2.1.2 What is a brand?

Brand equity, brand management, brand awareness, brand positioning, brand culture, brand strategy, brand functions and brand environment are all conjugated of one single noun: brand. The word ‘brand’ finds is origin in ancient times where livestock, criminals or slaves got permanently marked with a branding iron to identify ownership. (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2005). According to Ries and Ries a brand is a special word in the mind of consumers: a noun, with the power to influence purchasing behaviour (Ries & Ries, 1999:5). In the same order of indentifying and possession, the American Marketing Association (AMA) defined a brand as: “A name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors” (AMA, 12-01-2008: ama-pdx.org/marketingpower-com).

Keller takes a wider perspective making a distinction between the brand definition as set by AMA and the industry’s concept of branding. Keller adds tangible and intangible brand elements, rational & emotional brand elements, and symbolic brand elements which differentiate and indentify a brand. Hence Keller’s definition is taken from a more holistic point of view: “A brand is therefore more then a product, because it can have dimensions that differentiate it in some way from other products designed to satisfy the same needs” (Keller, 2006:3-5). Van Gelder recognizes the managerial interdependencies and argues that “a brand is the translation of the business strategy into a consumer experience that brings about specific behaviour” (Gelder, 2003:16).

Kapferer takes it from here and append the source of influence; a system of interconnected mental associations (brand image) and relationships. According to Kapferer a brand as such, exists when it has the power to influence the market acquired by its sources of cumulative brand experience. The dynamics of branding and the bidirectional contingencies between the brand and the market makes the brand a living system build around three anchor points; (1) product & service, (2) name & symbols, (3) concept (Kapferer, 2007:11-12). See figure 4.

The brand system - power of influence

Figure 4. The brand system: power of influence.


Kotler and Pfoertsch adopted the holistic paradigm and argue next that a brand is a promise to the consumer at which the brand has formed a set of perceptions about a product, service or business. It holds therefore a distinctive influential position in customer’s mind where the brand represents a short-cut of attributes, benefits, beliefs and values based on past experiences, associations and future expectations. Finally it is the brand that differentiates, reduce complexity, and simplify the decision-making process (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2006:13).

Arnold summarizes this as a blend of complementary physical, rational and emotional appeals which must be distinctive to the customer. Furthermore the blend should result in a unified transparent character or personality. To be successful as a brand Arnold distinguishes four criteria (Arnold, 92:14-16): 

  1. The product itself must deliver functional benefits to meet the demands of the market.
  2. Over and above the product the brand needs to offer intangible added value.
  3. The brand needs to be consistent over time and need to present a unified transparent character or personality without discrepancies in perception.
  4. The perceptual value offered must fit the customer well; ideally it should result in a customer who is ready to buy the product or service.