Opinion: Who owns your brand?

Your brand is not all about you. What it means to the consumer is just as important

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Your brand is not all about you. What it means to the consumer is just as important

The term “brand” gets thrown around a lot. A quick Google search for “What is a brand” comes back with over half a billion results. It seems like every one of those results says something different. Given how loosely and generically the term gets used, it’s no surprise there’s no real simple answer. One of the results was a six-part blog series on defining a brand. That’s nuts.

“We need to Brand this.” “What’s the Brand Strategy?” “That’s off-Brand.” “What’s your personal Brand?” No wonder it’s so confusing, but oddly, the term is whatever you believe it is, much like your brand.

Wikipedia says a brand is “a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that distinguishes one seller’s product from those of others.” If that’s the definition you want to follow, however, good luck to you.

There are many, many elements that go into a brand. A name, a logo, colours, products, quality, smells, locations, buildings, staff—it all adds up to create an identity, and that identity is, for the most part, what makes up your brand. If that’s how you want to define your brand, continued good luck to you.

The experience a consumer has is part of your brand. All interactions with your organization make up part of your brand. But even that isn’t how you should define the term brand. Because every one of these elements is defined by you, and therein lies the problem.

You don’t own your brand. You own all of the elements, you can change them any way you want, but you don’t own your brand.

Consumers do.

A brand is not a thing. It’s not tangible, you can’t touch it, taste it or hear it. A brand is an emotion, a feeling. And since you are not in control of consumers’ feelings, you can’t own your brand.

Since your brand is owned by the consumer (not you), you have to think of the impact on that person. With that in mind, think of a brand as an expectation.

What does a consumer think when they see your logo, hear your name or use one of your products or services? What do you think of when you hear the name Starbucks, Volkswagen or A&W? Now what do you think when you hear Tim Hortons, Chrysler or McDonalds? Same product categories, different expectations.

You have the power to shape what you want people to think of you, but you can’t tell them what to think. Corporate brand, personal brand, it doesn’t matter.

It comes back to the original premise: how you define the term brand will determine your success. If you think of it as the list of attributes earlier stated, as a promise or an identity, you’ve missed the mark. It’s like flexing your muscles in the dark—it feels good, but no one sees it, because the way you see your brand may be different from how consumers see it.

And as the old saying goes, the customer is always right.

Brad Sherwin has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, strategy and communications. He is currently the director of marketing for a national non-profit organization.