely critical because it is this common understanding that fosters better decision making. Which takes us to…
“Internal and external” is a distinction of vital importance. As much as your brand is about them getting it, it’s equally about you getting it. If you believe the focus of branding is all external, you’re what the French call, full of shit. Essentially, you’re using branding as a manipulation tactic. “We want them to think about us like this”, whether it’s true or not. That’s the attitude and approach that often give marketing, advertising, and sales a bad rap – and unfortunately if you think of branding as being a member of this camp – you’ll likely see it in the same negative light.
Before we worry about what others think of us, it is far more important that we have clarity in our understanding of ourselves. I said earlier that clarity fosters better decisions. The truth is, the vast majority of decisions that we make are internally driven. This is as equally true for holistic, company-wide decisions as it is for individual employee decisions. The brand allows us all to make better decisions, that are aligned with the decisions of everyone else, because we all share the same understanding of…
“An entity and its offerings.” An entity is defined as a thing with distinct and independent existence. So it could be a business, an organization, a person, a product, a service, or even a concept. If it exists and is identifiable, it’s an entity. An offering is simply a thing that is made available by an entity. If the offer exists and is identifiable, it too is an entity, and may look to employ a brand of its own.
As you venture forth building your brands, considering your purpose, analyzing your audience, surveying your competition, crafting your message, designing your collateral, delving into markets and channels and mediums (oh my) – don’t waste an ounce of thought asking what a brand is. For you now know that its nature is irrelevant, and all that matters is the job for which it has been tasked. Fear not the once esoteric concept, because with this simple job description in hand, you hold the power to knowingly manage, evaluate, and improve your brand.
Philip Agnello is the founder of Philip Agnello Creative Consulting – the Toronto based, global boutique consultancy dedicated to the highest level of strategic creative thinking.
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