"No one thing will make you outstanding, and nothing that makes you stand-out without pleasing customers or delivering value to patrons is worth your time or money."

Groucho Marx explained some of the confusion around the concept of “brand” when he said, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Using the same word in many different ways creates lots of room for confusion, and the word brand is used for many things.

Here’s a list the website Wordnik gave: a trademark or distinctive name, a product line, a distinctive category, a mark indicating identity or ownership, a reference to a mark of disgrace or notoriety, or a piece of burning or charred wood.

Yet the list doesn’t describe what “brand” has come to mean in business today.

For businesses, “Brand” is the individual or collective perception of a product, service, organization or experience. The brand Craftsman is a good example. Sears didn’t manufacture the tools sold under the Craftsman name, but the brand’s reputation for quality was worth $900M when Sears sold it to Black and Decker. Did Black and Decker keep the same supply chain? Who knows and who cares as long as the products themselves live up to the brand’s reputation.

The brand confusion of small businesses owners and managers of the non-profit organizations wastes time and money and repeatedly leads to initiatives that go nowhere. Investing in an intricate logo won’t help if your restaurant is known for lousy service. A great restaurant isn’t likely to flourish with a distasteful name (I recently came across a food joint named “The Meat Wagon”). Putting the word “excellence” in a carefully crafted tagline won’t help if the organization isn’t.

A strong brand can be worth a lot, even for a small business, but to do all the work a brand needs to do all the elements have to work together correctly. The name reinforces distinctiveness, what makes the business or organization distinctive is reliably experienced by customers, and whatever image is used to signify it requires careful and intentional design. Best of all, it doesn’t take a ton of money to execute well.

Edith Lucille's By Day

A great example near my home of a brand I like is Edith Lucille’s Bait Shack and Wing Depot. The backstory is that the restaurant is named after the two owners’ grandmothers. They want to share the food their grandmothers shared with them, with the same feeling of cozy familiarity. What makes the place truly awesome isn’t the name, or the food, the friendly service, the design and decor, or the logo. But what makes it awesome is all of that together.

Edith Lucille's By Night

The same thing can be said for a volunteer organization, school, a hospital or business.