A Working Definition of Brand

The term brand has become increasingly popular and progressively misunderstood over the past few years. Throughout this time, I’ve read numerous books, articles and thoughts about what a brand is. Some have been enlightening, some have been confusing and other have just missed the boat completely. In the interest of clarity and in the hopes of conversation, I’ve decided to publish a working definition of what I mean when I say brand.

By no means is this complete or a crack at a definitive definition to end all debate. Instead, it’s intended to be a jumping off point for conversation, interaction and cerebral wrestling with the concept. It’s the best I have right now and my attempt at a contribution that brings clarity to this erudite concept in non-elusive language.

What Is a Brand?

A brand is a relationship. An incarnational, evolving and emotional relationship that exists uniquely between an audience and an organization.

It’s incarnational because a brand lives within you and within your audience as a gut feeling. Brand is present in every interaction you have as an omnipresent and ubiquitous expression of a deeper relationship.

It’s evolving because a brand is a living, breathing thing that is beautifully imperfect, fallible and unfinished.

It’s emotional because a brand is a relationship with people and people are sensitive, intuitive beings who develop deep feelings about who you are and why you matter.

SEE ALSO: Do We Really Need Another Branding Book?

A brand isn’t a logo. A brand isn’t a visual identity system. A brand is not a product. A brand is not advertising. And, most importantly, your brand isn’t just what you say it is. Although these artifacts can signal us back to a broader capital “B” Brand, they aren’t a substitute for what a brand truly is.

No, to me, brand is synonymous with relationship. Relationship is how we make sense of the world around us. Relationship is how we, as humans, relate to the products and companies we purchase on a daily basis. For me, relationship is the only word that makes sense in the grand scheme of what I’m trying to say when I use the term brand.

So, what does brand mean to you? When you use the term, what are you trying to say? Where is my definition wrong? Where does my definition strike a chord?

  • http://www.davidmcqueen.co.uk davidmcqueen

    Lovely definition.
    I besseech you to write one on the notion of personal branding

    • Jeremiah Gardner

      Hey David…thanks for the comment. I don’t think I need an entire post to define personal branding. In my mind, here it is: Personal Branding = Person. The difficulty in “personal branding” is not in discovering the “person” in it, it’s a matter of being able to be honest, transparent and extremely articulate about “person.” I’m not sure if “personal branding” isn’t just a myth or a terminology we’ve applied to something else.

      • http://www.davidmcqueen.co.uk davidmcqueen

        I was being tongue in cheek but your response was on point.

        • Jeremiah Gardner

          Hey David. I apologize if I was too frank. Funny thing is…I just finished a talk about the myth of “personal branding.” So my response was probably centered in that. So glad to connect with you.

  • Sasha Racette

    I believe the word “personality”
    may provide a better description; although relationship is a great jumping off point
    as mentioned. Focusing on personality you
    can encompass the unique character of an organization, product, and even
    individual. Based on the personality or
    character of an item, company, or person – THEN we can determine the type and
    depth of relationship we would like to pursue. Therefore in my option, the route definition
    of brand is better described by personality.

    • Jeremiah Gardner

      Personality is certainly a relational aspect of brand. You’re right, some products have their personality latent within and the job of the brand is to harvest that personality. I think in other cases, the personality isn’t as forward and the exploration of relationship can lead us to that discovery. Glad to engage over this definition. I think it’s a great thing to continue to work through.

  • Chuck Kent

    I don’t know if “relationship” is a complete definition, but I appreciate the embrace that suggests of multiple players constantly defining and redefining a brand. I’ve long subscribed to the basic “a brand is a promise,”but the era of marketing monologue out of which that emerged has obviously shifted to one of dialogue and co-creation. To me, the business tension lies in how marketers can both drive a business (via the intentional positioning, identity, etcetera that establishes and communicates their promise) and also now invite consumers along not just for the ride, but as co-drivers who have the means to constantly redirect a brand’s personality, voice, presence…

    I also like your use of incarnational which hints at creating more of a brand theology, an experience-driven brand belief system if you will, than a hard and fast definition.

    • Jeremiah Gardner

      Hey Chuck! I love the term “brand theology.” What an interesting way to talk about an internal belief system about the relationships both within and without an organization. I agree that brand really exists in a sort of intersection between co-creators (audience and organization). I think these are both concepts to continue to wrestle with for sure. Thanks for the conversation. I look forward to continuing it.

  • Dave

    I respectfully disagree. A relationship is a relationship. A brand is an identifiable entity that makes specific promises of value.

    • http://jeremiahgardner.com/ Jeremiah Gardner

      I can see your point…but how do people respond to this “identifiable entity?” What does a customer do with the “specific promises of value?” They either relate to them, or they don’t. Brand, as the relationship, recognizes the synchronicity between who you are (the entity) and who people (customers) want to become. IMHO, calling it just an entity removes it from the environment where it actually will create value.