Brand Definition: A Concept the Entire Company Can Use

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Last week, I debunked the notion that a brand is a promise. Anyone can make a promise.  If you really want to build a brand, you’ll have to work harder than that.  So what’s a better brand definition?

My definition of a brand – your brand – is as follows:

Your brand is your total experience, as perceived by those you seek to motivate.

Every word in this brand definition is selected carefully.  A few key words have heightened importance and further implications:


Consider airline ads.  Most look the same: Images of soaring planes, smiling flight attendants, and executives comfortably returning home after Landing the Big Deal.  Taglines are interchangeable.  Almost every airline makes the same promise, to the point that you can’t tell one carrier’s ads from the next.

Now consider the airline experience.  With fewer seats available, you may not be able to experience some brands at all.  Booking a flight online can be an adventure in stress.  Your baggage is now a revenue stream.  Security lines are a character test.  Overhead baggage space and legroom are minimal.  Flight attendants smile somewhat less often than they do in the ads.

What really shapes your perception of a given airline?  The promises they make?  Or the experience they deliver?

So it goes with your brand. Brands are built in the doing, not the saying. Claiming that you’re the law firm that delivers “top-notch service” may get heads nodding in your boardroom.  But if you’re on the same billable-hours model as every other firm in town, your experience will eventually render your promise false.

Depending on your line of work, your brand is heavily shaped by your salespeople, your tech department, your customer service group, your operations team… none of whom, clearly, work in marketing.

Conceiving of your brand as an “experience” makes clear that it’s the responsibility of everyone in the company, starting at the top.  If the CEO thinks branding is “what the marketing department does,” there will be a gap between promise and experience.  But if the CEO sees the brand experience as one of her top priorities, I predict a much better outcome.

If you want to say something meaningfully different, it helps to do something meaningfully different. This is why Southwest’s ads stand out from all other airlines.  They’ve created a unique experience, an authentic story they can honestly tell.


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think your brand is.  Your brand is what others perceive it to be.

Think of your morning routine.  You engage with dozens of brands before you leave the house: Food, media, clothing, technology, personal care, furniture.  Now consider: Which brands are you fiercely loyal to?  (A very few, I’d bet.)  Which do you trust but not love?  Which barely register?

Your consumers subconsciously file brands on a spectrum of meaning, from “deep and rich” to “none whatsoever.”  If you’re focused, courageous and disciplined, the market may come to perceive that you stand for a particular thing.  At that point, you have a real brand.


Branding isn’t some vague, feel-good initiative.  Branding delivers results.  As I like to say, “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not branding.”

A strong brand will motivate newbies to try you out, and motivate those who have tried you out to do so again. Branding’s about the behavioral change that accompanies the mental perceptions. If you’re not changing behaviors, your brand’s not worth much.

In my brand definition, I say “those you seek to motivate,” because you shouldn’t be targeting everyone.  You should thoughtfully select a target market, then relentlessly work to serve them – especially if, like most brands, you’re working with limited resources.  If you’re marketing sports drinks, you probably don’t care what Grandma thinks.

Finally, “those you seek to motivate” can include multiple, non-consumer groups.  Depending on your circumstances, you’ll want to be mindful of how well your brand motivates the trade, the press, stockholders and others.

Summing Up

With that background, let me now make my brand definition even more concise.  If in doubt, conceive of your brand by this simple definition:

“Our brand is everything we do.”

Now act accordingly.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2014 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

5 Replies to “Brand Definition: A Concept the Entire Company Can Use”

  1. One definition I use that has received some traction: “A brand is a set of standards maintained in the conversations of its people.”

  2. Matthew, I concur too. Brands are built in the doing, not the saying. That resonates with me.Here’s what I keep at the back of my head while coaching clients, as I hate the academic’s need of a definitionA brand is what it’s tribe of believers does.But if I ever had to be an academic, I would use your definition

  3. Adrian and Sumit, thank you for your comments.Sumit, I’m no academic myself, but I’ve found while coaching and presenting to clients that there is still considerable confusion about what exactly a brand is. I start most speeches now with my definition of branding, so that the audience knows where I’m coming from, and so that we can have a common framework for the discussion that follows.

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