What the Heck is a Brand, Anyway?
Updated: Jul 19
What is a brand (in marketing)?
You’d think it’d be easy to define. But your query that landed you here probably resulted in hundreds of answers to this question, and each one is a little different.
I love simplicity and outlines—turning abstract concepts into colour-by-number. So here’s how we help people unlock a clear understanding around the concept of brand.
There’s a framework we call the Three Ps of Brand. It makes brand (and all that it encompasses) easier to understand for our clients and internal team members.
Below you’ll find a clear breakdown of the Three Ps of Brand (Purpose, Position, and Personality) that you’re welcome to use for defining your own brand.
But before we get into that…
What Actually is a Brand?
When people say “brand,” they are referring to brand identity. Which is a lot like personal identity, but for a business.
If someone were to describe you as a person, they might mention the colour of your hair, your height, your race, your gender, your qualities, your career, your family role, where you live, and more.
I might be described as “that guy from Lethbridge that runs a marketing company and has glasses, a beard, and wears his hat backwards.”
In the same way, your business’s brand encompasses the things people would use to describe your business.
So a business could be described as, “that mechanic on Main Street with the lime green logo that specializes in import vehicles and has really good customer service.”
A brand will include many, many more details than this (just as your personal identity would have a lot more details as well), and people will likely be able to name more qualities if pressed to give more description.
But our brains like simple, recognizable patterns to identify things. You and your business will be described with just a few words in word-of-mouth conversations. What words will people use?
When describing a person or a business, people are more likely to refer to your unique attributes. Someone is not going to say “sort of tall” to describe me any more than they’d say “open on weekdays” to describe my business, because these aren’t really noteworthy characteristics.
Your brand will be focused on what is unique about your business.
It’s also vitally important to note that your business’s brand is how the market would describe your business.
This is essential to understand! It’s not how you would describe your business. How you describe your business might be the brand you aspire to be. But how the market describes it is the brand identity of the business. The market’s perception is the reality.
I could describe myself as hilarious, but if nobody else thinks so, my identity isn’t “that funny guy.”
So to answer the question, “What is a brand?”: A brand is the way the market understands and identifies a business.
This might feel like a bit of a vague, hard-to-contain concept. And you’d be right. It’s very hard to create a simple “this is my brand” definition. There’s a lot to it. But the Three Ps of Brand can help by giving it a framework.
What Isn’t a Brand?
Let’s clear something up.
A logo is not a brand. A logo is one part of a brand (and an important one!). But brand is much greater than just your logo.
Your logo is part of your visual brand identity, which is also not your brand. Again, it’s part of your brand, but there’s more to brand than the colours and fonts and images and logo you use to portray the business in a consistent way. These are all part of your Brand Personality, which is one of the Three Ps of Brand. More on that below!
So What is Branding Then?
Brand and branding are different things.
Brand is a noun. It’s a thing. It’s your business’s identity.
Branding is a verb. It’s an action. It’s how you shape your business’s identity.
I mentioned above that you might describe your brand differently than the market would. And that indicates that you may need to do some branding.
If the market thinks you’re expensive and inaccessible, but you know your business to be more affordable than people think, you have some branding work to do. Maybe an ad campaign would help (cough, cough, we do that).
Or if the market can’t easily recognize you because you’re not very visible or you don’t have a strong logo, you might consider doing some branding. A meaningful and memorable logo design might be something to look into (ahem, we do that too).
Branding is marketing with the aim of influencing how people perceive your brand.
How to Create a Brand Guide With the Three Ps of Brand
A brand guide is a document that defines how a brand should be consistently represented in branding activities. This guide defines the brand as the business sees itself, and any gaps between that definition and the market’s understanding highlights areas where the brand could be better communicated.
Your brand guide should be available for use by all internal and external people that are involved in the business’s communication. When everyone uses it as their guide to representing the business, you will shape a strong brand that has meaning in the marketplace.
We created and use the Three Ps of Brand to create brand guides for businesses, and it’s a framework that may help you better work through the many aspects of your brand.
A brand includes components broken into three categories: Brand Purpose, Brand Position, and Brand Personality.
The first P of the Three Ps of Brand is Purpose.
In this section, you need to be clear on what the business exists to do. When you’re clear on this and use it to guide all your marketing activities, the market will also have clarity.
This section should include your Mission Statement. This is usually just one sentence to describe what the business does and for whom.
Starbucks’ Mission Statement: “With every cup, with every conversation, with every community—we nurture the limitless possibilities of human connection.”
If you have one, you should also include your Purpose Statement in this section. This is a little different from the Mission Statement in that the Purpose Statement concisely states why the business exists, beyond making a profit.
You may also include your Vision Statement here, which is a declaration of the business’s desired future state—what you’re aiming to become or achieve.
Amazon’s Vision Statement: “To be Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavour to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
Lastly, it’s helpful to include a short list (three to five) of the provided benefits that your customers or clients receive from your product or service. This is the impact your work can have.
London Road Marketing Benefits: Maximum impact for the budget, Lifts the responsibility off the owner’s shoulders, One relationship to cover the entire marketing picture.
Businesses may use different types of statements or guiding principles, but these are all quite commonly used. If you use something else, the point is just to capture what you do, for whom, what benefit that provides, why you do it, and what you are aiming to become or achieve. These are all aspects of how the market can identify you, and should be used consistently to help shape that perception.
Altogether, this is your Brand Purpose.
The second P of the Three Ps of Brand is Position.
This is where you define your business’s market segment and the unique offer it brings to the segment.
It’s great to relate this information in three different formats, going from largest and most comprehensive to smallest and most distilled.
The first item to include would be a Position Statement. This is often a full page in length, or even more, using paragraphs of description. It details: 1) what solution you provide; 2) what alternative solutions your target market might also consider; 3) what you do that’s different than those alternative solutions; 4) what benefits your differences can provide; 5) and the core customers or clients who will especially value all of these things. This isn’t an external-facing statement. It’s a reference for your communication to stay focused on who you’re speaking to and what your unique differences are.
Then you could include an Elevator Pitch. If you have a Position Statement, the Elevator Pitch takes that long description and thins it to just the most vital information, making up a single paragraph. This should be able to be stated in 30 seconds (about the length of an elevator ride) and functions as a great introduction to the company when explaining it to someone who’s never heard of your business.
BetterHelp Elevator Pitch: BetterHelp is online therapy that offers video and phone and even live chat-only therapy sessions so you don’t need to see anyone on camera if you don’t want to. BetterHelp is much more affordable than in-person therapy and is available worldwide. BetterHelp will assess your needs and can match you with your own accredited therapist in under 48 hours. Visit betterhelp.com and join the over 2 million people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional.
Then you take it one step further and make it just a sentence, called a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) or Slogan. This can’t capture nearly the detail as the Position Statement or Elevator Pitch, but it should be one succinct statement (as short as possible), that could encapsulate your offer.
This is going to look a bit like a tagline, but they differ in that a tagline is used to communicate something about the product or service, or used for a campaign. The UVP is to encapsulate the main value of the brand as a whole.
Again, different companies take different approaches to defining these qualities, but the point is to capture a strong understanding of the market segment and what the business is bringing that’s uniquely valuable in that segment. Staying true to these details make it much easier for the audience to understand your place in the market.
The third and final P of the Three Ps of Brand is Personality.
This is where you define the way your brand looks and sounds—the kinds of things people usually think of as defining a brand. When used consistently, these help your brand be highly recognizable.
To start, this portion of the brand guide could include a short list of some associating words you want the market to tie to your brand. These could be “trustworthy” or “inspiring” or “ethical” or any other descriptor the brand should become associated with. These will help shape your messaging to ensure you keep reinforcing these qualities.
You’ll want a section defining your tone and voice. Your voice can be described by giving it a bit of a persona. You might say, “our voice sounds like an experienced, professional veteran of the industry that exudes confidence.” Or, “our voice sounds like your favourite aunt who’s cheery and comforting.”
With your voice characterized, tone should also be defined. We like to define tone by positioning the brand along a spectrum on a few different qualities. For instance, on a scale of 1 to 5, are you more funny (1) or serious (5)? Casual or formal? Cheeky or respectful? Enthusiastic or matter-of-fact?
A good copywriter will be able to take this information and be able to write copy that consistently sounds like the brand’s characteristic way of speaking.
Colours! You’ll want to indicate your brand colours to their exact Pantone, CMYK, RGB, and HEX, codes. You can also give an idea of how much they should be used, proportionately. You may use a primary colour the most, a secondary colour about half as much, and a couple of contrast colours very sparingly.
Fonts should also be defined. What typeface will you use for headings and with what styling (italics, weight, size, capitalization, etc.)? How about subheadings, body copy, accent text, etc.?
Of course, your logo is also a part of your brand (but not the entirety of a brand!). You might have a primary logo, an alternative logo, and a logomark. And each might have different colouring options and ways they should be used or not used. Define all of that here so that all uses of your logo are consistently representative of your brand.
It’s helpful to also guide the style of your graphics and illustrations. Many websites use icons, and they should be intentionally styled, as should infographics or any other use of illustration and graphics. Think of Red Bull’s commercials with the line-drawn simplistic scenes like pencil on paper. Consistent use of this helps you instantly recognize their advertising.
Lastly, there should be guidance on the look and use of photos and videos. Some brands use dark-toned, cinematic images with dramatic lighting. Others may go for a photojournalistic style. Or soft with lighter colours, lots of light, and plenty of bokeh. Again, consistent use here helps develop a richly characterized brand that people can easily identify..
The Three Ps of Brand
Brand is the entirety of the ways the market identifies a business. It’s more than the logo or colours or tone. It’s the market position and unique offer and impact and more.
In sum, a fully defined brand identity should include as much of the following as possible:
Unique Value Proposition
Tone & Voice