“Brand is a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

American Marketing Association

I just read a blog that included the above definition from the American Marketing Association.  (Although I couldn't find the quote on their website, it is widely attributed to them.)  Honestly, I was quite surprised by their ‘take’ on the word.   Respectfully, it seems remarkably out of touch with current thinking.  Not that there isn't a wide variety of perspective on just about everything in our industry, it's just that one would think that the American Marketing Association would offer a more contemporary view.  This feels like its out of the 1950's, before marketers understood the power and role that emotion plays in crafting the brand experience.

For context, in describing themselves, the AMA says:

“As the leading organization for marketers, AMA is the trusted go-to resource for marketers and academics. We are counted on as the most credible marketing resource where our members can stay relevant with knowledge, training and tools to enhance lifelong learning and obtain valuable information and connections.”

If the definition is their's and in the appropriate context, then this makes their description of perhaps the most fundamental concept of marketing rather alarming. It's excruciatingly narrow.  First, it seems rooted squarely in the nuts & bolts of brand building.  “Name”, “term”, “sign”, “symbol”, and “design” are all tools that can be used in the branding process.  Each can be critically important, but they are merely pieces of the much bigger puzzle that when combined with product interaction (and other inputs), constitutes the overall brand experience.  To be sure, a “name” is not a brand.  A “term” is not a brand.  A “sign” is not a brand.  Etc.  It would be as if an “American Literary Association” defined literature as paragraphs, periods, words, paper, commas, and apostrophes.

More troublesome is the rest of the definition: “intended to identify the goods and services".  No.  Not just the “goods and services”.  A brand is so much more than just the product or service.  Our perceptions and feelings about the brand result from the total experience that comes from interacting with all consumer touch points - the product, advertising, the retail experience, packaging, customer support, price, promotion, event marketing, social media interaction, etc. The definition also ignores the powerful role that social feedback and information plays in our perceptions of the brands we interact with.   'Word of mouth' is even more important to brand perception in the world of social media!

Focusing a definition of "brand" merely on the core, product interaction strips away the rest of the rich experience that creates the holistic brand relationship.  It narrows attention to physical intrinsics when the overall brand experience - and business opportunity - is so much broader. 

Is Coca-Cola just brown sugar water?  Is Apple merely plastic, various electronic components and processors?  Is Nike simply about rubber and plastic shoes?  Is Porsche just about getting from point A to B?  The very objective of brand building is to frame product interaction in a way that enhances the overall consumer experience and sense of value. The AMA definition ignores this.  

I’ve written before about how perplexing it is that our industry can be so (a technical term) ‘wishy washy’ about the words we use to define what we do.  A brand is, of course, merely an idea.  But why is there such variance among marketing practitioners about what that word really means?  If there can be near universal understanding of other words that involve people and psychology like “depression”, “neurosis”, “happiness” etc. (themselves mere ideas, just like “brand”) why the lack of clarity about this word?

You wouldn’t define a human being as skin, teeth, hair, and blood; similarly, a brand isn’t merely the various things that comprise it either.  While there are a variety of different professions all working in various ways to build brands, each with their own expertise and perspective, it shouldn’t be too much to expect that we all read off the same proverbial 'sheet of music' about the basics.  This, especially about something as fundamental as the definition of “brand”.  With respect, the “most credible marketing organization” should really know better.

You may be interested in "What Is A Brand" Seriously?


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Tags: advertising, brand, branding, brandstrategy, definition, marketing


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