Brands have a wide range of uses for businesses, products and individuals in today’s dynamic marketing landscape where publishing and message distribution are no longer limited to media entities. Through the use of social media platforms, every consumer is a publisher and has his own brand to promote. Each brand is competing for time and attention—today’s scarce resources—to break though the message clutter in order to build relationships with their target audience(s). By itself, a brand isn’t a marketing strategy.
In their own words, here are thirty branding definitions from marketers and visionary leaders (aka the original Mad Men) to help you understand what branding entails. (Editor’s note: For formatting purposes, some multi-paragraph answers appear as one paragraph and typos were corrected.)
- The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.”
- Brand is a known identity of a company in terms of what products and services they offer but also the essence of what the company stands for in terms of service and other emotional, non tangible consumer concerns. To brand something is when a company or person makes descriptive and evocative communications, subtle and overt statements that describe what the company stands for. For example, is the brand the most economical, does it stands for superior service, is it an environmental responsible provider of x,y,z service or product. Each communication is deliberate in evoking emotion in the receiver to leave him/her with an essence of what the company or person stands for. Donna Antonucci
- Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice-versa. Jay Baer – Convince & Convert. Author with Amber Naslund of The Now Revolution
- A brand is the essence of one’s own unique story. This is as true for personal branding as it is for business branding. The key, though, is reaching down and pulling out the authentic, unique “you”. Otherwise, your brand will just be a facade. The power of a strong logo in brand identity is that a simple visual can instantaneously communicate a brand and what it is about. Some large brands are able to do this by symbol only, without words, that is the Holy Grail that brands dream about. This seems to represent the very essence of communication at its most primitive roots. Few can pull it off. Logos are vitally important, but are just one component of what creates a strong brand. Logos should support the broader brand strategy that supports an even bigger brand story. Paul Biedermann – re:DESIGN
- A brand is a reason to choose. Cheryl Burgess – Blue Focus Marketing
- A brand symbol as “anything that leaves a mental picture of the brand’s identity. Leo Burnett
- Branding is more than a name and symbol. A brand is created and influenced by people, visuals, culture, style, perception, words, messages, PR, opinions, news media and especially social media. Like when a child is born and given a name, a brand needs nurturing, support, development and continuous care in order to thrive and grow. Some brands have a life cycle and grow old like people. Some brands are timeless and never die, are “born again” or reinvented, while some brands live a short but powerful life and have an iconic legacy. Lisa Buyer – The Buyer Group
- Branding is the encapsulation of a company’s mission statement, objectives, and corporate soul as expressed through the corporate voice and aesthetic. Margie Clayman
- Brands are shorthand marketing messages that create emotional bonds with consumers. Brands are composed of intangible elements related to its specific promise, personality, and positioning and tangible components having identifiable representation including logos, graphics, colors and sounds. A brand creates perceived value for consumers through its personality in a way that makes it stand out from other similar products. Its story is intricately intertwined with the public’s perception and consistently provides consumers with a secure sense that they know what they’re paying for. In a world where every individual is also a media entity, your consumers own your brand (as it always was). Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies
- Branding, to me, is the identity of a product or service. It’s the name, the logo, the design, or a combination of those that people use to identify, and differentiate, what they’re about to buy. A good brand should deliver a clear message, provide credibility, connect with customers emotionally, motivate the buyer, and create user loyalty. Gini Dietrich – Spin Sucks
- Branding is the sub-total of all the “experiences” your customers have with your business. For successful branding you need to understand the principles of Ivan Pavlov as my brother Jeffrey and I discussed in our Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. For branding to work you must have:
- Consistency. Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell and never rang the bell without offering food.
- Frequency. The bell rang several times a day, day after day.
- Anchoring. Pavlov tied the experiment to something about which the dog was emotional. Frequency and consistency create branding only when the message is associated with an emotional anchor. This is the most difficult and essential element to get correct.
However, keep in mind Pavlov had an easier time because he chose dogs which are much better at following a leader, today’s customers are more cat like and not as easily persuaded or motivated. Bryan Eisenberg – Author of Waiting for Your Cat to Bark
- In today’s social, customer-controlled world, marketers may be spending their money to build a brand. But they don’t own it. In their influential book, Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff state “your brand is whatever your customers say it is…” As a marketer, this means that, while a brand is the emotional relationship between the consumer and the product, you must engage with consumers and build positive brand associations. The deeper the relationship, the more brand equity exists. Neil Feinstein – True North
- Branding can be divided into old and new.
- Old Branding. Advertisers shouting carefully pedicured messages at consumers who don’t want to hear it.
- New Branding. Advertisers  humbly listening to what consumers tell others the brand is and back up with real action (like repeat purchases) and  incorporating appropriate innovations so their products continue to earn consumers’ loyalty and word of mouth.
Dr. Augustine Fou – Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc.
- Brand is the sum total of how someone perceives a particular organization. Branding is about shaping that perception. Ashley Friedlein – Econsultancy
- Branding is an ongoing process of looking at your company’s past and present…and then creating a cohesive personality for the company and its products going forward. We do SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and go through all the benefits (real and emotional) that the product or service fulfills for its customers. We review the key factors that spurred growth, pricing, corporate culture, key players, and we figure out “who you are”, by key players, the president, customer service. Then we create the brand voice first. It’s a wonderful process. Lois Geller – Lois Geller Marketing Group
- 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. Seth Godin – Author of Linchpin
- Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are. Or quoting Ze Frank, it’s the “emotional aftertaste” that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service or company. (Also, it’s the mark left after a red-hot iron is applied to a steer’s hindquarters.) Ann Handley – MarketingProfs, Author with C.C. Chapman of Content Rules
- Attention is a scarce resource. Branding is the experience marketers create to win that attention. Jeffrey Harmon – Orabrush
- Branding is the representation of your organization as a personality. Branding is who you are that differentiates you. Dave Kerpen – Likeable Media, Author of Likeable Social Media
- A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitor. Phillip Kotler – Author of Marketing Management
- That old “a brand is a promise” saw holds true, but only partially true. Rebecca Lieb, author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization
- Don Zahorsky is an old cattle breeder in my neighborhood. He’s been in the business of registered Angus cattle for decades, even back when my dad was a kid. Ride around in the pasture with Don, and he can tell you the parentage of every animal. “What’s that tag number? 0282? That’s another Dominator son. His mother is a real good cow. Her father was the grand champion … ” He has invested his life in breeding the best registered Angus cattle he possibly can. He’s bought bulls back from people, because he didn’t like the way they performed. He’s never thought once about business brands, about emotional experiences, about logos. But he does care a lot about his reputation and the service he provides his buyers. He brands his bulls with a DZ on the right hip. Everyone around here knows that brand. They know Don. They know that brand means a good bull. Here’s the lesson: It’s not the brand that makes the bull valuable. It’s Don’s reputation that makes the bull valuable. The brand is just a way of showing it. Becky McCray – Small Business Survival
- A brand is the meaningful perception of a product, a service or even yourself –either good, bad or indifferent — that marketers want people to believe based on what they think they hear, see, smell, taste and generally sense from others around them. Josh Moritz
- A brand is “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” David Ogilvy, Author of On Advertising
- Branding is the defined personality of a product, service, company, organization or individual. Many folks confuse “having a logo” for an ongoing branding process, but in fact a good logo is an extension of a defined identity for a venture in the same way that a flag or national anthem may represent a country. A well designed brand personality can be seen in everything from customer service to the actual products a company may offer. Another misconception about brands is that they should reflect a quality; and that may be true in a brand that’s about quality (think of a Chanel logo which communicates the idea of luxury) but on the other hand if a local dollar store even has a designed logo that may in fact work against the goals of their brand as they may seem overpriced. Like an artist finding his or her voice the goal of a branding process should be to always frame in a concise way what makes your endeavor unique; and then apply that message to each medium. Michael Pinto – Very Memorable Design (Disclaimer: I use Michael for my branding.)
- “A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.” Al Ries – Author of Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind
- “Branding” is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy. David Meerman Scott – Bestselling author of Real-Time Marketing and PR
- Successful branding is what you do, not what you say or show. Successful branding requires your delivering consistently positive experiences for your constituents. It comes from keeping your promises to them, from earning their trust that your brand will do its best at every point of contact to deliver on what they want and expect from you. This trust leads to their choosing your brand again. Successful brands never take their constituents for granted. They never forget that most important to constituents are what’s in it for them, that constituents are distracted, and you must earn their attention. (Constituents include, depending on your product or service: customers, consumers, suppliers, employees, partners, allies, investors, funders, donors, analysts, critics, unions, regulators, the media, voters, etc.) The logo and theme line are not the brand. The logo symbolizes the brand. The theme line, if it’s any good, uniquely and memorably expresses the brand promise. (Most theme lines fail to do that.) Jim Siegel – HealthCare Chaplaincy
- “General advertising is Cyrano. He comes under your window and sings; people get used to it and ignore it. But if Roxane responds, there’s a relationship. We move the brand relationship up a notch. Advertising becomes a dialogue that becomes an invitation to a relationship.” Lester Wunderman, Author of Being Direct
- “A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” Sergio Zyman, Author of The End of Advertising As We Know It
While marketers’ definitions of branding may differ, what’s consistent is the importance of building your brand as a competitive marketing tool. Brands retain their power in today’s evolving social media ecosystem and device indifferent information consumption because they provide a short hand communication that breaks through the ever-increasing message-laden environment. What matters to your bottom line is that your prospects have strong, positive brand associations that they’ve integrated into their worldview.
Do you have another definition of branding to add to this list? If so, please include it in the comment section below.
Big tip of my hat to all of the contributors!
Note: Definitions from marketing icons were sourced from a variety of websites, none of which was an original source. Additionally all links to contributors’ books are affiliate links.
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Here are some related articles that may be of interest.
- How to do branding without a budget.
- 12 Actionable Marketing Elements.
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Other definition posts: