Those not as familiar with marketing/brand building like to send questions on the topic my way, so I thought I would write a few lines on brands and purpose.  This is not an exhaustive discussion, but hopefully it provides a couple of links for you (esp. start-up folks) to check-out.

Let’s start by pulling a definition of a brand from experts in the space:

A brand is a distinctive bundle of attributes, benefits, values and experiences that people associate with a name/symbol  (See Growth Drivers from Brand Learning for more on the topic)

Why companies build brands

At the company level, strong brands (e.g. Apple) can drive a load of value for co-founders and shareholders.  In a 21st century world of ideas and information overload, intangible assets (like brands) are critical for driving growth.  We can make fun of their simple jingles, silly names & cute symbols, but today brands are recognized as extremely valuable business assets for companies (see Interbrand for research, data & discussion on brand value).

Spending $$ on brand building at an early stage?

Despite research demonstrating the importance of building a brand, invariably there are hold-outs who wonder why companies (especially start-ups) spend any money on enhancing their brand early on. The cynical view holds that companies are diverting precious $$ that could be spent on the product, R&D, etc.  Why would companies just getting off of the ground put any emphasis on building a “thin” image around an intangible brand?

I (partly) understand this point of view.  On one hand, in a world of startup clutter, we need to be razor sharp as we launch products and go to market.  So, an intense focus on spending cash on product functionality is essential.  On the other hand, spending a bit of money to get your Brand Visual Identity/Brand Equity right from the start will put you in another league and help you stand-out from the pack.

It is becoming more and more difficult for start-ups and young companies to capture attention from users and investors even with great branding and great design.  So if your minimum viable product looks like you have put minimum viable thinking into the brand, you are less likely to be noticed.  As we get deeper into the decade and enter what Jason Calacanis calls “the age of excellence,” I’m betting that brand building and design will continue to increase in importance.

First things first.  Your brand purpose

Harley-Davidson & Apple are iconic brands that small and large companies look up to.  They both understand how to deeply connect with people.  They are both based on distinctive philosophies and purpose.  Both brands have been been able to tap into their own authentic heritage enabling them to articulate a point of view that resonates deeply with the values of certain communities.  And, they are both intensely focused on building the brand.

Sadly, there simply aren’t many brands out there like Apple & Harley Davidson…yet.  If a brand team or start-up wants to inspire people (especially their own employees) with an amazing brand, then starting first with purpose and brand philosophy is smart. Once the purpose is established and employees believe in it, invariably brands –> business units –> companies perform better (check out the book Built to Last if you want to read more).

Again, this is a short discussion on the topic and I plan to write more over time.  If you would like to learn more about my consultancy and project work, ping me on Twitter @Ryanmacjones or send me a note on

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