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Sunday, May 6, 2012



If someone outside of marketing in your organization asked you, “What’s your brand idea,” do you know what answer you would give? If you don’t know for sure, don’t feel bad. It’s one of the harder brand-building questions to answer—at least with any consensus or consistency. It seems that, unlike other strategic, brand-building elements—such as the positioning target or the brand’s benefits and reasons why—which are generally understood the same way by most marketers, the brand idea is open to considerable interpretation. You might say that, more often than not, the brand idea is in the mind of the beholder.


And yet, having a widely understood and agreed-to brand idea can be really helpful—for everyone in the organization.  For one thing, the brand idea, when deftly encapsulated in a sentence or less, is highly memorable. For another, it meaningfully and succinctly separates one brand from another—both within the company and (ideally) within the competitive set. In a sense, a well-articulated brand idea makes immediately clear, either directly or by implication, the one thing that meaningfully differentiates the brand.


But, as we noted, getting to this well-articulated brand idea isn’t all that easy. Part of the reason is probably that it’s common to confuse communication campaign ideas or advertising ideas with brand ideas. More specifically, when a brand has a highly memorable set of key copy words (what some marketers call slogan or campaign tagline), and when those words stand the test of time, well, it’s just so natural to blurt them out as, fundamentally, the brand’s idea. You can imagine someone calling “Just do it” or “I’m lovin’ it” the Nike and McDonald’s brand ideas. Clearly, these kinds of brand-owned “mantras” are very valuable; and just as clearly, they state or imply the brand’s defining benefits. But there should be more to a brand idea, we think.


Brand Idea—A Definition: Some of you may be thinking at this point, “I’ve heard the term ‘brand idea’ before, but I’m still not sure exactly what we’re talking about.” So, before going a whole lot further, we ought to at least propose a working definition of this thing called brand idea. First though, maybe it helps to specify in a few more words what a brand idea is not. As already noted, it’s not a communication campaign slogan or tagline; nor is it a one-sentence sound-byte of the brand’s positioning strategy (though, naturally, a brand idea would not be inconsistent with either of these). Finally, it’s not simply a re-statement of the brand’s functional and emotional benefits.


Here, then, is our shot at a reasonable, working definition of brand idea: A captivating expression of the needs & wants a brand best satisfies…that simultaneously conveys the brand’s ultimate purpose or commitment. Whenever we offer such a definition, we find it helps to break down the smaller parts within it and try to state exactly what we mean by each part:

Definition Part
Which Means

A captivating expression

Words that go beyond the literal, that typically carry appropriate double & triple meanings or connotations

of the needs & wants

Not merely functional problems that the brand’s performance solves, but also those deeper-seated desires that accompany them

a brand best satisfies

The most meaningful differentiation—aimed at the brand’s intended target

that simultaneously conveys

That by its word-structure either explicitly or implicitly indicates…

the brand’s ultimate purpose or commitment.

The brand’s most valued sense of purpose; what it, more than any other brand like it, is and always has been committed to


To bring any definition to life, nothing helps more than to look at a few examples. In this way we can “test out” how well each of them delivers on the meanings of these smaller parts. So, for example, here are a few that we have learned from marketers who have actually worked on the brands:


With Land Rover you can get off the beaten track anywhere in the world.




The wacky, fill-your-face ice cream with a conscience.


Where families share the magic.


Without taking each of these apart in great detail, it seems to us that most of the brand idea characteristics from our definition come through: 


--For Land Rover, “off the beaten track” carries the double meaning of, literally,  Land Rover’s world renowned off-road capabilities as well as, figuratively, the mindset of so many of its loyal drivers…who love nothing more than the escape only LR can give them;


--For Ben & Jerry’s, the one-of-a-kind, quirky personality that has always come through in its flavor names and packaging is clear, as is the longstanding social commitment that the brand has upheld;


--And for Disney, despite its very short length, does any entertainment brand in the world better satisfy parent’s and kid’s desire to share the magic of fantasy and reality with each other?


Perhaps you might not have articulated the brand ideas for these three brands in precisely the same way.  Expressing brand ideas is an inexact science, after all.  What’s most important, regardless of the words or phrases used, is that the brand idea consistently carries the same meaning.  Of course, once a brand has an idea whose meaning is clear to all (company personnel, brand customers, and brand consumers), the question then is, “Now what?”  In other words, after all the trouble of crafting the just-right expression, what value does the brand idea bring?  We searched on-line for articles and blogs about brand ideas, looking for a convincing answer to this question.  Here’s one that works pretty well (from an article called “Advertising Idea Versus Brand Idea” published under a site named iContact on December 5, 2007):


“We think brands need more than brilliant creative ideas to be relevant in the lives of people.  (Brands) need a cause.  A philosophy, a body language, character and ways of doing things that go beyond its communication.  One of the problems with creative or advertising ideas is that they only solve one-dimensional problems.  Big brand ideas, on the other hand, could be the way to build businesses by co-opting their many stakeholders, many of whom, like employees and business partners, have to be aligned to the (brand) idea long before a customer walks in through the aisles.”


What’s been your experience in working with and expressing brand ideas?  We would really like to know.




When you’re ready to work on your brand’s Brand Idea, here are some tips:


  1. Go back in time.  Talk with company personnel who were on-board when the brand was launched or acquired—or, at least, who have been around the company a long time.  Find out from them what they believe the brand idea is.  Also take a look at the brand’s historical marketing initiatives to see what they imply.


  1. Involve your ad agency team—both creative and account personnel.  Many agencies often work with their clients to craft a “captivating” brand idea.  Plus, they have the benefit if observing a good many other brands and categories which can be used as models.


  1. Assemble a “super group” of long-time loyal customers or consumers.  Let them take a shot at articulating the brand idea.  As much as anyone, they should know!


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney



Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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