For the sake of illustration, let’s divide the business world into two categories: companies that have brands, and companies who have names. The difference is not an insignificant one. Companies with brands have reputations and relationships that must be fed on a continual basis, across a spectrum of (increasingly numerous) customer touch points, and must provide meaning that resonates with both the company and the customer. It is time and money-intensive work and the ROI is difficult to measure, at best. Whether B2B or B2C, every action requires consideration.

In the other corner, companies with names alone still provide products and services like everyone else, without investing in a brand, and thereby enjoy a better bottom line in the short term than their competitors. But for how long?

  • Why do we have Google and Yahoo! instead of Netscape?
  • What happened to MySpace or Friendster?
  • Name an enjoyable (and successful) airline brand: Did you say ATA, Song or TED, or was it more like JetBlue, Virgin, or Southwest?

While the branded company has its product or service to offer, it also has a real connection with its audience. It doesn’t just have customers, it has allies and loyalists who not only return, but also evangelize. Conversely, while the good times might be “more good” for the company with a name, in the low times it’s the branded company who stands a better chance at weathering the storm.

A delineated and expressed brand can also be used as a competitive galvanizing point in both up and down-trends, working as a rudder that guides the company as it inevitably makes bigger and more important decisions. There are many companies that have great products and a name, but have yet to develop a truly meaningful brand. They run the risk of becoming blinded by the success of their ascendancy; however, when they reach their peak and must face the long walk back down, what guides them?

In a human being, that’s called grit and integrity; it’s self-knowledge exhibited in deeds. In the world of business, it’s called living a brand.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your customers know what you stand for and is it relevant to them?
  • Are you really creating differentiation in the marketplace, and is it giving you a competitive advantage?
  • Is your business recognized and valued beyond just the goods you own or sell?
  • Does anyone actually care about what you do? Are you really part of peoples’ lives?

If you can honestly answer yes – then you’re well on the way to being a great brand. If not, you have to ask again: are you really just a name?