“What is branding?” is kind of a tough question. It can mean different things to a lot of people. Even when well-defined, branding is a massive subject with complexity approaching the bounds of comprehension. That being said, my goal in this article is to help you understand what people are talking about when they refer to branding and identity design and also to help you understand why it is such a crucial concept for you to understand if you wish to succeed in business.
Before we can attempt to define branding, we must first answer the question “What is a brand?”
According to Merriam-Webster, a brand is “a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer”. Although technically correct, this is an entirely inadequate definition. Interbrand defines it a little better: “a brand is a combination of attributes, communicated through a name, or a symbol, that influences a thought-process in the mind of an audience and creates value”. Personally, I define a brand as the totality of the identity, personality, and perceptions associated with a company, product, or person. A brand is something that is only partially under the control of the person or company it represents.
So What is Branding?
Again, the dictionary is not much help here. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand”. In practice, branding is quite a bit more than that. Branding, as I see it, is really any action one takes with the intention of controlling any aspect of a brand. Such actions may include things like designing a logo or a website, choosing to use a specific type of imagery to represent your company, hiring spokespeople, instructing employees to answer the phone a certain way, or attempting to associate your product or company with a certain ideal. The term brand management can also be used to describe this effort.
The area most people associate with the term branding is identity design. A brand identity (sometimes referred to as a corporate identity) is those elements of a brand that can be directly controlled. These elements are often referred to as brand assets. This includes non-visual and visual elements. The central component of a brand identity is the visual identity system, which includes things like the company logo, business cards, marketing materials, signage, websites, etc.
Why is Branding Important?
Your company and/or product is seen by your target through the lens of your brand. They form opinions about your product or service based on the messages you deliver to them, what friends and influencers say about you, and most importantly, through the experiences they have with your brand. Branding allows you to affect the colour of that lens. A strong brand intelligently sculpts the audience experience at every point of contact in a way that reaffirms your target’s positive opinions.
In essence, your brand identity is a promise. The messages you create, the imagery you use, the emotions you elicit and the beliefs that you foster create an expectation in your audience’s mind. Positioning yourself highly in the prospect’s mind and consistently delivering on that promise is how you build a strong brand that will keep customers coming back again and again and again. In other words, branding is what creates that holy grail of marketing: loyalty.
So How do I Build a Strong Brand?
Patience, grasshopper. Building a strong brand takes a long time. First, you need to understand your audience. Who are you targeting? What do they believe? How often do they buy? Where do they buy? How do they make purchasing decisions? How can you deliver your marketing message to them? You also need to understand your competition. Who are they? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? What makes you different/better? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you have some work to do. I recommend a fully realized business plan. At the very least, you need to do market research and a competitive analysis (a.k.a. SWOT analysis).
Assuming you know your audience and your competition, the next step is to hire a professional graphic designer. Only a professional designer or branding strategist will have the necessary knowledge and skills to sculpt your visual identity in a way that properly targets your audience. If the designer you are working with doesn’t ask you questions about your audience or competition, you haven’t found the right designer.
Your graphic designer will create a visual identity package for you. Depending on your budget and needs, this will usually include a logo, business cards, stationery (letterhead, invoices, envelopes etc.), usually a website, and often, marketing materials (brochures, flyers, posters, advertising). If your budget allows for it and it makes sense for your business, you may also get a brand manual, which is a manual outlining guidelines to follow to maintain brand consistency. It is important that you have a reasonable budget set aside for this process. A skilled graphic designer will cost money, and your visual identity is not something you want to skimp on.
Once you have your brand identity established, you can begin the work of building brand awareness and positioning. Brand awareness is (perhaps obviously) the level at which your audience is aware of your existence and the basic message of your brand. Positioning, in simplest terms, is the process of creating a positive impression of your brand in the audience’s mind. Brand awareness and positioning are mainly built through your marketing and promotions strategy. This may include advertising, social media strategy, sales calls, SEO, or any number of methods, but it should always stem from the knowledge gained by your market research. Positioning is also greatly influenced by your brand design.
From there on, it’s mostly a matter of consistently fulfilling the promise made by your brand identity and marketing. If you you do this, over time you will build brand recognition and loyalty.advertising, basics, branding, definition, design, graphic design, logo, marketing