What is a brand?
What makes a good brand?
How do you build iconic brands like Coke?
Working in this space, I’m surprised by the lack of consensus about “What is a brand?”
Many, including Wikipedia, continue viewing brand as just the images used to identify a unique product just as brands were used by cowboys to identify their cattle. Is the logo for Hausman Marketing Letter (on the right) really all there is to my brand? I hope not.
Is that a brand?
Certainly, having an evocative logo and consistent color palette helps build a brand. It’s kind of like dressing up the brand.
What is a brand?
After teaching marketing for 25 years, I can tell you distinctly what a brand is — and it has little to do with cattle. Brand is NOT synonymous with brand NAME.
A brand is like a hologram containing all the attitudes, beliefs, and attribution related to a product (good or service).
The recognized definition of a brand, according to David Ogilvy is:
the intangible sum of a product’s attributes
Despite this semantic change to the meaning of brand, many still talk about a brand as simply the trappings of a brand – the logo, color palette. Images conjured up when you think about a brand.
Forbes elaborates on this definition this way:
your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic). Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.
Think about other iconic brands and you’ll quickly visualize the colors and images representing the brand.
But, is that a brand?
Is it the image that made them iconic? Or is it something more? Something not so easily confined to the 2-dimensional space of a page or transferred to cellulose (film)? Is it this holographic component that makes the brand iconic and the depictions are merely the physical embodiment of this holographic interpretation of all that a brand is and what it means?
I would argue that what makes a brand is more intangible, less image and more imagination. And, it’s not just me. Probably the godfather of the term iconic brand, David Aaker, defines an iconic brand as …
Brands are an accepted part of our daily lives. But some brands seem to transcend their product or service categories to become part of the popular culture. What distinguishes these iconic brands from the rest of the pack, and what can marketers learn from them?
So, let’s say you want to build your brand. Maybe you already have a brand, but you need to rebrand it as something with meaning to your target audience. Maybe your brand doesn’t have a clear image already and you need to start from scratch to build a brand. Or, maybe you’re a start-up and need to start from scratch building a brand.
Do you start by hiring a design agency to create your logo design, letterhead, and other physical trappings of a brand? For many firms the answer is YES. But, is that the right answer?
Isn’t it more important to build a hologram … something that has meaning for your target audience…. Something they can rally around.
Look at Cadillac. In our grandfather’s day, Cadillac was a symbol telling the world you’d made it. Cadillacs were big, sturdy cars that commanded respect. Then, the oil crisis made such luxuries too expensive to operate and imports like BMW and Mercedes became the new symbols of achievement.
Will changing the Cadillac logo fix their image problem? Probably not.
So, Cadillac lumbered along for a while, losing market share and luster.
Then, in 2008, Cadillac discovered the secret sauce they needed to revitalize the brand – sexy. And, they owned that factor in the luxury car market because no other automobile defined its brand based on its sex appeal. But, Cadillac introduced a series of commercials that totally re-branded their cars from your grandfathers lumbering giant to the sleek, sexy car of a new breed of up and coming young professionals. Featuring seductive and intelligent Kate Walsh, star of the popular Private Practice TV series, who playfully and provocatively asked; “when you turn on your car, does it return the favor?” And, it worked — driving up sales, especially among younger, hipper buyers.
Think about branding like a flag. Is it the flag that creates the feeling of solidarity, of national pride, of a community bigger than one’s self. Or is the flag simply a symbol of those things?
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