What is “brand?”

The word “brand” is commonly used but often misunderstood. The term has evolved over time and now means several different things depending on the context.


The dictionary definition of “brand” is a 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.”


Historically, cattle ranchers used branding irons to indicate which animals were theirs. As the cattle were herded across the country it was easy to determine which rancher they belonged to because they were “branded.”


With the rise of consumer packaged goods, producers began putting their mark on products to indicate the source. In the late 1880s when Coca-Cola was getting started, the soda market was fairly saturated. Before the company could get customers to reach for a Coke they needed to make sure customers could distinguish a Coke from all the other fizzy, caramel-colored beverages on the market. In this sense of the word, brand is simply a non-generic name for a product, hence “brand names.”


As “brand name” eventually became “brand” in everyday language, it’s no wonder people don’t always distinguish between a brand name and a brand. By our industry’s definition, “brand” is more than just a brand name.


Put simply, a brand is what your customers think, feel and experience when they hear your name, see your logo or interact with your people, products and services. It is everything people think they know about your brand name – both factual and emotional. Your brand name exists objectively; it’s static. But your brand really only exists in people’s minds.


In this way, brand is at the heart of everything you do. It is you, it your business and it is everyone and everything you impact.


It isn’t just a logo, a name, a website or packaging. Brand is how all of those things work together and the mindset with which they’re delivered.


Brand should drive and connect every facet of your marketing, advertising and communications. It informs and inspires people because it has far more to do with your team and your customers than it does with your product offering.


Think about the companies that resonate with you. Is it because of one ad campaign or a single visit to a store? No. It’s because of an experience and an ongoing relationship. That feeling – that connection – is brand.


Brand, ultimately, is who we become in the minds of our customers, our partners and each of us.