Language is supposed to illuminate meaning, but it doesn’t always work that way. As usage evolves, definitions become unclear, and different people start using the same word to mean entirely different things. ‘Brand’ is one of those words that is widely used but not always understood.
So what does ‘brand’ actually mean, and how has the word’s application changed over time? The first definition of ‘brand’ is the name given to a product or service from a specific source. Used in this sense, ‘brand’ is similar to the current meaning of the word ‘trademark.’
More than a century ago, cattle ranchers used branding irons to indicate which animals were theirs. As the cattle moved across the plains, it was easy to determine which ranches they were from because each head of cattle was branded.
With the rise of packaged goods in the 19th century, producers put their mark on a widening array of products to indicate their source.
In reality, a brand is much more than just a trademark. Put simply a brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation.
These associations may be intentional – that is, they may be actively promoted via marketing and corporate identity etc – or they may be outside the company’s control.
The Value of a ‘brand’
For example, a poor press review for a new product might harm the product manufacturer’s overall brand by placing negative associations in people’s minds.
To illustrate the idea, let’s take what is arguably the best-known product – or brand – in the world today: Coca-Cola.
Although essentially just a soft drinks product, Coca-Cola the drink is eclipsed by the sheer might of Coca-Cola the brand. This phenomenon is best summed up by the following quote from a Coca-Cola executive:
“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”
In a 2007 survey of the value of global brands by branding agency Interbrand, Coca-Cola’s brand equity was valued at US$65.3bn, just under half the company’s market value.
Of course, brands aren’t limited to the food and drink industry. If a brand is just a set of associations then practically anything could be said to have a brand, even individuals – think of Simon Cowell or Heston Blumenthal.
In fact, Blumenthal’s own brand is so strong, that he has leant his weight to a major advertising campaign by Waitrose. He was chosen not just because of his name, but because his association with a sense of quality mirrors Waitrose’s own brand values.
There is now a whole range of ‘Heston from Waitrose’ products.
Other high-profile examples of recognised brands include Toyota, British Airways, Tate, Amazon, Save the Children, Burberry, HMRC or even London! From services to cities, products to publications, each carries a strong set of associations in the minds of a large number of people.
Why do you need a brand?
Branding will help you stand out from your competitors. It can add value to your offering and engage with your customers.
Creating difference – a way of clearly highlighting what makes your offer different to, and more desirable than, anyone else’s.
Adding value – people are generally willing to pay more for a branded product than they are for something which is unbranded.
Connecting with people – creating a connection with people is important for all organisations. A brand can embody attributes which the customers will feel drawn to. It can also create customer loyalty.
Equity – a good, strong brand will add significant value to your business.
Your single and most important marketing tool will be your brand – you must not underestimate the power and value that it can have.
Creative Director Core Business Solutions