What is a Brand?

So, the end result of STP (Segment, Target and Position) is the brand. An effective brand speaks to the consumer without “saying” anything. So, what is a brand exactly? There are as many definitions of brand as there are brands. Ohio State University believes a brand is best defined as “a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.” Whether that perception is hope (Make A Wish Foundation), quality (Apple), trust (Prudential), or savings (Dollar General), a well-crafted brand exudes that perception in the minds of consumers at the snap of a finger. For our purposes, we will define a brand as “effective positioning in the minds of consumers.”

A common misconception is that brands are owned by companies as discussed in my article earlier this week. Brands—and the companies behind them—are owned, kept and stored in the minds of consumers. A brand is what a consumer thinks, or perceives the brand to be. The relationship between brand and consumer is much like that between teacher and student. If a brand learns from consumers, effectively segments the market, chooses the right target, the right photographs, the right promotions, the right in-store materials and puts the right messages in the marketplace, consumers will gladly reward it. That brand then has a valuable piece of real estate in the consumer’s mind. A brand that doesn’t do its homework will be quite dour when the annual report (card) arrives.

So how does we instill these “perceptions?” A brand isn’t a giant banner for a company to hide behind; it is the company itself—folded into a nice, neat package. It is made up of the right spokespeople, the right imagery, the right promotion, the right in-store materials; it is the company culture, the treatment of employees, corporate social responsibility, and the most important factor of all: the quality and benefits of the company’s products/services relative to its competitors. Nice packaging—logos, colors and slogans—help, but no kid on Christmas wants a pretty box with a lump of coal inside.

So, we do our homework, make great products, present ourselves well and donate to those in need. The brand takes form. It looks like smooth sailing, but the report card arrives with a big B minus. Turns out, the brand down the street has been around longer and does everything better. Of course you realize, this means… competition!

Now, there’s different elements involved here. We obviously want to build points of difference for our target market, but we shouldn’t forget about points of parity. They might not be central to the meaning of the brand or the positioning of the product, but they’re important to have against some frame of reference. So, we’ll talk about some examples of that. It’s not: You’re different than who?

For example, Datril can go up against Tylenol and say “I’m a better acetaminophen product,” or they can choose to position themselves as “I’m an acetaminophen product that’s better than aspirin; if you’re an aspirin user buy acetaminophen and buy my product.” If we target the acetaminophen user, we must differentiate ourselves from acetaminophen, and our frame of reference might be Tylenol. If we target the aspirin user, we must differentiate ourselves from aspirin, our frame of reference is now aspirin products.

Finally, there has to be a reason why. There’s going to be some reason why people believe what you’re saying about your point of difference compared to whatever the competitive frame of reference is that you have.