Brand Strategy 101

Brand Definition

This is one of the most difficult words for people to explain to others.

“Old English brand ‘burning’ of Germanic origin; related to German Brand, also to burn.

The verb sense ‘mark with a hot iron’ dates from late Middle English, giving rise to the noun sense ‘a mark of ownership made by branding’ (mid 17th century), whence brand (sense 1 of the noun) (early 19th century).” (Oxford Dictionary)

Symbols that represented ownership by an entity, in fact, go far back to the time of ancient Egypt where clay seals were used to mark merchant goods.

Logos (short for logotype) are what a lot of people believe a brand is.  The most famous logo in antiquity was S.P.Q.R (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus) which signified property of the Senate and the People of ancient Rome. Even to this day SPQR inscriptions can be found on manhole covers all over the city.

An academic famous for introducing a strain of marketing called IMC, extends these former definitions into a competitive market context.

“A brand is the use of a name, phrase, design, symbols or a combination of those to help identify a product and distinguish it from competitors.” (Tom Duncan)

Most definitions at least contain references to a name and symbol – some even refer to certain legal protections such as trademarks. Others specify that brands relate to commercial organizations and their products.

However, more recently in the 21st century, the term has started to encompass more than just basic names and visual elements, extending into the inclusion of intangible constructs.

“A particular identity or image regarded as an asset.” ‘you can still invent your own career, be your own brand’ Oxford Dictionary

Note how the concepts of ‘image’ and ‘identity’ have been introduced.

Brand vs branding

The process of creating and managing a brand (branding) refers to intentional acts to promote and distinguish a brand from others.

“Branding – Noun “The promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design.” Oxford Dictionary

Most modern branding experts will argue that a brand is far more than just a logo, name, trademark or even the product/service itself. Instead, they will make reference to a collection of intangible elements.  This is the area of branding where most buzzwords and confusion originate.

Tom Duncan refers to human perceptions in an alternative definition.

“A perception of an integrated bundle of information and experiences that distinguishes a company and/or its product offerings from the competition”

David Aaker is another academic (some would call the grandfather of branding) who is responsible for coining many of these intangible brand components.

He defines a brand as, “…the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”.

These definitions are getting complex so let’s summarize.

Summarized Brand Definition

We could broadly define a brand as consisting of the following…

  • A name
  • Symbols (including text, sounds, images, animations, colours etc.)
  • A collection of intangible perceptions held by stakeholders familiar with the brand

Brand Strategy Definition

Not surprisingly, strategy related to creating and managing a brand is called, brand strategy.

Managing tangible elements like a name or symbols is relatively straight-forward but, managing intangible human perceptions can be very difficult. Intangibles are subjective and difficult to measure. The problem is that, as Druker asserts, “…what can’t be measured, can’t be managed”.

Similar and Related Terms

Brand Equity, Brand Promise, Brand Name, Branding, Brand Story, Brand Loyalty, Brand Image, Brand Awareness, Brand Associations, Brand Values, Brand Partnerships, Sub-brand, Co-brand, Brand Voice, Brand Architecture, Brand Extension, Brand Pillars, Brand Vision, Brand Personality, Brand Positioning, Brand Proof, Re-Brand, Brand Guidelines, Personal Brand, Brand Collateral, Brand Damage, Brand Safety, un-branded, branded, brand perceptions, brand manifesto, brand affinity, brand keyholes, brand wheels, brand pyramids…the list goes on forever

Why It’s important

Quite simply, brands can influence the perception of value and affect purchase decisions.

However, Aaker goes to town here, include quite a few upsides:

  • Reduced marketing costs
  • Trade leverage
  • Attracting new customers – create awareness and reassurance
  • Time to respond to competitive threats
  • Anchor to which other associations can be attached
  • Familiarity-liking
  • Signal of substance commitment
  • Brand to be considered
  • Reason to buy
  • Differentiate/position
  • Price
  • Channel member interest
  • Extensions
  • Help process / retrieve information
  • Reason to buy
  • Create positive attitude / feelings
  • Extensions
  • Competitive advantage

For the purposes of this discussion let’s look at a few of the obvious benefits.

Simple Decision-making

Most people don’t have the required resources to go through a laborious decision-making process every time they buy something. Furthermore, consumers are complex and unpredictable, and they don’t, by default, progress through a linear, independent, rational, objective research phase that identifies a clear winner before purchasing.

The importance of brands becomes very apparent in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) market, where products offer near identical functional utility and purchase decisions can be very low consideration. For example, if you feel like some potato chips. Are you going to go out of your way to spend hours comparing the brands and visit multiple shops in your vicinity before making sure you get the best quality chip, for the lowest price? Typically, not. Often, a knowledge of different brands is drawn-upon to simplify this choice.

This is why much brand research has been conducted in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) area and the majority of brand managers will originate from an FMCG background.

Distinctive Brands get attention

Research by Byron Sharp argues that ensuring a brand is distinctive is imperative for sales growth as it drives the dual benefit of awareness and consideration relative to competing brands. There’s no point being different for just for the sake of being different and brands who have near identical product offerings, can successfully compete just based on the fact they are distinctive.

“Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to use tangible attributes (size, shape, price etc.) to decide whether competing products are different and…intangible attributes (quality, value, image etc.) to decide how they are different.”

So having a distinctive brand is important, because in product categories where there are few differences between products, consumers will default more heavily to the intangible elements of a brand to make a decision.

However, Mark Ritson argues both differentiation and distinctiveness is important. “Any seasoned brand manager might prefer a greedier approach, in which distinctiveness and differentiation are equally potent and equally possible. That has certainly been my consulting experience” (Marketing Week)

“This is clear from the DLG case and the company’s use of factor analysis and econometrics to show very clearly the empirical connection between brand associations like “helpful’, ‘leader’ and ‘proactive’ and the link with driving consideration and then sales. (Marketing week, M. Ritson)

Affects Customer Perceptions of Value

“…perhaps the biggest and best advantage of brand equity is that it lowers price sensitivity.” (Marketing Week, M, Ritson)

“Based on both our experience and marketing theory, brand perceptions can drive brand purchase behavior, and brand purchase can drive brand perceptions. Dr Koen Pauwels

These intangible ‘perceptions’ are important because they are hard for competitors to replicate (competitive advantage) and can influence purchase triggers.

Brands are critically valuable as a sales-driver in competitively saturated markets, for generic/commoditized products and low consideration products. This is why the FMCG sector is known most for their work on brand studies.

Brand equity is valuable

Brand equity is defined as a measure of the importance of the brand to the company in terms of internal value. It can also be measured in terms of the price premium that can be charged above and beyond generic OEM product offerings or contribution towards purchase intent, brand recall awareness etc.

Brand equity resides in the mind of the consumers. It’s everything they know, feel, think and see about your product over time. – all the intangibles

The aim of branding is generally to maximize brand equity which consists of…

  • Brand awareness
  • Brand loyalty
  • Brand perceptions (consideration, liking etc)

Without getting confused by technical definitions, you could simply view brand value this way:

1 – Things that contribute to a customer buying the brand

2 – Things that contribute to a customer purchasing the brand again

3 – Things that contribute to customers influencing others to buy the brand


General Brand Strategy Process

Read the full guide at



John has been working in the advertising, marketing and sales industry for over 12 years. His work has been diverse ranging from large brand awareness campaigns for global brand like P&G and Sothebys, has been combined with growth-focused, lean SME’s campaigns. His core specialties revolve around marketing strategy development and branding, but is most sought after for an ability to influence users online and generate valuable behavioural responses. He spends most of his time in Melbourne, Australia and California, USA. Most recently he has returned from a Growth Manager role in Silicon Valley.


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