I often talk about the strength or weakness of a brand. I think it is a very important part of evaluating not just a company or a product but also an investment. A strong brand counts for allot. A weak brand will hold a business back.

But my sense is that many people either don’t believe me or just don’t understand me when I’m talking about this stuff. So I thought I’d try to clarify.

First, a brand it not a logo! A logo is simply the visual representation of the company’s name and really doesn’t have much to do with the brand.

A brand is a perception or emotional response that someone has to a company or its products. A brand is created by consistently and clearly standing for something in the market. By making promises and delivering on them. By building trust. A good brand will be trusted by its market and will stand out from its competitors.

As Marty Neumeir says in his excellent book “The brand gap” – ‘A charismatic brand can be defined as any product, service or company for which people believe there is no substitute.’

It starts with being certain about who you are, what you stand for, where you’re going and why you’re different. It seems simple but it’s amazing how many companies completely fail to do this.

At MessageLabs (where I was the co-founder and CMO) we could answer these questions which would have come out as something like this:

1. We are MessageLabs, the email security company.

2. You can trust us with protecting your most important communication channel and be certain that it is free of viruses and other damaging threats.

3. We are making email a more secure and productive communication channel for businesses around the world.

4. We are different because we can identify threats instantly using our algorithm based technology and our service operates in the cloud thus stopping threats long before they reach you.

I believe a good brand can always answer these questions. And they are clear (not too wordy), consistent (experience the same thing again and again), credible (back it up with evidence and what others are saying) and compelling (be arresting and memorable) in the way they communicate them.

A great brand will also communicate these things in a way that reflects the characteristics or values of the business. For example Apple’s marketing will always be beautifully designed because that is such an important part of their business. Or Nike will often make reference to achievement and pushing yourself as this is a value that they hold close to their hearts.

A brand is built and projected in every interaction that a business has with the market. People often think about advertising when they think about brand awareness. But, although this is a really important touch point that can potentially reach a huge audience, a great brand delivers the same message or experience across every touch point.

This will include the way your staff talk about the business, the contents of a marketing email or a sales presentation, the design of your offices and the look and feel of your product. It’s often the smaller details that people really notice both positively and negatively.

A strong brand can give you a real edge in your market. And it also doesn’t need to cost a huge amount to build. Ultimately a great brand comes from the ‘inside out’ and it’s down to how you manage that process.