Blog: Robert Bean – What’s a Brand?

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Robert Bean, Founder, The Robert Bean Branding Company, closed the second day of the Like Minds theatre at the Digital Marketing Show, talking about what is a brand.

What is a brand? If you want to understand anything in life, look to the origin. If you do that at some stage you will have a ‘I get it moment’. The furthest back we can trace a brand is the old Nordic word brandr, meaning burnt. This is true in the branding of animals. So brand can mean the logo of the company.

People have tried to define this better. Accountants said it is the worth of a business beyond the value of its tangible assets. That’s not bad, but in the world we live most firms are service based and thus don’t have assets, so this is a good start point but slightly irrelevant.

At the other end of the spectrum the advertising industry said it was ‘personality + product = brand’. I think this is deeply shallow in that it only skims the surface of the whole story.

There is another one which works across a spectrum, ‘promises delivered’. This works for a product, a service, a person and as such it is a better description. If you deliver on promises you start to build trust, and when you have a brand you have trust in it, so this is a good way of describing it.

My view splits it into three parts: culture, product/service and reputation. The first thing I do with a business is try and understand these three parts, and then reform them into a new shape where they are overlapping, and the middle of these three is the thing that makes the business tick. This is known as the single organising principle.

What does this mean? Well it must come from the principles in the organisation. Advertising taught me the power of single mindedness. The third part of this is the organising principle, as it is a framework within which people can make decisions. It is a perpetual task aligning these three parts.

Once you get this system in place you have streamlined your operations and suddenly all decisions can be made with the core principles at mind. You need to have the core principle of your brand at the heart of everything, of everybody within your brand and everything that you do.

This is all about alignment, bringing your business together around a clear thought. Alignment allows you to be a lot more efficient, and as a result of this you are able to be more profitable. And thus with ongoing alignment comes ongoing profitability.

So how do you do this? It comes down to problem definition. First of all, who are you after, what is your target audience? The next question is competitive performance, how are we different or better than our competitors? Next is personality and values. If we behave like this, then those behaviours need to come from things we value.

The penultimate section is insights and motivations. Lastly, role or purpose statement, which is no longer than one sentence. Once you have that sentence you have your core operating principle, and then how does it affect all of the other aspects.

Digital pushes companies much harder into this type of exercise. There are no longer walls to hide behind, instead there are windows for people to see into the company at all different vantage points.

About the author

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Founded Like Minds in 2009. Andrew is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He founded design agency Icon in 1983 (sold to AGI Media) and Eyetoeye, one of the first digital agencies in the UK, in 1994. He advises start-ups and digital agencies on business development and is an Evaluated Consultant for Finpro, the export arm of the Embassy of Finland. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in 2000.