What’s the Difference Between a Brand, a Label, and a Product?


Over the years, brands risk becoming just another label. When a brand loses its spirit, it winds up as no more than a distinctive symbol (or logo). And as the logo becomes more standardized, it begins to lose even that distinction. The once proud brand has become just a trademark with no greater meaning other than identifying the company that produces the product under that label.

What is a Label?

A label is simply a sign on a package that identifies the basic elements of the product:

  • Contents: What’s inside the package? How is it used? What is the size, the weight, the life expectancy?
  • Compliance: What are the legal requirements and are those met on the label? Is it caustic, dangerous, alcohol, flammable, spoilable, and how must it be used and stored?
  • Logo: What is the identifying image or trademark that distinguishes this brand from another? What message does it send? Is it easy to recognize, remember, and find?
  • Name: What is the brand name? Does it have anything to do with the product, its benefits, its company, or its attributes? Is it short and memorable?
  • Trade Dress: Does it have a color pattern, borders, a particular font or style? Are there designs used that help convey the brand messaging?
  • Copy: Is there additional copy such as a catch phrase, an endorsement, a description of expected results, or other communication deemed helpful to the customer?

What is a Product?

A product is a commodity. It is a physical production designed to serve a certain purpose for which there is a market. It can be branded (represented by an independent company) or generic (provided by the retailer rather than one sold to a retailer by an independent company of branded products). Both can have labels that identify the product and its origins. Branded products differential themselves by -pledging the “brand promise” of the company that provides the branded product.

Certain products are owned by the retailer and have the retailer’s own brand, or house brand, on them. Retailers provide “own” brands to cut out the independently branded products by underpricing those products. They hope to make more profit per sale by buying commodities right to the source and putting their own label on them.

Startup branded product producers can be tempted by retailers to become merely suppliers of their house brands. But their contracts can be dumped for another supplier who undercuts them. We strongly recommend against this enterprise for brand builders. We suggest instead that you make your brand strong outside any particular retailer so the retailers will have to carry it due to demand by their own customers.

What is a Brand?

  • Brand Spirit. A brand is a culmination of various attributes, promises, and reputation. A brand is a way of doing business, a style of performance, and a movement. A brand stands for something beside the mercantile product delivered under its label. We call this the brand spirit.
  • Brand Promise. Brands can be represented by signage, catchphrases, and logos, but they are best represented by their brand promise. At first, the brand company tries to describe what the customer can expect from the brand’s corporate behavior and labeled products. But ultimately, it is the customer who winds up owning the brand promise.
  • Social Promise. The brand promise is what the customer has come to expect from the labeled products under that brand. If the production company breaks its brand promise, the customer begins to shop elsewhere.

Conclusion. Many brand producing and building companies think that the only areas effecting the brand promise is the product and its performance. But now, according to Nielsen, the customer wants “their” brand to live up to their expectations, not only about the product itself, but how it’s made, what it’s made of, how the labor was treated in its making, and other social and health concerns.

Companies who consistently deliver on their mercantile brand promise are still at risk if they break the social aspects of their brand promise.

The key to brand success and longevity is to recognize and address these realities and be excellent brand stewards by staying relevant with the times and keeping the spirit of the brand alive!