shri - 12:27 pm on Nov 16, 2011 (gmt 0)
For me, the whole "brand nirvana" thing is achieved when the largest search term for my site is the site's non-generic name.
When more people visit you by typing in your domain name into a search engine compared to any other money term, you know you're on your way.
A million Facebook / twitter referrals are not worth anything to me as an online brand if the visitors do not remember your domain name and turn it into a daily / weekly habit.
Do they think of your site as the go to site the next time they need information or want to buy something or feel the need to share a thought?
Do people talk about you offline and tell their friends about you?
Does not take millions, does not take sneaky tactics, does not take links (that follows). What it does take is good PR (Public relations) - local and within the communities these sites operate, good word of mouth - which is a result of providing value to the visitors and a fair bit of hard work. :)
A few more random thoughts
* Good logos and design does not mean you're a brand - seen far too many of those come and go. Its a start, but does not end there.
* Newspaper mentions etc. Do you wait for them to come or do you (or someone in your staff) monitor for stories and then communicate with reporters and give them an opinion or thought or news they could follow up on?