When in business, the word ‘brand’ seems to get thrown around quite a lot – and for good reason.

Although designers, marketers, and your well-meaning entrepreneurial neighbor say you need a brand – what exactly does that mean?

Let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of the word “brand”:

  1. a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.

Ex. “a new brand of detergent”

  1. an identifying mark burned on livestock with a branding iron.

More specifically for our topic is the definition of ‘branding’ from BusinessDictionary.com:

  1. The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.

To break this down 

A particular business develops a brand (a mark, an experience) that evokes certain emotions to help stay in the minds of consumers. Each time we come in contact with a business we are developing a connection in our mind with their brand for better or for worse.

Apple’s brand is sleek, modern, trustworthy.

Coca-Cola is fun, friendly, life of the party.

Tiffany is top shelf, quality, extravagant.

Subaru is for the family, safe, reliable.

And so on…


Example Time: McDonald’s is well known for their golden arches. Those arches are part of their mark, their brand (think the branding iron). It is on everything they put out into the world from cups, napkins, marking store locations, advertisements, and so on – this is the act of branding. However there are less subtle parts of the brand that help differentiate Mcdonald’s apart from similar chains. Let’s dive in!


For those who want the short and sweet answer, here it is:

A brand is built by developing and maintaining a specific image and set of values to create an experience for your audience.

The image and values is represented by everything your business sends out into the world; from the most important mark – your logo, to the seemingly smallest of details – a straw.

Ensuring your business is consistent with colors, style, messaging, interactions with consumers and you are on your way to building a lasting brand with trusting fans.

Keep reading if you want to dive in deeper……


A brand is more than a logo –  it is EVERY touch point someone makes with your business

The first thing people typically think of when hearing/seeing McDonald’s is the golden arches. Rightfully so as that is their logo, but there are more details that go into making the entire brand – it is the experience they bring, messages they spread, the trust in food/store quality, and yes even the mascot, Ronald McDonald, helps spread the brand image.

Ronald McDonald was a huge part of the McDonald’s brand – again for good reason – kids love clowns (right?) and he prompted fun times for all. However, with creepy clowns popping up the past few years, the phasing out of Ronald McDonald is probably a good move for them. As mentioned in the article by Magneto Works, the arches are good enough to recognize the McDonald’s brand.


Back to touchpoints

No matter what the product McDonald’s hands over to the customer, it has the golden arches on it or the famous red/yellow colors. Think the finer details such as the red/yellow/white straws. They provide the message of ‘fun’ through use of colors (color psychology is a whole other topic), an actual playground at most locations, HAPPY meals that provide a toy, and (hopefully) a smile with every service interaction.

With all this effort, they are trying to “burn into the minds” of their consumers that they are a fun happy place to visit, with good consistent and fast food. Who would not want to buy from a place like this, right?

Break it down for me Alyssa: Put your mark on everything you physically put out and ensure your attitude matches what you want people to think of you. McDonald’s would never (purposely) use profanity and always strive to provide best customer service in store or online.

In fact, they are undergoing another brand shift (subtle not drastic as we will see later in this post) where you can read further in this article by Ad Age.


It is not what you say it is; it’s the customer’s perception

Although McDonald’s has worked hard over the years to infuse their brand into each person for hopes of return customers and die hard fans, it may not always work on everyone. Sure, everyone knows who and what Mcdonald’s is  – there are by far one of the most recognizable corporations in the world – but that does not mean everyone thinks they are fun, happy and have good food.

Yesteryears parents thought fast food was great – it saved time for dinner, kids got a toy, and “hey” let’s play on the playground for a bit while we are at it – it was a dream.


Kids were happy, parents were happy, the business was happy.


Now that parents are becoming more health conscious, the perception of fast food is changing. Parents are recognizing the benefit of home cooked meals or at the very least, choosing healthier meals (organic, anyone?) for themselves and their kids.

McDonald’s has been keeping tabs on this perception shift by cutting down on fry portions, adding yogurt and apples as side choices and even having good ol’ Ronald McDonald help kids stay active. Although, as mentioned previously, he will be phased out as a major part of their branding.

The point is, McDonald’s is listening to and watching their customers actions and perceptions towards their brand and adjusting with them. Every company that wants to stay in business needs to do the same.

Break it down for me Alyssa: You may think you are promoting healthy lifestyle (insert your business image here), but if your customer does not see it that way, then something has got to change or business will not last.


Consistency builds trust, trust builds a lasting business

When thinking of other companies that have stood the test of time, what comes to mind? Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple, Tiffany, Subaru, etc.

They all have one thing in common; they have stayed consistent in their brand image and have thus built companies that have millions of trusting fans. What they represent through colors, style, message, service, the whole package has not changed much – which people love!

If you think consistency does not matter, take for example the beloved Tropicana brand. An incident back in 2009 rang through the branding/marketing world as a reminder to pay attention to what your consumer wants – NOT what you think they want.

A quick recap of events:

For some reason Tropicana decided it’s packaging (and brand) needed a redo for a more ‘modern’ look. However, testing this theory on actual consumers must not have taken place due to the backlash received during rollout of the new design in grocery stores.

Consumers either 1) mistook the brand as a ‘generic’ due to the simple design and did not buy it or 2) were outraged that their beloved orange with a straw was taken away and, you guessed it, did not buy it. For a full breakdown of what went wrong, read the article What to Learn From Tropicana’s Packaging Redesign Failure?.

Needless to say, within less than 2 months, Tropicana was back to its original design and down $50+ million in design and marketing costs. 🤯 YIKES!

Break it down for me Alyssa: If Mcdonald’s started using green and blue colors for all their marketing or changed to a “Healthy Meal” rather than a “Happy Meal”, it would most likely confuse people to the extent of outrage (in Tropicana’s example). People trust that their brand will continue to look the same and provide same service – if this changes in a drastic manner the business will go downhill quickly.


Bring it all together

A brand is built by developing and maintaining a specific image and set of values.

Your image and values is represented by everything your business sends out into the world; from the most important mark – your logo, to the seemingly smallest of details – a straw.

Ensuring your business is consistent with colors, style, messaging, interactions with consumers and you are on your way to building a lasting brand with trusting fans.


Can you relate to any of these branding mistakes as a consumer? What keeps you going back to a trusted brand or what has driven you away – let me know in the comments! 


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