What's a brand, actually?

June 6, 2018

The word “brand” is one of the most common words in business speak, and in my experience, it’s also one of the most commonly misunderstood.

This is mostly owed to the fact that there isn’t a clear, concise, or consistent definition of the word. Some people use it as a noun, others as a verb, and if you ask five people for a definition of "brand," you're likely to get five very different answers.

At Platoon, we’ve adopted Marty Neumeier's definition of brand. It’s proven to be a helpful starting place for our clients. Here it is:

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.” 

Customers Determine Brand

There is a lot that could be said about Neumeier's definition, but I want to quickly explore one important component of this definition that can be easily overlooked.

Your brand is determined by your customers, not you! This is the fundamental difference between "marketing" and "branding."

You can’t create your own brand. It’s something you must earn from your customers. What you can do, however, is influence your customer’s perception.

Reputation & Influence

It may help to think of a brand as a personal reputation. 

We can’t define our personal reputations. It’s impossible to control the conclusions others make about us. However, we can influence the impressions and experiences we create with others. Our past experiences with friends, our communication style, the times we have helped or inconvenienced them, the values they’ve observed in our behavior — these are all data that others collect as they form their attitudes about us.

When multiple people have similar attitudes toward us — we start to form a reputation or a “brand.” 

It's overly simplistic, but for all intents and purposes, the same is true with your company's brand. Interactions with your product or service become attitudes in the mind of your customers. Over time those attitudes evolve into your brand. You provide the data points, the customer constructs the brand.

There are plenty of ways to influence how your customer perceives you. A starting list could include things like product experience, customer service, aesthetics, digital experience, narrative, messaging, pricing strategy, packaging, advertising methods, ethical stances, and more.

Brands That Are Succeeding

Successful companies understand that their customers define their brand. So accordingly, they design experiences and interactions that translate into positive moments over time for their customers.

2023 - Zach Janicello

2023 - Zach Janicello