They bombard us every day. We see roadside billboards, TV commercials, even the privacy of our closets aren’t left out from these brand attacks.

But what are these brands and how much control do they have on our emotions? How have they become so engrossed in our psyche to the point that they influence our purchasing decisions?

To unravel these secrets, we first have to define a brand.

A brand, foremost, isn’t a logo, a product or service. It’s not even the company or organization that offers the product or the service. Neither is it their corporate identity system (that is letterheads, signage or other branded stationery). These are general misconceptions of what a brand is.

To better describe what a brand is, I’ll like to share an event that happened while I was watching a TV show with some friends. In between the show was an ad celebrating McDonald’s 20th anniversary in South Africa. The ad started with the camera focused on an image of a burger with tomato sauce almost dripping by its side, the camera slowly zoomed out of the burger and right behind the burger was a glass cup of chilled Coca-Cola fizzing with excited bubbles. By the side of the TV screen was the McDonald’s 20th anniversary logo and the “20-years-of-I’m-lovin’-it” theme song played in the background. Ad ends.

There was a 3-5 seconds silence in the room until someone broke the silence saying he actually felt like taking a bottle of Coke after seeing the ad. Almost at the same time, everyone one in the room (yours truly inclusive) said they also felt the same way. Now that’s a brand. For you, it could be the McDonald’s tomato-dripping burger that triggers your desire to grab a bite but we couldn’t create a connection with the McDonald’s brand probably because they currently are not in operation in my country.

A brand is the relationship a customer has with a company and/or its product and service…it’s the total experience that acts as [an] emotional trigger (Genevieve Smith, Perspective on branding: The brand perspective). I’ll like to also define a brand as an experience meeting or surpassing an expectation which in turn evokes an emotion. This emotion is the brand.

The experience we had with that glass of chilled Coke fused with the expectation of the refreshing satisfaction we know a glass of cold Coca-Cola would give us evokes the emotion of happiness whenever we take a glass of Coke.

If we reverse the scenario and instead of the cold glass cup with the famous Coca-Cola ribbon logo crested on it, another Cola product had its logo crested on the glass, I doubt that almost every one of us in the room would have felt the same desire to have from that drink. Maybe we would have if we were really thirsty at the time. The truth is our desire for the Coke drink wasn’t born out of thirst alone, but for the expectation of satisfaction and refreshment that we had all grown to know the Coca-Cola Brand for.  Good brands evoke such strong emotions.


In the first and last scenario, we instinctively knew what to expect even though we had not actually taken a sip from them. The Coca-Cola brand has grown a reputation, a sense of trust that its consumers know what to expect – that the experience with the drink would be the same. Open happiness.

Although it was the Coca-Cola logo that triggered our longing for the product, but it didn’t create the emotion we associate with the product. So where does it come to play in the brand scheme? Why do people mistake the logo to mean the brand?

The logo, along with other visual and audio elements such as fonts, colours, taglines, theme sounds etc only identify the brand to the consumers. They are referred to as the tangibles – they can be perceived by the five sensory organs. The logo provides a better recognition of the brand. As soon as you see an apple icon with a bite-off by the top side, you immediately remember the Apple company, likewise when you see the swoosh mark, you establish a feeling with the Nike products.

To further drive home our point; let us assume that you go visiting a friend in his house for the first time. Along the walls of the passageway leading to the sitting room, several certificates of academic excellence hang firmly. Pretty impressive. Further into the living room you see a cabinet with trophies and medals arranged neatly on the top layer. And on the lower layer, you see plaques that seem to have been won in a beauty pageant or some sort of competition. There is also a vintage picture of some victorious athletes celebrating. Then your friend walks in behind you while you are still caught up in your thoughts. As if he reads your mind, he explains that his dad was an Olympian, his mum an ex-beauty queen and almost every member of his family is a professional in one sort of academic, business or extra-curricular activity. Now it all makes perfect sense!  No wonder your friend has a knack for winning. This definitely is a house of champions.

The trophies, medals, plaques and certificates you saw in the house justified why your friend was always on top of his game. But what makes him a winner isn’t any of these; rather it’s the hours of hard work, and persistence he puts into being the best that shapes your experience with him. Now that’s what a brand really is. It needs not to be explained but rather it should be experienced.

Now let’s all go have that drink.

ABOUT US: Zimylink Brand Managers is a brand management firm. We’re a team with in-depth expertise in developing and deploying effective brand solutions for big and small brands. As part of our approach of bringing ideas to life, we publish our thoughts and theories on branding and also solicit the contributions and opinions of other industry experts. This is to help emphasise the impact of branding on the development of small and medium sized businesses towards building a sustainable economy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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