Ten Frequently Asked Branding Questions

Q: What is a brand?

A: In a business context, there are many definitions of brand. I think Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, says it the best with, “A brand is a living entity that is either enriched or undermined cumulatively over time—the product of a thousand gestures.”

This is a great definition because it implies that a brand is more than a logo, that it’s a process not an event. I also like the “thousand gestures” as this represents all the customer touch points associated with the brand. Examples of touch points include, the website experience, direct mail or email received, displays in stores or tradeshows, advertising, editorial write-ups, the product experience itself, the physical packaging, the word-of-mouth or peer-to-peer marketing and digital touch points like social media interactions, online advertising, third-party reviews and blog posts.

Most savvy business people understand that a brand is either a business asset or a liability. Functionally brands serve to identify people, places, products, services and/or organizations. The only other thing I would add to this definition is that a brand is a business asset, it deserves to be nurtured, protected and held in high esteem just like any other asset.

Q: What are the major types of a brand?

A: So many things can be branded, but in the business world there are corporate brands (parent companies, subsidiaries), product brands (hard goods, disposable goods, consumable goods), personal/people brands (celebrities, artists and professionals), cause brands (diseases, missions), membership brands (professional societies, social clubs) and event brands (recurring or one-time events). Essentially, we are not aware of all the brands that surround us.

Q: What is a brand promise?

A: Again, many definitions but my favorite is the one used by one of my partners, Judy Leidy, the founder of Zoelby Group. Judy says, “A brand promise is communicated internally (to employees) but experienced externally (by your customers).”

This definition helps to define that a brand promise is really an internal rallying cry (or mantra if you prefer) to unite employees around a shared vision. Without a clear brand promise, employees are left to act their own brand vision and/or just act randomly, both of which lead to an inconsistent customer experience. Keep in mind that the customer’s own experience with your brand frequently “cements” their image of your brand, for better or for worse.

Q: What is brand engagement?

A: Brand engagement is the level of emotional involvement a consumer or prospect feels relative to your brand. Brand engagement is usually born out of the level of empathy you convey to your buyers and prospects. And in order to show real empathy, you have to understand buyers deeper motivators, fears, hopes, dreams and goals.

B2C marketers seem to intuitively get brand engagement and feel comfortable with addressing customer pain and gain head on. But having worked with many b2c and b2b clients, I have observed more reluctance by b2b clients to get too “emotional” in their marketing because they believe their buyers are “too analytical” or “too intelligent” for that. In my experience, if a b2b brand does not emotionally engage to some degree, it risks being seen as a commodity and subject to the lowest price game. Brand engagement helps support premium price strategies and encourages brand loyalty.

Q: How does one measure a brand’s value?

A: There are many dimensions that can be measured from sentiment (i.e. how people feel about a brand) to levels of brand awareness (aided or unaided), brand preference and market share.

As a practical matter for the small to medium-sized business that don’t have large market research budgets, brand sentiment is a natural starting point that can provide valuable and actionable insight. These sentiment insights should be leveraged in the marketing strategy and tactically in the creation of marketing communications and product R&D.

As an example, if the sentiment around a brand is that it truly solves a certain pain point(s) and thus creates certain feelings when that pain is resolved, then that customer pain should be discussed in the marketing communications. When customer pain is discussed, it creates a feeling of empathy and that leads to brand engagement.

Q: Are consumer brands different than b2b brands?

A: Yes but not because they target consumers. Every brand should be different—uniquely reflecting its own DNA, just like people. So yes, consumer brand are different from b2b brands but that’s inherent in being a brand, not a function of b2c verses b2b.

Q: What is a brand identity system?

A: At the heart of the system is the brand’s logo but it does not stop there. The identity system is a collection of brand assets. Examples of brand assets include a full color palette (not just the 1 or 2 colors in the primary logo), different versions of the logo (black and white, full color, horizontal, vertical, social media version, with and without the tagline), graphic design elements that are used for visual interest and often relate back to the logo or spirit of the brand, and sometimes mascots, characters or avatars.

Q: What are brand graphic design standards?

A: Brand Graphic Standards are the “rules of the road” related to displaying/utilizing a brand asset in any number of applications (ex. advertising, on merchandise, on packaging in signage, etc.).

Some call these documents the logo do’s and don’ts and in reality these documents do help protect the brand’s integrity. Marketers who don’t have the time (or desire) to be full-time “logo police”, use these documents to help others be good brand stewards.

In recent years I’ve seen clients and designers combine both brand graphic design standards with brand strategy content to form Brand Guides. This more comprehensive approach gives brand stewards a bigger picture view of the brand.

Q: Is there a difference between brand image and brand identity?

A: Absolutely. Brand image is how the marketplace sees and feels about your brand while brand identity is how you (the brand’s steward/owner) want to be seen in the marketplace. It’s a subtle difference. Technically no one can “control” brand image. The marketplace dictates the image since it’s their perception and that perception can always be changing. The best a marketer or brand steward/owner can do is to establish strong stewardship controls over the brand identity, such as written graphic design standards and a Brand Guide. The ideal is to have the brand identity (what you intend) and the brand image (how it’s really seen) be closely aligned.

Q: What is brand architecture?

A: Brand architecture is how all the brands you own relate (or don’t relate) to one another. It’s a system that helps keep your brand “family” in order and is often discussed in Brand Guides. For some clients, the architecture is very simple, there’s just one brand to manage. For other clients, there are multiple brands, picking and sticking to a brand architecture becomes more critical.

In Alina Wheeler’s book, “Designing Brand Identity,” she says, “brand architecture refers to the hierarchy of brands within a single company.” Wheeler provides four brand architecture structures: monolithic brand architecture; sub-brand or subsidiary brand architecture; endorsed brand architecture and pluralistic brand architecture.

Monolithic architecture is the easiest for a marketer to manage because there is strong, single master brand around which everything is unified. Any brand extensions are built by coupling the master brand with a generic description (ex. FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Office, My FedEx). There are great marketing synergies when you invest in one master brand verses spreading your budget around to build awareness of multiple brands.

Sub-brand or subsidiary brand architecture is designed for a branded subsidiary, product or service combined with a master brand. Either the master brand dominates, or the two brands serve as co-drivers. Examples of this architecture include Subaru Outback and Adobe Acrobat. Notice how the brand extension is not a generic name, as in the monolithic architecture.

Endorsed brand architecture feels very similar to sub-brand but it is best used when there is lots to be gained by combining the product, division or subsidiary name with a strong parent company or a partners’ brand name. In these cases the product, division or subsidiary has a clearly defined market presence, but it gets an extra benefit “boost” from the “endorsement” or association and visibility of the parent or partner brand. Examples of this architecture include: Courtyard by Marriott, iPad and Apple, Oreo and Nabisco.

Pluralistic brand architecture can be thought of as the investor brand architecture because the name of the parent company is really only consequential to investors, not to the consumer. In other words the product or service brand gets all the marketing attention with the parent brand having little or no visibility to consumers. Examples of this architecture include: Blackberry (Research in Motion), Duracell (Proctor & Gamble) and Cymbalta (Eli Lilly).