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Everyone Talks About Brands - But What Are They?

What is a brand? Seems like an easy question, right. Not so fast. A brand is a much more complex concept than many people realize. In fact, it’s somewhat astonishing as to how many people use the terms “brand” and “branding” along with phrases such as “brand creation” and “brand protection” without considering what it is that they are trying to truly convey.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “brand” highlights the confusion over the term’s meaning. The dictionary defines “brand” in pertinent part as “a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer.” While this is correct, a brand encompasses much more than the name of a product or service. In fact, that definition applies more aptly to a trademark or service mark.

In reality, there are numerous non-dictionary definitions of brand based on its use and understanding in the business community. For instance, one Internet article has compiled a list of 30 different meanings assigned to the word ( Chances are, with over thirty identified definitions, your basic understanding is at least partly correct – and also partly incorrect.

I consider a brand to include two basic components. First, it has a tangible aspect. In this regard, a brand includes products and services that are offered under a defined umbrella such as a company, website or person. As an example, think of Apple Inc. Apple Inc. is the umbrella or brand umbrella under which specific products such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod are offered for sale to the public. Likewise, McDonald’s Corporation is the umbrella or brand umbrella under which specific products such as the Big Mac are sold. In a more general sense, both Apple Inc. and McDonald’s Corporation are consumer brands offering tangible products to the public that also have an independent brand associated with them.

Brands also include an intangible aspect. While at first this may seem somewhat odd, brands reflect promises to and instill expectations from consumers. How? Take Bentley Motors Limited for example. Just mentioning a Bentley immediately conjures an expectation of quality, craftsmanship and commensurate high price to a consumer. Likewise, a product such as a Big Mac immediately conveys certain ingredients and a composition to the consuming public. In these two examples, both Bentley Motors Limited (a company) and the Big Mac (a product) have made implied promises to consumers about these brands upon which consumers rely in deciding whether or not to purchase them.

Brands also have another intangible aspect – a distinct persona. A brand’s persona is just like a person. It has qualities and attributes that have been expressed to, and that create expectations from, the consuming public. Whether it is a brick and mortar restaurant or a website on the Internet, your brand projects a certain image and personality from which consumers form an understanding about your business, products and/or services. Let’s take another example – going back to Apple Inc. What type of persona comes to mind when you think of Apple Inc.? To many, Apple Inc. conveys a persona of being innovative, creative and stylish. These people have developed their understanding of Apple Inc.’s brand persona through its products, retail stores, website and applications.

The foregoing concepts reveal that you need to appreciate both the tangible and intangible aspects that come with a brand when creating it. Also keep in mind that the tangible aspects, such as product names, descriptions, packaging and retail presence, help the consuming public develop and, over time, rely upon certain intangible aspects of your brand. Understanding these principles will help you effectively decide upon and define your brand.

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