Brand Semantics 102

by Chris Kenton on April 4, 2005

I’m still getting a lot of contact on this topic, ranging from encouragement to head scratching–with a few good flames to keep things entertaining. I’ll be moving up a level in brand exploration with a new Business Week column next Tuesday, but in the meantime, Jason Kerr picks up the semantic thread over at Brandlessness, scrutinizing the reduction of "brand" to the foundation of tangible assets.

I intuitively agree with you that
a brand is what it is. A taxonomic
anchor. But which one? You said it’s "your name, your logo, your trade dress.." Well which is it? If a brand is "a
concrete thing," then it’s a concrete thing.  BUT if you define it as
a set of different concrete things that share a common idea, well then…  it’s an abstraction.

That’s an interesting distinction that could take us deep into semiotics, at which point we might as well just shoot the audience. Let me try framing it like this: all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs You can certainly say that "mammal" is an abstraction–a title for a group of things that hold a common quality–but you know that every single mammal, whether it’s a dog or a cat or a blue whale, will be tangible. Same thing with brand. A logo is always a brand, but a brand isn’t always a logo. It can also be your name, your trade dress, or one of a number of  touchpoints. But if it’s not a tangible symbol that distinguishes your products and services from all others it’s not an example of brand.

So yes, technically, the word brand signifies concrete things without being concrete itself, and yet, it’s used interchangeably with the concrete things it signifies. If I walked my dog, you wouldn’t correct me if I claimed to be walking a mammal–although in that example, you’d probably think I was a little whacked.