What is a Brand?

March 10, 2017

I get asked this question a lot. Therefore, let me try to answer this, based on my own experience.


The first time I encountered the word "brand" was in the 80s. And, to me, a "brand" meant a pair of Nike trainers, which my parents couldn't afford, or a bottle of 7up, which was unnecessarily luxurious compared to a bottle of water for a school excursion. So, since then, anything considered a “brand” meant expensive and somewhat prestigious (at the time I didn't know why). But, those were the brand names imprinted on my mind ever since, and these brands are still going strong in the present day.


In this post, I will cover:


  • "Brand" as a name

  • "Brand" as perceived attributes

  • "Brand" as a company asset

"Brand" as a name

When I first encountered "Marketing and Branding" during my studies in Europe, I was totally puzzled, especially when I found out the word "brand" in the Oxford English Dictionary referred to "an identifying mark burned on livestock or (especially in former times) criminals or slaves with a branding iron"! But now, thinking more about this, it is clear that the "brand name" and the "logo" we talk about today originate from the burned marks on livestock. Imagine, if you were a shepherd, and so was your neighbour. You wouldn't want to mix up your sheep with your neighbour's. What do you do? You mark them or tag them - you 'brand' your sheep to identify them as yours. Isn't it the same to add a "mark" to a pair of trainers or a bottle of lemonade, to differentiate and make people remember? This is how I started to understand what a brand really was.


If only it was that simple…

"Brand" as perceived attributes

Over the years, when mentioning 7up, it was never just a name to me. There was always this doodled figure with spiky hair jumping around with ice-cooling, mouth-watering, bubbling fresh lemonade, and the translated name in Chinese "7 Happiness" made me want to skip. That’s my perception of 7up.


What I mentioned in the last section was just a narrow sense of the term “brand” - the "trademark" of a product or service to identify where the product/service comes from. But when we mention a "brand", it usually includes all of the product/service attributes that other people perceive about it – the same as how I feel about 7up.


"Brand" is abstract and intangible. Nowadays, when so many similar products and services surround us, there is a reason - or a group of reasons - for a customer to choose a product or service. The reason could be the price, the quality, the experience, the interactions with the customer, how customers associate themselves with the product/service... These are all “attributes” and how they represent the brand in the mind of the customer.


Some attributes are tangible, such as the quality of a product, the price, the materials, the people, etc. Some attributes are intangible; such as the experience, the aspiration, the quality of the service, and so on. In my forthcoming post, ‘What are brand attributes?’, I will discuss the attributes which make up a brand and how to build brand attributes in more detail.


Brand attributes need to be carefully identified, crafted, understood internally and communicated properly, externally. This process forms part of the brand strategy. And this does not happen overnight. It takes a long time to build a brand, because it takes a long time for your customers to form a perception and an opinion of you. And you want that perception and opinion to be what you want them to be.

I love the quote from Jonah Sachs, who a marketing cartoonist and entrepreneur. He describes that "Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points." His quote summarises that your brand is what your customer feels about you, and how they group all their experiences with you together to form a perception of you.

"Brand" as a company’s asset

When your brand becomes unique and preferential - that is, when your customers are willing to pay extra to purchase from your brand instead of your competitors - your brand value and premium increase. I am not talking brand as a name, an image, or a perception in customers’ heads. But I am talking numbers. Your brand is your company’s asset, and its value is vital when you come to sell your company.


When selling a company, accountants often calculate how much a brand is worth, and there are so many different ways that accountants are debating how to calculate a brand’s worth.


However, in simple terms, the more customers want to purchase your products and services, the more desirable your brand is - hence the more your brand is worth.


In summary, brand as a name identifies who you are; brand as perceived attributes forms what you really are in the minds of customers; brand as a company’s asset values how much you are worth. To achieve a high brand value, you really need to get the first two aspects right. And this is exactly what I am specialised in.

In the next few posts, I will continue to explain brand attributes, brand values, and how to build them.


If you have any questions relating to this blog, or you need advice on branding, please feel free to contact me.

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