I am often asked to define branding. Given my tendency towards plain-speaking and a total lack of bullshit, I am almost always confronted with some level of resistance. Everyone nowadays has an opinion about branding; my industry has been overrun by people who watch too much Mad Men, and have 20k followers on Twitter. This does not an ad executive make. I have decided to demystify the mystery of branding once and for all.

In legal terms, a brand is sort of an offer for consideration. When we interact with a brand, we have the choice to engage or not, to take whatever their offer might be and accept it. (That's an almost text-book legal definition of an agreement, by the way). In other words, brands—all brands—are offering something for our consideration.

When you think of Apple, for instance, you know that you’re going to encounter a specific combination of logo, words, type font, design, colors, personality, price, service, etc. that delivers on a particular promise. From Apple, most of us have come to expect sleek design, cutting-edge technology and a certain kind of cool. An anticipated experience comes with that clean white box they pack your computer or phone into. Of course, some people don't vibe with this—they want something else. I'm not here to hawk Apple. I’m merely using it to point out what a great brand looks and feels like. Like it or not, Apple nails branding better than almost anyone, every time.

How can you access this level of salesmanship and brand for your business?

As competitive advantages in a cluttered market disappear, brand building has become a necessity. Indeed, the need to differentiate companies by culture, personality or image is rapidly increasing and taking hold. Brands are indeed everywhere!

Entrepreneurs tend to encounter these problems at a very basic level:

·         Failure to understand the importance of branding as a key strategic imperative in the organization

  • Lack of vision and continuity and know-how on to extend the brand across the entire offering
  • Lack of marketing communications experience
  • Discontinuity between insight and execution

And these problems on the marketing level:

  • Cluttered competitive field with little or no differentiation
  • Complex offerings often couched in dry messaging
  • Lack of corporate identity, image, and template
  • Lack of systemization of marketing insight and execution

The Brand is the Differentiation, Not the Product

Your widget may very well be the best widget in the world of widgets. And this means absolutely nothing in the marketplace. Why? Does the iPhone sell cool? Doesn’t everyone know that Intel sells intuitive "power" that Ford sells "tough", and Ralph Lauren sells “class"? Without a brand, these things are merely commodities. We can get any old phone, computer, truck or shirt, but we buy these particular ones for a reason. They tend to be equal in price and performance, and telling them apart is often hard to do. It’s the brand that creates the differentiation. For examples, compare Apple’s website with Microsoft’s or Dell’s sites. The differences presented on these sites are what cue us to change consideration, and accept a different offer.

Brand or Die

You will need a long term commitment to develop a brand building program, and you should lower your expectations that it is going to happen overnight. Summarily, tactical “experiments" are a complete waste of both time and money. Either commit or don't. Don't waste time and money on a "social advisor" who is going to charge you "$10k to get you 10k followers." You can't just break out a logo, some business cards and a website and call that "brand", either. Brand is something more elusive, and ultimately more meaningful.

Make sure you understand what creating a branding program involves

I hate the television program Madmen. Why? Because it gives my colleagues and I a bad name. Advertising is more than people sitting around drinking scotch and having affairs. Advertising is hard work, even more so today. Developing a total marketing communications program that is integrated with everything you do, including cultural values, operational strategy, analytics, websites, data sheets, and customer insight takes lots of work. Apple Computer did this brilliantly with the agency Chiat Day, which stands as a stellar example of what happens when these two worlds are in sync.

The most basic keys for understanding Branding are:


Brand purpose (the functional, emotional, and societal benefits of the offering) are communicated through a well-thought out combination of logo, words, type font, design, colors, personality, price, service, etc. that convey a bundle of attributes. Think of Porsche, for instance. Your first thoughts are probably going to be something like “German, luxury, speed” and, most of all, “cool.” The promise, look, personality and attributes can eventually acquire a special patina of brand.


Putting together what customers are doing with an understanding of why they are doing it so you can make an offer of how to help solve their problem or satisfy their need.


This is a topic that requires a more complete exploration, but, at its core, it is the total experience or messaging “journey” for your customers to follow that will either engage them or not. Engagement marketing includes credible and authentic presence in social media, your website, events, and PR. Engaging the consumer means caring about the consumer. Specifically, caring about them enough to explain what you do, why you do it and how they can benefit in a way that is easy to understand and even enjoyable. I'll write more about engagement marketing in my next piece.

Now get out there and build your Brand!


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