A New Gauge For Brand Strength: The Tangible Brand Test

All-star designer Gadi Amit argues that imagining a brand as products doesn’t tell you all you need to know about its future business prospects.

A New Gauge For Brand Strength: The Tangible Brand Test


Much has been written about Apple and its Brand. I think it’s the strongest brand ever created. However, per conventional branding thinking, I am quite wrong: P&G, Mobil, BP, Coca-Cola, and others are all bigger, older brands whose purported worth is far greater. (Apple is a measly 17th.) That is ridiculous. So I propose a new test for a brand’s mass, the Tangible Brand test.

Amid all the writing about brands and their relation to digital media, social media, and marketing, there is seldom a discussion about label — the poor cousin of brand. Brands don’t like being called labels. Labels are superficial, transient, and represent “yesterday” in branding terms.

When you buy these “brands,” are you truly impressed or convinced?

And yet many “brands” really are just labels: Familiar, strong on the shelf, effective in pushing merchandise out the door and yet lifeless. Just walk down the isle of any retail store. Watch and observe the mass of “branding” presented to you. All was supposedly dialed to your taste, dear customer. All is calculated and effective; you are buying the “right” products, as the marketers intended. However, are you truly impressed or convinced? Or is it that you are just presented with the least-disappointing option? That is to say, all that branding comes down to a mere labeling exercise, wrapped around arm-twisting back room salesmanship. It’s that back-room maneuvering over sales channels and product placement which is presented as branding. But it’s nothing more than labeling, backed by the brute force of billions in marketing and sales. It delivers the numbers yet very little glory.

For branding to succeed something else must happen: The brand must become tangible. Regardless of the means, whether that’s ads, design, or PR, brands work because they package emotions and attachments into an experience that actually lives in the world. Logos do some of this, packaging some more. Yet to my mind, a true branding test transports all those notions into a completely new arena. The brand’s real muscle show begins on a stage without spotlights, until now.

So let’s do some thought experiments. Can you imagine a Levis car? I guess it’s probably a Jeep. How about an Apple car? I am sure you’ll have no problems imaging that, right? By contrast, I’ll bet you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a Coca-Cola car. And a BP car would simply be a joke.


How broad, deep and transferable a brand can be is a testament to its value.

Let’s take it further. Can Coke sell Fashion? I guess so. Pepsi? No! As you see these GE commercials with wind Turbines and happy people dancing near Jet engines, just stop for a second and ask yourself: How would a coat by GE look like? I imagine a White lab coat smelling jet-engine fumes. Virgin has a wonderful story, yet if you look closely at its Tangible Brand, you’ll discover weakness. I love flying Virgin, I used to buy music from Virgin, yet would you buy a Digital Music player from Virgin? Probably not. Would you buy a Virgin couch? Of course not. Its not just mechanics — “They don’t do sofas, dummy!” — its a substantial issue. How broad, deep and transferable a brand can be is a testament to its value. While I can imagine IKEA selling PCs, TVs, or vacation packages to Sweden, I cannot see Virgin selling me a chair.

Thought of this way, brands build to be tangible rest upon stronger foundations, with greater financial opportunities. Remember: In 2002 everyone thought Apple couldn’t sell music. Now they sell more of it than almost anyone on the planet.

[Top image by Marya]

About the author

Gadi Amit is the president of NewDealDesign LLC, a strategic design studio in San Francisco. Founded in 2000, NDD has worked with such clients as Better Place, Sling Media, Palm, Dell, Microsoft, and Fujitsu, among others, and has won more than 70 design awards.