Brand series: What is a brand?


It seems like a really basic question, doesn’t it? But since we’re exploring brand this month, it’s one that’s worth asking. In marketing, we hear lots of talk of brand, which most often seems to refer to global FMCG brands, but we’re not all Coca-Cola, after all. So what is a brand, and what does it mean to every business?

Here’s our Wisdom London take on brand:

More than visual

First of all, it’s so much more than a physical brand, a logo, or visual identity. Brand encapsulates is the essence of an organisation. It’s made up of many consitituent parts, the visual being only a small part of it (it’s important but it’s not the sum total): Promise, mission, product, service, beliefs, messages and, yes, visual recognition are at the heart of the brand. A brand, to a customer, is essentially about experience. It’s the promise, reality or memory of what it means to choose that product, supplier, service – over another.

PS: We love that fact that ‘brand’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘brandr’, meaning ‘to burn’. Imagine that, brands that burn themselves onto our consciousness…

Brand belongs as much to B2B as to B2C

Since brand is essentially emotive, it’s easy to believe that brand is the domain of the more personal consumer-facing market.  Not so. In the B2B world, the company pays for a service, but it’s people who select and buy it. So, brand – that promise of what you can do for the company but also for the individual – counts. Varying elements of the brand may be more important in this arena (reputation, mission, service, messages, for example), but it’s a brand that is being chosen over another in that pitch scenario, after all. How does yours stack up? Does it speak loud and clear?

Your brand….isn’t yours

We believe that brand belongs first and foremost to the customer or end user. And with the advent of social technologies, this has never been more true. Whether we’re talking about a latte, a library or a software provider, experience counts. It’s experience which takes us back there again, makes us talk about it, makes us loyal. Social technologies allow users to amplify and share those experiences. Customers are taking ownership – but expectations run high.

Brand elastic

So, gone are the days when a brand consisted of a tightly-packed brand architecture and static visual identity. It’s no longer a locked safe of valuable brand equity that sits in the company’s vault.  Now, in any market, brand is a living, growing organism that flexes.  Or at least, it needs to be. Does your brand have elastic? Can it stretch and grow with your customers’ changing needs and expectations?  Can it ping back when they change again? And all the while stay true to a recognisable, understandable essence of who and what your brand is?

Throughout October, we’ll be exploring these questions in our brand series and bringing the experience of some of the people who we think really ‘get’ brand, to you.

But in the meantime, tell us: What is a brand, to you? Which are your favourites and why?

Kate Spiers is founder and director of Wisdom London. We help organisations communicate better, and believe strongly that brand communications are at the core of connection with the customer.

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3 Responses to “Brand series: What is a brand?”

  1. Thanks for the enjoyable read. I like the ‘Brand elastic’ element. I think that consistency of brand and having a dynamic brand must play a crucial role but they aren’t necessarily antagonistic values.

  2. Here in America we mythologize branding not with something Norse, but with cowboys, ranchers, and the Wild West: it’s about burning a mark of ownership into something. Otherwise, thanks for the article, nice read!

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