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Branding: What It’s Not

It’s been said to death, “your brand is more than a logo”. But even with countless articles on LinkedIn and business blogs to that fact, people still pair the two. Sometimes, the best way to understand something is by removing any preconceived notions from the beginning. I hope this is one such case, and I’ll do my best in this article to guide you to what a brand really is by eliminating what it isn’t.

1. It’s not a color palette. Cadbury recently won exclusive rights to their Pantone 2685C purple. Anyone that’s caught using the New York Life blue in their marketing will be staring down the business end of a lawsuit. It’s pretty drastic, so shouldn’t those colors define their brand? Are the colors so psychologically potent that you become a life-long cheerleader? Hell no, and neither is a font, texture or pattern.

2. It’s not a slogan or trademark. Let’s be honest, customers care just about as much about trademarks as they do about the color socks you’re wearing. Trademarks are for legal protection; that’s it. So please, don’t equate one to a brand.

3. It’s not a web site. There are so many cool things you can do with pixels and reasonable bandwidth, but you can’t expect a brand to come of it. A web site is an element of marketing – as is social media, email marketing and SEO – and while they can be pretty awesome for your bottom line, they can’t be relied on to maintain a brand.

4. It’s not an advertising campaign. We’ve all seen some great ads; pieces of corporate entertaining perfection that captivate your senses, drive us to covet a new product, and create chatter fodder for less-than-exciting lunches. But even with all of that, the campaign still isn’t your brand. Advertising – whether it’s online, on TV, in a magazine, or 80 feet tall on the side of a building – is still just advertising.

So what the hell is a brand?

Every example I used above is a marketing tool. A brand is a customer’s perception, and resides completely between their ears. Anything outside of their mind can help influence an opinion, but never define it. To understand what a brand is, you need to understand that it’s completely unrelated to anything that your company owns or creates, even its products or services.

A brand lives completely in the mind of your customer, and is subject to more than their dealings with you. You have word-of-mouth, culture, competition, personal beliefs and needs to contend with. When you look at what a brand is through the eyes of your customer, you’ll realize not only is it the farthest thing from a logo or business card, you should also realize that there’s a totally different set of rules that apply to maintaining it.


Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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