“Strictly speaking, brands do not exist. You can’t extract them from the earth, craft them in a workshop, manufacture them with industrial robots in a state-of-the-art facility, or fabricate them with a 3-D printer. You can’t put one in your pocket, grow it on a farm, put a fence around it, fling it through a window, or leave it at a restaurant by accident. You can’t even download a brand. A brand is nothing but an idea.”
—Rob Walker, from the forward to Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman
What is a brand? Is there a single definition? Everyone in the marketing and design business seems to have a canned answer for this very question whenever it arises. Everyone agrees that having a brand is important, but confusion arises when trying to define the characteristics of a successful brand. A brand can be a logo. It can be a website. It can be a company’s personality, catchy slogan or sound byte. However, it isn’t only those things.
This rampant lack of consensus led me to several books that accepted the monumental challenge of defining the concept of “brand.” One such book was Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, written by Debbie Millman.
Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for 25 years as an artist, educator and brand consultant. She is the president of the design division of Sterling Brands and the president emeritus of the AIGA. Her book is a collection of one-on-one conversations between herself and other leaders in the design or marketing field.
In each discussion, she uncovers fresh explanations of branding from each individual’s point of view and underlines the importance of its place in our modern marketplace.
Because of the book’s conversational nature, Debbie Millman can strategically highlight specific points of dialogue to hammer home her base point: Branding, although unanimously agreed upon as necessary, is still vastly misunderstood conceptually in the modern marketplace.
So, back to the original question: What is a brand? Here are just a few of the many noteworthy responses on the very subject according to leaders in the industry.
“I think the biggest misconception is that people typically think their logo is their brand, and they believe that if they redesign their logo, they’ve somehow managed their brand. The logo is irrelevant. The logo is a nice foundation, and it’s an identifier. But it’s not a brand. A brand is not necessarily visual. It’s a promise of an experience.”
— Sean Adams, cofounder, AdamsMorioka
“People who aren’t very experienced with branding, or are new at it, sometimes feel that they can get away with something being off-brand. But I think that genuinely good branding involves an examination of every single way the brand, the product, and the experience is viewed. Everything that you do, everything you release, everything you say — EVERYTHING is a cumulative expression of your brand.”
— Stanley Hainsworth, former creative director, Nike
“Fundamentally, branding is a profound manifestation of the human condition. It is about belonging: belonging to a tribe, to a religion, to a family. Branding demonstrates that sense of belonging.”
— Wally Olins, chairman, Saffron Brand Consultants
“Branding is a process of meaning manufacture that begins with the biggest, boldest gestures of the corporation and works its way down to the tiniest gestures.”
— Grant McCracken, anthropologist, cultural commentator
“I believe that ‘brand’ is a stand-in, a euphemism, a shortcut for a whole bunch of expectations, worldview connections, experiences, and promises that a product or service makes, and these allow us to work our way through a world that has thirty thousand brands that we have to make decisions about every day.”
— Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur, marketing guru
Brand Thinking successfully showcases the many fringe perspectives on the concept of branding. Whether it’s approached from a business, marketing, design or even cultural perspective, branding should never be defined by just a package or a logo. Brands exist as a perception.