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Branding Research: Part 1 of 2

For those who need to see the big picture, this will help you to understand how branding works to better in creating, curating, monitoring, and maintaining your brand.

Part 1

This is the first part of a two-part blog post. In this post, I will be giving an overview of this peak into branding research and discussing what a “brand” is, which is more than just a logo.

The notion of a brand can seem amorphous partly because of the ubiquitous use of the word. This makes it hard for people to think about their own brand. I’ve talked with a lot of solopreneurs and indie writers who are at a loss when they are trying to create their branding plans. I think that part of this is because there’s confusion about what a brand is. 

I think that looking at an overview of the research is good to understand what a brand is so that you can create and curate your own brand. This is especially true for people who need an overview before they can delve into creating or enacting an action plan.

This is by no means comprehensive, but more introductory look into the research.

I talked a little about what a brand is in my post Marketing: A Primer and in my post Branding: Starting from Scratch. Both posts were informed by research, but I didn’t discuss what that research was. So far, I’ve described branding as the story of your product, service, or company as told by you, your community of customers, and as individual customers. In this post, I’m going to go a bit deeper into what a brand is.

Let’s start with a little bit about why we want to look at brands – because the brand is often why a consumer buys a product or service and not just because of what the product or service does; it’s function.

What consumers are buying

“A world without brands would be a very boring world indeed.”[i] ~ Jill AveryAnat Keinan.

Meaning Based Assets

Brands can be called “meaning-based assets.[ii]” When people use products or services, those products and services become much more than just the needs and wants that the product or service fills. Embedded in the brand itself there is a story. That story becomes part of the life of the person who uses the product or service.[iii] Part of who they are becomes associated with that brand. Not all brands and not all products. But the point is that products and services can have a deeper meaning for the person consuming it, than just fulfilling a need. That added meaning is sometimes just below our awareness. Why do you pick one brand of toothpaste over another? Are they really that different? 

The meaning is the story that is embedded in the product’s brand. You may buy one cleaner over another because the company that makes the cleaner donates some proceeds to the wildlife fund, which is something that you support. So, you feel good about buying that cleaner because you are helping wildlife. Everytime you use the cleaner the thought that you’re helping wildlife may be a tickle of a thought in your mind.

The term “assets” refer to brands are a thing. I lightly touched on that in in my post Branding: Starting from Scratch. Calling a brand an asset also emphasizes that this thing has value. There is a value that it has for the product seller, and there is a value that the brand has for the consumer.

The value that a brand brings is that “brands are not about what you do, but what you enable people to do. Brands are about people, not products.”[iv]

The most important value of a brand is what it does for the consumer. Whatever it is that makes a product or service unique (because of what you do) is what makes the product or service uniquely valuable to the customer

When you create your brand, you are creating a story that will resonate with those who are purchasing your product or service. Those who become repeat customers or fans, what they are saying is that they are embracing your story on a very personal level. In this way, your brand becomes a part of their story. This highlights the very personal nature of branding, which is in part building relationships with your customers or clients.

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to tell your story through your promotions, so that those who will resonate with your story are able to find you to connect with you. 

Keeping in mind that your brand becomes a part of your consumers’ lives shifts the focus from just your business to your customers. Your business, then, becomes an act of service to those your brand resonates with. When you see taglines that include “serving your neighborhood since … “ that tag line is speaking to that service. Yes, you are making a living selling your product or service, but you are also doing it to enhance the lives to whom you are selling.

Branding to help showcase differences between similar services and products

Branding helps consumers to tell the difference in similar products or services that may be a better fit. 

Let’s say that there are two life coaches that have very different ways of asking questions. One is more matter-of-fact, which may appeal more to some. The other is more spiritual, which may appeal more to others. One coach is going to be a better fit for a group of potential clients, which the other coach will be a better fit for another group of potential clients. This also circles back to brand position. You can create a market, a niche market, based on your unique approach, even if the service or product is similar to another. I will talk more about brand positioning in future blog posts.

As product and service sellers, the more nuanced of an understanding we have on what a brand is and how that leads to the very pragmatic question of sales, the better we are able to create and curate our brands, and differentiate ourselves from others.  

The Research: Preview of Part 2

In the part 2 of this post, I’m going to talk about four different perspectives of branding in research, a little about the history of that research, and gives some hints on how that applies to you. Some of the perspectives will resonate more with you than others. Each time we look at the same thing from a different lens, we add information. They add to the nuance of understanding. In the second part of this post, I’ll give a framework on how to put those perspectives together.

So how can we unpeel the layers even more about what a brand is, so that we can be better creators and curators of our brands? Let’s look at the research.

There are four areas of research that I have find to be clarifying on what a brand is and the power of branding. These perspectives are from,

  • cognitive psychology,
  • social psychology,
  • cultural sociology,
  • and neuroscience.

In my next blog post, I’ll be giving a brief overview of these four areas of research.

You can get started here on developing your marketing plan, or email me with any questions.


[i] The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology) (p. 209). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology) (p. 211). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition

[iii] Levy, S. J. (1959). Symbols for sale. Harvard Business Review, 37(4), 117–124.

[iv] Fisk, P. (2015). Brand innovation: Embracing change to innovate your brand and accelerate growth. In K. Kompella (ed.), The Brand Challenge. London: Kogan Page, 41–82.

©2020 Michelle Raab, PhD. All rights reserved. Copyright notice: You may copy up to 50 words without permission, provided that you give attribution, link back to the original post, and do not change the meaning or message.

You can get started here on developing your marketing plan, or email me with any questions.

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