What is brand? It’s the question that is asked over and over again—by both those in the industry and out. And unfortunately, there is not one clear answer. Brand is a nuanced and organic concept: it’s sometimes defined as your reflection in the world, or your differentiation, or the experience you give your customers. And all of that is true. Even the word “brand” is used (or misused) in many contexts—sometimes as a replacement for the term “logo” or even “company”—furthering the ambiguity around the concept.
So this is my take on defining brand. I hope you find it useful and maybe it will make brand a little more clear in your mind.
Brand is the story you tell the world about your company.
The reason I take a storytelling approach to brand is because it is an easily relatable concept that is basic to human culture. As humans, we have a natural disdain for uncertainty. We long to make sense of the world around us. Storytelling—and branding—help us create constructs our mind can easily comprehend and understand. Branding thus creates a simplicity of definition; a shortcut for our brains to use to determine whether we want to associate with a particular company.
Every brand is made up of two major pieces:
The promises you make to those interacting with your brand
The experience you create to deliver on those promises
Within these two pieces, there are more a few layers: visuals, language, and the experience touchpoints—experienced in that order by your audiences.
Layer One: Visuals
The first layer of your brand is your visual brand identity. It is made up of the visuals you choose to use as a reflection of your company:
Imagery/photos & editing style
Many people do not realize, but the visuals of your brand are part of the promise your company is making to those interacting with your brand. Just as words communicate, so do visuals. And in fact, the reason visuals are the first layer of your brand is because psychologically, your brain perceives visuals before it perceives language. So, as you are choosing the visuals for your brand, they should be a reflection of the story you want to tell the world. They should begin to make promises to the viewer about what they can expect from experiencing your brand.
Layer Two: Language
The next layer of the brand is language. After visuals, it’s the next cue our brains pick up on. Your brand language is made up of things like:
Your brand’s name
Core messaging like who you are, what you do, why it matters
Again, your language should wrap into the story you want to tell about your business. You are literally making promises here through the words you use to communicate the value of your brand to those interacting with you. But you are also making subtle promises through your name and the tone you use in writing copy for your brand.
Layers Three and Beyond: Experience
Layer one and two make up your brand identity. The next layer (or really layers) are the touchpoints that make up the experience you create to deliver on your promises. They also continue to tell your brand story. Every brand’s experience layers are different. And in fact, every single person who experiences your brand is getting a different version of layers 3+. The layers could be in a different order, or even different touchpoints all together. It’s your job to create as much consistency in these layers as possible, leading back to your brand story every chance you get. This will further solidify the positive associations someone has with your brand and ideally, create brand loyalty.
How much value does a brand add? The answer to that question has always been difficult to quantify, but our updated analysis of brand strength and financial performance shows that strong brands consistently outperform the market average.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
When you create consistency from your brand story, to your brand promises, to your brand experiences, you are building a strong brand. And strong brands outperform weak ones. Conveying a clear, consistent story that is true to your core will resonate with those who chose to interact with your brand—and will create the deep connection you need to achieve success.