What is a Brand? What is it not? The “Outer Space Test”
Over the last almost 20 years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with all kinds of people in just about every variety of business that I can imagine. In that time, one of the things that I would get asked about the most, particularly from small business people and entrepreneurs, was about the word “brand.” And more specifically, what “brand” meant.
What is a brand?
What is branding?
It’s a word that seems to have accelerated in terms of its use. Everybody seems to be talking about their brand now, their personal brand. People in big corporations and politicians representing companies even talk about the power of their brand, the value of their brand.
But, if you’re a small business person just looking to keep the lights on day after day, or just trying to move yourself forward to carve that niche and that identity in your specific market, what does it mean? What is brand?
What a Brand Is Not
Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not, or at least three things that could be part of it, but don’t necessarily define it.
1. A logo. A logo is not a brand.
2. A slogan or a gimmick. A slogan is not a brand.
3. Something that you buy.
These can all go into being part of a brand, but they don’t necessarily define it.
What a Brand Is
A brand is essentially a story.
I first heard this from Gair Maxwell, good friend of mine. His flagship teaching that he takes all around the world is, “The Branding Highway.” And Gair first shared with me Karen Post’s comment on this from her book “Brain Tattoos,” that a brand is “a story embedded in the mind of the market.”
Think about that for a second, because when people think about brand, they think about logos, they think about a slogan or a gimmick, or something that they can just accelerate really quickly and throw a lot of money at in buying a bunch of ads. Now, you can fuel a brand by doing that, but what you’re really fueling … is the story.
And here’s the trick; you don’t necessarily get to decide exactly what that story is. Because as soon as you start communicating outward, it’s the people that hear about you, see you, read about you; they’re going to start to form that story in their mind of what they think you represent.
Think about what you want that story to be, and then act in accordance with that over and over and over and over again, forever and ever, amen. And not just in your advertising, but in everything that you do with your business.
The Outer Space Test
I’ll give you a few examples. This is a bit of an imaginative exercise, but it might help drive the point home in terms of how important the story is in identifying a brand.
Say for example, you’re like Buck Rogers from the 25th century. You arrive from outer space, but you somehow can speak perfect English, and can communicate with everybody here on Earth. But otherwise, you have no context of any business at all. You don’t know a Starbucks from a Google.
So, you’ve rocketed in from outer space. You stop off for a rest in your travels here on Earth, and some earthlings start talking to you about some really powerful brands. Let’s suppose they say to you, “Hey there, Buck Rogers. We’ve got three really well-known businesses here and I wonder if you could tell me successfully what the businesses are versus what industry category they’re in?”
The three business are:
The categories are:
3. Computers & technology
You tell me which one goes with the other. And remember, you’ve just rocketed in from outer space. You don’t have any context. There’s no story built up. You can only see the names and logos. One of them is an actual apple with a bite out of the side, isn’t it? One is a great big “M,” the golden arches. And then there’s the Ferrari emblem with that really slick-looking horse thing.
So you look at that and you think, “Okay. One of these is representative of food. One of them is representative of automobiles. And one of them is representative of computers and technology.”
With No Story, There’s No Brand Recognition
Well, if you looked around at all, you might notice that a lot of the dealerships, the big stores that sell cars, all seem to be named after some sort of family. I don’t know about you, but I’d look around and I’d think, “Well, probably McDonald’s would go well with this category of business: McDonald’s Motors. McDonald’s Chevrolet. McDonald’s Ford. McDonald’s Toyota.”
Doesn’t that sound right, if you had no context?
I’d look at a word like “Ferrari,” which ironically is a family name related to automobiles. You and I know that, but if you’d just rocketed in from outer space, doesn’t that look sorta slick, sleek, innovative, fast? I’d guess that was the computer and technology company.
The most obvious one would be the one called “Apple.” It must be related to food. Wouldn’t it?
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Without any story, without any context, there’s no value to the brand. It’s just a name. It’s just a logo. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend with some creative consulting firm on a really snappy little logo, if there’s been no story built behind it.
What Do Next?
So what can we do about it as small business owners and managers and entrepreneurs?
Think about what you want the story behind your business name to be. A logo could be a part of it. A slogan could be a part of it. And certainly, you can buy all kinds of different advertising options to fuel that. But, it’s going to help you if you think forward what you want that story to be.
What do you want me to think about automatically when I hear your name or business name?
What is a brand, and what is it not?
It’s not just a logo. It’s not just a slogan. It’s not necessarily something you can buy. It’s a story. And without a story, you’ve got no context. Which means, have you really got a brand?
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