[.opening-paragraph]Despite countless books and posts and academic work on the subject, the branding profession's terminology is still frustratingly murky, opaque, and inconsistent. But if we professionals can’t get our language straight, how are our clients supposed to?[.opening-paragraph]

Let’s cut through the sales pitches and gatekeeper jargon and attempt to simplify it all, here.

Brand Theory: Useful Terminology

The Fundamental Particles of Branding

[.inline-heading]Product - [.inline-heading]Throughout this article, I’ll be using this word as shorthand to refer to the real-world thing that a given Brand represents. But a Brand can represent almost any entity that is engaged in mass-market communications with the intent to promote and/or persuade—a company or organization, an individual product or service, a solution or system, an idea or cause, a location, an event, a political candidate, etc.

[.inline-heading]Audience - [.inline-heading]This term refers to the people you’re communicating with in order to promote your Product. Depending on the Product, the scope of an Audience can vary wildly and might include any number of subgroups—for a consumer product the Audience might include current customers, potential customers, distributors, retailers, investors, and/or media outlets.

[.inline-heading]Touchpoints - [.inline-heading]This term refers to the myriad ways your organization interacts with your Audience, or that your Audience interacts with your Brand. This can include passive communications like seeing your Product in advertising, in sponsorships, on delivery vehicles, on employee uniforms, and at the point of purchase. It can also include active communications like conversations with a sales rep, comments on social media, and phone/email interactions with customer service. But is also includes communications you don’t control, like user reviews, news articles, and peer-to-peer interactions.

[.inline-heading]Brand - [.inline-heading]There is a lot packed into this simple, unassuming, one-syllable word. Your Brand amounts to the collective sum of the knowledge, opinions, feelings, and associations that your Audience has toward your Product. It includes factual and emotional information and is informed by a myriad of interactions with the Touchpoints of your Brand.

A Product’s Brand is similar to a person’s reputation. And just as your reputation is determined by what other people think about you, [.highlight-yellow]your Brand is whatever your Audience says it is.[.highlight-yellow] Whether we’re talking about your personal reputation or your Product’s Brand, you obviously have a role in shaping the experiences that will inform their opinions, but ultimately, they’re the ones who decide what those experiences mean.

[.inline-heading]Brand Perception - [.inline-heading]Since a Brand is a moving and evolving entity, the term Brand Perception can be useful to describe what your Audience (at a given moment in time) thinks, feels, and believes about your Brand. There are any number of ways of analyzing and describing an Audience’s perception of your brand, but I find these three aspects to be most useful:

  • [.inline-heading]Brand Promise - [.inline-heading]This is what your Audience has come to expect from your Product. The stronger your Brand, the more they will rely on your Brand Promise over other inputs, like product reviews, feature lists, price points, etc.
  • [.inline-heading]Brand Persona - [.inline-heading]Essentially, this is the vibe that your audience associates with your Product—the human personality traits they associate with your Brand.
  • [.inline-heading]Brand Position - [.inline-heading]This is where your Audience sees your Product, in relation to other Products they know and consider to be “competitors” to yours. Is it more expensive? Higher quality? Cooler? Safer? More dependable? Simpler?

Brand Chemistry: Interacting with a Brand

[.inline-heading]Brand Identity - [.inline-heading]These are all the devices your company uses to represent your Product and express your Brand in the marketplace. The obvious examples are your Product’s name, logo, taglines, packaging, uniforms, and other design elements. But Brand Identity can encompass sounds, smells, even behaviors. A few examples:

  • Central Market’s unique store layout is a clear signal when you walk in the door that you’re not at an ordinary supermarket.
  • Dolby’s “Deep Note” at the beginning of a film is a literal demonstration of their technology in the theater.
  • What would IKEA be without its funky Swedish-sounding product names and iconic instruction manuals?
  • Goodyear has become practically synonymous with the blimp it uses as an advertising vehicle and as a reminder of their Product's key properties (holding air).

A few related terms worth highlighting:

  • [.inline-heading]Brand Voice - [.inline-heading]This is a component of Brand Identity, referring to the way verbal communications are constructed. Tone, rhythm, vocabulary, and other style choices in the written (and spoken) word inform how a message is received and tell an Audience a lot about the Persona and Position of a Product.
  • [.inline-heading]Trademark - [.inline-heading]In a legal sphere, any device that uniquely represents a particular company's product is  referred to as a "trademark". So, the term is often used interchangeably with elements of a Brand Identity, especially the logo.
  • [.inline-heading]Identity System - [.inline-heading]As the elements of your Brand Identity (and the various Touchpoints they are applied to) grow in number, it can become difficult to manage and to maintain consistency. Especially for larger teams, it can be useful to define all the elements and their relationships to each other — this organization is called an Identity System. The rules for using each element are often documented in a "branding guide" or "brand standards manual".

[.inline-heading]Brand Expression - [.inline-heading]The means that you employ to transmit your Brand Identity to your Audience is referred to as Brand Expression. Every Touchpoint that connects you and your Audience is an expression of your Brand, so carefully calibrating every one of those Touchpoints (with a well-thought-out Brand Strategy and well-designed Brand Identity) helps ensure a consistent, predictable Brand Expression.

[.inline-heading]Brand Experience - [.inline-heading]Whatever your Audience sees, hears, feels, and thinks as it interacts with the various Touchpoints of your Brand Expression is collectively referred to as their Brand Experience. This is this raw data that helps your audience form its Brand Perception.

Brand Engineering: Constructing and Applying a Brand

[.inline-heading]Brand Vision - [.inline-heading]This is simply a goal or endpoint that you’re trying to reach with your Brand—what Promise, Persona, and Position do you want your Audience to associate with your Product?

[.inline-heading]Brand Audit - [.inline-heading]To get somewhere, it help’s to know where you’re starting from. A Brand Audit is simply about pausing and evaluating what your Audience currently thinks of your product’s Brand. Depending on the scale of your market, this could be a formal process with market research and focus groups, or it could be just an informal survey of representative customers.

[.inline-heading]Brand Strategy - [.inline-heading]This is a long-term plan to help your Brand evolve from its current status in you’re Audience’s mind (perhaps determined from a Brand Audit) to the place defined in your Brand Vision.

[.inline-heading]Brand Development - [.inline-heading]Broadly, this term refers to the entire process of getting from Brand Vision to Brand Perception. More specifically, the term is also used to refer to building or updating your Brand Identity and guiding its deployment across the countless Touchpoints created by your sales, marketing, PR, customer service, and other teams (see Brand Expression).

[.inline-heading]Brand Management - [.inline-heading]After completing a Brand Development initiative, Brand Management is the ongoing work of continually monitoring your Audience’s Brand Perception and maintaining your Brand Expression to keep everything aligned with your Brand Strategy and Brand Vision.

[.inline-heading]Branding - [.inline-heading]This term is used in several different contexts:

  1. as a synonym for Brand Identity (especially the logo),
  2. as a synonym for for Brand Development, and
  3. to reference the professional practice of developing Brands (establishing it as parallel to the practices of marketing and advertising)

From Theory to Practice

Now, let's take these abstract terms and put them into use. This graphic illustrates the entire Brand Development process, and shows how each of the concepts above are interrelated.

The Brand Development Process

Drawing Conclusions

No, you don't need to memorize this entire list. When it comes to your organization's Brand, this is the key point: Your Product's Brand is shaped in the minds of your Audience by every interaction they have with your Product. Many of those interactions are out of your control, but what you can control—apart from the Product's quality, obviously—is how your Product is represented in the marketplace (i.e., your Brand Identity and its application across all your Audience Touchpoints). If that representation is carefully crafted, consistently applied, and built on a strong strategic foundation, then it is possible to (eventually) shift their perception of your Product.

Accomplishing that is obviously not as easy or as straightforward as the graphic above implies, but with the right Brand Development partner at your side, it might just seem that simple. And knowing the lingo should make it easier for you to get that conversation started.[.end-marker][.end-marker]