Quoting Anthony Parker, CMO at Kimberly-Clark, in the WSJ:
"You have to go back to the simple point that a brand is a promise and the product is a delivery of that promise. If you make that promise and deliver it better than the competition, you'll build brand equity. I believe brands are more salient today to consumers than they ever have been -- they are a simplifying mechanism in a world where there are many more options. Private label is declining in some categories. My belief is where brands are weak, the people who are stewarding those brands aren't spending as much on communication. Therefore they're not telling consumers about the promise of the brand."
How do we define brand as a promise? A brand promising something on product or service? Sure, that's a good start. It implies some form of honesty. But is it a good conversation starter?
Not really. Unless you're interested in conversations focusing on broken promises. If you promise a good running shoe for a decent price, people might buy it but they won't talk about it unless you exceeded the basic brand promise.
In a perfect world, brands would only be about promises. We wouldn't need brands to express ourselves, our self-realization wouldn't be achieved through work and we wouldn't need to spice up our existence with Britney news and reality shows. In a perfect world, a water brand would tell me their product benefits and that's about it.
Since we don't live in a perfect world, brands are more than just plain promises.
Brands are meaning machines.
Every part of our life has been commoditized: Dating, Sex, Conceiving, Parenting, Gardening, Spirituality, Life. We tend to complain about outsourcing but we tend to outsource on a daily basis: Scrapbooks, Diaries, Music Collections. Everything is stored on outsourced networks. Nothing is in-house. In addition, our entertainment and information resources have been commoditized as well.
This commodization of life has elevated brands to personal expressions and symbols of meaning. (Let's not forget: Greenpeace is a brand as well.) Those symbols are typically logos or product images, or better: shared cultural associations. In the old days, those cultural associations ended in your personal Cul-de-sac. Social Media allows us to change, re-engineer, reconfigure these associations.
Brands today have to have meaning to stand out the from tangibles jungle. If a brand stands for something we believe in, it becomes part of our niche culture, part of us and our memories. Good brands add this value to your life.
Great brands take this a step further: They let people in and create a collaborative brand. Brands and people as partners in the brand development and advancement process. Now, that sounds like a perfect world to me.