Building a Brand 101: What Is Branding?
When coming up with a brand identity, there’s a difference between the words brand and branding. We have to get one thing clear first – you have to unlearn what you think you know about a brand.
When most people think of the word “brand” or “creating a brand,” they think about things like a logo, colors, fonts, professional photos and maybe even a website. But, that’s not really what a brand is.
The belief people have about you and your business is your brand. It’s all about perception – in the eyes of your target market. The immediate words, thoughts, emotions, and connections that immediately come to mind as someone encounters you or your organization inform the perception.
Branding can have such a profound impact on the thoughts around a brand. It can even impact the thoughts purchasers have about themselves when they buy a specific product, as The Branding Journal has highlighted with their comparison article.
Belief cannot be forced. It can only be influenced.
While you can choose what to show and tell them, you can’t make them believe what you want them to believe.
The experience your ideal clients and target audience have in connection to your brand will strongly influence what they believe about it, so offer amazing, intentional experiences.
It’s very difficult to change a negative belief into a positive. So, maintaining integrity is critical.
Every single thing you put into the world in relation to your organization has to come back to who it really is, what it stands for, and how ideal audience members should feel about it.
That’s where branding comes in.
What Branding Is
Branding (verb): intentionally developing a core brand identity that presents an entity to the world as it truly is and informs those who interact with it. This includes descriptors and statements about who the brand truly is, data and insights about who it serves, images that represent that character, and positioning that allows the brand to differentiate themselves with relevance.
Branding (Noun): the character, value, key messages, visual symbols, and communication methods that position the brand appropriately and effectively for a competitive advantage. The symbols developed for a brand evoke a specific response. They attract who they’re meant to attract and repel who they aren’t meant to attract.
What Branding Is Not
There are a few things people commonly (and mistakenly) think branding is. However, brand identity designs are simply representative symbols of a brand.
- Business or Company Logos
- Mood Boards
- Brand Boards
- Graphic designs
These are important parts of the branding process. But, they shouldn’t be the intitial focus. Creating visual branding before articulating what these symbols represent is to put the cart before the horse – and many organizations have to redo their branding because they didn’t do the strategic and important part of branding first.
For that reason, organizations must focus on the core brand identity development before having anyone create (or recreate) visual branding.
Have you thought these are what a brand is made of? That wouldn’t be surprising considering there are over 2 million graphic designers in the US alone, with over 200,000 focusing on branding. Of course, the leading message from this industry focuses on the visuals because that is where their skill lies. The foundational brand identity is not talked about nearly enough.
Marketing messages get in the way of prioritization.
Next, let’s talk about the parts of brand identity strategy that should be prioritized.
The Parts Of Brand Identity You Absolutely Must Develop:
As highlighted in Hubspot’s thorough article, before delving into brand identity, development leaders and teams need to do pre-work.
Specific elements must be a focus to build a business brand effectively. To truly understand the competitive landscape, run a competitor analysis, uncover audience insights with market research, and identify gaps in the marketplace, you must do thorough research.
Once you gather data and insights, it’s time to define the brand’s unique identity. Branding elements that should be clearly articulated include:
- Brand Character & Values
- Voice & Tone
- Unique Brand Value (Value Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition)
- Purpose (Mission)
- Philosophy & Promise
- Brand Story
- Key Messaging
These branding elements inform everything the organization puts forward in marketing, messaging, and advertising.
If you don’t have these key elements defined for your own business or organization, now’s the time to do it. The way your brand shows up in the world will impact every interaction with and belief about it.
How Branding Applies To Virtually Everything
Branding is what will influence a commonly recognized necessity for every business: the “Know, Like, Trust” factor. Think of this as a gut-check for knowing when you’re doing branding right. If you’ve developed your brand the right way, the people that are your ideal audience members will know, like, and trust your brand with ease.
Let’s break it down:
Know: In order for people to have a belief about your brand, they have to know it even exists. That means you have to be visible to the right people at the right times.
Like: You have to offer something to your intended audience that they can relate, connect, and grow loyal to. Your ideal clients and customers need to know that you understand and care about them.
Trust: You can be visible and likeable, but if people are skeptical of you, you have a big problem because they’ll never buy from or work with you.
A Coca-Cola executive once said: “If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”
That’s because Coca-Cola has worked hard to establish their brand and people have very firm believes around it.
People have to know you to believe in you.
Brand awareness requires visibility. If you don’t share your brand and its value, nobody will know who you are. Therefore, nobody will believe in you.
How to Increase Brand Loyalty
So, what does this all mean? Your brand has to show up with authenticity, great positioning, and credibility at every single touchpoint between it and the world.
- Your visual branding that shows up everywhere
- Your key messages and undertones
- Interactions of every kind between your brand and anyone outside of the brand
- Client, customer, or stakeholder experiences
- Marketing – social media, blogs, emails, ads, websites, or any other asset
- Conversations between people outside of the brand about your brand
As you can see, there has to be alignment and cohesion everywhere – or else, the integrity of the brand crumbles like a house of cards.
Why Branding Is So Important
Brand development is crucial to building your business. Although brand development is the first thing you should start thinking about and continue to assess and develop, many business owners neglect this process.
Here are some stats just to show you how important this process is:
- 89% Of marketers say brand awareness is the most important goal in content marketing, in front of sales and lead generation. That’s because people have to know and trust you before they buy from you.
- #1 benefit of brand development is boosted profits, according to Forbes.
- Number of times someone will need to encounter your brand to remember and trust you is 5-7
- Inc. sites: “For organizations with brand consistency issues, the estimated average revenue increase attributed to always presenting the brand consistently is 23%.”
The very foundation of your brand is based on the character it represents and the people it serves. If you can effectively combine the personality and the market identity, you’ll have a solid foundation.
A lot of work is needed to fully develop this foundation, but the ROI on this work is absolutely infinite.
How Can Branding Help A Business?
Branding isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. Every entity has to intentionally focus on branding. Branding isn’t just going to help a business – it will affect every single outcome.
Intentionally focusing on branding will allow a business or organization to:
- Position itself in the marketplace with a competitive advantage
- Obtain brand and product differentiation, standing out from competing solutions
- Become known and get it out of the best-kept-secret shadows
- Increase likability and brand loyalty by helping anyone outside of the brand to immediately understand the values and mission behind it
- Influence decisions of potential buyers, stakeholders, collaborators, and others
- Shorten the customer journey path, leading to quicker decisions
- Increase the likelihood of future purchases, increasing the customer lifetime value
- Increase revenue and profits, with more purchases and the ability to charge higher rates
- Build an enjoyable and effective brand culture, which leads to lower turnover, more effective output, and team members becoming brand advocates
- Gain brand advocates – referrers, promoters, and word-of-mouth generation to grow brand awareness and increase lead generation
- Build a brand foundation that will allow the organization to have a better chance at sustainability and growth
When you think about all the benefits of building a brand this way, branding becomes a no-brainer. Every organization must build a solid foundation for their brand.
Why Branding Consistency Is Important
Many people think branding is a one-and-done project. But, that’s simply not true. In order to continue building a credible, respected, sought-after brand, leaders and teams must work to maintain the reputation they’ve built.
Key messages must be clear, consistent, and repeated.
Visuals must meet brand standards and communicate the ideas and messages effectively.
Without consistency, organizations run the risk of damaging the integrity of their brand, losing trust from audience members, harming their competitive advantage, and experiencing revenue loss.
When branding is done right, it works.
Why Branding Works
The truth is, people make decisions based on psychological triggers, both logical and emotional.
To understand how this works, it’s important to know the psychoanalytic theory based on the work of Carl Jung, stemming from the work of Freud and Lacan. Humans develop thoughts of ourselves, the Self, based on:
Conscious – what we think of ourselves; what we choose to share about ourselves with others.
Subconscious – portions of ourselves repressed and hidden.
Societal Influences – how we respond and shift identity based on outside influences.
When people consider these things in context of our ideal audience members, a brand can understand how to identify with them and help them identify with a brand.
So, it makes sense that developing a brand’s identity with the identity of the audience in mind, a deeper connection can be formed and therefore a more effective brand is built.
When Branding Goes Wrong
So many organizations get branding wrong. It’s not always obvious to spot at first, but branding misalignment issues and subpar brand image become a risk for organizations.
Imagine a luxury transport company that works with high net-worth leaders that has a logo that reminds you of the golf cart company a middle-class family uses on vacation. Or a service provider who wants to work with CEOs whose messaging speaks to the emotional triggers of startup bootstrappers.
It’s easy to see how misformed branding can lead to damaging outcomes when you think about how each part of an identity comes across.
Sometimes, a brand can come across as disjointed, confusing, or worse, overwhelming and all over the place. Typically this happens when the brand has grown, team members are working in silos, and outputs exponentially increase, leading to too many audience segments, offers, and messages.
Other times, a founder, director, or other team lead doesn’t place focus in the right areas and assumes they aren’t ready for brand identity development. As the brand grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus marketing and messaging to major goals, bring team members together for effective outcomes, and maintain the integrity of the brand.
Consequences of Poorly Defined Branding
Some of the consequences of poorly defined branding are:
- Losing (or never gaining) trust with an audience
- Failing to articulate & help ideal audience members understand what a brand does right away
- Lack of information to help people decide to buy, join, attend… whatever the goal is
- Staying stuck in place, without growth in client/customer lists, revenue, or recognition
- Losing projects or purchases to competitors because they have a better, clearer brand
- Keeping impact outcomes smaller than they could be
- Disbelief in a brand’s capabilities and future by ideal audience and the general public
- Blending in with competitors and appearing the same as subpar brands, lacking differentiation
- Mismanaged, unfocused, and overwhelmed team members who cannot do their jobs effectively without the proper foundational elements and focus
But, when leaders and teams focus on intentional branding, either as a starting point or as a first phase in a rebrand, the pitfalls of inconsistency and misalignment can be avoided.
When to Consider Making Branding a Priority
It can be difficult to know when it’s time to invest in brand strategy and implementation. Here are a few key markers:
- You hit a plateau and feel bottlenecked
- You outgrow your target market
- Your brand isn’t ready for the brand awareness needed
- You’re ready to stop focusing on the little pieces or high-yield production items that are holding you up and focus on the big picture
- The same questions about your brand that should be easily known come up – what you do, who you do it for, how you deliver your solution, etc
If you’ve resonated with any of the above statements, it’s time to consider branding.
What You Can Do
Every organization reaches a point when they can no longer grow their brand without the proper foundation. You can sustain and grow your businesses and mission when you put focus on the right things at the right times. Branding has to be one of the priorities.
If you are interested in hearing about how my firm can help you develop your brand identity and foundation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a call at bit.ly/BrandividuationConsult. We’d love to hear about the exciting things your team is bringing to life and how we can help you reach your goals.