The concept of branding dates back more than 4,000 years. Of course, back then, people weren’t branding their businesses; they were branding livestock as a means of claiming their property. While the term “branding” today means something very different, the reason behind it remains the same.
What is a Brand?
A company’s brand refers to the business concept that helps people identify a particular company, product or individual. Some of the most recognizable brands include Apple, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney.
Your brand is defined by a customer’s overall perception of your business. According to a Nielsen survey, 59 percent of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them. Your brand is not only your product or service, but your identity, image, personality and reputation. It encompasses how you’re perceived to the outside world.
What is Branding?
Branding is the process of communicating a unique selling proposition, or differential, that sets a product or service apart from the competition.
Branding gives meaning to an organization, company, product or service by creating and shaping the brand in the consumers’ minds. Branding helps consumers quickly identify a brand, and in a split second determine how they feel about it and whether or not they want to choose that product or service over a competitor’s.
Why is Branding Important?
A good brand identity can make or break a product or service.
Take Burt’s Bees, for example. The founders, Roxanne and Burt, met in the 1980s while hitchhiking. Roxanne was an artist, and Burt was a beekeeper. Together, they grew a brand that sells a large range of natural body care products with the philosophy of “What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.”
Their branding was built on the concepts of nature, sustainability and the greater good, all facets that are relevant, holistic and strike a chord with their audience. Their branding stories tell a compelling history, outline purposeful guiding principles, explain sustainability efforts, and, of course, raise awareness about their efforts to save a declining bee population. Their branding theme combines their product and their global activism: “We should treat our skin, and the world we live in, with care.”
Even though Burt’s Bees sold to Clorox in 2007 (the company wanted to expand its market for green products), the Burt’s Bees brand, with its iconic logo, continues to be a highly recognizable brand, enjoys a strong brand loyalty and identifies with consumers as an earth-friendly, wholesome, natural company.
On the flip side, bad branding can leave your audience with a bad taste in their mouths. These companies may have good intentions, and branding can go south for a variety of reasons. For instance, a brand name can suddenly correlate to something negative, like Belgian chocolate company Isis Chocolates, which was forced to change its name to Libeert in 2013 when the terror group ISIS began publishing its hateful propaganda.
In 2012, Tropicana strived to rebrand with what it considered a more streamlined look. After a 20 percent drop in sales, it returned to its old imaging.
The Elements of Branding
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is your brand. Brand building is a long process that involves many phases, with the ultimate (and never-ending) goal of creating a unique and lasting image in the marketplace. Here are some important areas to cover in order to build a successful brand.
A brand strategy is a foundational piece for establishing your brand. Also known as a brand development strategy, this initial phase of branding involves a series of elements that are not always easy to measure and can be revisited over time.
A brand strategy lays the foundation for how you will let the world know your brand exists, its purpose and what defines it. When compiling your brand strategy, ask these questions:
- What are your brand’s objectives? What is your company's mission?
- What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
- What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
- What problems will your brand solve, and how will it benefit its customers?
- How will you identify your customers or target audience? How will you engage those customers?
- How will you identify your competition and set your brand apart from that competition, i.e. what is your competitive advantage? (This is also known as brand positioning.)
- What qualities do you want your target audience to associate with your company?
A tried-and-true tool to use when developing branding strategies is setting SMART objectives. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
- Specific: Make sure your goals are focused and identify a tangible outcome. Without specifics, your goal runs the risk of being too vague to achieve. Specifics help you identify what you want to achieve and the resources you need to leverage. It’s helpful to answer the five “W” questions: who, what, where, when and why?
- Measurable: When you set goals, it’s important to make sure you know what metrics you will use to evaluate whether and when you’ve met your goal. Measurable goals and objectives can be quantitative, like how many returns or outputs you receive or produce; or they can be qualitative, based on the quality of those same returns or outputs.
- Attainable: Is your goal realistic? Big-picture goals often require an accumulation of small achievements in order to reach a larger objective. That means it's important to weigh the effort, time and other costs your goal will take against the profits and your other brand obligations and priorities.
- Relevant: Relevancy, in the case of SMART business goals, refers to the pertinent characteristics of your brand. Most businesses want to attract a bigger audience and increase their revenue, of course, but relevant goals help you identify what you will do specifically to grow your brand.
- Timely: Having a timeframe for when you want to achieve your goal makes the process of planning and executing your brand clearer and more organized. A deadline will help your team work together toward a clear finish line and better time management.
Your brand's identity also has a lot to do with knowing who your target customers are. A target audience is different from a target market.
A target market is the set of consumers that a company plans to sell to or reach with marketing activities. A target audience is the group or segment within that target market that is being served advertisements. The target audience is actually a subset of a target market.
Target audiences can be further segmented into the following categories:
- Interests: their professions, hobbies, passions and beliefs (i.e. teachers, outdoor enthusiasts, musicians or activists)
- Purchase intentions: what they're buying based on interests/stages in life (i.e. new homeowners, first-time parents, college graduates, retirees)
- Roles: Are they the decision maker or the decision influencer? (i.e. children's toys, products for men bought primarily by women and vice/versa)
Another crucial aspect of brand building is brand identity. Brand identity involves how your brand is conveyed to the public, which includes visuals, messaging and customer experience. Your brand strategy will influence and help form your brand identity, which, in turn, will increase brand awareness.
Brand identity includes a number of elements that together comprise your brand assets. Distinctive brand assets include your logo, colors and fonts, imagery and taglines/slogans and help create an immediate connection to, and reference of, your brand.
A good logo design is the cornerstone of a strong brand identity, and should:
- Clearly communicate who you are and what you value as a brand
- Be visually appealing: simple, clean and uncluttered
- Be classic, not trendy
- Make a lasting impression on your audience
A logo is a company's first introduction to its audience. You know you have a good logo design when customers instantly recognize your brand just by seeing your logo (i.e. the Nike "swish," McDonald's golden arches and Coca-Cola's distinctive font).
Colors and Fonts
When you think of content, you might only think of text, but content really includes everything that your intended audience sees, including colors and fonts. People have psychological ties to different colors and fonts, and using them strategically can greatly impact your brand identity.
In-depth color research suggests that color best affects consumers' purchase habits if they feel the color is appropriate to the brand. Choosing a color that embodies your brand personality is critical to building a consistent and cohesive brand experience.
- Pink: Feminine, youth, romance, sweet
- Red: Passion, aggression, violence, adventure
- Orange: Excitement, inexpensive, youth, autumn (not a favorite among women)
- Yellow: Happy, friendly, cautious
- Green: Natural, prosperity, money, stability
- Blue: Tranquil, trustworthy, professional, authoritative (generally a favorite of men as well as women)
- Purple: Royal, luxurious, romantic, creative
- Brown: Dependable, natural, simple, sturdy
- Black: Authoritative, strong, refined, mysterious
Fonts are the graphical representation of text that may include a different typeface, point size, weight, color or design. Each font category has its own unique traits and conveys a different personality.
- Serif fonts are classic, traditional and trustworthy
- Sans-serif fonts are modern, clean and help create minimal designs
- Slab serif fonts are bold, quirky and confident
- Script fonts are elegant and unique
- Handwritten fonts are informal and artistic
- Decorative fonts are stylized, distinctive and dramatic
Brand imagery is the result of all the visuals that represent your brand’s identity. The images that make up your brand imagery can appear in a variety of forms, including photography, infographics, video, illustrations, icons and symbols and graphics. Brand imagery is the aesthetic appearance of your brand's core messaging and helps promote your brand image.
Taglines and slogans let you quickly and efficiently sum up what your brand is about and also help set you apart from other brands that provide similar products or services. Used long enough, tagines can become one of the most memorable parts of your identity. A good tagline is the glue that holds your brand together and serves as a quick synopsis of your brand even without supplemental marketing materials.
Once you've created your brand identity, it's important to document it in a brand guide.
Branding guidelines set forth rules for official logo usage, font type and color, typography and tone, along with the brand's mission statement, positioning, identity and values. Developing brand guidelines will help to maintain consistency within your brand in every digital (and physical) space. Make sure you document every aspect of your brand identity in a brand style guide that is available to anyone who may be involved in marketing your brand.
Other important aspects of branding include brand voice, brand story and brand equity.
Your brand identity helps create your brand voice. Brand voice is your brand personality - the way you talk to your customers - and is defined by your brand’s style of communication. Your brand voice can be funny, touching, poignant, straightforward or playful.
For instance, Old Spice reinvented itself from "your father's after shave" to a humorous play on masculinity that appeals to both men and women. Coca-Cola surrounds itself with happy, positive images that convey family, positivity and togetherness.
Your brand story is an important aspect of your brand identity. Everyone loves a good story. Your brand's story is a narrative that helps connect your brand to your customers. It can have many layers, from the backstory to how the business got started to your adversities and triumphs along the way to what your brand stands for and hopes to achieve.
Your brand story can include history, anecdotes, testimonials, values, purpose, goals and more. It can be told on your website, in videos, ads and emails, on social media and your product packaging - every place your brand touches.
Brand equity refers to a value premium that a company generates from a product. Brand equity helps build the relationships between the perceived benefits and perceived costs that people relate to that product.
Brand equity differs from brand recognition in that with brand equity, the customer not only recognizes the brand, but perceives that the brand value as higher than its competitor.
Brand equity is built through:
- Developing a strong brand story and brand personality (brand identity)
- Building brand awareness (your website and other marketing tools)
- Building a relationship with your customers and clients (through newsletters, company blog, social media networks, live events, etc.)
Marketing Your Brand
Brand marketing is the method in which you highlight and bring awareness to your product or service. Some of the more critical marketing materials to consider include:
Having a strong online presence, particularly a website, can be make or break for generating more revenue. In this day and age, a brand's website is one of the first places consumers visit to find out more about product or service. In fact, the lack of a website can actually deter someone from considering your product or service.
A website increases your brand's credibility, showcases your brand's identity, allows you the opportunity to create a customer list through email leads and increases your brand's awareness through SEO (search engine optimization).
Social Media Marketing
Social media has become the most influential and important virtual space where the platform is not only used for social networking but is also a great way of digitally advertising your brand and your products.
Some advantages to social media marketing include:
- It's an easy means to tell your brand story
- You can grow your audience with a small budget
- It's a great way to research your competition
- You can build relationships with your target customers
- You can learn the buying patterns of your customers
- Social media increases your brand awareness
Studies show that people are more inclined to view videos than to read text. Brands can create videos pertinent to their target audience and post it on channels such as YouTube or Vimeo.
Posting branded videos that are relevant to your niche is considered to be a very effective way of promoting your brand, driving traffic to your site and also making your brand stand out. You can also add the video on your social media profiles and post it on your blog and website.
Other Online Marketing
Other online marketing options to consider include:
- Email campaigns
- Display advertising
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
- Affiliate marketing
There is still a place for traditional marketing. Traditional marketing refers to any type of marketing that isn't online. This includes:
- Broadcast (radio and TV)
- Direct mail
- Outdoor advertising
Traditional marketing is effective when you need to reach a local audience, or when you want to present materials that need to be kept. In addition, there is still a large section of the population, such as older generations, who rely on traditional methods for their information.
Finally, be sure to evolve your brand as you grow. While consistency is key, your brand also needs to be flexible enough to change with technology, your audience and the times. Once you've built a brand name, it's important to keep a pulse on your branding efforts to ensure you're successful and profitable for years to come.