How you define "brand" will determine your brand’s success or failure

Before we can define our brand, we first need to come to an agreement on what the definition of ‘brand’ is.

I could sense frustration in the CEO’s voice as his company has been struggling to redefine its brand for more than three years, and they were stuck in a state of mass confusion and the black hole of analysis paralysis. I was invited to participate in the meeting to provide a structure for their brand development initiative, and I started with quelling the CEO’s frustration by providing a definition of “brand” to the group that was clear, easy to understand and actionable:

A unique set of distinctions an organization owns that makes a noteworthy and positive difference in the lives of its customers.

As some were typing and writing this down, others offered their own definitions, all of which were in some ways correct, but in other ways flawed in that all suggest that customers are responsible for defining brands – not the entrepreneurs, CEOs and business owners. If this seems bass-ackwards, that’s because it is.

Below are a few alternative definitions of brand that surfaced in the meeting I was attending, along with a few others that, in my opinion, are both vague and lacking.

A brand is…

  • What people say about you: This is not the definition of brand. This is the definition of reputation which is what a brand earns, or suffers from. If the brand is not properly defined or adequately differentiated, there is no unique brand promise to be delivered, and customer experiences will often be inconsistent and mediocre. When a brand is strong, you can feel (Walk into an Apple store, and REI or a Four Seasons) When it’s not, you feel almost nothing. So, this definition is correct in limited context: When a brand is defined, purposeful and strong, it makes a lasting impression and has much more influence over what people are saying about it.
  • What people think of when they see your logo: When people see a logo or hear the name of a brand (either in advertising or word of mouth), they typically think of the last experience they’ve had with the brand, if any. Such thoughts are typically vague or generic, and when consumers are asked what they think of when they hear or see a logo, they can only offer something of substance that indicates a meaningful point of differentiation or uniqueness if the brand experience was truly
  • Reputation: A reputation is what is earned based on a customer experience. See “What people say about you” above.
  • The reason people choose or choose not to do business with you: In the process of defining a brand, the owners and leadership team are able to articulately identify and define their ideal buyers and customers. They already know why people would choose to, or not choose to do business with their brand, and they know who and how to target desired customers through a brand-driven marketing strategy. When a brand is fuzzy or not properly defined, the reason becomes nothing more than a guessing game, and price is usually the culprit due to low perceived or actual value.
  • Your intangible assets: Every company has intangible assets. The question is, how do those intangible assets rank in categories such as relevance, uniqueness and value? The other question is, are they properly communicated? So it is true that a brand is an organization’s intangible assets, but too many times, based on my experiences, those assets are not identified and leveraged to be a unique distinction.

When we return to the definition of brand as being a unique set of distinctions an organization owns that makes a noteworthy and positive difference in the lives of its customers, these other definitions lose relevance. The very act of defining a brand’s unique set of distinctions, properly leveraging those distinctions to making a noteworthy and positive difference in the lives of customers, and then properly managing the brand will enable you to influence and control every other definition you may hear.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Scott Seroka is one of 29 Certified Brand Strategists in the U.S., and is a Principal of Seroka Brand Development and Strategic Communications.