A well-informed employee is the best salesperson a company can have. E. J. Thomas

Identification Decisions

These are choices a company makes about the branding identity it wants to give to a product. Typically, the choice is from among four alternatives – single brand names (Cheerios), product-line brand names (Quisinart cookware), corporate brand names (Scope mouthwash) and corporate family name (Knorr soup).

Brand Commitment

The degree to which a customer is committed to a given brand in that they are likely to repurchase/reuse in the future. The level of commitment indicates the degree to which a brand’s customer franchise is protected from competitors.

Image Library

Stock shots are photographs, illustrations, and video and film footage available for use by anyone for a set fee or, if they are in the public domain, for free. An image library is either a company in this business for profit, or nonprofit organizations (like a library, for example) that offer stock shots as a public service.

Hero Pieces

A selection of communication pieces that show how best to use the visual identity that can be referred to as best practice examples. These are profiled in the brand guidelines and are often never static as the brand and its visual and verbal components evolve to maintain and enhance relevance and differentation.

Design to Cost

In the development of new products, this is an approach that considers cost as its own design consideration, rather than as the outcome of a completed design. Here, costs would be based on projections about what consumers can afford and the nature of the competitive landscape. It helps build a business case prior to significant investment.


Color is an emotional and subjective component of every company’s design and communications. Without even being aware of it, consumers make purchase decisions every day based on their attitude toward color. People tend to identify with certain colors and marketers use color to identify a brand, set a mood, communicate specific associations, and differentiate one brand from another.

Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is commonly used in marketing communications to measure effectiveness. It investigates how many target customers have prior knowledge of a brand as measured by brand recognition and brand recall. Brand recognition (also called aided recall ) measures the extent to which a brand is remembered when its name is prompted; for example, “Are you familiar with the Sony brand?” Brand recall (also called unaided recall ) refers to a customer being able to remember a specific brand when given a category of products without mentioning any of the names in the category.


Harvesting is when sales of a brand begin to decline and companies slowly reduce their marketing investment, either to nothing, or to a bare minimum. These companies depend on the brand’s loyal customers to sustain it while they free up cash to pursue other opportunities. Brand harvesting usually precedes a brand’s total elimination.


Essence is a collection of intangible attributes and benefits, the core characteristics that define and differentiate a brand. The easiest way to understand essence is to imagine that the brand is a person you are trying to describe – what defines that person, and what separates her or him from everyone else.

Design Principles

The set of objectives and parameters that guide consistency in brand development. These ensure that equities are retained while allowing some creative license to extend the brand’s visual vocabulary.


This is marketing and sales promotional print material. Collaterals are often synonymous with brochures that communicate relevant information to target audiences in order to increase awareness, promote purchases, and/or provide post-purchase validation.

Happiness Can Be Bought—and Sold

There is an assumption among both companies and people in America that the products we buy will make us happy. Companies—and brands—may be relying far too heavily on this assumption; the reality is that, after being exposed to as many as 3,000 branded messages a day, many people have developed a strong brand immune system.

Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, has spent the past decade trying to discover what really makes us, as humans, happy. He suggests that neither products—nor brands—are the answer. Gilbert’s research indicates that both matter much less than we think they will; that it’s basic human nature to overestimate how large a difference something will make. This concept of adaptation was developed by psychologists in the late 1950s to refer to how we acclimate to changing circumstances; as humans, we adapt quickly. Gilbert’s team viewed happiness as a signal our brains use to motivate us to do certain things. In the same way that our eyes adapt to light, our brains are designed to find their “happiness set point.” Our brains are not trying to be happy. Rather, they are simply trying to regulate us.

Part of this internal adjustment is reflected in how quickly we adapt to a pleasurable event. As soon as we actually buy something, we immediately start to see it as ordinary. Often, in the days or weeks following a purchase, we lose our initial pleasure: when we buy that new car, it fails to provide the happiness we thought it would.

Brand Brief

This is the planning document for any brandbuilding project. It sets out the goals, objectives, competitive landscape, current capabilities and performance, timelines, and budget. It ensures that all stakeholders are aligned to anticipated change and that a sound business case is in place to make any significant changes to the brand.

The Cart Before the Horse

Today, the concept of branding has become a driving force as a business strategy and an industry of its own. Thousands of branding books are available through Amazon.com, and hundreds of marketing and advertising companies sell their “unique” branding services. These branding experts instruct companies to extend their brand identities to every corner of the company. Branding experts in Oregon have suggested that the best way for Oregon to become a better state is for it to become Oregon,® the brand.[4] Likewise, Mongolia (that’s right, the country) has retained a London-based branding agency to develop Mongolia,® the brand.[5] Mongolia is certainly not the first country to develop their brand. Britain has done it; so have Australia, Poland, and Slovenia. A couple of years ago, the U.S. government even got into the action by hiring Charlotte Beers, an ad exec who worked on the Uncle Ben’s brand, to promote “brand America” to the people in the Middle East. It seems that branding may have become too much of a good thing.

Branding reached its real zenith during the dot-com era, when many start-up companies raised money with the specific intent of branding themselves. In fact, according to Forrester Research as much as 90 percent of the money raised from some venture capitalists was spent in this endeavor. While trying to build a Web site into a distinctive brand is an honorable goal, building a business around satisfying the needs of real customers who are willing to pay for a real service or product obviously has more lasting value.

Branding has become an industry perpetuating its own dogma; look at the self-help book market. Some new books, such as The Brand Called You, encourage people to develop a “personal branding philosophy” as a way to gain greater happiness and material success. Author Peter Montoya writes, “Personal branding lets you control how other people perceive you . . . You’re telling them what you stand for—but in a way that’s so organic and unobtrusive that they think they’ve developed that perception all by themselves . . . When done right, it’s irresistible.”[6 ]Okay, but whatever happened to just being yourself—a real person with genuine integrity?

The good concepts behind branding have simply gone too far, and people have become cynical about its mechanics. With branding’s presence obvious in everything from products to personal lifestyles, people are growing tired of the smoke and mirrors. People—your customers— seek the reality of a company that is willing to act like a local merchant, a citizen of the community. What people want is true corporate transparency, in everything from marketing to manufacturing. This direct and honest approach can be, in itself, a unique branding method in today’s environment.

As people grow more skeptical about common branding practices and the presence of branding in the marketplace becomes more pervasive, let’s consider how some branding myths prevail, even as branding’s weaknesses are coming to light.

Endorsed Brand

A brand that carries the endorsement of a source brand (the parent company), for example Chips Ahoy! Here, Chips Ahoy! promises a specific taste profile and experience, while Nabisco (the source brand) offers an endorsement of overall quality, heritage, and food expertise. The source brand is leveraged to communicate value or expertise that strengthens the promise of the endorsed brand.

The History of Branding

Branding today is a combination of ideas, products, and the advertising and marketing efforts of companies to put those ideas or products in the public spotlight. This is not too far removed from branding’s roots, although the motivations and methods have changed considerably. Branding was initially used as a way for ranchers to identify their cattle; the distinct symbol of the ranch, burned into a calf’s hide, made it immediately obvious that the calf belonged to someone. There was no variation in the method of identifying cattle; all ranchers used the branding technique—the only difference was in the actual symbol representing each ranch.

This “magic formula” of branding is obviously attractive to companies—an identifiable and well-positioned brand ultimately equals money in the bank. Unfortunately, this equation leads many companies to seek out brands or branding that will directly result in dollar signs. This emphasis on results has dramatically influenced the branding environment, where many brands are in direct and aggressive competition to get people’s attention. Given the speed of information technology today, any unique attempt that companies make to attract this attention is quickly copied, resulting in its becoming just another ubiquitous branding technique. That is not to say there aren’t examples of great branding strategies that allow the space for co-creation—think about the “Got Milk?” campaign. Branding can still be an important tool in building trust and deepening the conversation with any company’s customers; it just needs to evolve along with a rapidly changing world. But this process has become much more difficult.

Originally, brands were used to differentiate products from the generic offerings available. For instance, Quaker Oats stood out distinctly from the bulk oats at the general store. Brands also conveyed a guarantee of quality and a sense of security regarding the source of the product: the company behind them. In these early days, advertising served primarily to increase public awareness that a new brand existed. It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that Claude Hopkins proposed, in his book Scientific Advertising, that advertising should be systematized. He viewed advertising as an extension of the sales pitch with his philosophy: “The more you tell, the more you sell.”[2]

As branding evolved, its basic goal remained the same: to establish a name for any given product that conveyed its legitimacy and stability. As brands in every category became more prevalent, it also became important to educate people about a product’s value and use. To do so, advertising was incorporated as a form of entertainment—treating people as an audience while relating the merits of using a particular product or brand.

In the 1940s and 50s, the famous adman Leo Burnett took the use of entertainment in advertising to new levels; he introduced the use oflovable characters to represent products. During this period, Burnett launched the advertising “careers” of the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, Morris the Cat, and the Marlboro Man—many of whom remain cultural icons to this day. Burnett challenged himself to find attractive brand images for “boring” products, such as peas or tuna. Later, Burnett extended the iconic use of characters to specific places (e.g., the Chevy Tahoe) and even situations (e.g., “Kodak moments”). While Burnett used strong characters and images to draw people to the products he advertised, he felt that the products’ attributes, or what he called the products’ “inherent drama,” played an important part in successful advertising.

In the late 1950s, led in particular by another legendary adman, David Ogilvy, branding began to supersede the products themselves. Three major societal trends acted as the foundation for the success of Ogilvy’s message. First, the United States experienced the greatest gross national product (GNP) per capita increases in the country’s history, which created significant disposable income gains for the average American. Second, the development of television created a new medium for persuasive communication. Third, with more disposable income, Americans abandoned the cities for the suburbs. As suburbs spread out to surround cities, the automobile became a much more important tool for people’s everyday interactions. Instead of being confined to one neighborhood defined by a reasonable walking distance, within which all of the needs of daily life could be satisfied, people began to live in one city and work in another. One consequence was the redefinition of neighborhoods, where neighbors were strangers. Instead of relying on a specific location to define what “the good life” meant, brands—through the new medium of television—helped to serve as indicators of success. Many companies celebrated the newfound economic freedom of their customers by helping them find brands—their own, of course—that could project this image of success.

In his quest, Ogilvy championed the idea of advertising as entertainment. He also developed several techniques to specifically promote the brand image—not the product itself—in television advertising. His ideas, such as “open with fire” (starting the ad with excitement) and “supers” (superimposing text over the ad to reinforce the brand message) are still cornerstones of today’s advertising. In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, Ogilvy said: “Have they [consumers] tried all three [most popular whiskeys on the market] and compared the taste? Don’t make me laugh. The reality is that these three brands have different images, which appeal to different people. It isn’t the whiskey they choose; it’s the image. The brand image is 90 percent of what the distiller has to sell.”[3]

During the same era, Raymond Rubicam began to hire pollsters, such as Dr. George Gallup from Northwestern University, to conduct market research and try to understand what could be learned from people. Using polls, surveys, and focus groups, Rubicam set out to understand and differentiate various segments of users of a product. Hence, demographic research was born, allowing marketers to view people as statistical data, rather than emotional, largely unpredictable beings.

Following these early forays into market research, companies were tempted to rely on intelligence and analysis that reduced their customers to specific and manageable numbers, instead of a vague, often elusive group of people. Statistical analysis offered a means of “classifying, organizing, and labeling” people, which appealed to companies looking for quick, black-and-white information. Marketers would then reconstruct these “consumers” in the convenience of their office, look at their historical buying habits, and attempt to predict what they might want to buy.

But can you really scientifically deconstruct a person, reducing them to a few data points, and then reconstruct them—completely out of context? This thought process influenced product differences that were only quantitative and mechanical. This type of homogenous technique limited the interpretation of the customer’s voice, erased idiosyncrasies from the marketers’ observations of the culture, and ultimately marginalized risk taking by companies.

Because they were considered components of a legitimate science and were supported by academic research and education, market research and branding became significant strategic tools used pervasively within companies. As branding became more scientific and the communication of superior practices became widespread—through peer-to-peer interactions, the movement of managers between firms, and the use of consultants—a common branding philosophy was developed.

The concept of brands acting as cultural creators—doing more than just participating in or representing the culture but actually helping to create it—began to emerge in the 1960s. Bill Bernbach from DDB proposed the idea that products should be culturally authentic. To achieve this goal, brands had first to become disengaged from a company’s economic agenda. DDB’s solution was to give products an ironic brand persona; their campaign for Volkswagen’s Beetle is a great example. Instead of speaking to people in the paternal, condescending voice that much of the era’s advertising used, DDB created the voice of an honest friend by poking fun at the Beetle in classic ads such as “Think Small.”

Inspired by DDB’s example, other agencies, such as Chiat Day and Wieden-Kennedy, further developed the concept of the ironic brand persona for such clients as Nike, Eveready Batteries, and Levi’s.

In the 1980s, in an attempt to increase the authenticity of the brands they worked with, agencies also started to explore the connection with what they termed “cultural epicenters.” These epicenters of the marketplace included arts and fashion communities, ethnic subcultures, and creative and sports communities. The philosophy became one of identifying and developing a deep relationship with an epicenter to better position a brand as a cultural producer. A good example is Mountain Dew’s early sponsorship of the X-Games produced by ESPN in the early 1990s. This relationship gave Mountain Dew credibility with the rapidly growing youth market and gave the brand an authenticity that still defines the product today.

To understand these epicenters, agencies established specialized entities that offered authenticity specific to the cultures with which they sought to connect. Such an example is DDB’s collaboration with filmmaker Spike Lee that formed Spike/DDB. Agencies worked hard to become a part of the conversation in these epicenters. Done successfully, becoming a part of these communities gave some brands the ability to become tastemakers.

The power of the streets and the credibility gained from capturing it have changed the way brands are communicated. Brands now try to emulate the personalities of those found in certain cultural epicenters. As brands strive for this authenticity, a new “real” style of advertising has developed, as illustrated in candid spots in the ad campaigns of companies such as McDonald’s and John Hancock. Similarly, in a recent campaign for Red Code, Mountain Dew’s new subbrand, basketball stars Tracy McGrady and Chris Webber join an actual pickup game on the streets of New York City. The ad features the reaction and excitement of the amateur players and spectators as they realize they are playing with McGrady and Webber. The tagline, “Code Red. As real as the streets,” even tips its hat to the effort to gain—and the value of—street credibility.

In their efforts to be seen as credible and authentic, companies engage in grassroots, viral, tribal, and buzz techniques. These methods range from the more traditional (grass roots) to the sensational (buzz), and are seen as slightly desperate attempts to gain people’s attention. As an example, a company employing grassroots techniques might “seed” its products to tastemakers in cultural epicenters, hoping to gain the favor of its influential members. This method makes a lot of sense for culturally authentic brands, like Burton snowboards, which have a direct connection with their customers “on the street.” But when larger, non-endemic brands begin to flood epicenters, community members tend to recognize the companies’ motivations and mock their efforts. Instead of the technique working in their favor and suggesting authenticity, these nonendemic brands gain the reputation of cultural gadflies as they try to co-opt authenticity without paying their dues.

The speed of today’s technology has made any successful branding technique so quickly emulated, that its novelty and success are marginalized through the flood of similar ideas. Consider the realm of reality television. In its first year, the popular show The Bachelor pulled in over 40 million viewers for its finale. One year later, the show averaged less than 6 million viewers for the first three episodes. Reality TV was a brilliant idea; the first few shows successfully captured the imaginations (and viewing habits) of a wide variety of people. But in one short year, the airways became clogged with variations on the same reality themes, with few points of differentiation. It’s great to be one of the first to capture a market, but it’s risky to rely on staying at the cutting edge as a successful strategy. Too often, the cutting edge becomes the bleeding edge.

The Illusion of Control

Businesses have long lived under the pretense that the world in which we live is controllable. Even the language of business—plan, budget, target—contributes to this illusion. How did this come to be? Encouraged by the promises of the scientific revolution, businesses operated under the belief that, with the right systems and controls, anything could be accomplished. After all, wasn’t this the same age that put a man on the moon?

In reality, companies are a lot like frogs. Do you know the best way to cook a frog? The frog gets cooked when the water it sits in starts out cool and the temperature changes only one degree at a time. The frog does not have the subtle sensory skills to see and feel its environment change. This same thing often happens to established companies. The external environment may change only slowly—but if companies fail to notice that change, they’re dead in the water.

Entrepreneurial companies have an easier time adapting, because they have more mobility and can react to changes more quickly. These companies act more like a live frog put into boiling water. They can immediately feel the radical difference in the environment and jump out of harm’s way.

Established companies that have been historically successful have a very difficult time jumping at all, even out of boiling water. Even when they do recognize a temperature difference, they are rendered immobile by their stubborn dependence on existing systems. Instead, they choose to remain under the delusion that they can control the temperature of the water.

The events of the past couple of years have challenged this notion of control in significant ways. We’ve become perfectly accustomed to media stories about some of the most successful companies in the world fighting for their very survival. In half a decade, the environment in which these businesses were able to prosper for the past half-century or more has changed beyond recognition.

A few external forces will continue to radically affect the environment in which we live. Between the effects of global cultural shifts, radical changes in the macroeconomic environment, disruptive technologies, the rising power of retailers, the culture of fear, and the role of chance, the business environment will never be the same.


Essence is a collection of intangible attributes and benefits, the core characteristics that define and differentiate a brand. The easiest way to understand essence is to imagine that the brand is a person you are trying to describe – what defines that person, and what separates her or him from everyone else.

Design Elements

The individual components comprising the overall visual expression of the brand. These can include images, type, color, shape, texture, and so on. These elements work in cooperation with each other to communicate an overall brand personality and image.

Cognitive Dissonance

The state of anxiety or unease that follows a decision to purchase and creates a need for reassurance that the decision was correct is called “cognitive dissonance.”

Knowledge Management

This is the process of capturing, organizing, analyzing, interpreting, and disseminating information and knowledge possessed by individuals in an organization to the organization as a whole. New technologies have aided this process enormously through use of intranets, databases, and communication tools that automate the entire process. Knowledge management systems are entirely dependent upon the quality, timeliness, and frequency of contributions made by individuals. Once, knowledge was power – now knowledge shared is even more powerful.


This is a strategy that leverages together two or more brands to form a more compelling offer than either could alone. In order to be successful, however, the two brands must be complementary and jointly promoted to consumers identified as most likely to benefit from the arrangement.

Brand Book

A unique articulation of the brand in both words and visuals which brings the brand and its story to life. Usually directed at internal audiences, brand books are now developed to tell the brand’s story for all constituents fulfilling a pledge to be consistent in execution.


This is a term referring to statistics relating to a population and generally covering sex, age, marital status, birthrate, mortality rate, income, education, and occupation. Demographics are still commonly used to identify potential customers, but are often augmented by more specific methods that help understand buyer behavior.


The sheer number of advertisements and messages competing for consumer attention in the same medium or place is referred to as “clutter.” In order to rise above the clutter and showcase product and service benefits, more innovative and targeted forms of activities are necessary. The traditional media are often no longer enough to effectively penetrate for awareness and choice.

Investor Relations

This is both an activity and a department in most medium-to-large public companies. It provides existing and potential shareholders with accurate information about the company and its financial performance. This helps investors make informed buy or sell decisions. Over the past few years, investor relations departments have embraced the power of branding to appeal to the investment communities and more accurately represent the value of their companies and brands.

Brand Culture

The Interbrand practice and overarching process of ensuring that the employees of an organization are the first audience to be exposed to and deeply understand what the brand is meant to achieve. Incredibly, for many years, the internal audience was the last to know about the brand, and that caused performance issues as these were the individuals who were meant to deliver on the promise made through external communications. This specialty within branding goes far deeper than internal communications and launch events. It involves human resource practices encompassing rewards and recognition, compensation, and career path development.


Choice is the decision made by consumers to select a particular brand from a range of brands with similar features, benefits, and costs. A choice set is the final group of brands from which consumers choose, and a choice model is an effort that tries to understand how consumers use and combine information about various products or services so they can choose among them.


De-differentiation is a relatively new phenomenon that describes the breakdown of traditional barriers between once-distinct industries. De-differentiation, or convergence, is when multiple industries form alliances or whole new businesses with the objective of better serving customers.

Differentiated Marketing

This is a market strategy that aims to take the same brand to several market segments at the same time but varying the marketing mix for each segment. It takes into account that each segment is unique so that the message and channel will require adaptation based on preferences and norms.

Key Performance Measures

These are a focused set of metrics that drive specific management functions. In branding, these metrics may include volume and value of market share, awareness, return on specific branding investment, and so on. Ideally, the key performance measures form a balanced set and are both objective and subjective, and qualitative and quantitative. Also, unless they influence management decisions, they are of little use to the business and the brand.

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

A relatively new title in the corporate hierarchy, the CMO generally has responsibility for all external communications and holds primary responsibility for brand management execution. It is widely believed that the chief executive officer should “own” the brand but the CMO ensures strategic, creative, and consistent execution of the brand strategy.

Database Marketing

This is a form of direct marketing that uses technology and customer (or potential customer) databases to generate personalized communications meant to promote a product or service. Database marketing emphasizes statistical techniques to develop customer behavior models, which are then used to target ideal customers. This form of marketing requires a significant commitment to maintaining the accuracy of data.

Channel of Communication

The three primary components of any communications program are message, audience, and channel. Channels are communication vehicles and they include websites, brochures, sales forces, television, radio, newspapers, public speaking, publishing, and so on. Choosing the appropriate channels is a significant part of any communications strategy, plan, and execution. Channel choice is meant to determine the most efficient and effective means of reaching target audiences with specific messages.


This is the process of identifying, branding, and communicating the actual and emotional benefits that make a product or service unique versus competing, but seemingly similar, choices. Differentiation is at the heart of branding to simplify choice by providing tangible and intangible benefits to guide the decision-making process.

Brand Cycle

The process Interbrand uses to create and manage a client’s brand as a valuable asset. It outlines the breadth of services and associated benefits. It commences with an evaluation of an existing brand or the creation of a new one and takes the owner through a robust strategic and creative series of interventions meant to deliver a clear return on brand investment.