Brand it. Brand it real good.

Branding 101: An Introduction to Branding

If you’ve been hunting for marketing services, or if you just happen to mingle in the company of those peculiar marketing folk, you’ve likely seen or heard the word “brand” and other brand-related terms (brand identity, brand awareness, brand messaging, brand strategy, brand equity, brand loyalty, etc.) quite a bit. So, perhaps you’ve asked yourself, what exactly is a “brand” and what does it consist of?

In this case, the word “brand” represents a particular identity or image that is created with the purpose of influencing a customers’ perception of a product, a service or a company. This often includes the use of a distinguishing name, logo, mark, slogan, design or combination thereof—and can even go as deep as what words you use (or don’t use) to interact with your audience or customers. In short, it’s not just the looks, but also the personality of your organization.

However, the origin of the term is rooted in practices that serve a somewhat different purpose. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the word is apparently the descendent of the ancient North Scandinavian term “brandr”, which means, “to burn”. Basically, way back in the day – like way, way back – people began marking their livestock and goods with a hot branding iron to show ownership. While the intentions were different, the outcome was the same – an easily recognizable identity was established.

In the following, we’ll touch on some basic branding concepts and why you should take your branding seriously. For those of you that currently have a brand and are thinking about a refresh, we’ll also have a future article focusing on the finer points of rebranding.

So, what’s the purpose of branding?

In short, it’s the face of your company — your identity and how people will hopefully come to recognize you. And you know what they say, “You’ll never get another chance to make a first impression.” People will judge your business and determine whether they want to work with you based in part upon the image you present to them.

If you’re a smaller company or startup, a well-defined brand can help establish your market presence by presenting a more “professional” appearance. This helps to build trust with the consumer. If done well, it’s possible to make your little 2-person business look like a corporate juggernaut — even if you’re working out of your parent’s basement.

If you’re a larger business, a solid branding effort should not only help you to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, but will also give your business more credibility. Take a look at the logos of the Fortune 1000. I’m pretty sure you won’t see any that were designed by the 6th-grade son of your Great Aunt’s friend who always tells you, “He really likes to draw.” There’s good reason for that (and probably another article there, too). Ultimately, you want your brand to represent your company in the best possible light at all times–in a way that promotes its growth and fosters its continued success.

Quality and consistency go a long way in achieving these goals. Presenting your company using consistent messaging and visuals across all communications will let your customers know that you “have your stuff together.” Likewise, the quality of the collateral you provide also sends a message. If you’re photocopying your MS Word document with cheesy clip art sales sheets to hand out to potential customers, you’re not exactly screaming, “We’re all about quality!” — even if your company slogan or vision statement says so.

While not always financially feasible, try your best not to skimp on your branding effort, if possible. If money is tight and you have no choice, save in the places that are least impactful/seen (hint: your logo and website probably aren’t the things you want to hold back on). You can always tackle things in later phases as you’re able to afford them. Just make sure there’s a plan in place to do that, so that things are not forgotten. Remember, consistency plays a big part in establishing your brand.

So, I guess I could use some branding. What do I do now?

Do your homework. Start by looking around at your competition (big and small) and see what they’re doing. Don’t get stuck in a bubble though. Many people make the mistake of looking at their competition’s brand efforts and decide to just mimic what they find. While the upside is that it cuts out a lot of work for you, there are certainly some downsides to the “me too” approach as well. Here are a couple:

  1. While your competitors may be successful, how do you know for sure that it’s their brand that’s making them successful? What if there are things that you can do differently that they aren’t which would make you more successful? Don’t just emulate. Put some real thought into it and take the time to define what’s right for your company.
  2. The primary concept behind branding is to help differentiate your business from your competition. If you just copy your competition, why would your customers have any reason to believe that you’re any different or even better? And why would they choose you over them? It’s important to use your brand to differentiate your company by establishing its own voice and personality. This will help to build a connection with your customers — leading to more confidence and trust — which leads to more sales.

Now that you’ve looked around, if you’d like, you can take the good ideas you found during your competitive research and find ways to make those ideas your own. If you like something a competitor is doing, make it uniquely yours — preferably by improving upon it.

Next, you’ll need to answer some questions. Creating your brand isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) as easy as checking out what the other guys are up to and “borrowing” their ideas. It’ll go a long way if you’re able to define what your company is (without the industry buzzwords, please), what you want it to be, and whom you’re attempting to reach. Once you have that foundation, you can use that information to more effectively drive your branding effort and answer the more specific questions, like “What colors should our logo be?” and “How will we reach our target audience?”

Wow, this branding thing sounds like a lot of work.

Yup, it is. But your business is worth it. Right? As with most things in life you get out of it what you put into it — and branding is no different. Committing to a sound brand strategy and executing it can do wonders for a business. And working with an agency adept in the intricacies of branding (wink, wink) will certainly help you along the path to achieving total brand awesomeness.

Stay tuned for our next branding installment on Rebranding.

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