What the F*ck is a Brand?

Seriously, what the f*ck is a brand, anyway? Most people have no idea what a brand is, and because of this, they don’t know how to measure its success, importance or where to place it on the balance sheet.

Branding goes beyond just logos and slogans. Understanding what a brand is and how to attribute value to it is the secret to growth, success and longevity in the marketplace. Neglecting the importance of branding will set your brand back before you’ve even started, leaving you making up for lost ground.

Too often, businesses launch ships with poorly defined objectives and strategies, leaving the biggest decision for their business in the hands of interns or community college graduates.

Im on a quest to democratize the brand and help you better understand the importance of branding and the consequences of overlooking it. I thought the best place to gain insight was to speak to the Guru of Ads– the ultimate living Mad Man, Rory Sutherland. Rory is Ogilvy UK’s vice chairman and founder of a behavioural science practice. He is also the author of one of my favourite branding books, “Alchemy. Sitting down with Rory and picking his brain was a big deal. The highlight of our meeting was when he offered his definition of a brand– which I thought was brilliant. In his words:

“A brand is the absence of anxiety.”

Take a second to think about it—when you’re in a store looking at a shelf or browsing Amazon to buy and compare options in a category, you tend to gravitate towards a brand you trust—either one you’ve heard of before or purchased from in the past. Deciding to try something new or buy in a category you haven’t before incites feelings of anxiety. You’re instantly faced with the question of whether or not you are making the right decision.

A brand is the experience of reliability and comfort– it eases the anxiety associated with making a purchase. We buy Samsung TVs and Apple AirPods without question because we trust the brand. You don’t think of buying another brand when you go to replace your iPhone because your trust in Apple is so strong. If you do consider changing phones because you are so fed up with their yearly phone replacements, it won’t be to some random provider– instead, it’s more akin to the switch we all did a few years back from Blackberry to Apple.

If you were to switch phone brands today, it would probably be to Google; a brand that has been seducing us for a few years to make the switch. Seduction is a big part of the branding game, but that’s an article for another week.

The moment you’re finally ready to switch phone brands, it will most likely be to another brand you trust. I bet that half of you reading this will feel a small sense of anxiety about leaving your iPhone. That feeling you’re experiencing? That’s the power of a brand.

Both Google and Apple are proven and trustworthy brands that make you feel safe when buying. In branding, trust and credibility matter more than optics and trends. During recessions, we feel more anxiety about buying. This is because we have less money to spend. Our decision on who to choose is more important, and for this reason, branding matters more today than it did a few years ago.

Look at these two examples below:

If you are on Amazon looking to buy a TV and are faced with the following two options, the chances are you will likely buy the Samsung over the CONTINU.US TV. Why? Because we don’t trust the CONTINU.US brand. When we are buying, we want to make sure that the product is going to be around for a few years so we can enjoy the warranty, chat with someone on support, and find the parts if needed. Samsung is a brand we trust; when we think of the name Samsung, we feel the absence of anxiety. If you can buy one TV in the next ten years and your partner says ‘Hey, CONTINU.US is on sale, I think we should buy this TV,” you’re instantly laden with anxiety because you don’t trust the brand.

The decision to choose Samsung over CONTINU.US, almost without thought, is the best illustration of brand impact I have received so far.

What’s interesting about this realization is the second order of thinking you must ask yourself– As a business, what is that feeling you experience for Samsung over others worth?’

This is where branding becomes a long game; you can’t measure in one ad campaign or one-quarter of socials that feeling you experience when you think of Samsung as a brand. As a customer, you also can’t pinpoint the exact moment the brand earned that feeling of trust. Branding is an amalgamation of 4 core pillars. The 4 pillars of a brand include:

  1. Good product
  2. Good story
  3. Good experience, and most importantly,

Having a great brand takes time to build. It requires consistent repetition of the above four core points to stick. Having a great brand takes time to build. It requires consistent repetition of the four pillars over an extended period of time to stick. Because it takes time, what you invest today pays off tomorrow. This is a metaphor for seeing branding as a long game. We can’t pinpoint the moment we learned to trust Apple over Blackberry but the gradual reinforcement of positive experiences, reliable products, and storytelling eventually convinced all of us to make the switch. The space you can’t quite quantify or pinpoint is the alchemy of branding.

Branding is somewhere between magic and repeatable logic. It takes time, it’s hard to measure, but it works.

My definition of a brand is that it is like a bouquet of flowers. A bouquet is beautiful when all the parts work together in unison. Each flower or foliage works together to contribute to the whole– this includes your overall customer or checkout experience, your website flow, your visual identity, how your brand communicates, how your product works and how your product line fits into the ecosystem of what you sell. Think of every aspect of your brand and business– this entire experience is what makes a brand. If you have a beautiful website but a crappy product or great product and crappy packaging, you have a brand problem; you also have an ugly bouquet.

Having the right bouquet to give to your intended audience makes them feel good, loved, and seduced– which makes you memorable by default. This relationship that you have built with your customers allows them to feel like they can trust you, and that trust is the absence of anxiety. CONNTINU.US is a bouquet that’s been slashed half off and is missing some petals. It does the job on the counter, but if we’re buying flowers to show off, we want them to last.

The core two takeaways from this week’s newsletter for your brand and business is that a brand is more complicated than what most people give credit for. Good branding requires high-level thinking and strategy. You also have to have stamina. Cutting back on your branding spend during a recession is the worst idea. Sure, you may not be able to see a clear ROI at month’s end, but that feeling of anxiety the customer felt 9 months ago because of your cutback will hurt you in the long term– and you may not be able to realize why you’re suffering later.

If your brand is struggling, chances are, you’re either:

1. Not prioritizing the strategic thinking necessary to make your brand stand out


    2. Reducing spending, which can cause anxiety in customers and lead them to hesitate in pulling the trigger

      Anxiety in the buying decision always exists, but during downturns in the market, the anxiety is amplified. When people are tighter with their purse strings, they are only going to spend with those they trust.

      Think about your brand through this lens; what weak areas are holding you back?

      Thanks for reading this week!

      Say hi!

      Contact Us

      Hours of Operation:

      9am-7pm Est

      US Office:

      5575 E Whisper Rdg.
      Cornville Arizona, 86325

      Feel free to send us a message and we will get back as soon as we can!