The Twisted Definition of the Word: Branding

Call me old fashioned. Tell me that I’m only saying this because I’m trying to pimp out our promotional products. You’d probably be right on both accounts. Accuse me of whatever you want, but don’t tell me I’m wrong. Because the word branding, as it pertains to marketing, has lost its meaning.

What branding IS

Let’s take a second to remember where the term comes from. Before marketing stole it, branding literally meant burning a unique symbol with a hot iron poker into cattle in order to mark (or brand) a cow’s rightful owner.

So when the word branding made it’s way into marketing it was meant as a metaphor of that original meaning. Branding a company or product pertains to the repetition of a name, logo, look, sound, and a tag line of that entity in all marketing materials so that it was “burned” into the memory of its audience. It’s the packaging, the trademarks and unique designs proudly displayed on the products, and the clever names that make you feel important when you buy them….that’s branding.

What Branding Isn’t

Everyone wants to be the next Google. How many times have you said “Let me Google it.” without even thinking about it? Just like Kleenex is to tissues and Xerox is to copying, what company wouldn’t want that? To have your brand literally be synonymous with the product you’re selling. OK perhaps Xerox doesn’t.

The problem is: you can’t become a household name with a branding strategy alone. You need great advertising & promotion campaigns to get your brand out there, a great product to make sure it works as advertised, and it also helps to have a good reputation to be sure word of mouth is spreading your brands in a positive way. But is any of this branding? No. It isn’t. Sure, each has a branding component to it, but therein lies the confusion.

At some point, a brand has turned into a representation of a company, a company’s reputation, and everything they represent, from the way they treat employees, to the way products work themselves. Somehow we’ve taken a simple marketing concept, and twisted it into something that marketing folk use when they talk about their company or clients intelligently – or eloquently. So they think. To me, they just sound like idiots comparing their company policies to a glowing red hot iron rod.

Your company is not a brand

That may sound like a marketing version of something from Fight Club, but in reality I’m simply discerning the public message from the business one. Most companies’ goals are to sell products for profit while the goal of branding seeks to give the products a positive & memorable feeling. Think of it this way: Nike probably doesn’t say “just do it” when making business decisions about their products; just like they don’t say “market research suggests this sneaker will sell well at this price” in their ads. They’re two different things. So please don’t refer to Nike (the company) as a brand.

Your company’s reputation is not your brand

Don’t get me wrong: brand reputation is huge. You can’t sell products if every time potential customers see your logo, they associate it with the word “junk”. But let’s be honest, being caught in a scandal, lawsuit, or something else “damaging” does more FOR branding than it does against it. The problem is that it’s not always in the way you want. I’m not one of those “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” people. Sure, sometimes when the dust settles, the only thing people remember is your brand (that’s what people mean by this). The point is: your reputation is your reputation. Changing a logo, tag line, or even the name of your products can’t escape you from that.

Advertising is not branding

OK, most advertising isn’t JUST branding. I know this is going to be a tough sell so let me make it short and simple. If your advertising does nothing else but display a logo and/or tag line without conveying some message as to WHY people should use your products, then you’re probably wasting money. Advertising gets your name out there (that’s the branding part) but it should also do something to convey a message of value (not branding). That message of value is the intangible association consumers will have whenever they come across the brand. But don’t confuse that association with the brand itself, even if that’s the goal of branding.

Social Media marketing is not branding

Oh, and it’s not “branding 2.0” either. In 2009, Twitter went mainstream, and now social media is all the rave for marketing departments big and small. Everyone wants a piece, even if they’re not sure how it will help them. It’s not that you can’t include branding in your social media marketing campaigns. It’s just that in most cases, it’s better to be less direct about it. Social media marketing is a conversation marketing tactic that works better when it’s more personal. Let me put it this way: who would you rather have a conversation with about computers, a computer systems engineer who works at dell named @john_johnson (made up name) or the @dell corporate twitter profile? (despite whether or not you like dell computers)

You are not a brand

One of the most offensive (yes I’m offended somewhat easily) concepts to me is something people call personal branding. What gets me about this is that we’ve gone so far from “what’s in a name” to a name is so important that it’s literally something you need to consider. Before you tell me “you don’t get it”, let me clarify: I understand the importance of making sure credit is given to the right person and how building a reputation is both important and difficult. But it’s much better to be remembered for doing something great, than because your online avatar and screen name makes people giggle whenever they see it. Sure those things can help you – branding works. But truly successful people rarely have to worry about it.

Call Branding what you want, but I know what it isn’t
Branding is the marketing method which helps consumers associate with a company and/or its products. A brand is tangible, like a logo or product name written in a specific font. A brand is supposed to invoke feelings, and positive memories about a company or their products – it is not the feelings themselves. A brand is not the intangible association with a company, it’s simply the public face that makes it so easy to remember it in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I realize this was just an exercise in semantics. Call whatever marketing tactic or company policy branding if you must. I know better. Call me old fashioned.


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Gyncbyclone

    Interesting affair, didn’t thought reading it would be so awesome when I saw your url.

  2. Sara

    Brilliant. Thanks for the list.

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