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What makes a brand?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the success that Holiday Inn is enjoying in the wake of their complete rebranding. I’d like to dig a little deeper to help clarify what makes a brand. This information will not only cut straight to the point of branding, but will also give you a clear vision of what makes it successful.

In 2007, Nike Inc. invested $702,900,000 in advertising.  Proctor & Gamble, parent company of global brands Tide, Olay and Gillette, spent an estimated $5,230,100,000 in that same year in advertising. What makes these numbers particularly staggering is the simple thing they are trying to maintain – their brands. These budgets were invested in assuring that people will feel that Nike is the shoe that they trust, that Pampers are the best choice for their babies, and that Crest WhiteStrips will remove their coffee stains.

Quite simply, a brand is more than a logo, an advertisement, a package design, but an opinion. A preference. Your market has to agree with you- that’s all, and building that brand is nothing more than keeping your consumers in a constant state of agreement.  Advertising, R&D, marketing and identity are all just tools on the branding workbench, and the infinite brand sub-categories (brand culture, brand promise, brand expressions, brand advocacy, mindshare) are simply different methods of using those same tools.

hooters_energy03If you want to make your brand successful, make sure it delivers on establishing that agreement. Many brands work on trying to convince the consumer of something that contradicts common sense (see Hooters Energy Drink and Trump Steaks). Do what you do well, and take the time to ensure that the quality and consequent word-of-mouth do the selling. This is how the best brands are built.

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.


  • lloyd says:

    Patrick..Well written, but arent you stating the obvious?
    Nice references: Hooters Energy Drink!

    • If only it were that obvious! 🙂

      It seems that, not only is it overlooked, but it has been made a lot more complicated than it needs to be. I think if it is laid out in very simple terms, and decision makers can relate, they would understand the gravity that branding has. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Patrick,

      A useful definition is that a brand is the sum total of all that is known, thought, felt and perceived about your company, service or product.

      Branding, then, is the process of making products and companies into brands – the consistent and disciplined way a company communicates a brand’s essence to the public.

      Consumers’ response to the brand revolves around the brand’s image. This makes the concept an essential input into marketing strategy, since a positive, strong brand image will presumably lead to choosing a particular brand.

      I have posted a few articles on my website concerning branding, brand naming, and measuring the dollar value of a brand. Please see link below.


      Michael D. Lieberman
      Multivariate Solutions

  • Nancy Freeman-Roche says:

    Patrick: Liked your article. Yes, a company’s brand and the promotion of it should be a no brainer. Unfortunately, some companies don’t understand the important of their public imagine. Why does someone buy Tylenol when they can buy the generic brand at less cost? Brand loyalty needs to be reinforced to keep those sales and revenue coming.

    • Precisely. Tylenol has something “extra” in every bottle – something that they’ve been diligent in reinforcing – and it’s called trust. People agree with Tylenol’s claims of working better, even though it’s really the same stuff!

  • Rick Short says:

    You state, “Your market has to agree with you”.
    In reality, you have to agree with your market … if you want to truly “get” brand.

    The market makes, holds, and is your brand. Their opinion IS your brand. You have to admit that in order to take the next steps.

    The next steps include earning the brand you desire – through your products, services, actions, and performance. This is where your promo activities play a (limited) role. Everything eventually adds up to consumer perception and brand. But tons of money spent on crafting favorable opinion pales in comparison to actual experiences and word of mouth.

  • Patrick,
    very succinct – like the opening statement of a book about branding. is that what you’re working on – come on, you can tell us!

    Of course it gets much deeper as far as how it’s identified. I have a powerpoint presentation I called “How does your brand land?” that i used for a presentation this past year – because so many companies ‘design’ their brand – but it’s not a reflection of the soul of their company, their unique selling propositions, or what their own customers think of them.

    It’s pathetic to see a multimillion dollar company allow an agency to develop a ‘design’ and call it ‘branding’ – without a mission statement in sight, and without any kind of valid research to understand customer perception of their product, or of the product category. Usually designers are the last ones to understand customer behavior.

    so when is that book coming out?? ;=)

    • No book in the works, but that’s not a bad idea! 🙂

      Design is but only a small part of what forges that powerful relationship – the imagery of your past experience with the brand is far more potent.

      It all must harmonize – the promise, the experience, the reputation, the emotional connection – to achieve that one goal.

  • michael says:

    Hola Patrick, what I great topic! In my humble opinion, what makes a brand is the synergy and consistency behind communication, above and below the line, to achieve an emotional connection with consumers until it (the brand) becomes part of their DNA. Rarely happens, but when its does, it’s magical (e.g. Victoria Secrets, Mini Cooper, iPod, etc.). It’s not about giving consumers what they need, it’s about giving them what they want/desire. Great example of this is Kevin Roberts “Love Marks” concept.

    • I like the way you worded your comment! When it’s done right, it really is magical!

      Depending on industry, I have to say that needs can tip the scales (see above re: Tylenol). In most cases, though, I think every motivator should be considered.

  • Dan Q. says:

    That’s an interesting perspective. I believe a brand is simply a distinct story that sets itself apart from the competition. I think, in a way, that’s sort of what you’re saying. People won’t agree with a product or are necessarily attracted to a product. A story is what makes a product a brand. That’s what entices people. The colors, fonts, taglines, websites, and advertising reflect that story–the bells and whistles that get you to take notice.

  • onbrands says:

    Patrick, Yes… I think you have touched on one of the critical aspects of brand building — consistency!

    Now, with that said, let me just offer one additional thought.

    One of the benefits of investing in brands is that the equity built can help us in challenging times.

    We see a lot of chatter from marketing folks these days about how it’s important to keep investing in the brand…

    Well, of course, I agree… but I would also say it depends on the situation and the dynamics. In some cases, it may be advisable to invest less. You can’t milk your brand indefinitely, clearly… but I do not subscribe to the notion that one must constantly invest at such high levels.

    A brand, as you well note, goes far beyond the tangible to the intangibles. We find brands in minds and hearts, not logos or designs.

    • Well put! In addition, I will have to say that, done well, the brand should take on a life of its own and become its own cultural entity. This is where you can invest less and still reap the benefits.

      Coke hasn’t lost any mindshare at all, and have you seen more commercials for them lately? I haven’t, and that’s great branding!

  • Ankit Brahmbhatt says:

    Hello Patrick, It was really a nice topic. In today’s world there are lots of companies who are spending millions of the dollars behind brand building. One of the great industrialize from Indian region said that once your customers have emotional attachment with your product (brand), then none of the competitor would stop you. For the emotional attachment we have to win customer’s trust and create faith in them for products. I would say rather instead of running behind market trend we make the trend in the market which runs towards to us.

    last –> brand = emotional attachment of consumers

  • Michael Gury says:

    Dear Patrick and all, I would only add to the excellent commentary on this thread that in my own branding work I have often divided brand challenges into “Mind Share” and “Heart Share”.

    Mind Share has a lot to do with media and visibility and it basically means how much more audiences think about your product versus the competition. In the media business it has to do with Gross Rating Points, Positioning, Opportunities to See, CPM’s, and Creative Impact — and a good media program will put the message in the best place possible to build Mind Share. It gets more complex when a category is cluttered with competition, but there are GRP thresholds that if bought in the right places will guarantee a lead in Mind Share.

    Heart Share won’t always come with media tonnage, but it is my best term for a trusted brand, and that is mostly expressed by the quality of the product and the creativity of the message which resonates with the target buyer. Heart Share is measured in proclivity to acquire/buy whereas Mind Share is mainly awareness/recall.

    In my own practice, I work with what I call Wounded Brands, usually after a crisis. There the equation changes, but only in the mix of deployed communications techniques and messaging. The fundamentals stay the same.

    Finally, I’ll revisit my point about the quality and the competitiveness of the product. That’s pretty much the sink or swim factor. Whatever logo/design/brand/copywriting/viral clever marketing you apply to it, the product quality, press, Word of Mouth, will catch up to you. I will share Gury’s Marketing Law #4: “There is no faster way to kill a bad product than with great advertising.”

  • Angie K says:

    Love the way Michael divided the brand into Mind Share and Heart Share. Mind Share is the easier of the two for companies with lots of budget to spend. Heart Share requires putting alot more “heart” into meeting customer expectations and ensuring employees of the company walk the talk.

    We all agree a brand is not just a logo, fantastic creative ads and huge advertising. A brand is like making a promise to your customers but more importantly, it is MEETING the expectation!

  • Michael Page says:

    I agree with most of this;

    Emotional Branding
    The promise

    All the elements of the marketing match must be in alignment must be inline with your brand strategy.
    Don’t confuse your customers and prospects.
    People are looking to simplify their lives.

    One way we help companies compete with the deep wallet guys is on the website

  • onbrands says:

    I agree with Angie… and Mike, your comment rocked! Group hug, guys!

  • I think that what makes a good brand is when you can tie it to a phrase or thought. When I think of “mouse” I think of Disney. When I think of “Post-it notes”, I think of 3M. Those are just examples, but I don’t need a logo – the brand just comes to me right away, the first time.

    Robert Stanke

  • amerraja says:

    Very healthy discussion and insightful comments.

    Logo, packaging, promotion, pricing, placement and even product itself are mere igredients for a brand. Ingredients to make a positive perception in the mind of the target market to win their heart depicted by the repeated assertions. A successful brand is one which encompasses all theses elements.

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