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20 ways to define Brand

Many years ago, a market research consultancy called Morris Hargreaves McIntyre carried out some comprehensive research for me. It unearthed some truths that persuaded stakeholders of the organisation I worked for of the need to comprehensively reconsider their position.

It was elegantly done!

Andrew McIntyre, one of the directors of MHM Insight has recently produced this insightful (see what I did there) article on the way different people think of brands.

It's worth a read. Enjoy!


Brand may be the most over-used and ill-defined word we have. Google it. There are dozens of competing definitions. Even the gurus disagree, Philip Kotler going for the name, term, sign, symbol that differentiates you, while Seth Godin plumps for expectations, memories, stories and relationships that create value (which isn't bad).

And Brand consultancy is increasingly like a dark art. Invariably, there is a proprietary brand 'model'. Most consist of concentric circles or pyramids. Some ingeniously combine both and add directional arrows like go-faster stripes.

I'm not kidding. Just Google 'brand models' and see. Clients' worlds are then mapped into these pre-defined shapes and word-smithed to be pithy and dynamic sounding. While this can feel like the brand has been 'solved' and the bill is reassuringly expensive, too many organisations are back in the same room with a flipchart and a different consultant within three years.

I know, because I'm often that consultant.

So, let's let some light in. There is no single definition of brand. One proprietary model doesn't fit all (how could it?) If you want your brand to be distinctive, unique even, then maybe it needs its own model? Our brand work for Shakespeare's Globe resulted in a brand model that was the 20-sided shape of their iconic theatre.

Brands have many, many stakeholders and if your process is not inclusive and participatory then your neat, swiftly arrived at definition will never be embedded. It also takes some time. At least four months, ideally six. Why? Because the best brand processes are iterative and reflective. They also need to be tested, internally and externally (why do so few branding agencies do this?).

A shared definition of Brand

In the spirit of openness, and inclusivity, we need to acknowledge and understand that most stakeholders enter the room with their own definition of Brand, typically based on their own context:

It’s more than a name…

  • Designers think it’s a logo.

  • Design agencies think it’s a whole visual identity.

  • Lawyers think it’s a trademark.

  • Merchandisers think it’s a product.

  • Salespeople think it’s a reason to choose.

  • Shoppers think it’s a guarantee.

  • Advertisers think it’s an image.

  • Publicists think it’s a shorthand message.

  • PR managers think it’s your reputation.

  • Quality controllers think it’s consistency.

  • Sales managers think it’s a promise.

  • Experience managers think it’s the sum total of your touchpoints.

  • Planners think it’s the encapsulation of your mission and objectives.

  • Psychologists think it’s an ongoing emotional relationship.

  • Copywriters think it’s a story.

  • Marketers think it’s other people’s perceptions.

  • Cynics think it’s an ugly lie.

But we think it is the beautiful truth...

At Morris Hargreaves McIntyre we choose to work with Cause-led organisations.

For our clients, their Brand is best understood as their DNA: the Essence of who they are and what they own, the Belief that fuels their commitment and the Cause they are serving.

It defines what makes them attractive, what makes them engaging and what makes them impactful.

This shared definition informs every aspect of their work (including everything in the list above); they won't get an eye-watering invoice to prove they've been 'branded'; and they won't be back in the room within three years.

Tapir works with organisations and places that want to become recognised as destinations.

Creatively conceived insight programmes, applying relevant audience segmentation to define activity that will deliver ROI including enhanced brand values are a key part of our work.

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