Everything is NOT Brand.
And, that’s OK.

Last week, I got into a discussion with Les Binet in the comments of a post by Thomas Verheugd about the difference between brand, company and product name.  Les and I disagree – and that is OK.  It challenged me to think – and it produced this post.  Les asserted that Unilever was a company with 400 brands.  My response is below.

But is it, Les?  Isn’t  it[Unilever] a company that has 400 distinct products with names?

I know that Unilever calls them brands – we live in an ‘everything is a brand’ world – but without a clear communicated brand promise to enable a consumer to determine whether the product lives up to the component values of the promise it isn’t even possible for them to determine the brand of individual products.

What Unilever – and many others, both inside and outside of the comms/marketing industry now call a brand is what we used to call a household name. A name that was associated as a recognizable product without any additional explanation.

Calling everything a brand doesn’t do us any favours either – because if a brand doesn’t need building then all anybody needs to do is build something and give it a name. In that world, a brand (a product or company with a clear and defined brand promise, demonstrable through actions rather than simply marketing claims – I use Patagonia as an example of a company that is also a brand) has a diminishing value to the point that the concept eventually becomes meaningless (we’re almost there now, I would contend).

If we as practitioners don’t understand what a brand is Les Binet then what hope is there for consumers? If consumers don’t understand the difference between a product (a purely functional mechanism for solving a problem) and a brand then it becomes a useless tool.

Everything is not a brand – and to do our job effectively we need to be able to differentiate, don’t we?

[and please don’t think this is aggressive or combative – I welcome the discussion. We need more discussions like this to allow us to exchange views and opinions, so I’m grateful to  for getting this one started].

My belief is that we’re in a world where everything has become a brand – whether or not it actually meets the criteria required by the definition.  A brand, when I was cutting my teeth in the comms industry was a company that was understood by customers to stand for something.  Quality, cost-effectiveness, creativity, reliability – there is a long list.

Brand name products were products made by one of these recognized companies and carried the logo identifying them as such.  The brand name (of the manufacturer) identified these products as providing a superior feature or function to non-branded makers to companies that had no name recognition or clear brand promise in the minds of consumers.  They often carried a price premium as a result.

In many cases a non-branded product maker sought no recognition from consumers.  Their name added little to the consumer purchase decision and their products were priced lower than branded competitors.

Every product is not a brand; every company is not a brand – and unless the maker of the product has a significant role in influencing a purchase decision because of the core values that comprise its brand promise, then it is not a brand name product.  Most of the products we purchase every day are not purchased based on true brand preference – they are based on name recall, product preference, price or convenience.

And that is OK.  Calling everything a brand defeats the object of having a brand – and not being a brand works perfectly well for many organizations.

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