A brand is not a gut feeling but a strategic business instrument

The brand concept is not hot air or fuzzy logic, it is a strategic tool, and if anything should be more important to a company today than it has ever been

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. Although the reasons might be different than you think…

    In his article on Co.Design Brian Millar discusses the concept of branding and suggests that it is more hot air than tactile value

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    . Miller makes a valid point in regards to over focusing on the intangible brand value, but in my opinion misinterprets the point of the brand

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Marty Neumeiers’s definition of a brand: “a brand is a persons gut feeling about a company or product” seems to be the common idea of what a brand is. That it is not owned by the company itself but its customers and product owners. As interesting as this way of thinking is, it is the wrong way to look at what a brand is. Because it doesn’t say much about why you would invest in trying to control it, or make a good enough argument as to why the brand is strategically critical to the whole company (and not just the marketing department).

So what is a brand?

A brand is a promise to the customer or product owner of the type of value or opportunity the company or product offers you in a given situation. Its goal is to position the offer so that it is visible, understandable, relevant and believable in the category itself.

Let me reverse engineer this brand idea:

A product is invented when someone figures out a way to help people achieve something in a given situation. There are probably a thousand ways for people to achieve their goal in any situation but the product does it in a certain kind of way (for example being a tooth brush in stead of a tooth cloth for tooth hygiene). Now smart people have figured out that in any one category there is usually only a handful of ways people want to achieve something. Companies, hopefully, position themselves in one of these. (although here companies often misunderstand positioning and focus on being different instead of relevant – long story …)

Now, if you’re a clever company interested in earning some cash, you will design your product so that it helps people achieve things in one of the handful of ways that customers and owners find interesting and valuable.

In a category there are maybe between ten and a hundred companies all fighting for those same positions and they have to figure out a way to communicate their value proposition to be both interesting, alluring, different (it’s the way you communicate the positioning that has to be different – not the positioning itself) and has the ability to stick in peoples mind (so that they remember them). This is the brand.

Basically a brand is: A company’s unique way of communicating their positioning to their customers and product owners regarding how they will help them achieve something, in the shape of a promise. And all this in a category filled with companies basically promising the same thing but saying it differently.

A brand is by no means folly, but it has to be understood the right way. It is not cosmetics and it is not hot air. It is a powerful strategic tool to steer the company into making sure they are creating the right tools and experiences for people and that they in the future make the right business decisions when it comes providing people with what they anticipate and have chosen as right for them.

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  1. Jonas Persson
    June 20

    Nice writeup – I agree that it’s an important strategic tool, but have a slightly different view of what a brand is.

    I would argue that a brand is much more than just communicating a position, from my perspective the brand is a combination of communicated promise and experienced value.

    Let’s take Barack Obama as an example. His excellent campaign created a very strong brand for him, but since he became president he hasn’t really lived up to these promises which has weakened the brand a lot. His staff is still communicating the same things as before, but the brand value is much lower due to the actual experience. This mismatch between essentially “marketing” and “service design” is probably the biggest organizational challenge companies face in the communication area.

  2. October 2

    You are confusing a brand (noun) with branding (verb). Marty’s definition is about as close as you can get to defining what a brand actually is.


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