Chances are, ask anyone the question “What does branding mean?” and you’ll get a different answer every time. It’s the crux of a massive battle for buzzword supremacy, with every advertising and marketing agency making their own spin, beginning their catchy mission statement with something like “This is what it is to them, but to us…” or “We look at things differently…”
Here, let’s test the theory by asking our most reliable friend: Google!
Hey Google! Branding is…
“…the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”
“…the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice-versa.”
“…the encapsulation of a company’s mission statement, objectives, and corporate soul as expressed through the corporate voice and aesthetic.”
What Does the Dictionary Say? Branding is…
“…the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand.”
As you can see, there are so many different takes on the rather broad topic of “What does branding mean?” “Branding” today is so vague that no one can seem to agree on a set definition. It’s also vastly different than it was just a few years ago. An athlete no longer just plays their respective sport; an athlete is a brand himself!
For example, LeBron James isn’t just a basketball player, he’s the LeBron James brand. You know him mainly for his work on the court, but he’s also a businessman. He has a brand reputation that he needs to maintain. Call it the Michael Jordan effect.
Actually, that’s a fine example to start with. The Air Jordan “Jumpman” is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. You see the logo, and it will quickly bring a few things to mind: Michael Jordan, basketball, dunks, championships, sneakers. And then you think “oh, I should buy these sneaks so I can be like Mike!”
And that’s the Air Jordan brand going to work. You see the logo and are able to associate it with what it stands for and what the company behind it does. It drives you to make a purchase because of your brand familiarity. Maybe you even believe in the brand, or in this case, are a big fan of Jordan or LeBron. The point is all of those thoughts and feelings matter when it comes to your purchasing decisions.
Of course, not everyone has as much recognition as Air Jordan. The question then becomes, how do you get there? What can you do to get people more familiar with your brand? How do you build brand recognition, trust, and bring in more sales?
In a nutshell, this should be at the center of your marketing efforts, no matter your specific campaign. Your greater goal should always be to raise your company’s profile, gain consumer trust, and bring in more business. This is where other buzz terms like “brand awareness” and “brand strategy” come into play.
Building A Brand
Increasing your brand awareness can involve a wide variety of tools and strategies, but the objective will always be to attract new customers while retaining your loyal customers. You will do this by giving them a product that aligns with what your brand promises. But how you do this involves your brand strategy.
Your brand strategy involves the how, what, where, when, and to whom you want to be communicating with and delivering your brand messages. If your branding strategy is effective, it should gain you an edge over your competition. Your brand is a promise that you make to your customer, telling them what to expect from your products and services.
It should differentiate you from your competition, and tell customers who you are and what you do. You form that brand perception through who you want to be, and how your customers will perceive you to be.
Brand perception is another buzzworthy term in the branding spectrum that is formed through your branding efforts. When forming your brand strategy, you should take into account what your customers perceive your brand name to mean and represent. The best way to mold your brand perception is through effective messaging and your brand experience.
Branding: The Basics
The first thing you’ll want to do as you build your brand is to get your target customers familiar with who you are and what you do. Familiarity is a big part of the decision-making process for consumers who are in a buying mode. This means that if a person is shopping and comparing two similar products, they are more likely to purchase the one from the brand they are familiar with, rather than take a risk on the one they haven’t heard of. Having a strong brand helps consumers choose your product over the competition.
The first way to establish your brand is to create a strong logo that consumers will easily be able to identify with your brand. Think of some other logos like the Jumpman that have become iconic. Coca-Cola comes to mind. The Nike swoosh. The McDonald’s golden arches. Any professional sports team. You see the logo, you know what it represents.
Think of how you could do that for your brand. How can you convey who you are and what you stand for through a logo? It can be agonizing, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Ideally, you will only do this once, so you never have to give up the work you’ve done and force people to get re-familiar with a new logo. Some minor tweaks may be fine, but once people identify with your logo; keep it basically the same.
Your visual identity will expand, but it all starts with your foundation: the logo. From there, your branding will incorporate your company colors that you’ve chosen for a more specific reason than they look cool. You will then formulate an overall look, including your website, packaging, and all promotional materials. These visuals will be a major point of entry for customers, so you’ll need your brand to be clearly identified right away.
Your logo and visuals are certainly important parts of your brand that should be given careful consideration, but your brand awareness will also be built through strong, concise messaging. You can even boost your brand appeal through advertising and communications, your in-store experience, your pricing, sponsorships and partnerships, charitable associations, in addition to your visual identity.
Branding also will help build your company’s reputation from within. You’ll be likely to buy from a brand you’re connected to, for example, if you know someone who works at a specific company — especially if they love working there. You’ll also feel more connected to a brand that promotes a culture that you aspire to be a part of, and perhaps you’d even want to work there yourself and join its world. This boost the brand’s reputation and atmosphere by creating a space and a feeling, not just a product.
All of your efforts combine to create a brand experience your customers will enjoy. If they like your logo, your website is easy to use, they get a good vibe when they’re in your store and they like what your brand stands for, they’ll turn into loyal customers in no time.
Though branding is complicated, it’s important to remember that you have ownership of your brand, so take control and plan the experiences that you would like your customers to have.