“The Marketing Dictionary for the 21st Century” (Robert W. Bly, Motivational Press, 2016) defines a brand as: “The label, name, term, design, or symbol by which a product is identified, where the characteristics and personality of a particular product are recognizable, and a product made and marketed under a specific name by a specific company. E.g. Tide laundry detergent.”

And it’s true, but it’s not quite that simple…

… at least not the way we view a brand, and its potential to connect on an emotional and rational level with consumers. If we limited our branding efforts on behalf of our clients to a label, a name, a term, a design or symbol, without understanding and then expressing these elements in some strategically emotional context that a potential customer will identify with, will embrace, will want to be a part of, then we have fallen short as marketers.

In Bly’s definition, “personality” comes closest to describing our view of complete and effective branding. But it doesn’t go near far enough. In fact, it’s even more limited by the very next definition: “Brand advertising – Advertising whose primary goal is to promote the brand.”
Only if you don’t get it. And it gets worse:

“Brandcentric – A marketing strategy more concerned with promoting a brand name than generating immediate inquiries and orders.” Huh?!?


“Branding – a school of advertising that says, ‘If the consumer has heard of us, we’ve done our job’.”

You mean if we increase brand awareness we don’t have to generate any sales? Damn, that makes our job as marketers a heck of a lot easier. And all along we thought our job was to sell stuff.

No. First of all, branding is the sum total of a product’s parts. Or a service’s. For sure, its label, name, design elements and symbols are part of it. But there’s a lot more to a brand than these tangibles, including its personality. We like to think of a brand as having a … world. A brand world, a brand universe, that creates a mindset, a space, a set of values, a compendium of attitudes and emotions that appeal to targeted users and potential users, and either reconfirm their decisions to be part of it or appeal to them to consider it, and all it stands for.

The kind of attributes that go way beyond product attributes, or service deliverables. The intangibles, the kinds of attributes that are much more difficult to define, and much more powerful in their potential ability to attract customers. Every business should be assessed for the elements in its product, or service, that can be put into an emotional context, supported by appropriate rationale, and cultivate a positive relationship with target customers, a dialogue. A response. A measureable response: a sale, brand awareness, likeability, consideration, engagement, a click.
Something specific.

A brand.

And figuring out the balance is crucial: packaged goods – more rational. Image products – more emotional. Services? Somewhere in the middle. But never one without the other.

Take Bly’s example, Tide laundry detergent. Tide was billed as a “wash day miracle” when it was launched in 1946, promising “oceans of suds” for homemakers struggling with underperforming industrialized washers. The Tide bull’s-eye logo was rendered by legendary industrial designer Donald Deskey, its concentric rings of orange and yellow intended to evoke power. It did, and it continues to. Needless to say the product delivered, from day one. And today Tide is a dominant category leader, and has evolved into a genuine “comfort brand.” But it’s name, which was inspired by observations of sand being cleaner after the tide rolled out, and its logo, are only part of it.

Tide made impenetrable emotional connections with their customers, and established an everyday relationship with their target market, homemakers and housekeepers.

There’s all kinds of academic definitions for a brand, and branding …
The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “brand” as “a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name,” and “a particular kind or type of something.” And “branding” as “the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand.”

Not much help for an advertising agency, or a marketer – or anybody who wants to know what we do, for that matter – looking to connect his product or service with potential customers, cultivate a relationship, some interest in his brand and ultimately, sell something. Their definition of “promote” is no help either: “to help (something) happen, develop or increase.”

It’s as simple, or as complicated, as this: establishing a relationship between the brand and the consumer. Creating a dialogue. A theoretical dialogue in the early days. Plus a literal dialogue today, via social media, et al.

Complete branding. Consistency is key. Strategic consistency, not necessarily literal consistence across media. The extreme platforms available across today’s media landscape challenge the discipline of consistency – but do not excuse strategic inconsistency. Executional differences, yes, when appropriate, but it must all come from the same, single definition of the brand and its personality. It must all reflect the same brand world, and be recognizable as such.

And here’s the deal – ultimately you should be able to define a distinctive brand’s position in a single sentence. Ok, a comma or two is permissible, but an incredibly disciplined and descriptive sentence stands to focus the brand’s multi-media marketing with laser intensity, reach your customers and potential customers with impact and efficiency – and sell something!

Finally, there’s this “brand” definition from “The Marketing Dictionary for the 21st Century”

“Brand journalism – writing content that seems to be objective, informative journalism but is actually intended to build a specific brand and market a particular product.”

To that we plead guilty.

Tim Arnold

The Arnold Group LLC

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