What Is Branding?

I wrote this short and sweet, 5-minute read for my clients to help them understand the place of visual design in relation to branding their businesses. Setting a course for your graphic designer to create a visual identity that reinforces your brand will help you get more from your marketing. Visual design is not branding, but rather carries your brand message, which should be deliberate and thorough if you want to connect with your audience.

Branding vs. Design

This is not the old “chicken or the egg” argument. When it comes to creating a strong brand identity.. Brand strategy comes before design. Period.

So what does the term mean, is it just an overused buzz-word for marketing geeks?

Admittedly, branding is the new black, but the truth is, it’s nothing new. The term encapsulates the concept of perception. Put simply, it’s whatever your audience thinks it is based on what they know about you. When you think about it, this small word carries a lot of weight.

Big companies like Coca-Cola and Ford have long understood the importance of driving their brands. In fact, some companies control entire markets based solely on public perception (think Nike’s Better World concept that promotes sports as a force for good.)

Are they great companies?

Sure. But their products aren’t necessarily better than anyone else’s, they just seem to figure out how to be more memorable than the other guys.

How do you develop branding?

You plan.

By getting in touch with mission, values and purpose, you can use them as a blueprint for interacting with your audience through carefully chosen touch points developed deep within the core of your organization. Successful brands clearly define the values and communications that will be used throughout their organization, from human resources, to design and marketing, to customer service, technical support and beyond. In this way, when a company and its representatives speak, act, and connect, they do so as a cohesive whole, with each member carrying out the same objectives.

Why the public loves brands

It’s more than a top tier decision to be known as the most beloved leader in retail customer service, but rather a company-wide ethic that’s woven into the very fibers of its organization.

How do you know that Nordstrom will take back those fuzzy green slippers from last season?

If you’ve ever applied for a job at Nordies, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Each employee is hand-picked based on a natural talent for serving people.

On a smaller scale, Trader Joe’s appeal is widespread within their niche. They sell reasonably priced, gourmet quality food and wine for the connoisseur on a budget. Their unique visual branding makes them instantly recognizable, and the quirky, intelligent, service-oriented vibe is a trademark of the TJ brand. Can you ever remember being snarled at by one of their people?

We trust that our interaction with brands we love will be dependable and consistent. We like knowing what to expect, and we look for brands that are going to live up to those expectations. Credibility has become more important than ever.

Who drives your brand?

You do, of course. Knowing what makes your organization tick, and operating from those core values, helps you define and key players with complimentary talents who will get on board and back up your message. It also helps you focus on creative methods for telling your story through your team members in meaningful ways.

Employees who know clearly what’s expected of them and are empowered through common mission are a brand’s best advocates. Businesses that keep a finger on the pulse of its employees and the messages being transmitted to the public are better equipped to mitigate small disappointments and have greater opportunities for growing their reputation and keeping its fan base loyal over time.

Summing Up

A strong, intentional brand is like a magnet, drawing in like-minded individuals that appreciate your philosophies. You keep them by staying connected, by growing with them, and by consistently providing unforgettable experiences that keep them coming back for more.

Here’s an excellent article by Sujan Patel on Entrepreneur.com about small businesses branding mistakes to help you learn more and stay on track.

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into how branding works, read the next two short and sweet articles in this series, Brand For Small Business II – Brand Essence.