Archive for the 'Definitions' Category

The difference between a brand and a label

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


In brands we make a very clear distinction between brands and labels. Here’s how I see it:

The difference between a brand and a label is that a brand leads, while a label follows you around.

That’s right: brands lead. Brands create opportunities for customers and lead them toward qualitatively better lives. Brands lead customers toward new shapes of self, and toward new forms of being and doing. And yes, brands lead by example.

Take the T-shirt test

Quick test: check that T-shirt you’re wearing. Is it taking you somewhere you’d never reach without it? Or is it just following you around? If it’s leading you somewhere special, and your feet just skim the ground, you’re wearing a brand. Otherwise, you’re stitched to a label.

And here’s a corollary:

Brands make things happen. Labels tag along.

Brands open doors—big ones. They help us interoperate with the universe. Labels help you sort things in a drawer.

Let’s unpack this distinction a bit.

Brands lead us on a unique journey

A brand, when properly developed, leads us on a unique journey, from high adventure to inner peace, and to a thousand points between. The brand embarks on a venture beyond the status quo. It’s going somewhere interesting, and it asks us to join the crew.

Labels bring up the rear

In contrast, labels bring up the rear. They don’t invent, innovate, incite or inspire. They’re inventory. They have their place (on a shelf), but it’s the brand that connects with customers and flies out the door.

Frankly, labels are stuck: on a garment, on a bottle or on a package. Buy the label and you’re stuck, too.

From label to brand package

Brands elevate the label to the brand package. The brand package wraps the customer, the company and the product in the brand journey. Soaring above and beyond the product, it’s the ticket to ride.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Brands and commodities: two rules

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Just thought I’d break this out from a longer post on brands and commodities. It should be airtight, but I sense leaks. As always, comments appreciated.

Brands and commodities: two rules

  1. Brand: The shortest distance between customer and company.
  2. Commodity: The shortest distance between customer and price.


  1. When the brand is strong, customer and company are one
  2. When commodity is strong, company and customer are done.


If you’re in it for the money, your customers will be in it for the price.

Update: Changed “Moral” to “Coda”

(And yes, deepest apologies to Wm.Blake, RIP.)

“Brand space” and the creation of new markets

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

Part of the fun in building brands is that while one half of your mind plumbs the nuanced depths of brand context, the other half peers three years out to leverage that context into new business opportunities. Welcome to “brand space,” where it’s microscope to one eye, telescope to the other.

Brand space is the realm of new business

As a brand builder, “brand space” is one of your most useful concepts. It encompasses all the territories where your brand intends a presence. Consider it your brand turf. Much of your brand space is forward focused. It contains the brand elements that will rise to the surface and nurture your business when your company launches new products and services. In fact, you will always be priming some part of your brand space for emerging markets.

There is a cardinal rule of brand space: use it, or lose it.

Let’s look more closely at brand space, and then examine an example of brand space that’s unfolding in real time.

Brand space defined

I define brand space as “an emergent customer context in which the brand takes a leadership role.” Your brand space is the potential value domain of your brand: where your brand plans to go. It’s your brand’s extended realm, or some aspect of its “manifest destiny.” Your brand space is typically far larger than the served space of your current, “operational” brand. It projects the customer and the brand forward, toward the next (higher) brand platform that’s on your brand roadmap. (And you do have one of these, right?)

A brand that’s well crafted will command a set of strategically related brand spaces that foreshadow where the customer is headed. Ideally, the brand moves the customer forward into those brand spaces essential for customer growth, and for the growth of the business. This is one reason why brand teams are also product development teams. Brand spaces assume a strong product/brand integration.

It’s important that the brand space is a “value context.” By that I mean it intends to deliver a new form of brand value for the customers to be created. Areas where you deploy brand spaces may have no current customers (virgin markets) or may have existing customers served by ho-hum brands. Your brand space needs to offer a new protocol of pleasure, protocol of performance, or protocol of whatever that will redefine customers out of the bog-like context that’s currently holding them back.

And, as shown above, the ascendant architecture of your brand platforms will dictate where your brand spaces will become fertile fields. Brand spaces are the bow waves of brand platforms.

Brand space and competitive advantage

If you want to beat competitors to the punch, it pays to use your brand space to enter nascent markets at the earliest opportunity. While your competitors are building out their feature lists, you can be delivering the pre-product experiences that align customers to your brand months before actual product introduction. This is not about hype or “making promises.” It’s about knowing what freedoms your customers crave, what freedoms your offerings will deliver, and giving customers a measured taste up front.

Brand space example: WiFi-enabled handsets

Tom Evslin has a fascinating post on dramatic changes coming to the mobile phone market. In a few years mobile phones will be WiFi enabled, meaning they can connect to the Internet wherever there’s a WiFi signal. That means, of course, that those WiFi phone calls will then be VoIP, and possibly, or probably, free. As you can imagine, and as Tom details, this threatens a major disruption of the telco carriers who now control things via their cell networks. One of the ripple effects is our brand space example. To quote Tom:

WiFi support in mobile phones will shift the balance of power from the big wireless operators to the cellphone hardware and software makers. Phones will be purchased independently of calling plans just as computers are purchased independent of Internet connectivity arrangements. Coupons for access may be included with phones instead of phones being included with calling plans. Why? Because voice calling will be too cheap to meter and hardware will still cost something. [my emphasis]

This amounts to a HUGE market shift. If you’re a maker of electronic devices and software whose products have personal communication potential, this change signals the potential opening of lucrative markets previously held captive by the major carriers. Perhaps there’s a future for you in the handset business, if you can leverage existing brand strengths in portable electronic devices, WiFi, design, and computer/Internet interoperability. If you’ve been on your toes, your brand space beneath this potential market will be jumping. It will already include a rich mobile communication context that can fit hand-in-glove with a WiFi-enabled handset. Your brand space is your running start, a latent brand context ready to be activated. If/when you launch that phone, customers will be standing by. The new market will appear to be naturally yours from the get-go.

I, of course, am no one to foment rumors.

Photo: laughlin, Flickr


How legacy brands can create a brand vacuum

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

It pays to keep an eye on legacy brands, because they can create the kind of brand vacuum that spells market opportunity for disruptor brands. Simply put, legacy brands stand tall on feet of clay. They’re fragile because they don’t cultivate the resilient customer connections that make for enduring brand strength. They may have a boat-load of high-drama symbols and a spiffy showcase sheen, but on the real terrain where customers run they don’t get much traction—and a brand vacuum is born.

Legacy brands defined

Here’s how we define legacy brands in our New Brand Glossary:

Legacy Brands
Backward-facing brands that can suck the future from a company. Legacy brands are predicated on top-down, command and control models which position the customer as a passive commodity, purely to be sold to. Legacy brands are vulnerable to competitors who create active partnerships with customers to innovate on brand, elevating customers from “commodities” to value co-creators.

Lack of brand value creates the brand vacuum

Because legacy brands focus primarily on themselves, and because they speak down to customers, they find it increasingly difficult to create new brand value. The more exuberant and ethereal their self-styled spectacle, the more they create a brand vacuum that others are sure to fill. The vacuum is a brand value void.

Icon brands take note

Companies with legacy brands are vulnerable in their markets, and on the M&A front. If your task is to husband a brand that rarely listens to customers because “icons don’t need ears,” be forewarned.

Photo: salsaboy, flickr

Caveat emptor: every company’s default brand

Monday, April 17th, 2006

It usually happens like this: whenever we’re discussing the new elements of brand strategy someone in the room will say: “That sounds great, but my company really doesn’t need a brand. We’re not in retail. We’re not a consumer goods company. We don’t worry about packaging and shelf space and stuff like that.”

A default brand your market assigns to you

There are several ways to address the “brands don’t apply to us” issue. I like to start with the universal form of brand that runs like a dial-tone through all markets, affecting all companies.

“What about your default brand?” I ask. “That’s the brand your market assigns to you. Every company has a default brand, whether they realize it or not. It competes with the real you from day one.”

A company’s default brand is “caveat emptor”

I explain that a company’s default brand is called caveat emptor. This brand premise is embedded in potential customers. It’s been driven deep into their minds by society, the markets, and by their own experience. It tells them that until they know otherwise, their behavior toward you should be “buyer beware.”

Caveat emptor is your brand until you demonstrate otherwise

Caveat emptor is the first hurdle you cross as you build your active brand to create customers.

And yes, it is your brand, until you demonstrate otherwise.



Brands are code

Friday, March 24th, 2006


Most people don’t realize it, but brands are code. At their core level, brands have much more in common with software development than they do with logos, ad campaigns and product identities. We can think of brands as a form of software. They’re actually applications: to create unique customer value. In fact, brands should be viewed as integral to the product development process itself, as the cultural DNA of the company, rather than as a separate, multi-media “add-on” just before product launch.

This is because brands are much more than symbols, slogans and promises. Brands are programs to create customers. And as programs, they’re built of . . . code.

In this snapshot, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why brands are code, beginning at the outside and working in.

Unlocking brand code

First, some interesting similarities between brands and software:

  • Both have architectures.
  • They have roadmaps.
  • They have platforms
  • They have programs.
  • They have interfaces.
  • Brands and software are both executables.
  • They have developers, and end-users.
  • And most importantly, both are applications.

Brands have a language, too. In fact, they are written in only one language. It is called CUSTOMER. It is a language of culture. It’s not cold calculation and it’s certainly not cosmetics. In practice, its a conversation on value that’s  infinitely interoperable.

What brand builders code

At a basic level, brand builders code customer solutions into the product. In this interactive process, they also code the whole customer back into the company. This enables customer DNA to flow through a company, through its employees, operations and innovations. At a more advanced level, brand builders code new freedoms into the customer through the brand, enabling customers to rise above commodities and other brands. In effect, they create a branded customer platform that advances the customer beyond what products alone can provide.

Brands as executables

Of course, brands are not static images or frozen icons. Brands are action-oriented. They work for customers, and they get things done. In other words, brands are executables. Every brand is a “.exe.” When you execute on brand, you deliver value that customers can use. Strategically, your brand should be advancing customers beyond the reach of competitors.

How brand code works

Simply stated, brands are code for creating value. Their architectures, platforms, programs and interfaces transform latent product value into value realized by the customer. (This is no easy task.) At their best, brands do this in such satisfyingly brilliant ways that the customer leaves his or her old customer shell behind, and embraces the new brand going forward. When a great brand connects, there’s no turning back.

How exactly does a brand do this? First, brand building begins at the core of a company. Brands are not add-ons after the fact. Brands are a process of architecting customer progress into the product roadmap. Yep, the operative word is “progress.” The goal of a brand is to advance customers to progressively proactive levels, so in future months and years they will be demanding all those cool innovations you have up your sleeve. Thus, your brand strategy is part and parcel of your innovation strategy.

Cultivate brand hacks

Agile brands, like agile code, call for iterative development. This is one reason why your brand should cultivate brand hacks as part of its deployment strategy.

Photo: amysphere — Flickr

Geoffrey Moore on “innovation myths”

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Over at Geoffrey Moore dissects ten “innovation myths,” and then makes solid business sense of what remains on the bone.

Read his essay if you’re in brands. Innovation is what you do.


It’s time to re-think “brand essence”

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

One of the traditional tasks of brand practice is to spend time, energy and money to divine “brand essence.” This is the quest to distill the “soul of the brand,” that irreducible quality that will distinguish and infuse brand programs going forward. Meetings are held. Surveys conducted. Minds probed. Navels gazed. The mission statement is dusted off and re-read, often with perplexed faces. After all this, the usual result is essence by committee, one that’s “different enough” from competitors, but still more-or-less the same so it won’t disturb anyone’s routine.

It’s thus no surprise that a few years down the road, this compromise essence wanes. Sales slip. Markets are lost. The brand must be “refreshed,” and the “essence cycle” is repeated.

What a waste! There has to be a better way.

I’d like to propose a different approach to brand essence. In the true spirit of navel gazing, it’s a shift in focus: from an “inny” to an “outie.” In other words, don’t look inside for your essence. (Trust me, there’s only lint.) Find your brand essence in what you do for customers. (That’s the “outie.”) The bottom line is that your customers will define your brand essence, not you.

And I propose making brand essence action-based, rather than an inert asset. It’s much more dynamic than some sacred fluid locked in the company vault.

So here’s how I see it: The essence of brand is collaboration. Brands are collaborations in context between a company, its customers and the product. (Yes, products themselves play a role.) To change your essence, do something different with customers. If you want a better essence, create better customers.

Your essence is in their hands.