Very simplistically, my thoughts about brands tend to be two fold: value + context. Tell me what it is the product is and then tell me how/ why it is different than the rest of the myriad of choices out there. That's the basic foundation on which the brand is built in my eyes. There are all sorts of ideas, slogans, images, etc. that go on top of it that help refine it, but that's the blocking and tackling part.
As I am sure you could have guessed, most of my brand thoughts tend to revolve the online world. Today, my self-exercise was to think about various websites and come up 10 words or less for each that adequately conveyed my understanding of their brand. Specifically, I tried to complete this sentence: _____________ is the place to go to _____________. Here's what I came up with:
Amazon is the place to go to buy books.
Google is the place to go to search the web.
Ebay is the place to go to buy auctioned goods.
TechCrunch is the place to go to find out about new start-ups.
CNN is the place to go to read national and international news.
ESPN is the place to go to read sports news.
Gawker/ Defamer/ Valleywag is the place to go to get the NY/LA/ Silicon Valley gossip.
YouTube is the place to go to check out videos.
Marksonland is the place to go to find out what's on Mike's brain.
Pretty simple, right? So what's the catch? None really, except that it actually occurred to me that one of the things that any succinct web site brand has is actually buried in my question. Every web site is a place to go to do something. Leaving that out of the brand is the equivalent of a clothing company describing a its new product as a continuous suede surface infolded on itself with five out-pouchings, but not mentioning that is it a glove. (Or in net parlance, calling your self some sort of next generation, AJAX enabled, social-aggregator, etc.).
I think this is especially important for those sites that are trying to grab market-share from the leading sites mentioned above (Marksonland, obviously, notwithstanding). If you want to take on Amazon, the place to go to buy books, then tell me why I should go to your place to buy books instead. You have a place to buy books cheaper, used books, travel books, business books, well reviewed books, whatever. You probably have lots of features that will make my life better, but in describing them to me, don't forget to tell me the basics of why I am going to your site: ________ is a place to go for ___________.
You might even want to use these words. Hey, it worked for Myspace, right?