The New Brand Glossary

Every so often I review and update my New Brand Glossary, adding terms from recent posts, or filling in apparent gaps between terms. This version is Update 4 to the original glossary, first published in 2006.

Why create a new brand glossary?

Brands are long overdue for a glossary of new concepts, terms and definitions tuned to an age of collaborative, bottom-up brands, where companies use brands to team with customers to innovate and create new forms of customer value.

This brand glossary is different

You’ll note little similarity between the terms and definitions here and those of conventional brand practice. That’s because most conventional brand approaches are campaigns to contain and control customers, rather than create them. In so doing they condemn themselves to run in circles, unable to innovate themselves (and their customers) out of a self-imposed corral.

Specific problems with traditional brand glossaries

Traditional brand glossaries often seem archaic and shallow today because they’re predicated on a narrow vision of brands as top-down, stylized sales stimulants. Traditional brand glossaries are typically written from an ad agency perspective, where “brand” is an emotional tool for persuading customers. Traditional glossaries usually assume a passive customer “audience” for brand messaging campaigns, where the brand aspires to be a “belief system” that serves the company’s interests. In this view, brands aim to be timeless (static) “icons” worshiped by “consumers,” who are positioned as little more than sheep with credit.

Traditional brand glossaries are therefore largely glossaries of control. The brands they describe really don’t do much for customers—except to keep them in place.

A glossary of brand innovation

In contrast to the traditional brand glossary, this is a glossary of value-based brands and of brand innovation. It contains concepts, terms and definitions for a new era of brands designed to foment new business by creating new customer opportunities. The essence of these brands is collaboration, not control. These brands create proactive new customers who leave old brands—and old companies—far behind.

Where I can’t stretch old brand concepts to fit new realities, I invent new concepts and new terms. Many of these concepts and terms are the subjects of full web posts in the Brands Create Customers weblog. (Check out the Key Posts section for examples).

This glossary is very much a work in progress. Your insights and comments are welcome, as is the dialog we can create.


Architecture of Participation

A brand model that favors customer interaction and initiative through the brand, leading to bottom-up innovation and new market growth. It stands in sharp contrast to the top-down, command-and-control architectures of legacy brands. Companies choose an architecture of participation when they desire to team with customers to build new markets.


Brands are tools that enable customers to interoperate with the universe. The genius of brands is that they have no limits. The value of brands is that through them, customers have no limits.

Brands encompass many dimensions. The following definitions touch upon key parameters:

Brand (Core Definition)
Brands are avenues of value innovation in a creative engagement between companies and their customers.

Brand (1)
A brand is vertically integrated value.

Brand (2)
Your brand is one of your capabilities. It extends your ability to deliver open-ended value to customers. When properly executed, it accelerates customers to a new realm of fulfillment which you create, and which only you can sustain.

Brand (3)
Brand is a non-commodity experience. It can grow from a product or service, a company’s character, or from artful wrappers that sharpen customer perceptions. The essence of non-commodity experience is passion. Your brand has to have it.

Brand (4)
Strategically, the way you value your customer defines your brand. A brand that treats its customers as commodities (purely to be sold to) wastes much of its potential.

Brand (5)
Brands are programs to achieve company growth through customer growth. As programs they invoke two critical perspectives: 1) “the customer inside the product,” and 2) “the customer inside the company.” Weak brands distance the customer. Strong brands open their arms.

Brand API’s

Brand API’s are application program interfaces. They provide convenient latch points for customers to grab onto brands and advance themselves through the brand. The best API’s help convert customer initiative into better brand content, context and value.

To see a brand API in action, visit Apple’s App Store.

Brand Character

Brand character is the backbone of a company. It consists of actionable values and principles that enable a company to stand tall, and to stay classy. Companies with brand character hold themselves to high standards of performance and conduct. The character of the brand shapes the behavior of the business. Everyone from the CEO down is accountable. This means accountability in action, not on paper. Brand character draws a line that moral weakness cannot cross.

Companies with character create brands with character. Brands with character lead.

Brand Chain

The brand chain begins where the classic supply chain ends. While the supply chain is made up of value-adding inputs leading to the product, the brand chain begins with product development and heads toward the customer. Through brand platforms and programs it delivers multiple forms of downstream value. The brand chain consists of creative brand interactions between customer and company, customer and product, and between customers themselves.

Brand Context

Brand context is the unique world of opportunity that a brand presents to customers. It’s the real deal of possibilities that the brand incarnates, and enables, across all human dimensions: creative, social, personal, emotional, spiritual and moral.

Brand context is human texture. It’s the opposite of artificial worlds fabricated by hype, spin, and distortion. (These are aspects of propaganda, not brands.)

A brand’s context is only as “relevant” as the customer opportunities it creates.

Brand Decay

Brands decay when they stop leading and start pushing. One of the first signs of brand decay is when brands begin extending themselves instead of their customers.

Brand Depth

The measure of customer presence inside the brand. Brand depth is a key indicator of a company’s ability to innovate on brand, and to create new streams of customer value.

Brand Design

The process by which the brand team designs a customer. (A brand is a customer template.)

Brand Engagement

“Engagement” means to set things in motion, as when we engage the gears of a machine. “Brand engagement” is the process by which the brand moves the customer forward, to a stronger sense of self, and to a higher plane of being and doing. As such, “brand engagement” is more than a mere brand/customer interaction stemming from symbols, messages and campaigns, where the customer is positioned as a passive audience. A brand engagement advances both the customer and the brand toward shared objectives. (The goal is to advance the customer into new market spaces where competitors can’t follow.)

Brand engagements are collaborations in context between a company and its customers. They invite customer initiative and participation as value co-creators. A brand engagement makes a customer better-off than a dis-engaged customer subjected to “branding” messages and communications.

Brand Essence

The essence of brand is collaboration. Brands are collaborations in context between a company, its customers and the product. The company may initiate this endeavor, but the nature and success of the brand will be determined by the most passionate player(s). And typically, people are passionate when the brand creates opportunities for personal growth.

Brand Experience (1)

The process by which the customer realizes new dimensions of himself or herself through the brand, via sensory, emotional or cognitive interactions. Typically, a brand experience becomes meaningful only when it exceeds expectations, i.e., makes a difference.

Brand Experience (2)

Brand experience is also what the customer passes on to others, or returns to the company, once engaged by the brand. Customers write the brand story based on their brand experience.

Brand experience is proactive, not passive. You do not create a sustaining brand experience by reducing customers to an audience.

Brand Hacks

Customers hack brands. It’s their way of pumping meaning into a brand that doesn’t measure up. In this process, customers add content and context that the brand originator overlooked. They effectively redirect a brand in this manner, migrating it into new value domains, sometimes far beyond the original brand vision. New brand strategies encourage (and thrive upon) brand hacks.

For these reasons, a primary mission of the brand is to cultivate brand hacks.

Notable brand hacks: Harley Davidson, Arm & Hammer.

Brand Icons

The false gods of conventional brand approaches. Icons don’t innovate. They usually mark a strategic dead end for a brand, when the brand loses its creative power and aims to harvest customers by 1) resolving itself to a symbol or slogan, or 2) trading on its past.

Conventional brand icons are their own worst enemies, trapped in their own rigid molds. They’re sitting ducks for brand iconoclasts, the new non-linear brands that spin up to create customers out of nowhere. Brand iconoclasts foment new streams of value, socialized (e.g., the mobile app.)

Brand Imagination

The quantum leap in thinking that separates value-rich brands from value-corrosive concepts. It’s the difference between iPod and “internet appliance.” The former plugs into the customer; the latter plugs into a wall.

Brand Innovation

A brand innovates when it makes the world more relevant for its customers. They gladly leave old brand worlds behind. Brand innovation often occurs as company potential X customer potential, and as product potential X customer potential. It is the brand exponential.

Brand innovation can take many forms. It can be material, creative, metaphoric, moral, spiritual, economic, or another form entirely.

Brand Journey

The shared experience of a brand and its customers as they pursue common goals. Through the brand journey, customers can discover new aspects of themselves: new strengths, new abilities, new ways of being and doing. Companies use the brand journey to discover new ways of creating value, and creating customers.

The quality of the brand journey—how enlightening, how enriching, how transforming—is a function of the brand vision, and the brand imagination behind it.

Brand Layering

The process of nesting sequenced brand benefits within the brand whole, leading the customer through phased discovery to fulfillment. Brand layering is typically integrated within the brand journey.

Brand Leadership

The ability of the brand to create opportunities for customers, and to lead them to a qualitatively better life. Brands lead by example.

Brand Loyalty (1)

The loyalty of the brand to what it stands for. In practice, brand loyalty is a mutual loyalty of company and customer to a common cause. The customer is loyal through the brand, not to the brand.

Brand Loyalty (2)

The transcendent condition that occurs when customers believe in you because you obviously believe in them.

Brand Mission

The brand mission can be refined to a simple, three-part directive: Grow the customer, grow the brand, grow the business. That’s what brand builders do. Their job is to grow their customers beyond the reach of competitors.

A brand without a mission is a brand without a prayer. The brand mission is a customer mission to escape commodity culture.

Brand Mode

Brand mode is the drive gear of brand builders. It is a radical way of thinking that innovates on value to jump customers forward. Brand mode generates new styles of freedom as context breaker and context maker, extending customers, products and platforms. You are in brand mode when your brain burns with the question, “What is holding our customers back?”

Brand Model

As critical as the business model. While the business model defines a company’s profit logic, the brand model defines a firm’s customer logic: the structure and meaning of the brand program, its internal and external engines, and how, when, where and why it creates and sustains customer value.

Brand Objective

Brands have one objective: to create the customers that sustain the business. This is a dialectic of mutual growth, where brand and customer advance one another. The brand leads by illuminating a customer destination and a path to get there. It frames a compelling story, plots a course, meets adversity with superior values, and sustains the customer going forward, to be sustained by the customer in return. Brands that fail to create the journey and the reward are little more than cover art.

Brand Operating System

The Brand Operating System (Brand OS) is a set of steps, leaps and revelations that enables customers to do more, and be more, through the brand. It includes integrated context, content and tools that customers can adopt to pursue richer realms of living. The Brand OS provides traction for customers in the direction they wish to go. In practice, it functions as a customer operating system championed by the brand, and fully interactive with it.

See also: The operating brand principle

Brand Platform

The brand platform is a structure of integrated brand components architected to create focused customer growth. As a platform, it: 1) serves as a common foundation for brand program applications; 2) allows for greater efficiency in brand program development via shared elements; 3) leverages context and content across the brand; and 4) enables customers to extend the brand through bottom-up brand innovation avenues.

Brand Program

The set of applications through which the brand delivers value to the customer. Brand programs should be designed to grow customers, in accordance with the principle: “Grow the customer, grow the brand, grow the business.”

Brand Roadmap

The brand roadmap is a visual document that depicts the development stages of a brand and its customer relationships along an explicit timeline. The roadmap shows the phases, timing, and outcomes of planned brand innovations. Its primary focus is to illustrate how the brand (and the brand platform) will advance customers in concert with new product development. The brand roadmap lays out the sequence of planned brand interactions, relationships and experiences that will advance customers beyond the reach of competitors.

The roadmap is, first and foremost, a customer roadmap. It shows how the brand will grow customers in a manner that benefits them, and is also strategically beneficial to the business. The best brand roadmaps are a march to a new market space.

Brand Scalability

The ability of a brand to extend its customer logic to higher market levels, growing outward and upward from the product to a market-defining platform.

Brand Story

The narrative force that drives your brand. It’s the drama of past, present and future value that flows through you, and your products, to the customer. Brand stories are written by customers, in customer terms. A company’s identity and positioning will appear artificial and contrived if they are not supported by the (real) brand story.

Brand Strategy

A company’s brand strategy describes how the brand intends to create customers. Specifically, it sets forth the creative, social and moral steps that the brand will take to create the customers that will drive the business forward.

For more on brand strategy, see here.

Brand Toolkits

Brands compete for customer attention. One way to focus and sustain that attention is to provide customers with convenient brand toolkits to enhance their lives through the brand. Brand toolkits are compact “always on” brand applications, devices or widgets that can be readily personalized to deliver new streams of customer value. Their function can be parallel to, or convergent with, core brand benefits. Because brand toolkits can encapsulate the brand in dynamic customer context, they are well-suited to explore new brand spaces.

Brand Touchpoints

Brand touchpoints are discrete brand/customer interactions that deliver (or co-create) value that is both unique to the brand, and strategic. (Brand touchpoints that are not strategic are merely brand gestures.) Brand touchpoints are more than process points. They are carefully crafted by brand developers in strategies to create customers beyond the reach of competitors, delivering value (experience) that competitors can’t match. The best touchpoints are transformative: they upgrade the identity of customers to new levels, so there’s no turning back to lesser or more prosaic modes of existence.

Brand Trust

Brands work for the customer and are paid in trust. Brand trust is earned;  there’s no free lunch. Brands that slack get sacked.

Brand rule: Brand trust suffers when marketing writes checks that the brand can’t cash.

Brand Vision

The ability to see your company’s future through your customer’s eyes.

Chronic Brand Deficiency

The condition suffered by customers whose growth has been stunted by years of subsistence brands. Those who suffer from CBD are ripe for brand innovation. Brands that follow a customer containment agenda often induce chronic brand deficiency—and are then stunned when customers flock to a brand that delivers more value.


Lack of imagination by the producer.

Customer Creation

Brands create customers. In fact, brands are the engine of customer creation. They create customers by connecting the customer with his or her potential, using brand programs that leverage both the product and the company. The newly created customer reaps new freedoms in being and doing, sloughing off the constraints of incumbent brands. Creating a customer begins with a holistic view of your customers, where they’re going, and how you can take them there.

Customer Platform

The customer platform is the structure of resources, tools and capabilities that the customer relies on to succeed. A properly constructed brand platform can step in and support critical aspects of the customer platform, often in a 1:1 fit, freeing the customer to pursue additional objectives. In this process, the customer “adopts” the brand platform and can add value to it through customer initiative and innovation, ultimately feeding this value back to the brand.

Destination Brands

Structured experience platforms for tourist destinations (cities, regions, museums and other unique locations). Active destination brands are necessary because the physical destination itself is no longer enough, nor is scenic inventory, nor mere promotion. Every destination brand must be a creative act that enriches the visitor (in time and space) beyond the venue itself.

Destination Pump

In a branded destination, an experiential node that introduces a forward-focused element of brand experience to the visitor. It is the strategic and structural fanfare for what follows, given the programmatic concept for the venue.

Discovery-Driven Brands

Brands that follow a discovery process to lead customers to new forms of meaning in their lives. Discovery-driven brands employ a method of prototype, pilot, test and iterate to tune and re-tune brands along new context streams. This incremental approach enables brands to validate their assumptions in context, and to learn from customers going forward.

Great Brands

What makes a brand great is not that it does more for its customers. A great brand frees customers to do more for themselves.

High Performance Brands

Brands that accelerate customer growth into new market spaces, beyond the reach of conventional offerings. High performance brands are programs for action predicated on high levels of customer participation.

Iconoclastic Brands

Brands that route around entrenched brand icons and deliver value directly to customers. Example: Wikipedia. For every brand icon there is an equal and opposite brand iconoclast.

Innovation (1)

Products with more customer; process with less company.

Innovation (2)

Innovation is what you do for the customer, not what you do to your product.

Internal Brand Building

Successful brands are built from the inside out, as organic expressions of company leadership, culture and capabilities. Employees are conditioned to “live the brand” when company leaders exemplify brand values through their actions. Internally and externally, brands are built by example.

Brands are culture first, then commerce.

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.

Typically, legacy brands create diminishing value for customers. They are often predicated on obsolete value architectures from the past (and hence, backward-facing).

Lock-In Brands

Brands that rely on artificial, non-value measures to keep customers. Lock-in strategies are often self-defeating for two reasons: 1) the perception of lock-in undermines customer loyalty, and 2) perpetuating a customer base via lock-in removes incentives to develop better solutions. Lock-in brands lock out innovation.

Packaging (1)

The package is not the box. The real package is the customer, the company, and the product—going forward. A package is a structure (and style) of collaboration. Brands create the package that counts.

Packaging (2)

One of the greatest packages ever is the Polo Ralph Lauren signature stitched logo: brand, product and customer packaged as one.

Patron saint of brands

Dionysus, of course. He’s the edge-God, Mr. Wild Side, ecstasy in excelsis. Dionysian brands are a ferment of mind and matter. They’re primordial and potent, delivering visceral value, procreating customers, infusing every synapse of company being.

Peer-to-Peer Brands

Brands powered by users that arise, grow and mutate within a shared product or brand context. Peer-to-peer brands generate layers of meaning through common focus and/or passion. They serve customer agendas, but may open doors for new product and brand platforms. Market spaces of P2P brands include open source software, product customizations, automobile aftermarkets, modding, and software extensions. Peer-to-peer brands are brand additive.Brands designed to be extensible via peer-to-peer architectures can gain market advantage over traditional top-down, close-end brands.

Personal brand applications

Personal brand applications are software applications that deliver unique brand value to customers in ways that are personal, portable and persistent. Their intent is to form a brand partnership with the customer, with a depth of interaction far beyond conventional channels of brand communication. They become the customer’s virtual sidekick, mentor, confidant and guide. They watch the customer’s back, they go where the customer goes, and they are “always on.”

Personal brand applications are the future of brands, to be played out on personal digital devices.

Pseudo Brands

Pseudo brands are brands that aren’t. They go through the usual motions of brands—an eye-grabbing logo, pumped up personality, lofty vows, zippy tagline and media splash—but do nothing to advance customers, or a company’s ties to them.

Repetitive Brand Syndrome

The affliction suffered by companies that implement conventional brand formulas and wind up (again and again) looking, acting and struggling just like everyone else.


In many respects, Starbucks is still the future of retail. Starbucks has cleverly packaged an invaluable and inexhaustible resource (culture) with an everyday commodity (coffee). You provide the former, and pay a premium for the latter.

Tear-off Brands

Brand swatches clipped from established brand fabric to impart new brand freedoms to fast-moving customers, potentially extending the brand (and customers) into new market spaces. Tear-off brands accelerate brand imagination. Case in point: concept cars.

Value Net (Value Creation Network)

A system to co-create value established by a company and its customers, and driven largely by brand programs. Brands play a primary role in 1) opening avenues of collaborative value innovation to all parties; 2) organizing, documenting and managing value creation efforts; 3) articulating new modes of being and doing for customers; and 4) transforming new forms of value into customer growth, and market growth.

Value Innovation

The creation of new categories of customer value that can radically reshape markets. In markets where established competitors fight head-to-head on price and features, the value innovator defines a new form of customer value that transcends the status quo, potentially creating a new market space with high barriers to entry.

Value Proposition/Brand Proposition

There is a world between these two. A value proposition is part of the sale. The brand proposition is not for sale. Brand is not a transaction. It is a joining. A handshake. A kiss.

Working Brands

Brands that team with customers to create new value. Instead of projecting a corporate identity through symbols, slogans and high-level campaigns, working brands roll up their sleeves and make markets happen by directly extending products and customers. They are brands of collaboration rather than brands of persuasion.

Contents © Tenaya Group LLC 2005-2011