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What is a Brand?

For you, what is a brand?

What do you think it will mean in the future, if it is changing?

And how, as graphic designers (or whomever) do you feel to contribute to both questions?

(I’m doing a small survey - so all non-textbook answers would be very interesting)

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ARCHIVE ID 1364 FILED UNDER Branding and Identity
PUBLISHED ON Feb.12.2003 BY damien
mchell’s comment is:

For me brand is the way we percieve (in every possible way) given organization. The brand corresponds to the label we try to put on everything we have contact with, so we can categorize things and put them in our mental models.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:29 AM
Jon’s comment is:

Well, I'll take a shot at this.

The way I view a brand, as trained by Landor�, is that it is basically a promise, made by a company to its various audiences, of values and emotions that that company embodies. Through this promise, it attempts to emotionally bond a customer to the company, instilling a sense of need, loyalty and recurrent patronage. In other words, the company essentially tries to be like its customers, adopting attributes — i.e. cool, aggressive, smart, thoughtful, environmentally-concerned — that attempt to mirror them, somewhat like the sociological idea that similar people get along and hang out together. A company can deliver on this promise by selling products or services that fit within these attributes.

The term branding bloomed large during the dot-com boom, when every graphic design firm suddenly became a branding consultant and specialist. Unfortunately, most missed the true boat on this. Witness all the dynamic logo swooshes and ads with ridiculous premises in hopes of getting their name known. Getting the name known is a small part of the battle. Getting it respected, establishing need from its customers and being viewed as different and better than the competition — that's the true test. Example: Pets.com. Who didn't love the sock puppet? Great name recognition. Amusing. I bought stuff from 'em. But, do I really need to order cat food overnight when it costs less to walk across the street to a grocery? So they failed in making themselves a necessary part of pet owners' lives. So promise unfulfilled = dead brand.

When all parts of a company work together to support the brand promise, then you have success. As a graphic designer, this means designing annual reports and ads (yeah, don't go there...) and logos and packages that use a consistent visual vocabulary. Don't indulge in your own personal graphic whims if it is not called for. Beyond the visual realm, however, there are SO many aspects to a brand's success that we must support and push for those other areas to be tackled as well. I can design a beautiful annual report but if the writing is off-brand, then the piece is unsuccessful. So we must be vigilant in supporting 'ancillary' activities to ours.

Always remember, a brand must follow the audience, rarely the other way around. Think how Nike moves and evolves its language and visuals over the years. Think how Reebock held on to the 80's aerobic trend far too long. Think how Apple held the arrogant belief (and still holds to some degree) that they are better and everyone will eventually realize this. Think about their 5% market share. In the end, if the brand does not stay true to its audiences, and loses its relevance to them, it will fade.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:32 AM
brook’s comment is:

i think that is very well said, especially noting that brand is not solely a visual thing.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:35 AM
Damien’s comment is:

Jon -

Can I ask - then did/does Napster have a brand?


On Feb.12.2003 at 11:36 AM
brook’s comment is:

Think how Apple held the arrogant belief (and still holds to some degree) that they are better and everyone will eventually realize this. Think about their 5% market share.

i'd like for you to explain how this is expressed in their brand. and didn't you say above that making a company appear better than it's competitors is one of the goals of branding? i'm not exactly sure what your intentions are on this one.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:44 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

To me, a brand is a company that provides me with a product and/or service that is reliable, simple and efficient, and offers intelligent and dedicated customer support. Once the product or service has proven itself to be indespensible, it may sound cheesy, but it becomes more of a friend than a product or service. Examples? Apple, Audi, Adobe, Nextel, Ebay, Netflix, FedEx, CNN, Amazon, Google, The New York Times, and NPR to name a few.

In the future I think the brands that adhere to the above principles (among others) will remain in business. Quality will succeed. Common sense and personality will prevail.

Designers will continue to make a brands image reflect these principles which if done intellgently will result in the success of that brand.

While we are on the subject of branding, did anyone see the recent k10k.net post of the following URL?

I found it to be a great resource.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:48 AM
Damien’s comment is:

Kiran - thats an excellent link. Thanks.

Brook - Apple's seemingly arrogant stance is present both in its position in the marketplace and how it behaves.

A: it produces very high quality designed products for a very small percentage of the total market. One would say that this in itself is a little 'confident'. Companies like Dell and Gateway choose to have larger marketshare and thus design and develop for a wider spread of audience and therefore make concessions in the areas Apple doesn't

B: Whilst it has often responded to customer feedback, like with the mouse and so on - Apple still does what it likes and how it likes. But then Apple is responsible for a lot of the innovation in the marketplace and as such it perhaps needs to dictate things a little - and if you talk to loyal Apple customers - you'll learn that they generally accept that.

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:57 AM
brook’s comment is:

ok. i agree with that. i'm not sure if 'arrogance' ever enters the equation though. i think mr. jobs, and their marketing people, truly believe they are targeting a significant market.

i also dont believe there is room for another HP or DELL or other generic manufacturer, the margins are just too slim. but the two of them will continue to do fine. APPLE and SONY are two that are taking the high design - higher price - higher margins approach, which also seems valid. and us designers, we are definitely a little more concerned about how our products look and interact with us.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:06 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Between this and the art vs. graphic design topic, we might as well ask things like "what's the meaning of life?"


'Brand' refers to all sorts of things. When graphic designers work with 'brands' they are typically working with the brand's visual identity. Translating whatever message the brand is supposed to be communicating into visual collateral.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:13 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

ok. i agree with that. i'm not sure if 'arrogance' ever enters the equation though. i think mr. jobs

Oh...I should add that the terms 'Mr. Jobs' and 'Ego' go hand-in-hand. ;o)

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:14 PM
Armin’s comment is:

This is going to be fun.

First of all, I think the term "brand" is used way too loosely and freely nowadays and it has sort of lost meaning and importance. It is used very often just to get a marketing manager or CEO to listen to us designers. But that's another issue.

Brand, to me, is an all encompassing attribute of a business, service, company, even people. Brand is images, colors, words, sounds, values, message, everything that gives a company its identity. Even the target audience is part of the brand, think of Gap and all the pretty people, they go hand in hand. Or Abercrombie and semi-nude, young hotter-than-Gap people. Branding is even the way employees dress (Sephora's all black women) or greet you when you enter a store.

Branding is the tangible result of a business or strategic plan. Good or bad.

>The way I view a brand, as trained by Landor�

Landor has their own copyrighted definitions of what a brand is. It's an Interesting read.

>Always remember, a brand must follow the audience, rarely the other way around.


>I can design a beautiful annual report but if the writing is off-brand, then the piece is unsuccessful.


>and ads (yeah, don't go there...)

Ha. I wholeheartedly agree.

>Identity Works link

Hey! we brought it to you before K10K : ). Just browse through the comments of this post.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:15 PM
Damien’s comment is:

So what about Movies? Don't they, in a way create some sort of brand, albeit often a disposable brand?

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:17 PM
Jon’s comment is:

did/does Napster have a brand?

Yes, but it was based on an illegal premise. A brand can be a negative one. It certainly wasn't a sustaining brand, primarily because it wasn't a legal way to conduct business, and it got shut down. (Don't go off on me about this; whether you like Napster or not, or hate the way record companies overcharge for CD's and are not adapting to newer delivery methods for music, deliberately distributing CDs off your computer is in violation of recording rights.) All that being said, it did exactly what its audience wanted - enabling free music 'distribution' between peer parties over the internet. It was relevant and worked well.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:17 PM
Damien’s comment is:

So to carry on Jon's answer to the Napster question - though I don't want to make this just a conversation between us -

Then you don't actually need a business to have a brand? It was almost when the need to create a business model out a legitimate way to use Napster was when its brand began to fade.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:21 PM
graham’s comment is:

to paraphrase kubrick: a brand is what i want it to be (if i'm working on it).

otherwise, a brand is what i want (if i like it).

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:29 PM
Jon’s comment is:

how this is expressed in their brand

I meant this in relation to Apple's products in the late 80's, early 90's. The original Mac was a hell of a product: all in one, small, friendly in appearance, with a great interface. Subsequent products (note, the company was run by John Sculley at this point) became what Apple had long promised to avoid: boring, beige desktops plus separate monitor with aging system software. They refused to allow others to produce computers using Apple's System (they did briefly, and it didn't last long), and they kept their price points way too high. Plus, they made it difficult for developers to produce software. Add this all together, and it equals "resting on one's laurels." A sure way to kill a brand's relevance and value in the marketplace. They just assumed that their audience would do as the company dictated.

Sony (good example, Brook), relies on this higher-priced model, but is always producing great products and putting new ideas into the marketplace. They don't always succeed — betamax, minidisc — but they are not simply resting on the success of, say, the walkman. Only in the last 5 years or so has Apple returned to trying to redefine the marketplace and produce products that did not exist — i.e. iMac — that would attract new customers. They still need to get the software developers back on their side, though. Ever walk into a computer store and try to buy programs for the Mac? Can't find 'em. CompUSA only has a VERY small selection. Even the Apple stores only have limited selections of software. They are caught in a catch-22: developers won't produce large volumes of software until the Apple marketshare increases, and the marketshare won't increase dramatically until a lot of software is available.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:33 PM
Jon’s comment is:

you don't actually need a business to have a brand?

They had a business — there were employees, someone running servers and the website, people answering phones, etc. — it just wasn't making any money. A brand can be very shortlived, and its strength can waver over time. Like I said, it's really just a promise to your customers. If you can no longer live up to that promise, you don't succeed. They tried to change their business model to one that their customer base didn't want, so, they failed to remain of value.

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:43 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Off topic

Sony is scrambling to build a product to compete with the iPod but they can't. They own content providers (records labels and movie studios) so without checking in and out media files on portable devices, they can't promote internal stealing! Interesting article in Wired a few issues ago. I looked but it's not online yet.

On topic

On Feb.12.2003 at 12:43 PM
Kevin’s comment is:

Just to be overly cynical, a BRAND is something you burn onto the hides of cows with a hot iron to indicate ownership.

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:02 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Then you don't actually need a business to have a brand?

Again, we're trying to define an intangible concept. If you equate 'brand' to being a 'promise' then you certainly don't need it to be owned by a business. It all depends on how far you want to stretch the definition, I suppose.

Add this all together, and it equals "resting on one's laurels." A sure way to kill a brand's relevance and value in the marketplace. They just assumed that their audience would do as the company dictated.

It didn't work for apple, but it certainly has worked for others. Quark, Microsoft, McDonalds, etc...

BTW, Jon, I disagree with your Apple market share comments, but that's yet another infinitely debatable topic that I'll save for the PC vs. Mac post. ;o) ;o) ;o)

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:52 PM
Jon’s comment is:

but it certainly has worked for others. Quark, Microsoft, McDonalds, etc...

I would argue that it will work only until someone chooses to provide better competition. Nobody's been able to challenge Microsoft (hence the antitrust cases). But McDonald's just posted its first quarterly loss EVER, and Adobe's InDesign has begun to get very good reviews for version 2. I think we may either see Quark get its act together finally or go the way of Pagemaker.

On Feb.12.2003 at 02:03 PM
brook’s comment is:

good comments about apple, jon. i definitely agree. they really surprised people with the iPod i think, it's become a cultural thing instead of just a product (like they did with the macs back in the day). its dominant in the marketplace, and its easily the best designed and most usable mp3 player. i think they have a bit of a trojan horse into other areas with it, like the handheld computer arena. their laptops also make a up a pretty large percentage of those sold in the US. much higher than their 5% or so overall. who knows.

one thing, apple is definitely in the top 5 most recognizable, memorable brands. i

On Feb.12.2003 at 02:27 PM
Damien’s comment is:

The Global Brand of the Year Award goes to...

as found by Interbrand.

If that doesn't work go to interbrand.com

On Feb.12.2003 at 02:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>apple is definitely in the top 5 most recognizable, memorable brands

There is a really interesting site that looks at the Superbrands. Where can you read it? Right here baby!

Damien, this might be an interesting site to further your survey.

On Feb.12.2003 at 02:41 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I would argue that it will work only until someone chooses to provide better competition. Nobody's been able to challenge Microsoft (hence the antitrust cases).

That's just because MS is a monopoly. So, yea, I suppose you are right. You can rest on your laurels when you are a monopoly...not really applicable to whether or not you have a good brand. (Qwest is another good example.)

But McDonald's just posted its first quarterly loss EVER

Well, they've saturated the market. Not much else they can do now to expand. Again, not really a brand issue.

and Adobe's InDesign has begun to get very good reviews for version 2. I think we may either see Quark get its act together finally or go the way of Pagemaker.

But, interestingly enough, Quark actually has a very bad brand. Everyone hates them as a company. The product is inferior to many others, yet they can just sit there making money hand over fist. (maybe it's the monopoly situation again where graphic designers basically support their monopoly.)

Again, this really doesn't seem to have anything to do with the brand debate...damn it...went off topic again... ;o)

On Feb.12.2003 at 03:17 PM
Damien’s comment is:

I guess, since a brand is what it is in your mind, it can change very quickly depending on the experience you have from day to day or in how you're influenced by others.

My experience of Adobe was knowing it starting up, litterally from when it had the old logo and wanted to have print shops. I always attributed the Adobe brand directly to the personalities I knew inside Adobe.

I used Photoshop and Illustrator and forgave all the product gliches because of my relationship with Adobe.

Then Photoshop 7 had a bug on OS X that I had to ask Adobe about. And the brand changed for me.

What I discovered was that there were a lot of anti-Adobe people out there. From those involved in the DMA to those who were loyal Macromedia product users.

And its funny that with something we use probably every day, being products that enable us to work and create - we do actually hold these brands in our mind quite highly (I imagine) - and so when we talk of Apple, Microsoft, Quark and Macromedia we seem to think of them as people, personalities and so on - and judge them on their behaviour.

Which goes back to the promise thing I guess.

And that inspight of its size, Adobe does hold some very solid principals based on its founders personalities and principals. Much like Jobs is part of the brand for Apple.

On Feb.12.2003 at 03:29 PM
Jon’s comment is:


I don't think you are off topic at all. I think brand plays a role in both Quark's and McDonald's situations. It may not be the total equation, but certainly part of it. The argument could be made that McDonald's tried to stretch its brand too far — into salads and extra value meals, for example — instead of focusing on ensuring the consistency of experience and quality of food between restaurants. Nothing turns a restaurant consumer off faster than a dirty environment, so maybe they should have done a better job keeping their interiors in better shape. All of this affects the brand, because it affects what is in a consumers mind, and that's where the brand ultimately lives or dies.

On Feb.12.2003 at 03:40 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Good points, Jon.

On Feb.12.2003 at 04:33 PM
Matt Wright’s comment is:

A "brand" is a distinctive product or company. So how do you make a company distinctive? Branding. I think the concept of branding is changing all the time. In the current corporate landscape, where consumer confidence is beginning to crumble, companies are trying to rethink their branding strategies. It is becoming more and more important that a company must project to the public that it exits for more reasons than just making a profit. So the concept of "branding" is being looked over very closely. The trick of this whole thing is to make a company and/or product unique from its competition by giving it a personality and attaching value that keys into its audience. Brands that are unique are obvious, and most often have a siginificantly smaller audience or hold tremendous value. I think we can all agree that Apple is the most unique brand of personal computer. It has a certain personality that we could all describe and as graphic designers we are attracted to that personality. So associating yourself with a "brand" is sort of like making friends. If you dont like to get wasted every friday, chances you're not going to hang out with a bunch of frat dudes. You don't share the same values as them. Just take a look at the big PC manufacturers. There's really no reason to buy one over the other except for price. If you're buying an Apple, its for a different reason. As far as where a graphic designer fits in? Sometimes we might have a say in what the brand tries to communicate, but I imagine most often we don't. So essentially its just a graphic designers job to express the brand strategy visually.

And thats all I have to say about that.

On Feb.12.2003 at 05:12 PM
anthony’s comment is:

For one, when I think of "brand" I do not think it has to be tied to a company or product in the traditional sense, people do personal branding all the time, the way you dress the things you say the way you act is all part of your personal brand. Smart people like smart companies see this and react to it by making what they do and say count and trying to make it work for them in ways others may not be, and take advantage of it. I think it is interesting to think about who makes the brand for companies? Is it the company or the consumer? Is it a chicken and egg question that cannot be answered? I guess I would argue that companies conceive the brand based on what they want but if it is not right for their consumer it will fail, if the company is smart it adapts that brand to what the consumer wants. Just like the comment about Nike changing their language and look to fit the consumer, I think the Nike consumer creates the Nike brand at this point.

On Feb.12.2003 at 06:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Corporate Design Foundation's @Issue has some excellent articles on branding. Every issue (lamentably, only 2 a year) showcases big brands like W hotels and Fossil. They break it down very interestingly and tell the story not only from the designer's side, but also from the CEO's. They also report some of the effects the branding efforts had on their business. Good stuff.

On Feb.13.2003 at 08:52 AM
Tubby Trouble’s comment is:

Most comments are straying away from the assignment, to define a "brand."

Branding is an attempt to ...

(1) favorably differentiate a product, seller, service, or organization from alternative providers, and ...

(2) to accelerate communication of the purported package of benefits associated with #1 above, and

(3) to accelerate recognition, i.e., make it easier to select and buy.

For example, As a result of exposure to much expensive and clever effort, Volkswagen hopes when you hear their name alone, you will automatically consider that any vehicle they market is well-made; good value; plus shows you are a smart, ecologically-conscious buyer, and a "real driver." Theirs is a commercial brand; they hope prospects will want and buy their cars. But charities also brand, hoping you'll donate to their plate instead of, or prior to, the next guy's.

That's all there is to the definition. (1) Attempt to differentiate, (2) attempt to more quickly communicate the claims, (3) attempt to make it easier to spot and select.

There's more to be said on the subject, but I don't see anything else necessary for the definition. Did I miss something?

On Feb.14.2003 at 08:08 PM
felix’s comment is:

"brands" are what everyone called logos

and identities during the .com surge.

we know enough landor wanna bes.

ps- landor is blandor

On Feb.19.2003 at 12:16 AM
Laura’s comment is:

What is Brand?

Identifing crap.

What will it mean in the future?

I can't say, Big Brother is watching.

How do I contribute?

I 9-5 that garbage everyday. And I love watching the rest of the world breakfast, lunch and supper it up.

Hope this helps...ha

On Jun.25.2003 at 12:32 PM
armin’s comment is:

It's nice to know that our profession has people like you behind it Laura. Who uphold the values of design and embrace the power it has over the rest of the world.

Sad really.

On Jun.25.2003 at 02:37 PM
postal code’s comment is:

Count me in please.

On Jul.26.2003 at 12:17 AM