What is Branding?

12 Major Elements of Branding

Brands are short hand marketing messages with identifiable representation that creates emotional bonds with consumers through a combination of tangible and intangible factors. In a world where every individual is also a media entity, your consumers and their perception of your brand own it (as it always was).

Derived from the thirty definitions of branding in my recent post, here are the twelve main attributes of a brand.

  1. Brands are symbols. In Leo Burnett’s words, a brand is a symbol that “leaves a mental picture of the brand’s identity.” Branding is a product or service’s identity and should differentiate what customers are about to buy according to Gini Dietrich. The American Marketing Association more broadly 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.
  2. Brands consist of intangibles. David Ogilvy outlined these product attributes: product’s name, packaging, price, history, reputation, and advertising, while Becky McCray only focused on the ability of a brand to stand for an individual or firm’s reputation. Donna Antonucci added that a brand stands for terms of service and other emotional, non-tangible consumer concerns.
  3. Brands have a personality. Branding, according to Lois Geller, is an ongoing process of looking at a company or product’s past and present to create a cohesive personality going forward. Branding is your organization’s representation as a personality, in Dave Kerpen’s words. A well designed brand personality resonates in everything the product or business does from customer service to the actual products a company may offer – Michael Pinto
  4. Brands have an associated story. A brand is the essence of a company or product’s unique story for both Paul Biedermann and Heidi Cohen. The key to creating brand is reaching down and pulling out the authentic, unique narrative. Otherwise, your brand will just be a facade.
  5. Brands are consistent. By being predictable and consistent, brands provide consumers with a sense of security that they know what they’re getting in Heidi Cohen’s words.
  6. Brands are experiences. In Bryan Eisenberg’s words, branding is the sum-total of all the “experiences” your customers have with your business or products. For Ashley Friedlein, branding is about shaping that perception. Similarly, Sergio Zyman views brands as containers for consumers’ complete experience with the product or company.” Jeffrey Harmon sees branding as the experience marketers create to win consumers’ attention, a scarce resource.
  7. Brands are what you do. Successful branding is what you do, in Jim Siegel’s words, 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. Marketers listen to what consumers tell others the brand is and back that up with real action for Dr. Augustine Fou. To this end, Neil Feinstein advises that marketers must engage with consumers to build positive brand associations.
  8. Brands make and keep promises to consumers. For Cheryl Burgess, brand promises translate to a reason to choose. By contrast, Rebecca Lieb thinks that brand promises are only partially true in today’s dynamic marketing environment.
  9. Brands create perceived value. Consumers perceive that a product or firm is better or more valuable as a result. Therefore, marketers can often charge a premium for branded goods. Specifically in Seth Godin’s words, if the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. To this end, branding encapsulates a firm’s mission statement, objectives, and corporate soul according to Margie Clayman.
  10. Brands are owned by customers. Al Ries asserted that a brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.
 Ann Handley has updated this concept of brand as the image people have of your company or product. Branding, in Jay Baer’s words, aligns what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. Neil Feinstein stated that marketers don’t own their brands in today’s social, customer-controlled world, their customers do.
  11. Brands are more than just logos. For Paul Biedermann, logos should support the broader brand strategy and an even bigger brand story. The power of a strong logo in brand identity is that a simple visual instantaneously communicates a brand and what it’s about. Don’t confuse “having a logo” with an ongoing branding process, Michael Pinto points out. A good logo is an extension of a defined identity for a product or company, in the same way that a flag or national anthem may represent a country. Jim Siegel states that a logo isn’t the brand rather it’s the symbol of the brand .
  12. Brands require continuous caring and support. 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 in Lisa Buyer’s words.

As an integral part of your firm, product or personal identity, brands are an important component of your overall marketing plans. To maintain their intrinsic value to your company, they require on-going care and feeding. Further, in today’s engaged marketplace where consumers each have their own media platform, marketers must listen and interact with their target market because they own your brand.

Are there any other attributes that you’d add to this description of branding? If so, please add your comments below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Here are some related articles that may be of interest.

Other definition posts:

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  • http://www.postcardmania.com Ferris Stith

    Good stuff!

    Branding is about being consistent in your message and image. If you don’t stay consistent and messages don’t look the same, people won’t remember you. What if you changed your body periodically – I mean, really changed your body. You say, “Today, I think I’ll be Asian” – but yesterday, you were Caucasian. How do you expect anyone to remember who you are when they see you on the street? It’s the same concept. When you put out your marketing pieces, you want to create a similar look and feel so that people remember you. And you want that similar look and feel on everything you put out.

  • http://www.redesign2.com Paul Biedermann

    Thanks for this rundown on branding and for including me in the mix, Heidi!

    Cohesiveness is a big one — you touch on it in #5, but this is where many brands falter, both large and small. A brand should continuously reinforce itself at every point of engagement, so every communication speaks with one voice. Not doing this leads to fragmentation and a situation where the brand actually fights itself, leading to question marks in the mind of the consumer (not good in today’s noisy environment full of short attention spans!). Focusing these efforts like a laser beam separates winning brands from losing ones.

  • http://kelseyroderique.wordpress.com Kelsey Roderique

    This is a really nice breakdown of branding in simple terms.

    Consistency and emotion are definitely interrelated. A solid, consistent branding effort becomes like a security blanket for the consumers. They know exactly what to expect every time they interact with that company.
    When a company changes their logo, even just tweaking it a little, people go crazy! “Why did you change it!?” In reality, it’s just a picture, but to the consumer, you might as well have ripped their security blanket out from under them and replaced it with something entirely different. There is such an emotional connection to the old logo that it takes a while for people to understand that their old security blanket and new blanket are actually the same thing. It’s consistency and a readily established reputation that is able to carry the consumers over the uncertainty of the change to a new point of acceptance. The power that a good brand has over people is absolutely incredible!