This is a tough question that I am often asked when consulting with large firms on brand strategy and communications planning. I usually start by discussing what a brand is not.

First of all, a brand is not a logo, a colour or a strap line. It’s not an advertising campaign. Nor is it a strategy created by an agency like Thinking Juice. A brand is a living breathing ‘thing’ that can prove as difficult to quantify as it is to create.

One of the best quotes on what a brand actually ‘is’ could be this: “it’s not what YOU (the brand owner) say it is… it’s what THEY (the customer) say it is”. Put simply, a brand is a company’s or product’s ‘personality’ in the hearts and minds of the customer. The afore mentioned identity elements, including logos, colours and strap lines are simply the vital identity elements that help induce the all-important gut feel in the stomach of the customer that conjours up the emotional equity of the brand’s personality. That’s not to say that they’re not key to a brand. They are. But they are not the brand itself.

So, what about building a brand? Well that’s a lot easier to describe. The best brand building quote I have ever heard was from my father. Who, while being one of the most intelligent and interesting men that I know, is not a brand strategist. I remember as a boy,  being rather boyish. That is to say, at times, I was rather difficult for my parents to manage. And what’s the nice way of putting it.

On many an occasion I remember telling my father that “it wasn’t me…” or “I won’t do it again….”. He would look at me with his penetrating stare and say “Gellan, it’s not what you ‘say’ that tells me anything about you, it’s what you ‘do’. Your actions are deafening.” Powerful words indeed.

Today, I use that thought as the basis for all brand strategies that we write. Brands are built on behavior. On actions, not words.

We can find examples to qualify this all around us. Take Apple, for example. We don’t think they’re the most innovative electronics producer of our generation because they told us they were. They just got on and innovated. Ferrari don’t have to market the fact that their cars are fast. They just went and won F1, year after year. Virgin don’t have to tell us that they have a entrepreneurial spirit. They just keep on penetrating markets that, technically, have no space for them.

So, on the subject of brand building our advice is to first live the proposition. Don’t say you’re one thing, when you are something else. Live your brand, and it may well take on a life of its own.

There are some great books on the subject, where I pretty much stole the entire contents of this piece from. Most notably ‘The Brand Gap’ and ‘Zag’ by Marty Neumeier really make the lightest, and best, reading on the subject.

Written by Gellan Watt