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Corporate, product and service brands. What is a brand? Where does it exist?

Corporate and product brands:

- The corporate brand should be based on genuine qualities that exist in the company itself. Ideally, the corporate identity should reflect the company's culture, values and practices.

It's difficult or impossible for a competitor to duplicate your client's culture. Much easier to copy the product or service.

Product and service brands:

- When creating product and service brands you can exercise greater tactical freedom. Take a sharp, critical look at competitors in the market category. Then devise a brand identity that will differentiate you and appeal to consumers.

Yes, that product or service identity could be similar to the parent or corporate brand. A recognizable part of the family. But it doesn't have to be so, so long as it works.

Make your brand human.

That’s how people can remember and relate to it. How they become familiar with it, and come to like it.

And if your service is not all that different from the guy down the street, or the product on the shelf below, then it’s the personality of the brand that creates a distinction, a point of differentiation, a reason for people to buy it.

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McDonald's: The evolution of a brand icon and character.

And keep in mind …

- A brand is formed in the minds of consumers by many things: The experience consumers have with the product or the service. The sales and service people who represent the company. The packaging. And everything else that interacts with the audience. Advertising is just one of the things that shape a brand.

- The brand does not exist, inherently, in the company or product or service. A brand is what actually exists in the minds of the audience. And it can be anything from basic visual recognition, to a complex understanding of the personality of the product. Good, bad or indifferent.

- A brand is an intangible dimension of a product or service that can add value, that can influence purchase decisions, that people may be willing to pay more to posses.

- A brand may or may not have an emotional aspect to it. Most do not.

- Don’t portray the brand as something it is not. A brand must be an honest reflection of reality.

Example: Hip technology, apart from the crowd. Think different and Jeff Goldblum. Works great for Apple computers. Won’t work for General Electric.

Example: Fashionable, young, smart and sassy. Works great for Swatch. Won’t work for China Telecom.

Example: Fun, lively, popular the world over. Works great for Coke. Won’t work for Citibank.

- If a brand has a bad reputation it does not deserve, address that issue directly. Be honest. And prove how it is wrong.

Positioning vs. branding

For your consumer, a product's "position" is that one simple thing that first comes to mind or heart. The "brand" is everything else. From appearance to reputation. From personality to values ... such as 'this product stands for quality and reliability.'

The mysterious realm of the Real World.

Think of some brands. Could be Sony or McDonald's. Microsoft or Nestlé. Maybe Yahoo. Now think of those brands, or one of their products, as a person.

Get real here, the way you really think and feel. Go beyond generalizations like, "young, exciting, professional," or the like.

If you are like most people you either don't see, or you quickly forget, most brands. And most brand advertising.

Some brands you recognize, but don’t really know.

Of those you know, some you like, some you love, some you detest.

Some brands, like some people, are a part of your life. You may even love them. And want to be with them forever.

Those are the brands you know very well. And by owning or using them, well, it says something about you. Just like the kind of people you know or have met.

There are probably other brands you would like to bring into your life. Brands you aspire to posses. Because they would say something about who you are by virtue of association. "Hey, check out my genuine Rolex, man. Yeah, I'm makin' the big bucks."

Or more quietly, "I think I'll buy the brand Zed pharmaceutical instead of the less expensive generic. That way I feel I'm getting the best. And nothing is more important than taking care of my health."

The artistry in all of the above lies in creating a brand that has a relationship with consumers, one that fulfills a genuine psychological need, one that is meaningful in human terms. Like a good friend. Or interesting person. Or someone you admire or would like to associate with.

Lots of talk. Little agreement about branding.

You might, for example, hear a senior staffer on the brand marketing team at a Fortune 200 firm say, "The brand is logo, that's what 'brand' means, just the logo."

Or if you click around the Web you can read about "The domino theory of branding", "The cultural theory of branding" or even the "Unified theory of branding."

What is a brand? Where does it exist?

What is a a corporate brand? Is that different from a computer product brand? Or a financial service brand?

Almost everyone has an idea, an informal definition of a "brand" floating around inside their heads.

You probably do as well. But it is surprisingly rare to find a marketing practitioner who can say, "This is how my company defines our 'brand, and this is how we manage that brand throughout our organization."

Go to any marketing meeting, and on one side of the table you'll find people who think "brand" means "logo and color scheme." On the other side of that same table you'll find those who believe that "brand" exists, evolves, in the hearts and minds of the audience.

It is important for client and creative to share a common understanding, a common definition of 'brand.' So if you don't have a clear definition, make that your first step.

Here's how some other people define 'brand.'

"A brand is the sum of all feelings, thoughts and recognitions - positive and negative - that people in the target audience have about a company, a product or service."

Steve McNamara, AdCracker.Com.

"A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller."

American Marketing Association
Dictionary of Marketing Terms

"A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer."

Colin Bates, BuildingBrands.com

"A brand is a living entity - and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures."

Michael Eisner, Disney