SOTB: Brand definitions edition ~ Brand Mix

Monday, September 14, 2009

SOTB: Brand definitions edition

Photo: m.gifford (Flickr CC)

Instead of my usual roundup of recent noteworthy articles and posts, this edition of Six of the Best is inspired by brand expression consultancy BLACKCOFFEE and its great idea to invite readers to complete the sentence: "A brand is...

1) A brand is..... BLACKCOFFEE
Here's the link to that page where you can see the many varied definitions. A couple of the more interesting/unexpected responses: "A brand is like a person at a cocktail party. You want to talk to them or sleep with them or wish you never met." (Amy) and: "A brand is what my teenage son is always talking about when he wants my money." (Eric)

2) an analysis of “a brand is” brand as business bites
Denise Lee Yohn decided to try and categorize all the responses from the BLACKCOFFEE poll. Quite the challenge. Still, she gave it the old college try and put (what was then) the 170 responses into categories such as: Historical definition (e.g. "A brand is an iron tool heated in the fire and used to indicate ownership of cattle.") and Negative (e.g. "A brand is a set of lies we convince ourselves to believe in and hope the public will to.") Her conclusion: "There are a lot of definitions and interpretations of what a brand is. This makes brand-building ripe for confusion – which is a barrier when we talk about it with business leaders and try to make the case for investing in it." Yes.

Different Schools of Thought on "a brand is..."

So, I thought that I might also try and help tidy up this mess of definitions by describing four different brand schools of thought and link to some posts that represent them:

The focused promise brand school

3) The Demise of Dell: Ries' Pieces
Laura Ries represents the brand school that wants focus, hates line extensions and the one most likely to use the "Volvo = Safety" gambit. In this post, Laura argues that Dell's demise came once it tried to expand from its original low cost, direct sales business model: "In the business world today there are dozens of Dells, all trying to expand their way to success when the only thing that really works is exactly the opposite. Narrow your focus. Build your brand. Rake in the dough."

The customer rules brand school

4) You Don't Own Your Brand -- Your Customer Does: The Social Customer Manifesto
This school is the home of social media/word of mouth pioneers and those who extol the virtues of What can be better than a company that's taken customer service to a whole new level and that has a CEO who tweets? School purists contend that social media has so completely changed the rules of the game that, as Christopher F. Carfi says in this post: "The old, top-down hierarchy of searing brands into the consumer psyche is done. Over. Finished." In this new world, he says, our role as marketers is to engage in transparent, authentic conversation and accept that we no longer have any control or influence.

The we hate branding brand school

5) Transformation Interrupted: Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan's book: "Branding only Works on Cattle" makes the case that branding is a waste of money. The kinds of things he really doesn't like are: goofy mascots, logo redesigns, cute tag lines, anything that marketers do that does not directly create value or a fresh experience for the consumer. Only tangible, concrete actions count. In this post, Jonathan talks about research results from the Hartman Group which show that consumer loyalty is shifting -- from products and brands, to the experiences offered by retailers. His conclusion: "People aren't willing to buy based on the intangibles on which brands have relied for almost a Century. Reality is the new imagination, providing the context in which actions can assert truth (if not simply immediacy, and thus clarity) to consumers."

The brand as feelings school

6) What is a feeling? a clear eye
Tom Asaker's answer to the "a brand is" poll was: “A brand is an expectation of receiving a feeling by way of an experience.” In this post, he explains his definition considering: 1) Control: whether we marketers like it or not, we can't control what people think about our brands. But we can influence people by the experiences we deliver and 2) Feelings: People make brand choices based on a variety of feelings from indifference and inertia to desire. Tom believes that changing feelings is what brand-building in the 21st century is all about.

Building on Tom's thoughts, as I compare these four schools of thought it looks to me like their assumptions in a couple of key areas help explain their different perspectives:

- Marketers control over their brands (strong = focused promise, weak = customer rules)
- The rationality of consumer decision making (high = we hate branding, low = brand as feelings).

Meanwhile, for those who like visual schematics, I've always liked this brand model from Dubberly Design Office which maps out the connections between a brand promise, product development, experience and perception. If the brand world is as complex as this chart implies, perhaps it's not no wonder that the range of one-sentence definitions is so wide and there are still so many different schools of thought.

That's it! Back soon with more stories from the world of brand strategy. More thoughts and comments also available on Twitter (@martinjbishop).


Denise Lee Yohn said...

thanks for furthering the analysis and discussion on this topic -- good stuff, martin (p.s. i'm a dubberly model fan too!)

Tom said...

Thanks Martin. And for what it's worth, I think feelings - conditioned by experience - are highly rational. They're just not processed at a conscious level.

If they weren't prudent and reasonable, and since it's impossible to consciously evaluate the majority of our marketplace choices, we'd be a fairly miserable bunch. But we're not, so therefore our feelings must serve us well. :-)

Charlie Quirk said...

Great post Martin.

It's very helpful to get an objective synthesis of the pros and cons of various schools of thought.

In such a fragmented thought space, it reinforces the fact that the robustness and relevance of models we use as practitioners stand up to closer inspection.

Branding techniques used in the next 20 years are going to look a lot different to those used in the last 20!



Market Survey Companies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Gallagher said...


Thanks for sharing our "A Brand Is…" project with your readers. Much appreciated. It's been up for less than a year now and so far we've received over 1000 comments. Which is far more than we ever thought we'd get.


Mark Gallagher
Brand Expressionist®

Edie Jams said...

The company has made its mark and a professional brand marketing company because of its quality and professional works.

Marketing Branding Singapore
Singapore Marketing Agency

Jonty Rhodes said...

Really informative post! Gives different points of opinion about what exactly is a brand. Will be helpful for anyone seeking branding services.

Sonali Gawde said...

SEO has become a part and parcel of branding these days. SEO services in India has become essential to rank high in search results.

Blog Directory - Blogged