May 5, 2012 – Don’t be fooled by everyone who uses the word “brand”

In the past year and a half of consulting to entrepreneurs, I paid close attention to two things:

  • What entrepreneurs and small businesses think is their brand
  • How the experts and industry leaders talk about brand: how they define it and how they teach people (just like you) how to build a brand.

The summary of my observations.

  • You have been misinformed.
  • You have been misguided.
  • You have been fooled with smoke and mirrors.
  • … All because people have used or mis-used the “brand” word.

The importance of brands and branding

Yes, we can pick up any newspaper or magazine today and we’ll be bombarded with the importance of brands and the power of branding. The term ‘brand’ has become so popular and overused, that so-called ‘branders’ are simply slapping that word on to everything they do – because it actually helps them “sell” their products and services.

If you attended one of our BRANDSHARE EVENTS or listened to any one of my speaking presentations, you may be aware of what I’m about to tell you about what is a brand. If not, keep reading…

First, what a brand IS NOT

  • Marketing
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Website banners
  • Name of your business
  • Domain name/ URL
  • Products
  • Services
  • Color palette
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Facebook page
  • Twitter page
  • Pinterest board

While all of the above are important components of building a brand, they are NOT your brand.

Let’s take a closer look at this

  • For graphic designers, they might encourage you to create a logo to establish your brand
  • For web designers, they might encourage you to design and develop a beautiful website to create your brand
  • For marketers, they might tell you that your brand is your message
  • For social media experts, they might tell you your brand is based on your presence online and across various social media touchpoints
  • For internet marketers, they might tell you to buy this .com and that .com and voila! That’s your brand!

Don’t get me wrong. I love and work well with every one of these professionals. We need them.

However, what I would like to point out is that “brand” seems to be a by-product of what they do. As opposed to what they actually do.

If you want to create a brand, start with a brand strategy. And, that’s where I come into the mix. As a brand strategist, I am not biased towards how you build your brand. In fact, I am mostly concerned that you have clearly articulated what your brand is/should be. And, that you have a clear strategy for what is “on-brand” vs. “off-brand” for you. Why? Because it will save you time and money down the road. You will be able to clearly prioritize what you should/should not do to build your brand.

Learn from Starbucks

In the early years of Starbucks, the Starbucks brand was centered on the experience. So, they intentionally did not invest much in advertising to promote their brand. Where do you think most of their financial investment went? Employee training and development. They knew that the baristas were going to be critical in creating the Starbucks experience.

I use this example to illustrate my point in terms of prioritization. Note: the Starbucks brand has evolved and they currently spend advertising dollars to support the new direction of their brand.

OKAY, so what IS “brand”?

Brand is “a desired perception.” If brand is a desired perception, then you do not own your brand. Your brand lives in the minds of the audiences you are communicating to. Branding then becomes the process for creating, influencing and shaping the desired perception.

Simple enough? No smoke and mirrors, right?


  • Part 1. Ask 5 people to define the term ‘brand.’. See what they come up with. See if it describes what ‘it’ actually is, or if they describe what it does or the value of it?
  • Part 2. Ask yourself: “What three words would I use to describe how I want people to perceive me”?
  • Part 3. Ask a friend, colleague, or client to describe his/her perception of you. Then, ask yourself, is it a match with how you want people to perceive you?

If not, please come back to this post and share with us your comments, so we know how to help you in our next blog post!