What is this Brand thing?


Hack Squad brand specialist Simon Strong considers what people mean when they talk about a BRAND …



I spent my formative business years in advertising (Saatchi & Saatchi, Bates UK, 141 WorldWide) and everyone talked about Brand.

They talked about Brand Values, Brand Hierarchies, Brand Visions, Brand Onions, Brand Strategies, Brand ID’s, Brand Books… ‘The Brand’, I came to understand, was REALLY IMPORTANT.


One very senior executive would challenge clients to guess which was more valuable… the Coke assets, product and plants, or the Coke Brand. Given the client was stood in an advertising agency, it was pretty clear what the answer should be.

But what, exactly, was this Brand thing?

David Ogilvy (the inspiration for Don Draper in Mad Men) defined a brand as: “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”


Other definitions of a brand talk about ‘the promise’, or the logo, or what differentiates one product from another.

None of these definitions really helped me to understand what a Brand was. Why? Because there was nothing, according to these definitions, that wasn’t a Brand.

Imagine this… you are sitting around the board room table and someone says “we need to invest in the brand“. What does it mean?

  • to the marketing director it means national advertising campaign of 30-second TV ads, a whizzy digital campaign and a bit of outdoor in and around the town the CEO lives in (got to show him where his £££ is being spent).
  • to the marketing manager, it’s a shelf-wobbler.
  • to the finance director, it’s a new business card.
  • to the Chief Exec, it’s money off the bottom line.
  • to the Sales Director, it’s a sales presenter.
  • to the Direct Marketing Manager, it’s a mailshot.
  • to the Head of Digital, it’s a social media ‘conversation’.

…and so it goes on. Everyone has a different idea of what the brand is. Using the word Brand can cause huge confusion. Believe me, I’ve been in those meetings when, after months of work, we finally unveil the creative and the client says “that’s not what I wanted“. Why? Because he briefed the agency to “refresh the Brand”. What he meant was “I want a new TV ad like the old one, but not the old one”. And we heard, “I want something totally new and different from the old stuff”.

Whenever I work with clients, I ban the use of the word Brand except in two circumstances:

  1. at the start of the process, when we might say “all this stuff that we haven’t yet looked at in detail and figured out, let’s call it the Brand
  2. and at the end of the process, when we might say “all that stuff we discussed, let’s call it the Brand”.


Otherwise, be specific. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll be.