What is the definition of branding? There are probably as many answers to this question as articles on the topic. This can be confusing when you are trying to work on your new brand and make important decisions that can seriously affect your business. Here's a perspective that you might find useful.
Whenever my clients use branding terms incorrectly or interchange them as if they were synonyms I experience a mini-implosion in my brain. Luckily, it’s too small to cause permanent damage. I can also understand that they’re not marketing experts and that it’s probably the same as when I try to talk to the mechanic about the radiator. I like that he's compassionate.
However, it's not really about getting it right or wrong, but about the bigger risk with this issue is the implications of not understanding the branding process and the effects of not having a thoroughly constructed brand.
If you feel identified with what I’ve stated above, suffer no more. We are here to help you sort this tangled mess of brand confusion for good and help you see when having a set definition of branding can be useful and why.
RUN & HOP'S CONCEPTS
- Brand: the “universe” you create around your organization, product and service that differentiates it from similar offers. In its most essential form, it will just be a name with a business definition. But when you develop it further, there will also be a value proposition, personality, positioning, voice, visual identity, marketing strategy and even a defined customer experience.
- Brand Identity: all the elements mentioned above form a system of conceptual, strategic, creative and visual assets that define the essence of your brand and are called the brand identity. They should ideally stem from extensive category research since it’ll allow you to understand competitors, target market and industry leaders; but also determine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and points of differentiation.
- Visual Identity: it's formed by all the aesthetic elements of your brand like logotype, color scheme, patterns, textures, typographies and anything else that graphically represents your brand essence. To convey the right tone and message, they should stem from the strategic and conceptual aspects of the identity; and should be designed in a way that complements the rest of the identity.
- Branding: All of these stages are part of a process called branding, however, people tend to use this term to refer exclusively to the visual identity and sometimes they use it when they are talking about the brand logotype. In our opinion, this is a huge mistake that shows how people ignore the importance and even existence of some essential aspects of the brand identity process.
PUT SOME WORK TO IT
The more you work on your brand identity and the more you manage to align it with your business objectives and target market’s preferences, the more chances of it being a big component of your company’s success. A strong brand helps you sell what you sell by appealing to the right people. This translates into satisfactory interactions between your target market and your brand which translates into customer loyalty which usually leads to sales.
However, it’s very common for people to fail to see the importance of developing their brand identity holistically because they don’t understand the link between slow growth and brand identity issues. This will make them conclude things like “my product sells itself”, “I can do the research and strategy work myself”, “I’m fine with a cheap logo I can buy online”, etc. So they’ll go with inexpensive branding solutions that are ineffective, fail to communicate their brand value, misrepresent their business and, in the long run, can cost them more money than what they think they are saving.
WHO NEEDS BRANDING?
Anyone that has a business needs to differentiate and, depending on the industry and niche, will need more or less branding work in order to position themselves accordingly and gain relevance amongst their prospects.
So if you are starting or already have a company and can put an “x” next to one or more of these statements, you qualify as someone in need of branding services:
- Your business/product has competitors
- Your business/product relies on transmitting a certain vibe, feeling or standard for consumers to choose it over other products.
- Your business/product is not absolutely necessary for the survival of its target market.
What happens in the gap between deciding to launch a company and choosing the logotype can determine its success.
THE DEFINITION OF BRANDING VS THE DEFINITION OF CONNECTION
The truth is that in today’s saturated market, consumers demand service and product experiences that are not only efficient, but also engaging. People like things that work fast but are beautiful, interesting, exciting. They don’t have time to waste, so they value every bit of energy they invest into something and expect it to be worthwhile. And companies are understanding this really well, which makes it harder and harder to find ways to differentiate.
I have some great examples of brands that I consider do this well. Toggl, an online time-tracking platform, is one of them. Just go to their website and get an immediate feel for their identity, their brand value proposition and their style. MailChimp also does a great job at explaining things efficiently and, at the same time, creating a great service experience that connects with their target audience and their needs. Trader Joe’s Supermarkets has done some impressive branding work that can be seen in all of their products’ names, packaging and even reflects on the shopping experience in their stores.
Depending on your product and category, the proportion in which branding will affect your sales will vary. But there is not one single business that wouldn’t benefit from a clear, direct message, a modern, sleek visual identity, an engaging brand voice and a memorable service experience
DON'T TRY TO BE A SMART-ASS
Being a smart-ass is never good. This is not about trying to win a marketing definition contest and being annoying at marketing birthday parties correcting others. At the end of the day, it’s truly not that important to come to a universal agreement on what specific terms mean AS LONG as you understand the importance of what the branding process delivers, the impact it can have on your sales and the value of approaching it strategically.
The way people refer to its different stages won’t change anything, so go with your intuition in terms of words and concepts and keep in mind that a brand is not only its visual identity, much less its logotype. What happens in the gap between deciding to launch a company and choosing the logotype can determine its success. If you understand that statement, you’ve got the gist of this whole matter.