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What defines your brand? Much like a delicious cake, it’s the blend of many ingredients coming together perfectly.


Every single person who has ever encountered your company, service or product had an experience – every single time. That experience had physical, mental and emotional components.

  • It was pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  • The customer service representative smiled or didn’t smile. They addressed you by name or didn’t. They thanked you for your business or didn’t.
  • The website was intuitive to navigate and informative to use; it was complex and obtuse; or it was down altogether.

Your company is an experience factory. With every touch, you can be certain that each experience is banking a debit or credit to your brand equity.

Every customer’s experience is your brand.


It’s commonplace that “word-of-mouth” is the most powerful form of advertising. Whole books have been written about it. A number of firms have been founded solely to offer “buzz marketing” services.

A creative director from a Chicago advertising agency argued the best advertising is that which creates buzz and word-of-mouth. The agency’s philosophy is to direct its energies toward making advertising so innovative, clever or outrageous that it gets the water cooler buzzing. Within this framework, ads are simply vehicles that generate the real value: talk.

There’s an even more fundamental talk value, however, and that’s the talk between two people comparing notes on their firsthand experiences with the world around them. Word-of-mouth is an experience remembered in conversation.

Everything that anyone says about you is your brand.

News and Opinion

Now, give that person talking about you a 100,000-watt megaphone and you’ve got the media. The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR argues that public relations built today’s power brands (e.g. Starbucks, Microsoft, Walmart) while advertising “defends” them. My first encounter with Starbucks was in the pages of Inc. magazine. I read about a compassionate, eco-friendly and employee-centric company, passionate about presenting its customers a great cup of Joe. It was probably another five years before I tasted a Starbucks cappuccino. I had yet to see a Starbucks ad, but you better believe I remembered all about what was in that cup when I finally put it to my lips.

Everything that’s printed, broadcast and put online about you is your brand.

Visual Communications

It’s cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. But clichés often contain an element of truth. One of the most critical inputs to your brand is what people see of it. Think about all the ways customers can encounter your brand with their eyes:

  • Exterior signage and building exteriors
  • Trucks or other vehicles
  • Correspondence
  • Sales materials and advertisements
  • Uniforms

What do the pictures, environments and designs you project say about your business? Everything your customers see is your brand.


People get over facts and figures in a hurry. But they remember their feelings forever. My wife Melissa and I bought a Saturn when they first came out. We were attracted by the purchase experience this “new kind of car” offered. And we had a great buying experience. In fact, just to test the playing field, I asked the salesman for a discount. He said, “Martin, the price is the price. What I can assure you is that no other owner has bought this car for less than you’re paying.” I’d never felt so good about paying full sticker for a car.

We felt good about the price too – it was the best car for the money. We got great gas mileage and we had it paid off in less than three years.

But the car was unreliable. After the fifth tow, we replaced the car and abandoned the brand forever. All that’s left is the aftertaste of frustration waiting for AAA to show up and haul us down to the garage one more time. Oh, and this story.

Every emotion ever felt about your company, product or service is in your brand.


Let’s get back to advertising, since my earlier comments may have led you to think I believe there’s little value in advertising to brands. Au contraire! But here’s the rub: There’s no such thing as “brand advertising.” Because every ad reflects your brand.

This is the truth: many advertisers hire an agency to help them create the “important, high profile” ads. But then the advertising manager or marketing director wants to hire a freelancer to create the “little, routine” ads that “aren’t worth” having their agency involved. 

The fact is the viewing public doesn’t make the same big/little or important/unimportant judgments about your ads. An ad that reflects poorly on your company reflects poorly on your company. It doesn’t matter if it’s the quarter-page ad in the classifieds and not the full-page color ad in the news.

Every ad you run is your brand.

As you navigate the complex landscape of brand management, remember that every interaction, every word spoken and every image displayed is an opportunity to reinforce the essence of your brand and to leave a lasting impression on those you serve.

Author Martin Thoma

Began his agency career as a copywriter before co-founding Thoma Thoma more than 30 years ago. Now Martin focuses on helping brands grow by discerning, defining and articulating their unique strengths.

More posts by Martin Thoma

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