What Is a Brand?
A brand is a fundamental term of marketing, but it seems there are so many definitions that are unclear and not straight-forward that even branding professionals feel often confused. Instead of one clear-cut definition of a brand, we can find a magnitude number of vague interpretations of this term. Consequently, the absence of a universally accepted and well-defined vocabulary for branding professionals makes a discussion inaccurate or even mistaken, which may result in losing trust with senior and top management used to substantive and precise talks. Simple definitions are usually the best.
Table of Contents
What Is A Brand?
A brand is the sum of all actions by which a company intends to be recognized.
It is an impression that a company makes on everyone who experiences it, most importantly, customers, but also employees, the media, and investors. Everything that a company is and does forms a certain perception that is held in the audience’s mind. Brands intentionally create specific associations, pictures, and emotions that live in the mind of the audience long after the actual experience.
As competition gets more and more hard-nosed, companies are looking for ways to stand out and connect emotionally with customers to create lifelong relationships. Those who are able to create strong brands have a chance to become irreplaceable and gain a competitive advantage in an overcrowded marketplace. As the brands realize that the stakes are high, they try to make their customers fall in love with them, and consequently, gain trust which will turn into bigger and bigger market share. The overall success of a brand depends on how it is perceived by those who have come into contact with it.
A brand is the most fundamental asset to your company
The value of the brand has become so significant that it frequently appears on a balance sheet as an intangible asset called brand equity. As customers’ perception of the company determines how much the brand is worth, it is often challenging to calculate the value of the brand, but in some cases, it can be more valuable than the company’s tangible assets. Strong brands are very powerful business tools that drive a company's growth, increase their commercial value, and add to the future worth so their monetary value as intangible assets is significant.
“[Brand is] the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product over another.”
Seth Godin: Author, entrepreneur, and mark
So what makes such brands as Coca-Cola, BMW, Apple, or Starbucks so powerful? Why do they have so many devoted followers? These are not easy questions. A lot of businessmen ask them. Of course, they deliver products of very high quality, but it isn’t usually the reason for these brands’ enormous popularity. The main cause for why the supporters or better to say believers are ready to pay more for their products is usually the brand itself. As brands represent specific qualities and standards which totally resonate with their followers’ values, it is almost impossible to take these customers away. Hence, a strong and established brand is the most valuable competitive advantage which boosts a company’s growth.
To create an influential and valuable brand, it is necessary to understand key elements that a brand comprises.Back to top
Elements of a Brand
To develop a successful brand, you need to understand what elements create its foundation. That is why each brand should identify it’s:
Let’s list and define them.
Brand Purpose (The Why):
Why do you do what you do? (aside from commercial benefit)
Brand Vision (The Where):
Where is your brand going?
What will your future brand look like?
Brand Mission (The What):
What are you committed to in realizing your vision?
Brand Values: (The How):
How will your brand go about its business in realizing its vision for the future?Back to top
A brand purpose is a reason why the brand exists apart from making money. As more and more customers have started to make their buying decisions based on other factors than just price or quality, creating the right brand purpose has also become commercially justified. To create an effective brand purpose, it needs to be product-driven and connect with customers on an emotional level. Its goal is to not only provide the foundation on which to create the company, but also speak to the customers’ higher aspirations to change the world for a better place. Currently, more and more customers tend to keep relationships with brands that are in alignment with their values and beliefs.
Companies with a well-defined brand purpose have a tremendous competitive advantage over their competitors as they stand for something bigger than just profits. Their message is very strong and hits the mark because it speaks to their potential customers on a higher level. Creating a strong brand purpose makes companies successful, as they have something important to say, not just a product to sell. As purpose-driven companies are trying to make the world a better place, a clear purpose shows what this lofty goal means for particular companies.
Dove, which is a Unilever brand, is very good at using a brand purpose to their advantage. After the campaign in 2013, Dove has become a synonym for “Self-Esteem”. By using a very powerful slogan “you are more beautiful than you think” and showing real women in their commercials instead of unrealistically spotless models, they have made women believe they can be beautiful in any size. Fighting with women’s insecurities turned out to be a very successful strategy because the brand has gained immense support. Dove dared to throw down a challenge to the whole beauty industry by evoking emotional reactions among lots of women all over the world. Their sales results grew from less than US$2.5 billion to more than US$4 billion, so the risk paid off. The numbers speak for themselves. A well-chosen and accurate brand purpose makes a big difference.Back to top
A brand vision demonstrates where a company is going and what aspirations it has. A brand vision statement focuses on the future and what a company wants to become eventually in ten, fifteen, or twenty years. It shows our final business destination where we are planning to get. Vision-driven companies are more determined, goal-oriented, and high-reaching because their vision is so inspiring that despite adversaries they do not quit. The right vision keeps a company on the right track and boosts not only internal and external growth but also employees’ motivation.
To create a vision, the following questions may be useful:
- What are our hopes and aspirations?
- What problem do we want to solve for the greater good?
- What do we want to change?
Creating a vision is extremely important because a lack of inspirational and clear vision for a company leads to stagnation and a lack of progress. Whether a brand vision is a short sentence or a long paragraph, it defines the core substance of the company, builds brand loyalty, and gives a backbone to your company, which supports the entire company structure. Most importantly, companies with a coherent brand vision statement grow four times faster than those without it, as Harvard studies show, so it is unquestionable that a brand vision influences brand loyalty and the overall success of the company.
Your brand vision should be a brief, straightforward, and comprehensible statement of intent, devised to inspire your customers and your employees. For example:
Facebook’s vision is: “Connect with friends and the world around you on Facebook.”
BMW’s vision is: “to be the most successful premium manufacturer in the industry.”
Apple’s vision is: “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. “
LinkedIn’s vision is: “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”
Google’s vision is “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.”
Amazon’s vision is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”Back to top
Having a crystal clear mission statement in place helps your whole company work towards the same objective and establish methods on how to achieve it. When a mission is in effect, it sets the framework for making decisions by projecting if they are aligned with your pre-defined business model and strategy. A mission statement outlines your company’s core philosophy by setting guidelines that not only keep your company coherent and well-grounded but also help you evaluate forthcoming business opportunities and keep you on the right track. When you are clear on your mission, you realize where your company is going and know how to get there, which can be very useful when your business growth is faster and faster and you have plunged in day-to-day operations. Especially then a mission statement turns out to be helpful because it keeps you focused and drives you towards your brand vision. Sharing your brand mission with your team enables you to make sure everybody is on the same page in terms of company goals and methods on how to achieve them.
While a brand vision statement determines where you are heading, a brand mission statement highlights the function and objectives of your company and proclaims your organizational purpose to the world. A well-designed mission statement not only reinforces your brand and motivates your team, but also informs your clients what they can expect from you. As short and concise mission statements work best, you should create a simple brand motto that summarizes the core of your business.
In short, your mission covers the what, how, and who.
The well-prepared mission statement should say what you do, how you provide it, and who benefits from it.
Your vision is your end goal; your mission presents how you will make it happen. There’s no one way to follow in writing your brand mission, but the following questions may be helpful:
- What does your company do?
- What service or product do you sell?
- What are your target customers?
- What benefits do you promise to your target customers?
- How are you different from your competitors?
Let’s have a look at the mission statements of famous companies.
Facebook mission is:
“Founded in 2004, Facebook's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what's going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.”
BMW mission statement is:
“to become the world’s leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility.” T
Apple mission is:
“to bring the best personal computing products and support to students, educators, designers, scientists, engineers, businesspersons and consumers in over 140 countries around the world.”
LinkedIn mission is:
“to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
Google mission is:
“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Amazon mission is:
“We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.”Back to top
Brand values show what stands behind an impressive website or a splendid logo and what is most important to you as a company. They express the driving force which powers your company’s growth. As brand values should be deeply grounded in your company’s identity, all short-term and long-term decisions are based on them. While your website, logo, or products can change over the years, your brand values must be immutable and uncompromising as they give guidance and constitute the basis for your business existence.
Companies with well-chosen values can create long-lasting connections with their customers on a deeply emotional level because customers choose brands whose values they like, identify, and connect with. Well-defined brand values create very powerful bonds and real customer engagement, which deliver a boost in sales and growth of market share. In addition, customers who can relate to your company values are not only loyal and less price-sensitive but also more tolerant of possible mistakes.
It is challenging to determine your brand values because you make a promise to follow your values over an unspecified time, which means as long as you serve your customers. That is a pretty long time, which makes the decision even more difficult. As brand values are permanent, they should be also consistent with our vision and mission.
Brand values should be:
Clear-cut and well-prepared brand values help to shape a brand strategy, create a brand identity, and connect with the target customers who transform into our devoted supporters, which is our end goal.
To discover brand values in your company, it would be good to organize brainstorming and answer the following questions:
- What does your business truly stand for?
- What values do you bring to your work and act on them?
- What are your company’s strengths?
- What are your company’s weaknesses?
- What do you believe in as a company?
- What do you stand for as a company?
- What do your customers believe about you?
- What behaviors do you promote and reward?
- What are the top three most important behaviors which you expect from each employee?
The importance of brand values is known, but do your employees know them? Do your employees put them into action? As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thinks “Actual company values are the behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees.” They are often empty slogans that are just displayed in the lobby, and no team member really acts on them. After determining what your brand values are, make sure all your employees’ day-to-day behaviors show your company’s values.Back to top
As your brand is the key factor that influences your success, your goal should be to create a brand that is so successful and well-known that it speaks directly to the hearts of your customers. Certainly, being familiar with the above elements of the brand will help you understand what a brand is and will make it easier to create a solid foundation of your own brand for your existing business or the future one. However, each of the mentioned elements of the brand should not be just a few sentences in your business plan which will be put in a drawer, but a practical day-to-day tool which will help you gain the trust of your customers and win bigger and bigger market share.
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Author: Justine Ilone Siporski is Editor-in-Chief & CEO of BUSINESS POWERHOUSE, the founder and CEO of LANGUAGE EMPIRE, coach, trainer, investor and columnist dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurs, investors and the C-suite (CMOs, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs). Her key mission is to support leaders, business professionals, and investors in achieving their highest potential, making the right business and investing decisions, and expanding their horizons.