Branding is always misunderstood by being reduced to its aesthetic component: visual identity. For many, whether specialists or not, branding is still just about the visual identity – name, logo, design, packaging, etc. Even more so, while the concept of branding and its understanding have evolved enormously over the years, the same old vision of branding is being preached, even by high-level marketers.
Cambridge Dictionary defines branding as “the act of giving a company a particular design or symbol in order to advertise its products and services.” Not so long ago, this was a pretty accurate description of branding – at least, what the general consensus was at the time. But this doesn't hold true today, especially in our user-centric and media age.
While it may seem like a simple idea to comprehend, branding is an ever-elusive, hotly debated topic that is not easy to define. Why? Because, branding is emotive, and subjective and not something that can necessarily be measured or quantified.
In order to fully conceptualize branding, let’s go back a step and understand what a brand is. To quote author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”. Meaning branding is everything you do to actively influence those decisions.
Think about it, when consumers need to make a choice, how will they make their decisions? Whatever motivates them, branding is what shapes the perception of your business in their minds and ultimately what converts new customers into loyal buyers.
Branding is important because not only is it what makes a memorable impression on consumers but it allows your customers and clients to know what to expect from your company. It is a way of distinguishing yourself from the competition and clarifying what it is you offer that makes you the better choice. Your brand is built to be a true representation of who you are as a business, and how you wish to be perceived.
What is Branding?
Like I said earlier, Branding is such a vast concept that a correct definition that truly encompasses everything that it represents would not bring too much clarity to the subject just by itself. That is why it's hotly debated and misunderstood by many. Nonetheless, for the sake of lowering the propagation of obsolete, incorrect, and incomplete information about branding, Brandingmag’ offers a more complete definition:
"Branding is the perpetual process of identifying, creating, and managing the cumulative assets and actions that shape the perception of a brand in stakeholders’ minds."
If you compare this definition to the official Cambridge definition, you can clearly see that the former (Cambridge) offers more surface-level information, giving a false sense of understanding to the reader. This might be one of the reasons why most people think that definition is correct and choose it as the foundation of their knowledge-building on the subject. In truth, basing your learning about branding on a definition that reduces it to only one element (visual identity) makes every other branding-related concept fall short when trying to connect the dots.
The definition of branding given by brandingmag, even if seemingly more ambiguous than the other, gives much more sense to the concept when diving deeper into its meaning. Here is a rough breakdown:
1. Perpetual process
Branding is a perpetual process because it never stops. People, markets, and businesses are constantly changing and the brand must evolve in order to keep pace.
2. Identify, create, manage
There is a structured process to branding, one where you must first identify who/what you want to be to your stakeholders, create your brand strategy to position yourself accordingly, and then constantly manage everything that influences your positioning.
3. Cumulative assets and actions
Your positioning must be translated into assets (e.g., visual identity, content, products, ads) and actions (e.g., services, customer support, human relations, experiences) that project it into your stakeholders’ minds, slowly building up that perception.
4. Perception of a brand
Also known as reputation. This is the association that an individual (customer or not) has in their mind regarding your brand. This perception is the result of the branding process (or lack thereof).
Clients are not the only ones that build a perception of your brand in their minds. Stakeholders include possible clients, existing customers, employees, shareholders, and business partners. Each one builds up their own perception and interacts with the brand accordingly.
Essentially, your brand is the perception of your business or organization in people’s minds. Branding is the process of creating and managing these perceptions.
Why is Branding Important?
Branding is absolutely critical to a business because of the overall impact it makes on your company. Branding can change how people perceive your brand, it can drive new business, and increase brand value – but it can also do the opposite if done wrongly or not at all.
Let’s set something straight: Reputation builds up whether the business does something about it or not. The result can be a good or bad reputation. Understanding and using branding only means that you take the reins and try to control what that reputation looks like. This is why it is recommended to consider branding from the very beginning of your business.
In the saturated world of marketing, there is a lot of noise. If it only takes about 7 seconds to make an impression, then your branding has got to be strong and well-designed right off the bat.
Effective branding is the mechanism that can make your business stand out and get your prospective customer’s attention. When done right, branding has the power to influence, to inspire, and create change.
Look at some of the biggest and most well-established brands out there like Google, Apple, Nike, and Coke— it is no coincidence that they are successful. These companies understand the importance of branding and leverage it from every aspect of their business and marketing. Furthermore, they continue to strategize, learn and grow through their branding efforts to maintain customer loyalty.
Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the importance of branding and the impact it has on your business.
Set you apart from the competition
Regardless of what industry you’re in, competition is always fierce. Whether you’re opening a bike repair shop, selling packaged akamu, or becoming a social media consultant—branding allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, by highlighting and distinguishing what you have to offer, and why it is a better choice.
Develop brand awareness
Brand awareness refers specifically to the ways in which your business is perceived, both in market position and in consumers’ minds. Ideally, you want customers to have a positive impression of your brand with the service or product that you offer. Strong brand awareness is one of the main motivators to encourage your target audience to select your brand explicitly, even if cheaper or alternative options are available.
Establish brand recognition
A key component of brand awareness, brand recognition applies more pointedly to the ways in which consumers remember your product or service, also known as brand recall. This can be prompted by visual branding assets like brand colors, a logo, or a catchy slogan. For example, imagine you’re on a road trip, and on the highway in the distance, you see golden arches—without even thinking about it, you already identified McDonald's.
Build brand trust
Brand trust is important both for the impression your business gives to potential customers and within your industry. According to Intelligence Node, “over 60% of online adults want the companies they buy from to be transparent about their business practices.”
A company with a strong brand not only presents itself as more professional and polished but also evokes trust through transparency and authenticity. Beyond this, outlining your brand values upfront and keeping your brand promise is what encourages prospective and current customers to believe in, and support your brand.
Give your business an identity
Just as each person has their own unique identity, so does your brand. Imagine you’re setting up two friends on a blind date, and you need to describe each person to the other. How might you identify or characterize them? Try to think of your brand as a person rather than a commodity or an object. Known formally as “brand anthropomorphism”, this idea challenges you to visualize your brand like a human to better define how the brand acts, speaks, dresses, communicates, or impacts the world.
Establish employee pride
Employees who stand behind their brand and take pride in their work are not only good for business, but they also play a key role in shaping public perception of your brand. This has positive implications across the board. It can influence the ways customers identify your brand, but it can also encourage prospective employees to seek out your company. A well-branded company should make workers feel a sense of belonging, overall satisfaction, and pride. This will encourage them to authentically promote the brand across all types of channels and platforms.
Enhance your business value
Whether you’re a small business owner or an established corporation, branding plays an important role in validating your financial value and building your brand equity. The growth of your company can depend on successful branding when attracting new customers, generating business, or breaking into new markets. Even more, in regard to expanding your venture, an expertly-branded business is a more attractive investment for potential investors.
Are you ready to build a solid brand that will help you build trust with customers and enable you to sell more of your products/services? Get in touch to find out how we can help you.