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The essence of your brand

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Michael Kullman
former Director of Corporate Marketing


Your brand is an essential part of your business. It defines who you are. It is an important part in the decision making process of everyone your business interacts with or relies on. It provides a foundation on which strategy can be built.

Your brand is not a logo or a slogan. It’s not the colors you use on your trucks or your advertising. It is not what you decide it should be. It is not something you can change whenever you want to.

So what is a brand? Jeff Bezos of Amazon said a brand is “what people say about you when you aren’t in the room.” Perhaps not the most technical definition but it is insightful and illustrates some important points.

First let’s look at the people part. The essence of your brand resides not in any physical way. It only exists in the minds of the people your organization deals with. It is a promise between you and them of benefits and values you can provide. And when we refer to people, it’s everyone who is aware of you. It is customers who make decisions to buy from you. It is suppliers who decide to sell to you. It is employees who make decisions to work for you. It is donors who decide to contribute to you. Everyone who is familiar with your organization has a brand image of it.

For Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware the central audiences are Club kids and their parents. Few of them would use the term brand essence when describing what the Club means to them. But many of them would talk about the Club providing a safe place for activities. Others would talk about how the Club helps them grow and become better people. Still others would mention the hope that they now have for a better life. This is the brand essence for them.

Another key constituency for Boys & Girls Clubs are the network of donors. Yes, they value the work that is done by the Clubs but they also want to know that the organization uses their money wisely and efficiently and is making a difference in the lives of the youth served. For these individuals and companies the brand essence of the Club is that it is having an impact on the community. And acting as responsible stewards of funds raised.

Now let’s look at the second part of Bezos’ description of a brand. The “when you aren’t in the room” part. People can be less than straightforward in brand surveys. If you ask them a question in person about what your brand means to them they will likely be very polite. This means that understanding your brand essence is not easy. You have to continually work to get below the surface. You have to talk to people both inside and outside of your business to gain insight. Remember that a brand exists in the minds of people. And that it is the way they feel about your business. The best brands evoke an emotional response. People love driving their BMW. They

couldn’t live without their Starbucks. It makes them feel elated when the Boys & Girls Club builds a new facility to serve the Dover community.

To understand your brand is hard work. But when you do, it gives you the freedom to act decisively in growing your business. Once you know what the brand essence is for your organization you must continue to reinforce it in everything that you do. Every communication should be consistent with it. Every employee should exemplify it. Every growth opportunity should be evaluated to determine that your brand will be accepted there.

Building your brand will build your business. Just ask Jeff Bezos.


Michael Kullman was the Director of Corporate Marketing for DuPont for ten years before his retirement. In this role he had responsibility for the corporate brand, advertising and promotion, market research, eBusiness, and marketing talent management programs. Prior to this role he was the global business director for the Teflon(r) Finishes business. In addition Michael is a past board member and Chair of the America Marketing Association, the world’s largest marketing organization. Michael recently joined the Corporate Board of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware. To learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, visit bgclubs.org.

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