I’m teaching a course on the value of brand at Columbia University and I’ve struggled to find an easy way to help my students quickly and simply define a brand.
When you start researching definitions, you’ll find that there are many—and from dozens of respected experts and sources. But in a time-pressed, information-saturated world, what definition is the easiest to understand and remember? And what’s going to help folks easily apply the definition in the workplace?
What I’ve discovered is that there is no single best definition for brand. In fact, the definition should change depending on who you’re talking to. What resonates with a financial person may not resonate with a marketing person, or vice-versa. Your audience’s expertise, roles and responsibilities affect their perspective, what they understand and what they value. So to make the definition resonate, you describe it differently.
1. To financial people: a brand is a business asset that has to be protected and cared for like buildings, equipment or capital. An often-cited quote when explaining brand as a business asset comes from John Stuart, the former CEO of Quaker Oats: “If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trademarks, and I would fare better than you.”
2. To marketers: a brand is a promise to a customer that needs to be managed and cared for. David Aaker, renowned brand guru, states in his book Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success: “A brand is an organization’s promise to a customer to deliver what the brand stands for, not only in terms of functional benefits but also emotional, self-expression and social benefits.”
3. To colleagues in other lines of business: a brand is a perception that customers have in their mind based on the customer’s experience with the brand. Former Coca-Cola CMO Sergio Zyman defined a brand as “essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.”
Although, ultimately, all these definitions are accurate, the one you use makes a difference when you’re trying to get buy-in from different stakeholders for your brand-building initiatives. So is there one best definition of brand? No. But once you understand why there are so many definitions, it becomes a little easier to know which one—business asset, promise, perception—to choose.
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