Lisa Merriam

What is a Brand?

You can find dozens of academic definitions of what constitutes a brand. In today’s competitive world, you have to cut past the academic and get practical. So what is a brand? The answer is really quite simple.

Brand isn’t a name or a logo; it is what your customer thinks and feels about your company or product.



Anyone can copy your product, mirror your distribution network and match your price. What they can’t copy is your reputation. Ideas are what inspire and direct your reputation. While companies without ideas can try to copy your brand by adopting a name, logo or product claim like yours, they can’t take your reputation.

If brands are about reputation, why are things like names, logos and taglines so important? These things are important both as ingredients to and expressions of reputation. Building your reputation requires that you consider all the brand ingredients and get them working together in a complete, coherent and coordinated way:

Story: For people to believe in your reputation, to care about it and be motivated by it, they must first connect to it. Throughout the ages, stories have been the cornerstone of communication, teaching and motivation. From Aesop’s fables, the parables of the Bible, Norse Sagas, stories impact hearts and minds. They provide not just information, but context and emotion. Your brand story is the cornerstone of all your communications. The history of your brand, the anecdotes of problems (yours and your customers) overcome, innovations achieved, and funny experiences create interest and understanding and make your brand more human, real and accessible. Just like a person’s reputation is partly built on where they are from, who their parents are, what they studied in school, so is brand built on such details and lore.


Brand Strategy: Strategy is concerned with the purpose and position—the “why” of your brand. Why does it exist? Why does it matter? What does it stand for? And why should anyone prefer it, come back to it time and time again—even when other brands cost less money? Brand strategy refers to the answers to these important questions.

Identity: Identity is what describes, distinguishes, and represents your reputation. In branding, it is more than a name and a logo. Reputations are built through all the senses. Colors, shapes, textures, symbols, sounds, words, style, and more, all contribute to the creation of a distinctive and robust identity.

Brand Architecture: Brand architecture deals with the number of brands in your portfolio and their relationship to one another and to the parent company. It is a crucial part of brand strategy as expressed through brand design. A well-managed portfolio of brands builds value while eliminating confusion, waste and missed opportunities. You’ll need to understand all your brand assets and how to best put them to work in relationships that earn you the greatest market share and market value.

Brand Implementation: Brands are not static concepts. Customers, consumers, users, all interact with your brand in some way. They experience it through communications like advertising, through packaging or facilities (even virtual ones, such as the Web), by contact with employees, and through actually using your product and service. To have advertising say one thing and the customer service representative behave in a different way, and to have the product feel like something else will confuse or alienate your customer. Making sure all of these experiences align in a coherent way to give one consistent brand experience is critical to building a strong reputation.

Brand Leadership: Good reputations don’t just happen. They don’t emerge from committees or uncoordinated actions of different departments. They require deliberate action from someone with the vision and authority to make things happen. In most companies around the world, brand reputation is the ultimate responsibility of the Chief Operating Officer or equivalent topmost executive. Such a leader fully understands the concept of brand and its importance to the well being of his company. He creates management structures, processes and tools to make sure a positive and strong brand reputation is created, maintained, and grown. Every valuable global brand enjoys this kind of leadership, as does every brand on the fast track for profitable growth.

Knowing What Works: To steer your brand through time, keeping it at the top of the heap, maintaining relationships with customers, you have to be able to measure what is working. And you have to understand why. That’s where brand measurement comes in. You need to know the indicators of brand success and know how to react to that information.

The world’s most successful brands work hard to make sure they execute on all these elements to the best of their ability. Marketplace success simply demands it.