brand definition

Do your customers really understand you?

We all believe we know what we do and what benefits we offer potential clients. We put a lot of effort into our brand proposition and ‘elevator pitch.’ But it can be easy to be too close to our business and miss the very fundamentals that we take for granted.

I often lecture at universities on digital marketing to non-marketing students. I usually begin with a question, saying something like, “What is digital marketing… no, wait, first of all, what is MARKETING?”

As you can guess I get a lot of answers that are way off the mark, and hardly any that are near correct. That’s understandable because it’s not part of their day-to-day.

The question opens the door for me to present some definitions and introduce such ideas as the Marketing Concept and Philip Kotler’s thinking.

A good deal of the public misunderstanding and confusion may be blamed upon media misunderstanding and sloppy journalism. But it got me thinking: was I assuming that my business audience actually understand what we do?

Testing understanding

I do quite a bit of networking and often describe my business in broad terms as a marketing consultancy, brand marketing or marketing communications specialist. But always using the term ‘marketing‘ and assuming it means the same thing to my audience as it does to me.

So, I decided to put it to the test – I asked various groups of businesspeople: “What is marketing? What do you understand by the term?” The results were worrying. There were lots of muddled ideas but very few understood the basic concept – unless, that is, the people were from associated fields (and surprisingly, even some of them had fuzzy definitions).

This presented me with a dilemma. I was using a term in our brand descriptor which most of my prospects did not fully understand. Of course, in presenting my proposition I go to some lengths to describe what we can do and what benefits we can deliver. However as a basic brand communications issue, I had a lot of thinking to do.

Many other businesses may fall into the same trap. You may be so familiar with what you do that it’s easy to assume a similar understanding from audiences. They will have a broad idea (we hope) but some important nuances may be lost.

Take the step

My advice would be to try that basic test on your prospective audience – ask them what they understand about what you really do. It could give you valuable insight into how you define your brand and fine-tune your proposition.

Is the Euro a brand?

Euro coinReading the depressing press coverage of the difficulties in the Euro zone, I keep hearing reference to the ‘Euro brand’. Now, I am fairly relaxed about some of the inappropriate and uninformed usage of the term ‘brand’ – there are plenty of learned and philosophical discussions about what constitutes a brand and many of them fall into the category of ‘angels dancing on pin heads.’ However there is one rule-of-thumb that I apply to qualify brands: a necessary condition to be classified as a brand is that it should be tradeable, it is an asset with a financial value.

If I was unimaginably wealthy, I could buy the Virgin or Coca-Cola brand. I don’t just mean purchase the business, but the intangible brand asset that has a value. When Kraft bought Cadbury, they were not just paying for some manufacturing plants and chocolate bar machines, they bought a basketful of brands and you can bet they had them valued most carefully. Brand valuation is a hot topic, with good reason.

You don’t have to be in the business of buying brands to be looking at their values. Brands can be licensed; indeed, one of the approaches to valuation is to estimate the cost of licensing. By this measure, even non-profits can put a value on their brand. Organizations, and charities all have the possibility of licensing the use of their brand even if they choose not to exercise it. We could put a substantial value on such brands as Oxfam, the IOC, the Salvation Army or the Scouts.

By the measure of license value we can also look at the brands of individuals. There has been discussions about whether people can be brands. By my condition of tradeability of value, they certainly can – from David Beckham to Tony Blair. And, like all brands, their value can go down as well as up.

So, we come back to the Euro: is it a brand? By my one simple condition, I would have to say ‘no’. You can’t buy or sell the intangible values of the brand – what are they and who owns them? Can you license the use of the brand? I suggest not, (though perhaps some sharp entrepreneur may have other ideas). Tradeability may be a simplistic measure, but as one simple condition to answer the question, ‘Is it a brand?’ it has worked for me.

What is a brand?

It’s easy to come up with any number of definitions of a brand – as a simple online search will provide. Most often quoted is Philip Kotler’s: “a name, term, sign or symbol or a combination of these, that identifies the maker or seller of a product”.

I’m not totally happy with that as it is putting too much emphasis on the signifier rather than the signified in my opinion. I prefer a more experiential definition along the lines of : “a mental construct of the values, information and expectations an entity, created by experience”.

But whatever definition we use, the question of what we consider to be a brand remains. The term ‘brand’ is being used with increasing frequency in the media and is applied to all manner products, services, organisations, political parties, religions and even people.  But what do you think are the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be considered ‘a brand’?