What is a Brand?

image of logo graphic with the word "logo"When business owners or professionals are asked about their organization’s brand, they typically think of logos and graphics, or possibly a tagline. That is because these icons of a brand are powerfully communicated to us as consumers.

Since we all consume so much marketing, the graphics and images used in advertising and other marketing materials become synonymous with “the brand”.

Brand Quiz

Look at the brands that follow. Take a moment to note what immediately comes to mind.

  • What visual/image first came to mind?
  • What words would you use to describe this brand?
  • Of the thoughts you note, which is the most important one word or phrase you would use to describe this brand if you were marketing or selling it?

Mercedes Benz



How did you answer?

For Mercedes did you say “Quality”? “Status symbol?” “Overpriced?” 

For McDonald’s? “Fast?” “Consistent?” “Yuck?”

Steelers? “Tough?” “Winners?” “Whiners?” 

Your ability to quickly answer these questions reveals that you understand brands. You may have instantly “seen” the Mercedes three-line crest/logo, the “golden arches” or the black and gold jersey or hypocycloids that make up the Steelers logo.

Attributes and Associations

Beyond those visuals/images, the fact that you could think of ideas that those names connote shows that the business activities of the brands have impacted your thinking. Perhaps the product (watching a Steelers game or riding in a Benz) shaped your thinking, perhaps the company’s advertising or messaging guided your answer (“I’m Lovin’ it”). Maybe others’ perceptions impacted your view (online reviews, complaints from a friend, etc.).

The answers I noted show a bit of how perspective matters in how one views a brand. If you drive a Mercedes and I drive a Ford, we may have very different views. If you have kids that eat when you take them to family night at McDonald’s your view will be very different from a family with dietary issues and allergies.

Guess what? I’m from Pittsburgh… so my answers might differ greatly from you on the Steelers. Especially if you are from Baltimore, Cincinnati, or Cleveland.

The reason I included “consistent” in the McDonald’s brand attributes list is that there was a time when this was one of the biggest brand attributes of McDonald’s. For many years, a McDonald’s sign on a long family drive meant consistency: a restaurant layout that the family recognized, a burger and fries the kids would eat (because it was exactly the same as the one 200 miles down the road) and clean bathrooms. Yes, really… clean bathrooms. (Brands change over time.)

A friend of mine lives in Cleveland. For years, he complained about how dirty, mean, and awful the Steelers were. Based on facts…so called. An occasional bad hit, a penalty that went against the Steelers, an injury that was attributed to a “dirty player”.

Here We Go

I, as a faithful Pittsburgher, could list brand attributes of the Steelers for days and not come up with “dirty” or “mean” on my list. My list would focus on the stability of the organization and ownership, the culture of winning, the skill of the defense, and so on…

So, is brand just in the eye of the beholder? Is our brand only valuable because the customer applies value? Yes and no. There is no way to completely overcome a potential customer’s perspective (or prejudice) about our brand.

However, the brand is not beholden to the viewer. The brand is the collection of attributes of an organization. Perspective doesn’t change this. It may assign differing values to the attributes, but the attributes are definitions or descriptors of what the organization embodies.

Let’s get back to my Cleveland friend. We once had a rational, rather than emotional, discussion about the Steelers and Browns (once). When talking more about the teams and owners and organizations, he admitted the attributes of toughness and stability and winning (rather than “whining”) of the Steelers. Those attributes go beyond perspective. He even admitted that he wished the Browns had some of the attributes of the Steelers. That’s a key factor of branding… it must communicate real and true attributes that anyone (almost) will acknowledge.

In the same way, the attributes of your organization are true, and not dependent on the perspective of the customer. Their experience and position affect their view, but not the brand.

To learn more, or if you need an assessment of your brand, contact us.


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