What is a Brand?

I asked my father, Carlos Hidalgo, to write the following guest post.  I find myself quoting my father quite a bit these days, not just on issues of business, but also on issues of life. This post provides tried and true insights to answer the question, “What is a Brand”.  You can read more about my dad and his company via his LinkedIn profile.

Brands are unique and differentiated sets of associations that create relationships with intended targets. Why are they important to customers and prospects?

  • They create convenient “shortcuts” to decision making.
  • They create expectations about the product and service experience.
  • They create expectations about quality and value.
  • They help manage uncertainty by ensuring the predictability of outcomes.
  • They help users express themselves.
  • They are vehicles through which users align themselves with ideas, principles, values and benefits that are important to them.

A Brand is not advertising, a logo or a positioning line (“I’m lovin’ it”, for example).  It is more than just a product name. A Brand is a covenant with the customer.  This covenant must convey a series of expectations and a predictability which, when consistently met, sets up the Character and Integrity of the Brand. A Brand consists of three parts:

  1.  Physical Attributes.
  2. Style
  3. Character

The first two can be more flexible; the third cannot, because Character (Integrity) cannot be flexible.

Physical Attributes
The Physical Attributes of the Brand describe how well the Brand performs.  Attributes include physical appearance (How good-looking is it?); value (what is this worth to me?); price (how much does this cost?); selection (how wide a variety do I have to choose from?).  The problem with keying only on physical attributes when developing a Brand is that when a Brand with better physical attributes comes along, users will often “follow the piper”.

Style sets the tone of the Brand. It’s the first step toward helping to create an emotional relationship with the customer. Style can be serious, fun or down-to-earth. Style helps determine if the Brand is compatible with the customers’ own sense of who they are.  For example, Lenovo, HP, and Dell all have many of the same Physical Attributes, but their Styles are very different.

Physical Attributes and Style, although important, do not create a Brand. A Brand is ultimately created by its Character.  Character is based upon the observers’ understanding of the Brand’s values. Only when this happens, does the Brand resonate, and begin the process of developing long lasting relationships.

  • Character cannot be communicated. It must be witnessed; it is based on personal observation.
  • Communicating Character takes time. Physical Attributes and Style take seconds to communicate; communicating Character is a lengthy process.
  • Consistent performance over a period of time is essential for creating Brand Character.
  • All interaction with the Brand and all communication to its audience must consistently present the SAME SET OF VALUES. When this is accomplished over an extended period of time, the Character of the Brand is built. Brand communication must be consistent today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.
  • The Brand must have a protector: “My job at Coca-Cola is to be the protector and champion of this glorious Brand.” – Roberto Goizueta former Coca-Cola CEO.

Whether you know it or not, your company or organization is a Brand. The question is, “Is it a strong or a weak Brand?”  Strong Brands fulfill four primary objectives:

  1. They develop market leadership orientation. They choose where and how they lead; they develop core competencies; they value market leadership, strong financial performance and competitive advantage.
  2. They deliver on focused Brand positioning. They focus their products and define their markets appropriately; they deliver an integrated and consistent Brand experience—product, quality, service, price, relationships, etc. (“They walk the talk”).
  3. They provide unique equity association. They are always linked to positioning in everything they do and say; they have both relevant and differentiated perceptions.
  4. They practice disciplined Brand management. There is a consistent approach to Brand management; there are tangible principles, tools and methods to guide the Brand; there is a tangible and measurable thorough database knowledge.

For a Brand to be successful, business strategies must flow from Brand positioning. Brand positioning is the single most important strategy a Brand can undertake.  Without a Brand Strategy, true success cannot be achieved. The following chart illustrates this point.

brand strat