The Elements of a Well-Constructed Brand

A few weeks ago, I offered up my overview definition of a brand. I summarized that a brand was the total set of experiences a person has when experiencing your product or company. In that explanation, I listed the five essential elements of a well-constructed brand:

  1. A Brand promise
  2. Brand perceptions
  3. Brand expectations
  4. Brand persona
  5. Brand elements

After the post, I had a few people asked me to explain what all those meant, so here’s my little run down:

A Brand Promise

The brand promise is exactly that. What does the brand promise people who buy it? Or, perhaps more appropriately, what do people expect to get when they buy a brand? Is it quality, safety, excitement, well-being? This is not just the literal promise (a cold beverage) but a visceral one, too (lightness, cleanliness and refreshment). When people buy Nike, they’re likely expecting comfort, speed, agility and fitness. When people buy Harley Davidson, they’re likely expecting freedom, independence and perhaps strength.

Brand Perceptions

These are the truths that consumers think and feel about the brand, based on their experiences with and from the brand. The problem with perceptions is that the brand/company does not control them. Volkswagen is perceived as harmful to the environment and law-breakers after its 2015 admission it intentionally manipulated emissions measures in its clean diesel vehicles. Subway is perceived as supporting a pedophile when work of Jared Fogle’s child porn and sex habits surfaced. Brand managers orchestrate everything the brand does and says to elicit certain perceptions in consumers. And that perception should align with the brand promise.

Brand Expectations

Closely aligned with brand perceptions are consumer expectations. Apple does not make a $299 computer (unless you count older iPhones). If it did, consumers would be confused. Apple is a more expensive brand because the expectation is that Apple is higher quality, better design and you must pay a premium for that. This is why Nike didn’t change the brand name on Cole Hahn shoes when it acquired them. You don’t expect fine leather dress shoes from Nike. The brand expectation would be adulterated and trust in the brand would be lost. Brand expectations are most often disconnected when brands associate themselves with events, spokespeople or other brands that do not naturally connect with the brand promise.  (Kid Rock will not likely ever be a spokesperson for Rolex. Morgan Freeman will not likely have anything to do with Red Bull.)

Brand Persona

Perhaps the most important element of branding to advertising and marketing staff members, the brand persona is the human-like qualities the brand exhibits in its communications. How does the brand talk? What voice and tone does it employ? If the brand were a person, what words would you use to describe him/her? Would that person take stands on social issues or not? Would they be polarizing or placid? Would they bring attention to themselves or defray it?  Coca-Cola has a persona of someone happy, smiling, friendly and likely focused on doing and saying things to keep everyone else happy, smiling and friendly. Red Bull is someone edgy, risk-taking, adventurous who isn’t likely to care what other people think.

Brand Elements

From your logo to the typefaces used in your advertisements to your packaging to the way your sales associates dress, everything that fills out the experience for you customers is an element that should reinforce your brand and its promise. From that promise, you’ll likely choose color schemes, fonts, uniform styles, interior design elements … all the way to orientation of your business cards. If done well, each little detail will ladder up to the brand and its promise. (For more on colors and meanings, see For advertising, brand elements are often expressed in a style guide which shows appropriate uses, colors, orientations and even sizes for logos, work marks and other elements for creative teams, agencies and vendors to follow.

Their Importance

These major (or META) elements of branding are imperative to understand because they guide everything that flows from them including strategy, messaging, audience targeting, partnerships, associations and more. But there is a second level of branding that is key to understand as well. This level is Brand Positioning. Stay tuned for my thoughts on that next week.

In the meantime, how did my definitions fit with yours? Would you add anything? Clarify something? Subtract? The comments are yours.

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