To define the term ‘brand’ would leave even the most astute of brand strategists a bit tongue-tied. Most definitions in books and circulating on the internet, hover around a promise, a perception or a feeling. Some seem elementary while others border on inconceivably complicated.
To fully appreciate what a brand has come to be, it is worth taking the time to understand where it all began. To spare you the dread of yet another boring history lesson, I’ll keep this short.
The term derives for an ancient Norse word ‘ brandr ’, which essentially means ‘ to burn ’. Back in the day, the practice of using branding irons to mark livestock became a necessity to establish a sense of ownership. This methodology then seeped into production and trade as competition grew and businesses found it useful to mark their products, thereby distinguishing them from competitive offerings.
These ‘ marks ’ became somewhat symbolic and associative of origin, quality, authenticity, and trust. This formed the foundation of the present-day understanding of the term, albeit a rather rudimentary one.
Great! so what is a brand today?
Brands have evolved. A brand is no longer confined to products and services. It can be extended to places, companies, concepts, even a person. A Brand now has personality and soul fused with a clever concoction of a unique name, logo, tagline, stories, messages and other supporting design elements. A brand is what people think of and feel when they come into contact with it.
“A brand is a cluster of all characteristics, perceptions, expectations or associations, tangible or intangible, that set an individual, product, service, concept, company or place apart for competition in the eyes of the customer”.
What attracts us to them?
At their core, brands are just as human. They possess values, beliefs, inspirations, attitudes, purpose, emotions and more.
Customers, consciously or unconsciously, buy into this core. It has as much to do with psychology as it has with marketing. When customers show a preference for one brand over another, pay a premium or make a trade-off, they are not just buying the product. They’re buying into what the brand stands for. Their behavior may not seem rational and may hinge more on the emotional. That’s a brand at play. A brand creates emotional connections whether you know it or not.
A brand can mean different things to different people. This is because people associate with different attributes of the brand. The relationship is very similar to human kind. You are who you are. Some people like you and some don’t. It’s because some find resonance with you and others can’t find affinity.
A brand has to create good reason for the target audience to be attracted to it. It does so through the coordinated use of its identity, messages and stories. It constantly reminds you of what sets it apart and why for some reason, often not logical, you would prefer it.
Where do we go from here?
It is probably the most interesting of times for brands given generational progression, cultural differences, global expansion, technological advancements, competitive landscape, and especially customer access to information. Customers are more knowledgable, share more and influence the purchasing decisions of others. They no longer play a passive role, rather an active engaging one.
Brands need to keep every touchpoint consistent and deliver an overall experience that not only resonates but retains and drives advocacy.
It is advisable for those who look to create, build or manage their brand to pay close attention to how the core is formed, build a brand identity that is consistent with it and leverage the core when communicating with your audience so that they find resonance. Give them a reason to believe, inspire them to act and provide them with a unique experience that they won’t find elsewhere.