To some of you this may seem as stating the obvious, but as my years in marketing go by, again and again I find this confusion at the centre of many branding projects. Quite often, the same team in the same room will talk about two different things.
The brand is not “The brand”
It’s a simple distinction. Once made, you don’t need to repeat it, just reiterate it in confusing moments.
(By all means – don’t signal quotes with your fingers. At least not more then once, then apologise profusely.)
Your actual brand is formed and lives in the minds of people who come across it (when and if they remember it). They can be customers, staff or shareholders. The important part to remember is that you don’t own it or control it. It is in their minds. It lives there as a collection of associations about your company, your product, your employees, your adverts or any other aspect of the experience and the way you communicate.
With time, it becomes a short-hand/”macro like” abstraction to all those things, and ultimately to who you are and what you stand for.
(Yes, there are other, numerous definitions of what a brand is. When I taught a course in MarCom last year, one of the first slides about branding had no less then 7 definition types. This is the direction I prefer because it is the most communication oriented and it’s centred on people rather than companies. That’s probably why it’s the dominant concept across companies, agencies and the academy, even if they use different names for it.)
This “mental image” approach immediately simplifies and cuts down to size some over-hyped terms:
Brand strategy is a long term plan to achieve an intended focus in the association network
Brand identity is a collection of sensory devices designed to evoke the intended associations.
Brand management creates planned actions to intentionally attempt and influence the association network
Notice that all those are just attempts at influencing. Forever mediated, never directly touching that brand everyone’s so eager to put their hands on.
For example, your mark (logo), which is designed to evoke “the brand”, actually evokes the brand first (=the mental abstraction), maybe creating an opportunity to influence it in the right context.
This is how you envision it. What you want to stand for, what you want to mean. It’s your intentions, ambitions, aspirations. Articulate a strategy, use values, build stories, create a graphic design, strive for a positioning… Whatever action you do, whatever methodology or theory you choose, just remember that this remains an intention, an articulation, a message. It is not your brand, it’s what you want it to become.
“The Brand” [our intentions, plan, and communications] is not The Brand [that abstract “thing” in the minds of our audience]
An important marketing goal is to bring the two together as closely as possible over time.
Defining and communicating “The brand” in a way that influences minds can be extremely challenging. Even then, what people think is stronger that any effort you may make, and so you should try and use what you stand for now, as you try to convince them.
It’s not about branding, it’s about meaning. Otherwise you’re just making things (look, sound or maybe even feel) pretty.
I had to get that off the table, just to make sure we communicate. 🙂