The Brand Gap

The Brand Gap

Author – Marty Neumeier

Marty Neumeier

The Nature of Economies – Jane Jacobs

What is a brand?

  • A brand is not a logo. It’s merely a symbol of it.
  • A brand is not a corporate identity system.
  • A brand is not a product.
A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company.

Each person creates his or her own version of it. While companies can’t control this process, they can influence it by communicating the qualities that make this product different from that product. When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand. In other words, a brand is not what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.

To compare a brand with its competitors, we only need to know what makes it different.

  • What does the product look like?
  • Where is it being sold?
  • What kind of people buy it?
  • Which “tribe” will I be joining if I buy it?
  • What does the cost say about its desirability?
  • What are other people saying about it?
  • And finally, who makes it?
    The degree of trust I feel towards the product, rather than an assessment of its features and benefits, will determine whether I’ll buy this product or that product.
  • Trust creation is a fundamental goal of brand design.
  • Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision, and the bedrock of modern branding.
  • Use design to encourage trust.
  • You need to care more about sales, service, quality, and marketing.

Stand for things that people want:

  • joy
  • intelligence
  • strength
  • success
  • comfort
  • style
  • motherly love
  • imagination

Among the hallmarks of a charismatic brand are a clear competitive stance, a sense of rectitude, and a dedication to aesthetics.

People value feeling more than information.

Aesthetics is so powerful that it can turn a commodity into a premium product.

There are no dull products, only dull brands. You need to master the five disciplines of branding: differentiate, collaborate, innovate, validate, cultivate.


Demand unambiguous answers to 3 little questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?
    Unless you have compelling answers to all three questions, meaning that customers find them irresistible, you haven’t got a brand.

Keep it pure, keep it different.

Branding has 5 goals:

  1. identify
  2. inform
  3. entertain
  4. persuade
  5. differentiate

Selling has evolved from an emphasis on “what it has,” to “what it does,” to “what you’ll feel,” to “who you are.”

While features and benefits are still important to people, personal identity has become even more important.

Instead of building a brand on USP (the Unique Selling Proposition of a product), they should pay more attention to “UBS” (the Unique Buying State of their customers).

As a customer, if you begin to feel that the company understands me that well, their products are probably pretty good.

A brand creates a kind of tribe.

The most important word in branding: focus.

A focused brand, knows exactly what it is, why it's different, and why people want it.

“Differentiate or die.” – Jack Trout


The most important shift in business today is from “ownership” to “partnership,” and from “individual tasks” to “collaboration.”
The successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert.


“Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason” – Benjamin Franklin

Names constructed from Greek and Latin root words tend to be low-imagery names.
Names that use Anglo-Saxon words, or the names of people, tend to be high-imagery names, producing vivid mental pictures that aid recall.

7 Criteria For A Good Name:

  1. Distinctiveness. Does it stand out from the crowd, especially from other names in its class? Does it separate well from ordinary text and speech? The best brand names have the “presence” of a proper noun.
  2. Brevity. Is it short enough to be easily recalled and used? Will it resist being reduced to a nickname? Long multi-word names will be quickly shortened to non-communicating initials.
  3. Appropriateness. Is there a reasonable fit with the business purpose of the entity? If it worked just as well, or better for another entity, keep looking.
  4. Easy Spelling And Pronunciation. Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.
  5. Likability. Will people enjoy using it? Names that are intellectually stimulating, or provide a good “mouth feel,” have a head start over those that don’t.
  6. Extendibility. Does it have “legs”? Does it suggest a visual interpretation or lend itself to a number of creative executions? Great names provide endless opportunities for brand play.
  7. Protectiability. Can it be trademarked? Is it available for web use? While many names can be trademarked, some names are more defensible than others, making them safer and more valuable in the long run.

Logos are dead. Love live icons and avatars.

It’s all about the packaging

  • The package is the branding.
  • It’s also the last and best chance to influence a prospect to make a purchase.
  • Return on investment is likely to be higher with packaging than with advertising, promotion, public relations, or other spending options.
  • For many retail products, packaging not only makes the final sale, it strikes a significant blow for the brand, since experience with the product is often the best foundation for customer loyalty.

A typical reading sequence:

  1. the shopper notices the package on the shelf—the result of good colors, strong contrast, an arresting photo, bold typography, or other technique
  2. the shopper mentally asks “What is it?,” bringing the product name and category into play;
  3. then “Why should I care?,” which is best answered with a very brief why-to-buy message
  4. which in turn elicits a desire for more information to define and support the why-to-buy message
  5. the shopper is finally ready for the “mumbo jumbo” necessary to make a decision-features, price, compatibilities, guarantees, awards, or whatever the category dictates.


Swap part of your icon, the name or the visual element, with that of a competing brand, or even a brand from another category. If the resulting icon is better, or no worse than it was, your existing icon has room for improvement.

Brand promise questions to ask yourself:

  • Which of these promises is most valuable to you?
  • Which company would you expect to make a promise like this?
  • If company X made this promise, would that make sense?
  • What other type of promise would you expect from company X?
    Always follow up with “Why?” because the answer to “why” will contain the seed of the next question.

Brand icon test questions:

  • Which of these icons catches your eye first?
  • What made you notice it?
  • Does it remind you of any other icons you’ve seen?
  • What do you think this particular icon means?
  • If it’s really supposed to mean X, do you think one of these other choices expresses it better?

If the first point of contact between customer and product will be the store, then the store is where the product must first succeed.

If the product comes in a package, then the package is where the product must succeed.

All brand expressions, from icons to actual products, need to score high in five areas of communication: distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendibility, and depth.

  • DISTINCTIVENESS is the quality that causes a brand expression to stand out from competing messages. If it doesn’t stand out, the game is over. Distinctiveness often requires boldness, innovation, surprise, and clarity, not to mention courage
  • RELEVANCE is the quality that allows people to recall the brand or brand expression when they need to.
  • MEMORABILITY is the quality that allows people to recall the brand or brand experience when they need to.
  • EXTENDIBILTY measures how well a given brand expression will work across media, across cultural boundaries, and across message types.
  • DEPTH is the ability to communicate with audiences on a number of levels.


Business is a process, not an entity.

Successful businesses are those that continually adapt to changes in the marketplace, the industry, the economy, and the culture.

They behave more like organisms than organizations, shifting and growing and dividing and combining as needed.

  • Be alive and dynamic.
  • Let the brand live, breathe, make mistakes, be human.
  • Project a three-dimensional personality, inconsistencies and all.
  • Brands can afford to be inconsistent—as long as they don’t abandon their defining attributes. They’re like people.
    The new paradigm calls for heroes with flaws-living brands.

Decide who you are, what you do, and why it matters.

“Will it help or hurt the brand?”

Take-Home Lessons


A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.

Branding is the process of connecting good strategy with good creativity. It’s not the process of connecting good strategy with poor creativity, poor strategy with good creativity, or poor strategy with poor creativity.

The foundation of brand is trust. Customers trust your brand when their experiences consistently meet or beat their expectations.

Modern society is information-rich and time-poor. The value of your brand grows in direct proportion to how quickly and easily customers can say yes to your offering.

People base their buying decisions more on symbolic cues than features, benefits, and price. Make sure your symbols are compelling.

Only one competitor can be the cheapest—the others have to use branding. The stronger the brand, the greater the profit margin.

A charismatic brand is any product, service, or company for which people believe there’s no substitute. Any brand can be charismatic, even yours.


To begin building your brand, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Our brains filter out irrelevant information, letting in only what’s different and useful. Tell me again, why does your product matter?

Differentiation has evolved from a focus on “what it is,” to “what it does,” to “how you’ll feel,” to “who you are.”
While features, benefits, and price are still important to people, experiences and personal identity are even more important.

As globalism removes barriers, people erect new ones. They create tribes—intimate worlds they can understand and participate in. Brand names are tribal gods, each ruling a different space within the tribe.

Become the number one or number two in your space. Can’t be number one or number two? Redefine your space or move to a different tribe.


Over time, specialists beat generalists. The winner is the brand that best fits a given space. The law of the jungle? Survival of the FITTINGEST.

How a brand should fit its space is determined by the brand community. It takes a village to build a brand.

By asking left-brainers and right-brainers to work as a team, you bridge the gap between
logic and magic. With collaboration, one plus one equals eleven.

For successful precedents to creative collaboration, look to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the cathedral builders of the Renaissance.

As creative firms become more collaborative, they’re also becoming more specialized. The next economy will see a rise in branding networks—groups of “unbundled” companies cooperating across the value chain.

Three basic models have emerged for managing brand collaboration:

  1. the one-stop shop,
  2. the brand agency
  3. the integrated marketing team.
    Choose any one or create a combination.

Speak in prototypes. Prototypes cut through marketing red tape and let gut feeling talk to gut feeling.


It’s design, not strategy, that ignites passion in people. And the magic behind better design and better business is innovation.

Radical innovation has the power to render competition obsolete. The innovator’s mantra: When everyone zigs, zag.

How do you know when an idea is innovative? When it scares the hell out of you.
Expect innovation from people outside the company, or from people inside the company who THINK outside.

Make sure the name of your brand is distinctive, brief, appropriate, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, likable, extendible, and protectable.

Logos are dead. Long live icons and avatars.

Packaging is the last and best chance to influence a prospect this side of the checkout counter. Arrange all your packaging messages in a “natural reading sequence.”

Avoid the three most common barriers to web innovation: technophobia, turfismo, and featuritis.

Bottom line: If it’s not innovative, it’s not magic.


The standard communication model is an antique. Transform your brand communication from a monologue to a dialogue by getting feedback.

Feedback, i.e. audience research, can inspire and validate innovation.

Research has gotten an unfair rap from the creative community. Though bad research can be like looking at the road in a rearview mirror, good research can get brands out of reverse and onto the Autobahn.

Use focus groups to FOCUS the research, not BE the research. Focus groups are particularly susceptible to the Hawthorne effect, which happens when people know they’re being tested.

Quantitative research is antithetical to inspiration. For epiphanies that lead to breakthroughs, use qualitative research.

Measure your company’s brand expressions for distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendibility, and depth.


Your business is not an entity but a living organism. Ditto your brand. Alignment, not consistency, is the basis of a living brand.

A living brand is a never-ending play, and every person in the company is an actor. People see the play whenever they experience the brand, and then they tell others.

Every brand contributor should develop a personal shockproof brandometer. No decision should be made without asking, “Will it help or hurt the brand?”

The growing importance of the brand has a flip side: its growing vulnerability. A failed launch, a drop in quality, or a whiff of scandal can damage credibility.

The more collaborative a brand becomes, the more centralized its management needs to be.

The future of branding will require strong CBOs—chief brand officers who can steward the brand from inside the company.

Branding is a process that can be studied, analyzed, learned, taught, replicated, and managed. It’s the CBO’s job to document and disseminate brand knowledge, and to transfer it whole to each new manager and collaborator.

Each lap around the branding circle, from differentiation to cultivation, takes the brand further from commoditization and closer to a sustainable competitive advantage.