Common Myths About Branding Dispelled

“Branding” has existed for thousands of years. In the beginning, it was an identifying mark that helped buyers recognize they were buying a pot (or steer) that wouldn’t break in the cooking fire. As technologies and production lines evolved over the last two hundred years, consumerist societies developed; and quality and quantity became assured.

The notion of “Brand” has expanded too and, over the last decade, the word has come to signify less about quality and speak more to the community of people for whom that product (or company) is relevant and meaningful.

We no longer differentiate products or services solely by their product attributes, but by the values and beliefs they hold true. By what they mean.

Today, “Brand” is meaning.

When that meaning aligns with our own values and beliefs, we buy them. And we enjoy the like-minded community of others who have also bought and bought into them. We have an affinity for others drinking Starbucks, using an iPhone 6, listening on Beats headphones, or bingeing on Netflix. We’re all part of the same clan.

Here are some common misperceptions regarding what a “Brand” is. If you agree with any of the statements in boldface, please try to be open minded, pivot and readjust your thinking. Do so quickly, or you might become a dodo.

1. Brands are trying to sell me something. Brands are no longer evil empires trying to trick you into buying something. The “Mad Men” of yesteryear are so yesterday. Today, “Brands” belong to the communities that create them: clusters of people connected together by the same beliefs, same values and common trust. They talk alike, walk alike, act alike, and use a system of identifiers to signify who they are. They are members of the same tribe or cult, commonly known as fans, enthusiasts, advocates, citizens and the crowd. And if you want to be a part of them, you must understand the system of words, rituals, icons, and narrative they celebrate.

2. We just redid our logo and website, which means our Branding is done. Your logo and website are a part of your brand because they help people identify you, so many people misunderstand a corporate identity program for Branding. But your Brand is also your packaging, your product design, your front office, store experiences; the language that describes you; what you look like, smell like, sound like; what you’re not and never want to become; and the narrative that strings it all together (often, people can get stories depending on who they ask, creating confusion—and the confused do not buy).

3. Only products and services can be Brands. Not so. If you think of Brands as communities, you know that communities surround people, places and things. You can think of those as Brands, too.

Kanye West is a Brand, as are Madonna, Oprah, Nelson Mandela, and Obama. You are a brand surrounded by a community of family, friends, co-workers, and others.

Cities are also Brands: Not only the great cities of the world like New York City, Paris, London, Moscow, Mumbai and Beijing, but other urban areas as well. There is a reason why people live in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan. Why they live in Manhattan rather than L.A. Other people choose to live in Atlanta, Colorado Springs, or Sao Paulo, because those places embody values, environments and experiences they prefer over their other lifestyle options.

4. Only big companies can brand themselves. Traditionally, big companies have had an edge of smaller ones. But the new school reality is that digital media and technology have flattened the playing field. Today, individuals like PewDiePie, NigaHiga and Jenna Marbles have become popular brands surrounded by millions of followers just like (and sometimes surpassing) Samsung, Coke and Nike. 

Thanks to the millions of fans who cheer them on, they have become popular sensations. Of course, the difference is that Samsung, Coke and Nike have the punch of multi-million dollar marketing budgets to spark the connection points and sustain enthusiasm.

But the thing that sustains everything is amazing product and fantastic content. So, while we might argue whether or not PewDiePie, NigaHiga and Jenna Marbles are brands in the making, or whether Lolly Wolly Doodle will become the next Gap, by cueing up millions of followers and millions of views through digital and social media, they have a head start that traditional start-ups—including Apple and Nike—who also started in a garage and from the trunk of a car—never had.

5. Brands are logos. Logos are quick signals that identify you Brand tribe or clan. People know instantly whether they should approach or avoid, whether you are “just like me,” or “not like me.”

Logos are just a single part of the total Brand cosmology that includes icons (which includes not only logos but also packaging, product design, and other senses including taste, touch, sound and smell), rituals, creation story, creed, a special lexicon, nonbelievers and leader. Combining each of these pieces into a holistic brand narrative—and then distributing those pieces through content in traditional and social media is the challenge for everyone who wants to create a Brand community.

Your brand is also how you act. It is how people feel about you once they have identified you. This feeling relates directly to your belief system and values that you have created around your brand. The emotional touch points that attract people who feel the same way that you do and believe what you believe. More importantly, it is also how you treat them: do you welcome them, or immediately treat them as if they will steal from you? How do your salespeople act?

Treated appropriately, people with the same likes and dislikes become your fans. They become your advocates and your Brand community. They like you.

And that’s the best thing about being a Brand.


Written by Patrick Hanlon, Contributor at

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