What is a Brand?


It’s the cultural buzzword of the 2010s, wielded by experts and laypeople ad nauseam. You’ll hear it in the boardroom, the living room, the green room—just about anywhere there exists a group starting or leading any organization. But what is it, and what does it mean?

You can’t see, hear, smell, taste, or touch a brand. You can only feel it. Carl Buehner, whose insight has been circulated by many people more famous than he (including Maya Angelou), was unwittingly one of history’s great brand experts.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Buehner articulated.

This is brand. Not your logo, your website, the smell of your bakery’s cookies, or the cheeky messaging on your billboard, but the feeling you leave with people.


Marty Neumeier, brand expert, says on the topic: “Your brand is not what you say it is; it’s what they say it is.” Elsewhere, he explains, “Brand is the gut-level feeling that other people have about you or your organization.”

Now, of course, everything you do—everything—can influence and steer your brand. Indeed, this is what branding work—and a branding agency—does. Colour Outside helps organizations drill down to what makes brands truly compelling to the outside world, and then deploys the full array of communications, creative, and marketing tools to create a corresponding feeling in their target audiences. We do this because feelings and beliefs are powerful, and they drive all manner of business.

What is Apple’s brand? We’re not asking about their commercials, their hardware, their minimalist logo, or anything of the sort. We’re asking what your neighbor thinks of Apple. We’re asking what knee-jerk reaction your poker buddies or your gym friends or your coworkers have when you mention Apple. That is Apple’s brand; it’s not what they say about themselves on their website. It’s what others think and feel about them.

So again, what is Apple’s brand? Well, what feelings come to mind when you think of them? Probably some positive associations like: high-end, sleek, innovative, design, desirable, a tribe of people who insist on only the best. And possibly some negative associations like: overpriced, pretentious, merely adequate customer service, monopoly, anti- open source, and so on. So Apple’s brand is this amalgamation of feelings about them held by the public.

When positive feelings that others have about you outweigh the negative (and we all produce negative feelings in others), we earn the affection, loyalty, and even the business of people.

Why do we hire a designer? Because of her cool personal logo? That might get me inquiring further, but we don’t hire her because of her logo. We hire her because her logo, and our review of her work, and our personal meetings with her establish a feeling in us. A feeling that says this person can be trusted, will do a good job, and is worth the money we’re paying. And when she delivers on that brand feeling, what we call “delivering on the brand promise,” it reinforces what we thought and felt and creates an even stronger brand for her. This, in turn, earns our loyalty and will likely result in referral business.

Maybe your audience is prospective students, new church members, existing customers of your subscription business, or some other demographic. Whoever your audience is, it’s imperative that you prioritize influencing and steering their feelings and ideas about you. This is branding work.

If you would like to chat with an expert at Colour Outside about your organization’s challenges or needs, let us know. Or, if you’re feeling particularly bold (We like bold people!), go ahead and drop by our offices in Merchant’s Square between Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary. Our Director of Operations, Scott, is probably listening to death metal and building out milestones and tasks for our next project. But he’s always up for a pop-in conversation.

– Justin Schoonmaker & Natalie Harger

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