The brand conversation continues. Pick up just about any business periodical and you will find an article about the power of branding and how more and more companies have recognized that branding is vitally important to their success.

It’s widely accepted that building a strong brand makes it easier for consumers to make buying decisions. In the highly fragmented and competitive world we live in, building a strong brand identity is the best way to differentiate your product or service offering. Unfortunately, too many companies talk about branding without really understanding what it is, and how to take full advantage of the tremendous power they can draw from their brand. In fact, there is often confusion about what constitutes a good branding strategy, so let’s start by asking a simple question “What is a brand?”

Many people see a brand as simply a collection of tangible images – the name, logo, slogan, package design, etc. But the truth is that a brand is much more than this. Professor David A. Aaker, Chairman Emeritus of the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley, coined one of the best definitions we have seen. He says, “A brand is a promise. It’s a pledge made to your customer that you will give them something for choosing your product or service…this time and every time you interact with them.”

A brand is a promise. It’s a pledge made to the customer.

Professor Aaker makes two important points to keep in mind about branding:

  1. A brand promises to do something for the customer. Presumably, something relevant that the customer wants and needs, and ideally something that other brands don’t do. While many brands are ostensibly based on a logical, left-brained attribute – Tide will clean your clothes; Coca-Cola will quench your thirst; Starbucks will sell you a high quality coffee drink; etc. – we believe it is the emotional benefit that is derived from that attribute which holds the real key to success. And the real power! Sure, Tide cleans your clothes. But Procter & Gamble marketers will tell you that the real power of the Tide brand is the reassurance it gives mothers that they are doing the right thing for their family by purchasing the best product to help them present their family to the outside world. The same kind of emotional reward is attached to Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Nike, and Apple – and to all of the world’s great brands.
  2. The promise that your brand makes is expected to be delivered every time. No matter what the circumstances may be. Branding is an on-going process, something thathappens whether you intend it to or not. It’s not a project with a start or finish. One of the biggest mistakes that many marketers make is not realizing that branding happens in every interaction and point of contact between a company and its target customer. They work hard on their advertising and other external communications, but don’t understand that a brand is much more than just advertising and a logo. They often forget that a strong brand can be the single most valuable asset the company has.