What is Branding? The Complete Glossary for Brand Terms

There are countless brands in the world today. In competitive consumer markets, branding strategy has become more important than ever to differentiate your brand among this ‘soup’ of brands. But where to start? Right here with our Branding Glossary.

We’ve compiled a dictionary of branding terms to help you navigate the landscape and prepare the ground for a branding strategy that works for your business. Knowing the lingo will help you understand what’s relevant for your brand now, and what will become relevant once your brand grows and becomes more mature. 

So dive in and explore the world of branding, from A to Z:

Brand ambassador

A brand ambassador is an individual who promotes and represents a brand with the aim of building awareness of the brand among their own target audiences and customers. Another term for a brand ambassador is “brand advocate”. A brand ambassador often partners with a brand for monetary or other compensation, but not necessarily always.

Brand ambassador vs brand influencer

Although these terms can sometimes overlap, a brand ambassador can be anyone who provides positive advocacy or publicity, even if not directly requested to do so and they do not benefit financially from it. For example, an unofficial Adidas brand ambassador might be a satisfied customer or loyal brand fan who recommends their new sneakers on social media or creates a YouTube review for family and friends. A brand influencer, on the other hand, usually has an official agreement with the brand that includes some form of payment.

Brand awareness

Brand awareness relates to how aware people are about a brand, from its logo, ads, slogan or simply its market presence. Global icons like Nike have very high awareness, while a local business will likely have good brand awareness only in the immediate community or niche target audience. Brand awareness is not easily measurable, because it is a qualitative and subjective notion. However, with the increase in sophistication of online measurement tools, it is possible to track certain markers of online consumer behavior, measure them and compare them to pre-set KPIs to determine the brand awareness level.

Aided vs unaided brand awareness

There are two ways to approach brand awareness, aided and unaided. Aided brand awareness is a measure of how well a consumer recognizes a brand when prompted by the name or other branding feature. Unaided brand awareness denotes brand awareness with no prompting. For example, if a consumer is asked to name a soft drink brand they love and they respond “Coke”, this is an example of unaided brand awareness measurement. On the contrary, if the consumer is asked directly what they think about Coke, this is an example of aided brand awareness, as they are being prompted with the brand name. 

When there is high unaided brand awareness, this is the sign that the brand is strong and highly recognized in the market.

Corporate image

Corporate image is the presentation of a company to the public, including consumers, partners, investors, employees, and even among governmental or other official bodies. Corporate image goes beyond focusing on the product or brand of a company, but speaks to the essence and character that the company portrays outward. For example, corporate image can include things like social or community programs that the company partners with. 

Corporate image vs brand image

Corporate image can certainly have an impact on brand image, however many of the aspects of corporate image have little bearing on brand image. For example, a consumer may not be aware of employee conditions, recycling policies or charities that the company supports, even if they often purchase the brand’s products.  

Corporate identity

While corporate image denotes the way a company is perceived, corporate identity is the character of who that company is and what it stands for. As the very essence of a company, corporate identity should be the same both internally and externally, meaning that the organization remains true to its core identity and values, at all times and from every angle. The corporate identity has a wide-ranging impact, affecting the way that the various professionals and players in the company interact amongst themselves, their colleagues, partners, suppliers and customers.

Corporate identity vs brand identity

Corporate identity is focused on the organization as a whole, while brand identity is concerned with the character of a specific brand and its related products. For companies that can be defined as “brand houses”, meaning they market and sell various brands, the brand identity will vary while corporate identity remains the same. For example, Procter & Gamble markets both Pampers diapers, and Gain dishwashing detergent – two very different brand identities that emerge from the same corporate umbrella and corporate identity.

Brand differentiation

Brand differentiation is the ways that a brand defines, showcases and portrays its unique value proposition to customers, and how the brand provides consumers with something different, unique, special and value added in comparison to similar brands and products. In saturated marketplaces, brand differentiation is the key to standing out and beating the competition.

Brand equity

Brand equity is a marketing term that denotes the perceived, inherent value of a brand. It is not the brand’s monetary value, but rather its social value among the wider public and consumer audience. Although brand equity is not a financial term, it can have a strong impact on revenue. A brand with higher equity is more recognized and favorably perceived by potential customers, leading to increased sales.

There are several theories of how to build brand equity, with a popular methodology being the brand equity pyramid, otherwise known as the Customer Based Brand Equity (CBBE) pyramid, or Keller’s brand equity pyramid, named for Professor Kevin L Keller who created it. The brand equity pyramid focuses on four areas – Identity, Meaning, Response, and Relations – in which brands can build positive experiences, increasing positive sentiment and goodwill towards the brand among customers and increasing brand equity.

Brand equity vs brand value

Brand equity measures a brand’s perceived inherent value, while brand value is a measure of a company’s monetary worth if it were to be sold today. Brand value does not just take into account the worth of a brand’s physical assets yet also includes the value of the goodwill and perception associated with the brand among consumers. Brands that have higher equity (perceived value) will naturally have a higher brand value (monetary worth).

Brand essence

Brand essence is the core substance of a brand, everything that makes up its character, personality, and being. In much the same way that each person has a unique and complex essence that makes them who they are, so do brands. A brand’s essence is reflected in the most fundamental ways in which it operates – its values, purpose, and meaning in the world. 

Brand essence has a strong impact on the way that customers feel about the brand, and the ways in which they engage and interact with it. Take for example, the Gucci brand essence and compare it to the brand essence of a totally different type of brand, such as Lego. Everything about the look, feel, products, vision, values, vibe, and purpose of each brand is vastly different and self aligned. When it is strong and authentic, brand essence is an essential element of an overall successful brand marketing strategy.

Brand exposure

Brand exposure is the actions taken to ensure a brand is seen, noticed, and recognized by consumers and audiences. The more exposure a brand has, the more it can grow brand awareness, brand equity, its customer base, and revenue. There are many ways to try and achieve brand exposure, including inbound and outbound marketing, advertising (both digital and offline), Out of Home (OOH) advertising, email marketing, co-marketing collaborations, in-store marketing, and many more. 

Brand exposure vs brand awareness

Brand exposure is how much a brand is seen by consumers, while brand awareness is a measure of how aware consumers are of the existence of a brand in the market. Both of these feed off each other. The more brand exposure, the more likely consumers are to become aware of the brand. The more brand awareness, the more consumers are likely to seek out a brand and be exposed to it, or to recognize the brand when they are exposed to it by chance. Both are essential for gaining consumer mindshare.

Brand identity

Brand identity is all the elements of a brand’s physical, conceptual, and emotional being, and how these relate to and interact with consumers and the marketplace. Academic studies of brand identity became popular in the 1990s, with the Brand Identity Prism theory remaining at the forefront until today. According to Jean-Noël Kapferer, there are six elements that make up the brand identity prism: Physique, Personality, Culture, Relationship, Self-Image, and Reflection. Each has its own position in the prism, based on their relation between the business and the customers. When these elements work together smoothly and in sync, they form the basis of a coherent, clear and effective brand identity.

Brand image

Brand image is the way that consumers perceive a brand at any given time. Brand image is built over time, and if properly and carefully cultivated, it can be quite firmly set. However, events both positive and negative can have an immediate impact on brand image in the short and long term. For example, Apple brand image has become iconic, differentiated and clear in the global marketplace. Imagine if Apple was to suffer a data breach – this could have severe consequences on its brand image. Or consider how Nike brand image was affected by the controversy surrounding brand ambassador Colin Kaepernick’s stand against racial injustice. It is important to note that brand image can fluctuate and depends on the specific target audience or customer. Brands must take care to maintain the image that is true to their values and identity while at the same time ensuring they maintain their brand equity.

Brand influencer

A brand influencer is an individual who partners with a brand to promote its products or services via the influencer’s social media and online networks. Brand influencers usually gain monetary compensation or may receive complimentary products as compensation. While brand influencers are often celebrities or famous personalities who use their fame to generate awareness for the brand they represent, any individual with an engaged social media following can become a brand influencer. For many companies, engaging a famous influencer is not an affordable option and may not be the right strategy for them. There is a rising trend towards “micro-influencers”, who have a smaller social media following (below 10,000), yet are highly active in their niche. Many brands prefer to work with these types of brand influencers, as they can engage a more focused and high-potential niche audience and get better results at far less cost than a celebrity brand influencer.

Brand advocates vs influencers

A brand advocate can be any individual who loves a particular brand or product and recommends it to their network of family, friends, and acquaintances. They do not have to be a celebrity or even an influencer. Influencers are always brand advocates, but brand advocates may just be regular consumers who do a great job of creating awareness and exposure simply because they are brand fans and they communicate about it to the people in their lives.

Brand insistence

Brand insistence is the next stage after brand advocacy. When a customer insists on using a particular brand or product, and refuses to use or try any other, then this is brand insistence. For marketers, brand insistence is the ideal situation. Customers love the product so much, they won’t even consider any other brand. Customers who are brand insistent are excellent advocates. They are so passionate about the brand that they are good at persuading others and often succeed in bringing more customers. 

Brand insistence is not an instant occurrence; it can take a long time for a customer to become insistent. In some cases however, the customer “falls in love” with the product or experience very quickly, and brand insistence follows. Even in cases of brand insistence, marketers cannot rest on their laurels. It is very important to ensure that post-sale customer journeys and touchpoints are smooth and effective, so as not to harm brand insistence with negative customer experiences.

Brand insistence vs product loyalty

Product loyalty is when customers feel an affinity to a product and prefer to purchase and use it over other similar products. If the product is not available and a substitute is necessary, the customer won’t hesitate to put that loyalty aside. Product loyalty can be encouraged with member clubs that provide discounts or incentives to continue to purchase. Brand insistence demands no such temptations or “tricks”. Brand insistence is the strongest possible form of product loyalty, where the customer is totally committed to only using a specific product or brand. Every marketer hopes to achieve this ideal.

Brand loyalty

Brand loyalty relates to the positive sentiment that consumers have towards a brand, which leads them to continually purchase the product or service. When brand loyalty is strong, the consumer may continue to purchase from the brand even in the face of inconvenience or negative experiences. When a customer feels very connected and loyal to a brand, they can more easily forgive understandable issues that arise. Clearly though, a brand that delivers negative experiences frequently will not be able to build brand loyalty. 

Companies often use marketing tools, such as member clubs, to help build and maintain brand loyalty. 

Gen Z brand loyalty is proving a tougher challenge for marketers. Gen Z consumers want authenticity and shared values, and they are more easily prone to switch brands if disappointed. Brands today must focus their efforts on building deep, consistent and authentic connections with Gen Z in order to build trust and assure their brand loyalty.  

Brand mission statement

A brand mission statement is a clear description of a brand’s purpose and values, how the brand sees itself in the world, and how it intends to serve its customers. However, a brand mission statement should not be “fluffy”; it is important that it be actionable and demonstrate to the audience how the brand operates in order to fulfill its mission. For example, Paypal’s mission statement is “To build the web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution.” 

Iconic fashion brand Chloe is a fascinating study of brand mission and how it evolves with the brand. When founded in the 1950s, Chloe’s mission was to “liberate women from the rigidity of couture.” Today, the brand is moving from offering customers “collections” to building customer “connections”, and the Chloe brand mission statement can now be summed up as “Beautiful, profitable and meaningful.”

Brand parity

In every consumer category, there are thousands of brands. Many of these will inevitably be very similar. This is what brand parity means: how similar brands are, and how difficult it is to differentiate between them. Brand parity is not a good sign. When brands are very alike, it is much harder for individual brands to compete for customers. In mature product categories, brand parity is more common. Take, for example, the mobile phone industry. The first mobile phone brand to mass produce for consumers was Motorola. But as the marketplace filled up, more brands became available, and parity became a problem. Each brand must continually work on its unique features and image in order to stay competitive.

Brand parity vs brand equity

Brand parity is the opposite of brand equity. Brand equity is a measure of how much value consumers perceive in a brand. Brand parity is how similar brands are to one another, signifying a lack of value to consumers. By building up brand equity, brands can avoid falling into the slump of parity and becoming just another brand on the shelf.

Brand perception

Brand perception relates to how consumers feel about a brand. It is not necessarily about what a brand does, but rather what the audience perceives in the company, its brands, and products. For example, Walmart brand perception is of a family oriented, discounted, one-stop-shop experience, while luxury car brand perception is one of extreme sophistication and cutting-edge exclusivity. Walmart, however, earns over $400 billion in annual sales while BMW earns over $100 billion. 

While brand perception happens inside the minds of the consumers, brands work exceptionally hard to cultivate an image that will lead to the kind of brand perception they want consumers to have. A luxury car brand will therefore devote significant resources to very high quality advertising, perhaps with costly celebrity endorsements and coveted spots in prime time commercial television, while Walmart will focus more on discount coupons and more frequent and cheaper ads. If a brand is not succeeding in cultivating brand perception that attracts and retains the right customers, this is a sign of a problem in the company’s branding strategy.

Brand personality

Brand personality can be described as the traits that make up a brand, and which the customers relate to. The brand personality includes the kinds of traits normally attributed to people, like sense of humor, sincerity, introvert/extrovert, conservative, or boisterous. Brand personality is very important because it is connected to the emotional response that the brand creates among its audience. Hence, it is very important for companies to define their brand personality clearly. The more a company understands its own personality, the better it can perform in relating to customers. For example, if a brand personality is defined as “fun and lighthearted”, it will affect the way the company responds in a crisis. On the one hand, the brand must take the crisis seriously. On the other hand, the response must cohere with the brand’s “fun” personality in an acceptable way. 

The concept of a brand personality is much the same as that of a person’s. However, a brand is not one individual – it is made up of many people, systems, operations, and processes. It is vital to ensure that the business’ operations and employees are a good fit for expressing and reflecting the brand personality.

Brand personality vs brand identity

While brand identity takes in all the fundamental aspects of a brand’s physical, conceptual, and emotional being in the world, brand personality is more focused on the kinds of traits, behaviors and preferences that a brand demonstrates. For example, a brand’s mission statement is part of its identity. The fact that the mission statement is written in a serious and straightforward way reflects the conservative and no-nonsense personality of the brand. Brand personality and brand identity are certainly connected and influence one another, however brand personality is more practical while identity is more conceptual.

Brand positioning

Brand positioning relates to the place a brand occupies in the minds of consumers, especially in relation to other brands. In this way, it is somewhat similar to brand perception. One of the most important aspects of brand positioning is differentiating the brand in the minds of consumers so it is positioned at the forefront, apart from other brands and a valuable, viable, and preferred choice for the customer. 

Brand positioning is a strategic process of marketing and branding. It takes significant effort and resources to ensure a brand gains favorable positioning in the marketplace of the minds. The type of brand positioning a company wants to achieve will necessarily impact all of their product and marketing efforts. 

Brand positioning statement

The process of positioning a brand often begins with defining the brand positioning statement. This is a short, clear paragraph that sets out the brand’s unique value proposition, describes what it offers to customers, and how it is differentiated from competitors. Rather than being publicized, the brand positioning statement is often for internal use only to help all employees, colleagues, and partners get aligned.

Brand positioning map

The brand positioning map is another critical tool for brand positioning. A brand positioning map is an illustrative quadrant chart that displays the brand and competing brands in relation to one another across different variables, such as price, quality, audience, or even personality traits, such as eco-friendliness vs convenience. By plotting brand positions on the map, companies can gain a visual understanding of where they currently fit, how to maximize their position via their marketing activities, or whether there is a need to consider brand repositioning or to adjust or alter their positioning.

Brand promise

A brand promise is a written or formal statement of the value of the brand’s offering to their customers. Every brand is committed to providing customers with either a product or service. Beyond that, brands also provide other things for customers, such as satisfaction, quality, assurance of service continuity, environmental protection, nostalgia, cachet, and so much more. While brands cannot promise the whole world to their customers, it is important to define clearly what they can promise, communicate it directly to customers, and ensure they live up to the promise at all times.

A brand promise may include a ‘technical’ or measurable promise, such as ‘30-day money back guarantee’, ‘not tested on animals’, or ‘24-hour response time for service requests’. The brand promise can also include more general or “fluffy”’ promises, such as ‘ listening to customer requests’ or ‘brighten your day’. However, it is very important to provide clear ways in which to deliver on those promises too. If a brand promises to listen to customers, it should make sure to provide several channels in which customers can be in contact, such as live chat support or social media DMs.

The Netflix brand promise is an interesting one, as it is also their brand mission statement: “We promise our customers stellar service, our suppliers a valuable partner, our investors the prospects of sustained profitable growth, and our employees the allure of huge impact.” Notice how the brand promise relates to all of Netflix’s audiences, including its customers, suppliers, investors, and employees. While the promise is big, it is also very down to earth and focused for each audience.

Brand promise vs value proposition

Brand promise and value proposition are similar, however the main difference is this: value proposition relates only to the proposed value the customer can expect to receive from the brand experience, product, or service, while brand promise relates to what the brand aspires to deliver to customers, irrespective of and far beyond the value of the transaction or interaction. 

Brand recall

Brand recall denotes how many customers can remember your brand name when prompted or aided, say with a mention of a product, service, or any other concept associated with it, or when unaided, such as when asked “name your favorite shampoo brands.” As such, brand recall is one of the ways that brand recognition can be measured. Whether or not customers can recall a brand name depends on many factors. These may include exposure to ads, social media or brand campaigns, efficacy of customer contact or support, or whether the customer has had a recent interaction with the brand.

Brand recall vs brand awareness

If a brand has high recall levels, this indicates a good level of brand awareness among consumers. The ability to instantly recall a brand name means that the brand has achieved a high level of mindshare in the target audience, and may indicate a preference towards the brand among the customer base. Brand awareness and brand recall are heavily entwined; if one is high then the other will be high too. However, brand awareness will need to come before brand recall. In the early stages of a startup or business growth, brand awareness should be the key goal, generating broad exposure, awareness of the existence of the brand, and recognition of its products and presence in the market. With successful brand awareness, companies can focus their energies on measuring brand recall and then improving it as needed.

Brand recognition

Brand recognition denotes the ability of consumers to recognize a brand based on one or more of its identifying characteristics, such as a product or service, ad jingle, logo, packaging, or any other visual or audio element. Typically, it means identifying the brand when the name of the brand is absent. Brand recognition is built over time, and it requires ongoing, consistent brand presentation to achieve it. Once a brand has high recognition among its audiences, it is a strong sign that the brand’s marketing and advertising activities are effective, helping to differentiate the brand and make it stand out as unique and identifiable.

For example, remember a cute puppy associated with tissues? Yes, that is Kleenex brand recognition, an excellent case study about how brand elements can create strong associations that support brand recognition, in this case the soft, cuddly puppy symbolizing the extreme softness of Kleenex tissues.

5 stages of brand recognition

There are five stages of brand recognition that typically make up theories of how brand recognition works. The first stage is brand rejection. This is when a consumer actively avoids a brand due to some kind of negative experience or association. The next stage is brand non-recognition, where the consumer does not have bad associations with the brand, yet simply does not recognize the brand or its market presence against competing brands. This is followed by brand recognition, in which the consumer is aware of the brand and able to identify it amongst competitors. This is a good sign that the consumer has had enough exposure and positive association to freely recognize the brand. Next is brand preference. Here, the consumer not only recognizes the brand but prefers it to competing brands. All things being equal, they will seek out this particular brand and choose it, given the opportunity. The final stage of brand recognition is brand loyalty. At this stage, the consumer is committed to using the brand above all others. They will actively seek out and choose this brand, even when it might be more difficult or inconvenient to do so. At this stage, the consumer is also recommending the brand to friends and family, and may seek to interact with the brand on social media and in other ways, thereby strengthening their connection with the brand even further.

Brand reputation

Brand reputation refers to the general sentiment, associations and perceptions of a brand among all who regard it, including customers, stakeholders, partners, employees, and competitors. A positive brand reputation is critical to an overall healthy brand strategy. As the saying goes, it takes years to build a good reputation and just minutes to lose it. This is why brands take crisis management so seriously, and it is also a common reason why brands choose to go through a rebranding process, changing their name, logo, and look. 

Every aspect of a business has an impact on its reputation. Things as disparate as employee relations, customer service protocols, pricing, PR, product development, and corporate responsibility all contribute to the brand’s overall reputation. While brand reputation can afford the small, every day ‘nicks’ and ‘bruises’ typical of regular business activity, it is important not to fall into a loop in which a series of negative events damages a brand reputation beyond repair. 

The fashion brand London Fog is a great example of a solid brand reputation, its name having become synonymous with raincoats. While London Fog brand reputation is inspiring, it is important to note that this kind of reputation takes a very long time to build – the brand has been in existence since 1923! However, it also proves that brand reputation is a long-term project, and every positive step forward goes towards strengthening brand reputation in the future.

Brand salience

Brand salience is a measure used to describe how much a customer thinks about a brand at a particularly important moment: the purchase decision. Another way to consider brand salience is how much a brand is “top of mind” during the sales process. If a customer is in a store deciding which product to buy from a range of several brands, then those brands that have the highest salience are the ones that stand out in the customer’s mind at that moment, making it more likely that they will end up choosing and purchasing that brand. 

The meaning of the word “salient” is when something is strikingly conspicuous, protruding over a line, or jumping out at you. Imagine a particular brand ‘popping’ out at the customer as they browse, not just visually on the shelf, but in their mind’s eye. In order to reach high KPIs in brand salience, companies must build on wider branding metrics, such as brand awareness, brand recognition, and brand recall. These certainly help boost brand salience at the point of sale. 

Brand tone

Brand tone describes the overall way a brand communicates with its audiences and the ‘sense’ it creates among consumers. Take music as a metaphor – different melodies create different feelings, thoughts, and sentiments in the listener. This is what brand tone does for a brand. Brand tone is expressed in just about every aspect of communication, including visual branding, written content and messages, product packaging, even office design. Brand tone is dynamic, meaning it adjusts to different audiences, messages, and moments. However it should always emerge from a consistent foundation of brand identity and personality. A brand that is young and unconventional in personality, for example, should reflect that in the tone of all their communications, from slogans to social media posts to swag giveaways. During serious events, the tone should certainly be taken down a notch and be appropriate, however it should still be in keeping with the brand’s overall personality. This can be tricky and it is why companies include brand tone as part of their brand book, providing guidelines to employees about how to strike the right brand tone in all communications and every scenario. 

Brand value proposition

Brand value proposition is a statement that describes the value that customers can expect from a brand. Unlike a brand mission statement, a brand value proposition does not explain why the company was founded, what its values are, or its purpose in the world. Brand value proposition specifically proposes to customers why they should buy from the brand as opposed to any of the competing brands.

A brand value proposition is akin to “unique value proposition” or USP. A brand must offer some sort of special or distinctive value that other brands do not in order to truly stand out in the marketplace. This can be challenging especially in saturated markets that offer lots of brand choices for consumers. Brand value proposition is the foundation for the brand’s goals and messages, so it is vital to clearly define the proposition and make sure all employees understand it and are aligned with it. 

Brand voice

Brand voice refers specifically to the way a brand ‘speaks’ or ‘sounds’ in all the ways it communicates with the wider world. This includes all written materials, whether it be the website, slogans, ads, landing pages, blogs, marketing and support emails, as well as audio content, such as jingles, TV or radio ads, video guides, in-store loudspeaker announcements, and more. The brand voice should reflect the overall brand identity and brand personality. For instance, a brand with a soft, caring personality can adopt a mom brand voice that is smooth, soothing and reassuring. While brand voice focuses on the way the brand ‘talks’, it is also supported by the brand’s design look and feel. For a brand voice to be effective, it must always be authentic and consistent with the brand identity. Having a brand book that describes the brand voice and provides examples is a great way to ensure all employees are aligned in their messaging voice.

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