Brand, brand identity and branding

What are they and how they manifest

26 September 2020

As a company owner who wants to grow the business, or a start-upper, you’ve probably heard the word brand a million times, in a million forms, and everyone is laying out ideas on what’s the first thing you should do build your brand. Terms might be confusing or used in the wrong manner, so we’ve thought of introducing you to the brand definitions you’ve probably heard the most. 

What is a brand?

“Brand” has become such a diffused word as often it loses the real meaning. Everything with a name and a logo seems to be a brand nowadays. And confusion is somehow normal, considering that even between experts, the term “brand” has sparked debates along the years, as brand definitions changed and evolved indicating different times, social shifts, different behaviors, or market competition. 

Many of you might know that the word brand has its origin in the Wild West when cattle owners would mark their animals as a way to identify them as being theirs. Later on, artisans from Rome, Greece or India would engrave symbols into products to sign their work, thus starting to build their own identities. In the 1800, quality was added as an indicator of differentiation among the same product category that made the product or service superior to its competitors and in 1875 the Trade Marks Registration Act was passed, allowing companies to formally protect their brands. 

Fast forward, product benefits to stand out from the competition and TV promotion where helping companies to remain into consumers’ minds and earn their loyalty. And with the 1950s, along with the development of the brand management concept by some of the biggest FMCG companies like P&G and Unilever, brands would start to tell stories and not just show the product and point out the functional benefits. And this Procter & Gamble TV ad for Ivory Snow detergent is the living proof.

As brands progressed, the definitions got broader and broader: a brand would become that product/ service or more concise “a name” that succeeded to get stuck in the consumers’ mind trough a set of mental associations or values, a promise, a name that offered functional and emotional benefits, triggered trust, desire, consumer loyalty or repeat purchase, even if sold at a higher price, a name that would ultimately create value, engagement and strong communities. Today, maybe one of the most comprehensive and modern brand definitions is that of Seth Godin, American author, businessman and marketing expert:

 “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken  together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer”. 

Hence, a brand today is not just a logo or a name, but a collection of perceptions about a company, a product or o service in the consumer mind. And these perceptions build on the promise of the product or service, its qualities and values, its most distinctive benefit in comparison to its competitors – called brand positioning, promotion, reputation, brand personality and imagery and customer experiences. 

Brand identity

Brand identity might sometimes be understood as a logo or a color, but in reality brand identity is the  the entire personality of your business, that is made up of how your brand looks, feels, its values, how your brand speaks to people and how it makes them feel. Take for example Coca-Cola, Apple or Mercedes: Coca-Cola is not just the logo, but also “happiness in a bottle”, optimism, the polar bear, Christmas, and so on. Apple is not just devices, or a bitten apple, but a status symbol. Mercedes is not just the three-star symbol, but craftsmanship, innovation, customer experience and value overtime.

To make it clearer, the name, the logo, color, symbols, typography, also known as the tangible elements of a brand (what you can see or touch) are part of a brand’s identity, but they are not everything. 

Branding 

Finally, branding is the process that converts a company, a product or a service intro a brand by giving them meaning so that can find a place in the consumers’ minds. It is the strategy designed by a company to help consumers find or identify, choose and experience their product or services over that of the competitors. The objective is to attract, retain and create strong communities. This is a process that takes time, effort and structure, but done right from analysis, to ideation and implementation it can make you stand out in this overly competitive market. 

In conclusion, a brand is not a logo or a symbol, but a set of elements and experiences that make consumers easily choose one product or services over another. Brand identity is not only the logo and the color of your product or services, but its look and feel, tone, values and the way it connects with your customers. And branding it’s the entire process of building your brand: from establishing what your business or product or service does, whom it serves, how it is unique and how it creates value for your customers and how it connects with them.

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