What is a brand?

by Jessica Lurel

A brand. I bet you’ve been wondering what it is. I’ve been wondering the same. The term is fuzzy and vague. It means something different for different people.

The word brand is like Mary Poppins’ bag, a holdall bag containing everything and anything.

Take Coca-Cola for example. This brand dominates the beverage market. When you think of Coca-Cola, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? The colour red, the shape of the bottle, a memory, Santa, the last time you drank coke… What makes Coca-Cola Coca-Cola? Is it their logo, their slogan or what they sell? 

Today it is so much more than that. But what is it?

To clarify things for you and me, I‘ve researched what makes a brand a brand. 

There are hundreds of brand definitions out there and here are my 5 key findings about what defines a brand:

  • A brand is not just a business
  • A brand is more than just a logo, a slogan or a name
  • A brand is also what you do
  • A brand is defined by its values
  • My definition of what a brand is

Let’s explore!

1. A brand is not a business

Just because you have a business doesn’t necessarily mean you have a brand. It is easy to confuse the two, especially when they are used interchangeably. 

So what is the difference? A business is the organisation behind your product or service. It’s a trade, an exchange of value. You get your service or product into the hands of the customer. 

A business is transactional.  

While a brand can be viewed as the essence of a business. It’s like having that je ne sais quoi that makes you like a brand or not. The job of a brand is to connect with consumers. It adds an emotional layer to your business. It is an emotional hook. A connection. 

Coca-Cola is not just about soft drinks. It is also about bringing friends and family together. It is about happiness.

A brand is emotional.

Marty Neumeier who wrote eight books about branding says “a brand is a person's gut feelings about a product, service or company. It’s not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” 

Although I agree that a brand is about evoking a feeling and how you are perceived, the concept of brand was still vague for me. I had to dig deeper. I wanted to know what influences the perception of your brand for customers? How do you create that specific perception or gut feeling? 

2.  A brand is more than just a logo, a slogan or a name.

Back in the day branding was a way to identify a product as yours.

Just like farmers mark their cattle or when our parents label our clothes before sending us to camp so we didn’t lose them.

It is a way to claim ownership of a product. A way to distinguish it from others. 

A logo, a name or a slogan help identify a business. These marks and symbols make your business instantly recognisable. 

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as 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 other sellers.”

But today it’s not enough.

Not when the competition is so fierce with thousands of competitors.

Being able to stand out on the market is like winning the Tour de France, the most difficult bicycle race in the world. The riders have to battle through 21 stages made of bends, long distances and mountains, which sounds a lot like running a business.

Therefore the role of a brand had to evolve. Nowadays, a brand does more than just visually identify and differentiate. 

Today, a brand has to connect with your ideal prospects. 

We tend to think of the word brand as referring solely to visual elements. But they are not enough to elicit emotion and a strong connection. They are not enough to make a brand stand out and occupy a place in your prospects' minds. 

The visuals are part of the brand but they are just the tip of the iceberg.  

So what other elements constitute a brand and help shape your audience’s perception?

3.  A brand is also what you do

When we think of Coca-Cola we think of soda and fizzy drinks. It is undeniably part of their brand. Without a product or a service there is no brand.

What you do informs your brand.

Your product leaves an impression on your customers and shapes how they see you. Brands are also defined by what they do and how customers experience their products or services.

With Coca-Cola, it is the sensation of cold when you hold a can of coke in your hand, the sound of rushing gas you hear when you open it and feeling the tickles of the dancing bubbles in your mouth when you drink it. 

The product, its characteristics, its packaging, and its price influence this gut feeling. The product or service is the tangible connection to your brand. But a brand can connect through the intangible.

So a brand is made up of visual elements and a product or service. But what other elements constitute a brand?

4. A brand is defined by how it communicates and acts 

A brand promises an experience and the consumer expects the same experience over and over again. Your brand has to be coherent in the way it expresses itself and acts. Every touchpoint you have with a prospect tells them something about your brand. 

According to Simon Clift: “A brand is a contract between a company and consumers.” Your brand tells your customers what they can expect from you and your services. 

Just as we expect a brand to demonstrate the same behaviour. A brand is therefore also defined by its personality. A combination of your personality traits, actions, and communication will help you build your brand and fulfil that contract.

But what else determines the clauses of this contract?

5.  A brand is defined by its values and mission 

Coca Cola values are about socialising, sharing and optimism. Its mission is to inspire moments of happiness and togetherness. These values and mission serve as a compass for the company’s actions and communication.

The values inform the clauses of the contract between the brand and its customers.

Finding your values will also help your company to inspire behaviour and connect with consumers beyond your product and service. It will help you create your own category.  

Nowadays it’s difficult to stand out on the strength of the product or service alone. Customers can find the same product or service for the same price, with the same features and the same quality.

build a brand to stand out on your market

So how can you get noticed? Your prospects will connect with you through your values. Your values will elicit the emotion you need to connect with your audience. That’s how you can get on their radar. 

6. My definition of a brand

If a brand is a gut-feeling, how can you, as a marketer or an entrepreneur, make sure you get the desired reaction from your audience? 

We’ve seen that:

  • A simple logo is not enough to stand out and create a brand
  • Visuals are not enough to evoke feelings about your brand 
  • The service or the product you offer is not enough to create a brand
  • The price of your product or service might not be enough to create a brand

None of these elements will help you connect with the prospect on an emotional level. And we know that we don’t sell with logic, we sell with emotion. 

But when you incorporate values and a carefully crafted brand persona into the logo, slogan and product, you have a brand. 

These elements work together and influence each other to make a brand. Without all these elements a business doesn’t have a brand. 

So a brand is an ensemble of tangible (product, logo, slogan) and intangible (feelings, memories) elements. A brand is your armour, a competitive edge that makes you different from your competitors and helps you connect with your prospects. 

That’s how you occupy the right place in their minds and hearts. The story your brand tells and how your customers see you and feel about you, is equally relevant as building your business.

what makes a brand?

So to sum up:

Building a business is not enough. You must invest in another valuable asset.

Which one?

Your brand.

If you can't compete on price or product’s functionalities, your brand will be your most prized asset. 

The brand is the soul of your business. The part that talks to your customers' emotions and identity.

Every brand is a business. But not every business is a brand.

- A business is an organisation

- A brand is a reputation

- A business that sells to customers

- A brand connects with customers

- A business’ purpose is transactional 

- A brand's purpose is inspirational

So do your business a favour. Build a brand. Build a business that lasts.


Bring your brand stories to life

Bring your brand stories to life