In the movie Hitch, Hitch (Will Smith) tells his date’s boss that he works in brand management. “I have no idea what that means,” says the boss. “No one does,” Hitch replies. “That’s why I get to charge so much.”

Before we get to brand management, let’s define branding.

What is branding?

Some people believe that branding is simply about a company’s logo and tagline. But that’s not true. A logo and tagline reflect a company’s brand but are not the company’s brand. A company’s logo and tagline are simply the company’s visual identity.

A company’s visual identity is, if you will, one window through which you see a company’s personality. Other windows might be advertising, marketing, blogs, and social media.

You might say that a company’s visual identity is the tip of the iceberg. Under the visual sea line, if you will, lies all the branding itself, what you might call a company’s personality or style.

So, a company’s personality reflects its brand. Said another way, a brand is how a company’s audience perceives or “feels” that company.

Therefore, branding is the process of determining a company’s personality, or perhaps discovering and leveraging what feeling customers already have about a company.

Examples of brands

Toys R Us wanted to engage the child in all of us from the git-go, reversing the central “R” as a child would when learning to write.

Nike, borrowing from Greek mythology’s winged goddess of victory, wants its customers to associate the company with flight, victory, and speed. The company relies on its “fleet of foot” symbol as well as movement in virtually every ad and photograph associated with the company.

Apple’s revolutionary brand

A great deal of Apple’s marketing, from the start, was about creativity and finding your own genius. This notion was clear in one of the most popular campaigns of all time, “Think different.” “Think different” cleverly directed us to find our personal brand, while strongly branding the company.

Apple also kept it simple. None of the geeky computer talk about bits and bytes, RAM and ROM, pixels and prices, features and benefits. Apple’s advertising was no-nonsense and streamlined, keeping the emphasis on emotion.

Sure, there are people who don’t like Apple products, for whatever reason. But even the naysayers can’t really disagree with the company’s commitment to creativity and passion.

If I had a dollar for every time a PC owner has said, “I don’t want a Mac, but I understand that they’re better for creative types,” I’d have a lot of dollars. This is a perfect example of perception over reality.

The truth is, someone can be creative on either platform, because most software is virtually identical on each.

And so even the naysayers are, in a way, proselytizing. You can’t have it any better than that.

If you’re interested in learning why Apple, and other brand leaders, succeed, watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek. And, if you like Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, you may well enjoy his audio book, free on YouTube, entitled Start with Why.

Your brand exists only in someone’s mind

A brand is what its customers think or feel when they hear or see a brand name.

That’s why people in the business say, “your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”

Brands that have successfully connected with the imaginations of customers are FedEx (Federal Express) and IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Their audiences felt such a relationship with the companies that they nicknamed them. The companies then adopted the pet names as their official names.

Brands and pet names aren’t always positive, of course. Fiat (“Fix It Again Tony”) and Whole Foods (“Whole Paycheck”) have struggled with their unfavorable monikers for years. Fiat even left the U.S. market for more than 20 years, returning in 2009. Apparently two decades wasn’t long enough for people to forget the 1970s (usually true) stories of failing vehicles.

So, what is brand management?

And that’s where brand management comes in. Back to Hitch for a moment. Hitch did help men discover and cultivate their brands so that they could be seen, and find love, in a world that overlooks those who aren’t traditionally handsome or flashy or ripped.

If you’re lucky enough to have a positive presence in people’s minds, you want to care for that presence. That means supporting, or branding, these concepts in advertising, marketing, and sales.

Brand management is the caretaking and continued cultivation of the images and experiences that live in people’s heads regarding your company. You don’t have to accept pet names as your brand name, but if you’re lucky enough to get a positive one, find a way to leverage it. Someone’s done you a favor.