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Words Matter

There is general industry-wide agreement on the meaning of most terms and phrases used in branding. However, there are nuances and divergent perspectives that can lead to different interpretations of definitions. Each branding firm, advertising agency, and marketing consultant may have their view on what a specific term means. It can be confusing. We, of course, have our interpretation. Here are some of the terms we use that reflect our perspective.

Table of Contents



Acuity is a clarity of vision. It is keenness of perception and insight. It is also quick and penetrating intelligence. In Physiology, it is the capacity of the eye to detect the finest detail. Brand Acuity is a perspective that brands will thrive if they have a clear vision, mission, and other distinguishing characteristics that give them a sustainable competitive position.


Attributes are character traits. They are qualities and features of something that give it an identifiable characteristic. Brand Attributes are the human-like traits that create ownable perceptual distinctions that make the brand more relatable, distinctive, and memorable. They create emotional connections that are meaningful and relevant.



A brand is the totality of its expression and experience. It is anything, an entity, or person that can be identified, recognized, and differentiated for marketing to a specific audience segment. A brand’s recognition is defined by the perceptions associated with it, the commitment it makes, the reputation it has built, the benefit it provides, the distinction it’s achieved, and the purpose serves. Most importantly a brand can simply be defined by what it fundamentally stands for. A name, logo, product, campaign, slogan, and other representations of the brand are how it achieves awareness and recognition.

Branding Journal:


30 Branding Definitions:


Branding is the application of branding principles. It is the implementation and alignment of the brand across applications and touchpoints.

Brand Advocate

From the organization’s point of view, a brand advocate is any employee who has been equipped and empowered to promote and reinforce the brand through their actions, behavior, and engagement with the public and customers. They are seen to be a trusted and authentic source of the brand. It is a role that all employees can and should play if they have been trained on what the brand stands for, its values, and other distinguishing characteristics that make it a “brand of choice.” Brand advocates can also be customers of the public who have loyalty to the brand (much like long-time Apple customers) and can advocate on its behalf.

Brand Alliance

A brand alliance is an agreement between two or more different companies who share a common purpose and business interest that creates a competitive advantage by virtue of being in the alliance. It is one type of cobranding that establishes a connection through the alliance brand. OneWorld is an example of an alliance of 14 different airlines.

Brand Character

Brand character is the set of unique characteristics, attributes, and traits that reflect and reinforce the strategic dimensions of the brand. The personality, voice, and experience attributes are the distinguishing facets of brand character.

Brand Dilution

Brand dilution is overextension and over-use of the brand. Indiscriminate licensing agreements that fail to adhere to the core branding principles are a common brand dilution occurrence.  Branding merchandise whose qualities conflict with the brand is also another example of brand dilution.

Brand Elasticity

Brand elasticity is flexibility. Brands are multi-dimensional. They have the innate ability to adapt to different needs and requirements. The degree to which a brand can flex and still maintain brand integrity is brand elasticity.

Brand Gap

Brand gap measures the degree of brand alignment. It is essentially the difference between brand principles adherence versus the reality of execution. The more significant the gap, the less alignment there is.

Brand Alignment

Brand alignment is an ongoing brand management initiative to promote and ensure all expressions and experience touchpoints adhere to the brand standards and principles to protect brand integrity and build brand value.

Brand Ambassador

A brand ambassador is a role within the organization to help and support brand management initiatives. A vital responsibility of the role is to educate and motivate other employees on the branding principles that shape the internal culture and external engagement.

Brand Architecture

Brand architecture is portfolio structure. It is the framework of an organization’s portfolio offer of products, services, business units, subsidiary companies, and partners. It establishes roles, relationships, positioning, and levels of endorsement across the portfolio. It is intended to help customers easily navigate, evaluate, compare and select from the offer relative to competitor portfolios.

Brand Architecture Roles

Each brand within a portfolio has a role to play. Some play a leading role, while others play a secondary and support role. The right combination of brand roles across the portfolio will leverage the synergy of all brands individually and the portfolio as a whole.

Master Brand

Master brand is the overarching brand of the organization. It is the business entity that owns and controls all offers within the organization’s portfolio. For example, Disney is the master brand of a portfolio of category and parent brands: Walt Disney World, Disneyland, ESPN, ABC, Miramax, and several other brands.

master brand example
Parent Brand

A parent brand is the overarching brand of a subsidiary company or family of sub-brands within a category segment of related offerings. A parent brand in some brand architecture structures is also known as an umbrella brand, portfolio brand, or category brand. Marriott is the master brand of different parent brands of different category segments, including Ritz Carlton (luxury), Fairfield Inn (value), and Courtyard (quality destinations).

parent brand example

A sub-brand is a subsidiary product or service offering within a parent brand portfolio with distinguishing features or benefits targeted to a specific audience segment.

sub-brand example

A co-brand exists when the product, service, or other offer is marketed under two or more brands like Nike and Apple.

co-branded example
Flanker Brand

A flanker brand is an extension of an existing brand in the same product or service offer intended to market to a new and specific audience segment without risking the brand equity of the host brand. For example, a flanker brand may introduce a lower-priced option from the host brand to outflank a competitor who may not have a common price choice of a competitive product or service.

flanker brand example
Ingredient Brand

An ingredient brand exists when the brand of one product or feature is highlighted in a host brand to increase the perceived value of the benefit of the host brand. Intel would be an example of how the Intel Brand adds value to the computer in which it is installed.

ingredient brands example
Brand Architecture Strategies

There are two prevailing brand architecture strategies – house of brands and branded house. However many organizations utilize a hybrid of the two or have created an entirely different approach.

House of Brands
A house of brands architecture strategy is one in which each brand within the brand portfolio is clearly differentiated from other brands including the master brand. The objective of this strategy is to position and build equity around each brand – as opposed to the master brand. General Motors is an example of a house  of brands. Strategy.
house of brands example
Branded House
A branded house architecture strategy is one in which the master brand is the prominent brand expression across  all brands in the portfolio. The objective is to build equity and value around the master brand. FedEx would be an example of a branded house strategy.
branded house example
Brand Asset

A brand asset is anything in the portfolio (product, service, or subsidiary company)) that has achieved brand awareness, brand recognition, brand value and brand equity. It is therefore considered both an intangible and tangible asset of the organization.

Branding Assets

Branding assets (not to be confused with brand assets) are those elements of the branding system that are used to implement and deploy the brand. This would include, but not be limited to, logo reproduction art, color specifications, approved samples, templates, brand photography library, etc.

Brand Audit

A brand audit is conducted through the collection of representative samples of brand applications such as business system, website, social media, signage, advertising, etc. The objective is to assess and evaluate brand standards compliance, interpretation, consistency, and brand recognition effectiveness.

Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is the degree to which the public and customers can recall or recognize the existence of a brand in the marketplace – but not necessarily be able to associate the brand’s distinguishing characteristics which is brand recognition.


Aided brand awareness measures how well a consumer recognizes a brand when prompted by the name or other branding feature such as the logo. When the consumer is asked what they think about Delta, for example.


Unaided brand awareness measures whether a consumer recalls a brand with no specific prompting such as a name or logo. When a consumer is asked who comes to mind when thinking of airlines and they respond with Delta, for example.

Brand Culture

Brand culture is the internal environment of an organization that is shaped by behavior and attitudes as a reflection of the companies core values.

Brand Dress

Brand dress primarily refers to the system of environmental applications of the brand. Brand graphics applied to vehicles, airplanes, buildings, interiors, and signage are typical examples of brand dress.

Brand Equity

Brand equity is the perceptual worth of a brand as earned through brand awareness, recognition, reputation, relevance, purpose, and other factors that shape customer and public perception of the brand. See brand value for the difference between equity and value.

Brand Experience

The brand experience is the cumulative impression created as a result of any kind of interaction, contact, connection, or engagement with the brand.

Brand Expression

Brand expression is both the visual and verbal manifestation of a brand. Visual expression includes any visual appearance application such as collateral material, signage, website, etc. Verbal expression includes naming, slogans, and messaging tone both written or spoken.

Brand Fatigue

Brand fatigue is a phenomena found within an organization in which the brand feels overused and tired. Although this might be in contrast to external perceptions by customers who value consistency.

Brand Governance

Brand governance is the organizational structure, process, and protocol for interpreting, managing, and adjudicating brand standards. A brand governance structure example might be a Brand Board (C-suite), Chief Branding Officer, Brand Manager, and Brand Advocate that represent different levels of responsibility and authority.

Brand Guidelines

Brand guidelines are an abbreviated set of brand standards that cover the most essential principles of brand application. It contains the basic brand strategy principles as well as graphic standards with limited application examples. These are common for small to medium size businesses and typically run around 50 – 100 pages in length.

Brand Halo

Brand halo is the degree to which one brand can influence favorable perceptions to other associated brands in the portfolio due to its own brand equity and recognition.

Brand Identity

Brand identity, also known as a brand identity system, is all of the primary forms of brand expression including: name, slogan, logo and logo formats, colors, fonts, graphic elements, and anything else that is proprietary to conveying the brand.

Brand Integrity

Brand integrity refers to the desired state of a brand in which its principles remain uncompromised, its brand equity is maintained, its reputation is protected, and its value secured.

Brand Journey

A brand journey is the sequence of touchpoint interactions that a customer has with a brand that begins with an initial point of contact to the completion of a desired end result.  The totality of a customer’s brand experience is comprised of multiple brand journeys. Each touchpoint in the brand journey is an opportunity to reinforce the brand or undermine it.

Brand Liability

Brand liability can be anything that erodes brand value or brand equity. A common brand liability occurrence is in portfolio management. If a brand in the portfolio has generated negative public opinion or through some action hampered its brand reputation it has become a brand liability. This can have a negative pull on other associated brands in the portfolio.

Brand Linkage

Brand linkage is portfolio relationship. It is the means by which all brands within a portfolio are connected through visual or verbal relationships or endorsements to the parent brand and to other brands within the portfolio. For example the brand linkage of the iPhone to Apple is through the use of the Apple symbol.

Brand Management

Brand management is the organization’s functional area responsible for building, managing, and protecting brand equity and value. It includes brand strategy, portfolio strategy and management, brand standards development and management, brand governance and brand training.

Brand Mark

A brand mark is a logo or any other the principal identifier of the brand. There are several different kinds of brand marks including wordmark, lettermark, symbol marks or combinations thereof.

Brand Personality

The brand personality is “Who” the brand is through disposition, temperament, makeup and persona. It is how the brand is personified through human traits and characteristics.

Brand Personas

Brand Personas are the traits, attributes and characteristics associated with a particular audience segment. This includes demographic and psychographic data as well as the wants, and needs that influence behavior, preference, selection, and affinity toward a brand. Examples of demographic information include: age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education, etc. Psychographic examples are personality, lifestyle, opinions, habits, interests, attitudes, values, etc.

Brand Photography

Brand photography is photography that has been specifically shot to reinforce the personality and voice brand attributes sensory signals. These are typically situational and intended for internal communication or external promotion of the brand. These become part of the branding assets and overseen through the brand management procedures.

Brand Platform

The brand platform defines the strategic dimensions of what the brand is and from which the brand expression and experience are derived. It is built on a strategic foundation of vision, mission, core values, and culture. The strategic positioning dimensions amplify the foundation through the value proposition, brand promise and brand attributes.

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning defines where a brand stands relative to its competitors’ defining characteristics. It is an essential branding dimension that is intended to create clear competitive distinction relative to specific traits. A positioning model (positioning map) is built around reinforcing vs undermining attributes – luxury vs utilitarian, value vs premium, formal vs casual, etc.


Re-positioning is when a brand changes its position in order to defend against a competitor threat or adapt to changes in its product service offer or other factors.


De-positioning is an attempt by a brand to convince customers to change their opinion and perception about a competitor position.

Brand Promise

Brand promise is “commitment.” It is the commitment and pledge that the brand makes to all of its audience segments to fulfill its obligations and expectations created through all forms of expression and engagement.

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts: “Our promise is to turn each moment into a memory.”

Marriott: “We promise quiet luxury, crafted experiences, intuitive service.”

H&M: “We promise more fashion choices that are good for people, the planet and your wallet.”

Brand Pruning

Brand Pruning is a brand portfolio management practice whose purpose is to weed out underperforming brands that have become redundant, lost relevance, or otherwise undermine the value of the portfolio as a whole. This helps ensure that the resources required to support each brand in the portfolio are directed to those that have the greatest long-term potential.

Brand Recognition

Brand recognition is a measure of existence. It is how well customers can identify and distinguish the defining characteristics of a particular brand against other brands in their category. Visual and verbal expression contribute to this identification. For instance, names, slogans, colors, and typography are the kind of signals that drive recognition. Brand recognition is driven through:

Distinguishing a brand from its competitors

Understanding what the business does and the category it is in

Recalling a brand over its competitors.

Associating a brand with positive, universally appealing attributes

Appreciating the contribution of design that balances function and aesthetic considerations. Most notably legibility, system coherence, hierarchy, contrast, and other key principles

Brand Relevance

Brand Relevance is more of a pragmatic connection with a customer that keeps the brand in a consideration set for a given product or service. (That doesn’t necessarily translate to preference, however). An Apple Watch is relevant to a customer because it is a smart time keeping device whose functions and ease of use are valued. But an Apple Watch resonates with a customer who makes the emotional connection by virtue of shared values, promise, character and reputation.

Brand Resonance

Brand Resonance is the affinity towards what a brand stands for, its values, character, and promise. It’s one of the principal means by which brands create a meaningful emotional connection and relationship.


Brandscape refers to all of the competitive brands within a given category.

Brand Standards

Brand standards are principles. It a compilation of the rationale and principles of application that seeks to achieve consistency across brand expression, brand experience, and brand culture. It includes brand strategy, brand architecture, identity system principles, prototypical applications, and brand messaging. These are common with medium to larger businesses and typically run 150 – 200 pages or more depending on the scope of the project.

Brand Strategy

Brand strategy is the “blueprint” that sets the course for implementation and management. It includes the brand platform, brand architecture, brand identity among other key dimensions that will ultimately contribute to brand equity and value. It is complimentary to the business plan and marketing strategy.

Brand Signature

A brand signature is an identifying feature. It is any proprietary identifying feature of the brand that is synonymous with the brand mark in recognition. For example is can be physical like the Pizza Hut roof, a graphic element like Coca Cola “wave”, or anything else that is associated with the brand.

Brand Stretch

Brand stretch is the degree to which a brand can expand its offer beyond its core products and services without risking believability. Brand overstretch is when a brand introduces a product or service so unrelated to what it is traditionally known for. 

Brand Value

Brand value is the estimated financial worth of a brand. Brand value is equal to the perceived value of the brand over and above the tangible assets of the company or organization. For further information on the difference between brand equity and brand value:

Brand Voice

The brand voice is how a brand communicates through tone, inflection, and manner of written and spoken word.



Contrabrands are fraudulent look-alike brands. They have been created for illicit purposes in contrast to the brands they imitate. They are created to look like a legitimate brand in order to mislead and take advantage of unsuspecting customers. This used to be relegated to fake Rolex watches but today it is fake bank and retailing websites.


Coopetition is an agreement between competing companies who cooperate to target a specific market opportunity to the benefit of both that they otherwise would not be able to take full advantage of. One most recent example is the agreement between Pfizer and BioNTech to jointly develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Core Values

Core Values are “Principles”. They unyielding guiding principles that guide the organization through foundational beliefs and attitude. Core values reflect the credo to live by, what’s of paramount importance, the rules of conduct, and what defines the kind engagement experience. Core values are distinctive to the organization.

There is a values culture connection: “we believe in and follow (what) to behave and do this (how).

Facebook Core Values: Be Bold; Focus on Impact; Move Fast; Be Open; Build Social Value.

Airbnb Core Values: Champion the Mission; Be a Host; Simplify; Every Frame Matters; Be A ‘cereal’ Entrepreneur; and Embrace the Adventure.

Universal values are common across all business entities in all categories. Trust, Honesty, Reliability, Accountability, and Responsive are all values that could apply to any business in any category.

Category values are common across the organization’s market category. In the technology sector imagination, innovation, and solutions focus might be common across all brands in the category.

Corporate Communication

Corporate Communication is all communication that is directed to the internal audience of the company including employees, leadership, and other key stakeholders. The objective of corporate communications is to inform, educate, motivate, inspire as well as other intentions to reinforce operational efficiency and brand intelligence.



A differentiator is anything that contributes to brand distinction and competitive advantage.


Dimensions refer to the different facets of a brand. Vision and mission are different dimensions of the brand foundation. Brand promise and brand attributes are different dimensions of the strategic brand positioning. Verbal branding is a dimension of brand expression.



Endorsement is an act or gesture to support someone or something. Brand endorsement most typically refers to when a category or sub-brand is endorsed by its parent or master brand. This demonstrates an association between the two brands by which the endorsed brand is elevated by its endorsing brand.


Green Brands

Green Brands are those brands whose values and purpose are underpinned by an eco-friendly and sustainable foundation to their business proposition. Their commitment is to further the health and well-being of the planet by providing products and services through a sustainable philosophy. Green brands can be as obvious as wind and solar energy or brands like Patagonia whose corporate philosophy is “100% for the Planet.”



Identicture is architecture that has brand identity recognition. The Pizza Hut distinguishing roof is recognized as Pizza Hut even without the Pizza Hut sign.

Industry Brands

Industry Brands are the public perceptions associated with a particular industry. Each industry is characterized by the amalgamation of attributes shared across all of the brands within that industry. High tech is associated with innovation and forward looking. While financial is considered conservative and trusted. The prominence of one brand in an industry can elevate or erode the brand of that industry. For example the issues raised with the Volkswagen pollution emission testing scandal eroded the trust in the automotive industry.



Mission is “Path.” It defines what the organization must do and the path it should follow to ultimately advance its vision and bring its dream to reality. It is “how” the organization fulfills its purpose. What to do to make an impact. What the organization provides and to whom does it do it for. A mission statement is more descriptive and tangible than the vision statement. It needs to be relevant to the business, understandable, and provide directional intent to the employees who are responsible for executing against the mission. Note that there is a synergistic relationship between the vision and mission.

Ikea’s Mission: “We offer a wide range of well-designed, functional, home furnishing products at a price so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them” 

The Ikea Vision Mission Connection: Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional, home furnishing products at a price so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them” 

Lego’s Mission: “We inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”

Lego’s Vision Mission Connection: Our vision is inventing the future of play by inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow”



Perception is the mental interpretation of sensory information. Brand perceptions are what the public and customers associate with a particular brand based on their interpretation of sensory signals. Perceptions are important branding tools in building distinction and resonance.

The use of natural materials and warm lighting in a Starbucks store convey comforting and casual perceptions that the brand is known for. An Apple store reinforces perceptions of efficiency and convenience.

Personality Brand

In the context of corporate branding a personality brand is an individual who is the “face” of the organization, seen to be integral to the brand, and very much part of the brand equity.

Richard Branson is a personality brand of the Virgin Brand. Elon Musk is the personality brand of Tesla motors. Personality brands are not to be confused with spokesmen who are used for advertising and promotional purposes


Portfolio is a collection of assets.  Brand portfolio is all of an organization’s offer of products, services, business units, subsidiary companies, and other owned assets that contribute to the overall brand value.

Portfolio Management

Portfolio management is the discipline of overseeing, controlling, and facilitating the adherence to the portfolio strategy and brand architecture standards. It also is essential in managing the growth and evolution of the portfolio for the long term.



A rebrand is the process of changing or updating an existing brand. This is often due to a repositioning, change in the offer, acquisition or merger, reaction to competitive threats, responding to customer expectations, or other factors that require brand adaptation to remain relevant.


Sensory Positioning

Sensory positioning is the psychology of how our senses respond to stimuli that influence perceptions. It stimulates an emotional connection that drives recognition and retention. It is the science through which a brand is positioned around sensory attributes and signals (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). These reinforce the brand character, shapes values, and creates distinction.

Style Guide

A style guide is a limited set of standards that provides guidance and specifications on the identity system graphics including logo, logo formats, colors, fonts, graphic elements, and prototypical application. Style guides have a specific but limited purpose and are not a replacement for the Brand Standards. For example they can be effectively used for website development guidance, a promotional campaign, or a product launch.

Slogan and Tagline

The difference between taglines and slogans can be confusing. Technically a tagline is part of the brand identity system and is used to reinforce the long-term positioning of the brand. Successful taglines become synonymous with the brand not unlike Nike’s – “Just Do It.” It’s a reinforcement of a philosophy promoted about the brand rather than features or benefits of the product. Slogans are used to highlight marketing messages that are more customer benefit oriented like Geico’s “Fifteen minutes could save you 15% on car insurance.” However the true difference may be more a matter of semantics. Many slogans become so identifiable with the brand they become taglines like BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”



A trademark can be any word, name, phrase, logo, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies the source of goods or services. It also helps provide legal protection of the brand and guard against counterfeiting and fraud. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.

See United States Patent and Trademark Office:  


A touchpoint is any kind of direct contact that the public or customer has with a brand. It can be online, telephone contact, in-store, home service, or anything that constitutes “touching” the brand in any form.

Transitional Branding

Transitional branding (also known as bridge branding) is a branding strategy that employs a temporary brand that eventually migrates to its final form. This strategy is most often used in mergers or acquisitions in which it is necessary to utilize a brand for the short term until such time it can be fully transformed. An example would be when FedEx acquired Kinko’s and utilized a transitional brand FedEx Kinko’s until such time that it transitioned to FedEx Office to align with its brand architecture strategy.


Value Proposition

Value Proposition is advantage. It is what the organization uniquely offers that provides a sustainable advantage over any other competitive or like organization. That applies to any brands within the brand portfolio.

Verbal Branding

Verbal branding is any form of verbal expression that is considered to be synonymous and identifiable with the brand. Verbal branding includes a brand name, modifier, slogan, and url, It also includes any language or terms that are associated with the brand. For example Starbuck’s has created verbal branding ownership around it’s Frappuccino and Macchiato drink terminology. Disney has used terms like Imagineering and cast members that are associated with its brand.


Vision is purpose. It is the foundational purpose of the organization. What it aspires to be at it very best and the impact it seeks to make. It is why the organization exists, the value it brings, and the future of where it wants to go. A vision statement should be forward looking, aspirational, relevant to the business, and salient. It should be clear, understandable, and inspiring.

Ikea’s Vision Statement: “Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people.”

Lego’s Vision Mission Connection: “Our vision is inventing the future of play by inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow.”

Nike’s Vision Statement: “Our vision is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

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