Editor's note: Jerry Thomas is president and chief executive of Decision Analyst. He can be reached at jthomas@decisionanalyst.com.

A brand is some type of symbol, name or sign that identifies and distinguishes one product or service from competitive products or services. We can think of “identifies” and “distinguishes” as the practical functions of a brand.

There are also intangible elements, such as status signals, values, emotions and feelings, visual imagery and personality traits that can be linked to a brand name.

Trademark law has an interesting concept called secondary meaning and over time a brand acquires secondary meaning through usage and advertising. This secondary meaning is, in effect, a measurement of the culmination (the added value) of a brand strategy. For example, the word “caterpillar” refers to the pupa of a butterfly, a worm-like creature with many legs. That’s what we think of when we hear the word caterpillar.

However, caterpillar has also acquired secondary meaning as the identity of a brand of earth-moving equipment. In this context, Caterpillar has acquired massive secondary meaning: it stands for strength, steel, durability and power; it stands for building, construction and progress; it stands for diesel clatter and the color yellow. Brand strategy is about building the right type of secondary meaning for your brand.

Brand strategy is built atop three powerful foundational concepts: the first is concentration of effort and energy, so that branding themes and messages break through all the noise and the clutter. The second foundational concept is brand differentiation. That is, how does a company differentiate its brand from those of competitors? This differentiation can be real. It can, for example, be a technological or performance advantage or a perceptual (e.g., superior brand imagery) advantage.

The third foundational concept is targeting. Which ma...