What Is A Brand?

Ask ten CEOs or marketing professionals for the definition of a brand and you will likely hear ten different answers. So, how is it that millions of dollars have been spent building brands and countless books have been written, for it to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in business today. Perhaps it is because brand is intangible or maybe because brand is not about marketing at all. So what is it?

Brand is a claim of distinction. It is that simple. Nothing more, no elaborate definitions convoluted with buzzwords and details. Think about the simplicity…without distinction there is no differentiation and without differentiation you have a sea of sameness.

Brand can be traced back to approximately 2000 BC, when Egyptian farmers branded their cattle with a mark to distinguish their herd from others. Contrary to some opinion, the fundamentals of brand have not changed since these early days. Some farmers had better reputations than others, and their branded physical mark came to represent that difference.

Today, products and services carry a mark to distinguish themselves from a sea of similarly appearing competitors, but that is just the visual expression of the brand. Brand is much more than a logo, tagline, messaging or visuals. We call this the “ing” of brand, a.k.a. branding.

Underneath all of this should be the claim of distinction aligning your organization’s vision — top management’s aspirations for the company, your culture – the values, behaviors and attitudes of every employee, and your image —the outside world’s impression of your company.

Your claim of distinction needs to be hardwired throughout your entire organization. Beyond marketing and advertising, which make the promise, the brand influences everything from the C suite to the shipping department. When an organization lives its brand this way, the brand promise is consistently delivered and experienced.ti

It is for this reason brand is not solely a marketing function, but rather a corporate initiative. When you drive brand throughout your organization, and it becomes your DNA, the effects are amazing.

Southwest Airlines. Bags fly free.Think about brands like Southwest. It’s all about low fares and great service. They call their way of doing business “Southwest hospitality.” They love their work and take it seriously—but they don’t take themselves seriously. They have created a brand experience consistent with their business and brand strategy offering low fares, no baggage fees or change fees, a streamlined airport experience, charging stations, comfy seating in gate areas and an open seat policy. Even the safety announcement is memorable: rapping, singing, and telling jokes. To top it off, Southwest’s NYSE symbol is LUV, and is important to note that they have experienced 39 consecutive years of profitability.