What is a Brand?
The brand concept is well established in marketing. The first brands in a modern marketing sense were developed over a century ago. However, during the second half of the 20th century brands and branding became central issues in marketing. Most discussions of brands are related to physical products, especially consumer packaged goods. Only during the last 10 years or so has an awareness of the importance of creating service brands emerged. Now it is widely recognized that branding is a vital issue for service organisations as well.’ However, research into service branding is in its infancy.
The American Marketing Association offered the following definition of a brand as “A name, term, sign, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller‘s product or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”2
From a Marketing Services perspective at least, two objections can be made: this definition misses the key characteristic of services as processes, and it excludes the customer.
It points out explicitly issues such as name, term, sign, symbol and feature, but does not address the key characteristic of services, which is that services are processes and the consumption of services can be characterised as process consumption.
Second, this definition excludes the customer. Brands are viewed from the marketer’s point of view as things that the firm creates. Much brand development, or brand building as it is often incorrectly labelled, has been based on such a perspective in practise. The marketer uses a number of planned marketing communication efforts to try to develop a distinct brand, and the customer is expected to form an image of the brand that corresponds to the intended brand.
In reality this is of course not the case, but this view of a brand and branding is due to the normally used branding processes for physical goods, where planned marketing communication is the main instrument used. In a physical goods context this has been a successful way of creating brands, because the good is pre-produced and already exists when the branding process starts. The good always includes the same features, and if proper market research has been done customers like or accept these features and they correspond to the benefits the customers are looking for. Because the consumption of goods is outcome consumption, the customer does not become involved in the production process and the outcome of that process, the physical good forms a stable base for brand development through planned marketing communication efforts. A bottle or can of soft drink or a breakfast cereal cannot be developed into a successful brand if the customers do not like the taste of the soft drink or the breakfast cereal. Because in the case of physical goods the base for a successful brand already exists in the form of the goods themselves, the central part of the branding process automatically becomes a planned marketing communication issue using distinct communication media, such as television, newspapers, direct marketing and the Internet.
In services, the situation changes and the importance, and involvement, of the customer increases dramatically because a service as a process is a much less standardised base for branding. Second, the customer participates in that process, which is the basis for brand development.
Brand Image and Identity
One of the problems with the discussion of brands and branding seems to be the distinction between brand and brand image that is often made.
A brand is the identity of a good, or a service, which the marketer wants to create, whereas brand image is the image of the good, or service, which is formed in the customer’s mind.
The term brand identity can sometimes be used as a description of the image of the brand that the marketer wants to create in the mind of the customer.
A brand and brand image cannot be created and can exist without the presence of the customer. Customers continuously receives inputs about the brand that is being created, and they relate to these brand messages on a continuous basis, to the extent that they observe them and react to them unconsciously, thus forming the brand image in their minds. This is the case with all Products (services as well as with physical goods). A brand is not first built and then perceived by the customers. Instead, every step in the branding process, every brand message, is separately perceived by customers and together add up to a brand image, or brand for short, which is formed in their minds.
When including the customer in the branding process, there is no need to make a distinction between a brand and a brand image. The brand as a concept is always an image. Hence, when we talk about a brand we always refer to it as an image in the minds of customers. In this way brand and brand image are synonymous.
The term brand identity can be used as a concept which describes the image of the brand that the marketer wants to create in the minds of customers. It is the goal to be achieved. A brand is the image that is actually formed in their minds. Branding is the process of creating this image.
“Brand building” is often used to mean branding. However, this is incorrect and dangerous, because it gives the impression that the marketer can create a brand by himself. From this follows that after the brand has been “built” it can be offered to customers. In reality, as we shall see in the following sections, the customers’ role is much more active in the branding process. Whatever the marketer does, it is the customer who decides whether an intended brand is developing or not. If anybody builds a brand, it is the customer. The role of the marketer is to create frames for the development of a brand in the minds of customers, by providing an appropriate physical product, service process and supportive communication using various means of planned marketing communication. Thus, the brand is formed. If the marketer has been successful in creating this branding “frame,” the intended brand identity is achieved, otherwise it is not.