When most people think about a brand, they think of the visual aspect: they picture a popular product made by the brand, or they think of the brand’s logo. But in reality, the components that make up a brand are far more than just visual elements.
In addition to the mental image your brand evokes in consumers, there also exists a group of ideas or associations consumers have regarding your company. And these ideas and associations can manifest both in a practical and psychological way.
From a practical standpoint, people associate your brand with their personal experience with your company and/or your products; for example, do the products work? And what was their experience interacting with your company?
Meanwhile, from a psychological standpoint, people will associate your brand with how your company or your products make them feel; that is, do they feel good using your products or services? And does using your products or services change the way the consumer feels they are viewed by others?
The practical and psychological associations consumers make with your brand can be a deciding factor in two important decisions: whether a potential customer decides to do business with your company, and whether an existing customer will continue to give you their business.
A Brief History of Corporate Branding
What we now call “branding” is the evolution of a practice dating back to 2000 B.C., originally intended as a means of denoting ownership. Cattle, timber and other general property were burnt (or “branded”) with a hot iron rod containing the symbols of the owner.
This remained the standard for centuries, until the 1800’s when the approach began to shift from “this belongs to me so leave it,” to “this was made by me, so buy it.”
This shift also coincided with the birth of what would eventually become today’s advertisements – in the early stages, most companies utilizing branding in advertisements were those selling various medical cures and tonics:
(Source: Design Today)
Pitchmen, the precursor to the “Mad Men,” began to rise to prominence during this period, selling miracle cures to a variety of different ailments.
Fun fact: Coca-Cola and Pepsi both got their starts during this era as “treatments” for stomach pain, tooth aches, and several other illnesses.
By the 1900s, Americans had more buying power than ever before, which meant that companies needed to find new ways to convince consumers to buy their products instead of someone else’s.
This led to the conceptualization of the unique selling position (USP) marking the birth of modern advertising.
Enter: The Mad Men of the 1960’s, the Don Drapers of the world.
By the 1960s, brands had begun to become more than mere physical products. Here we begin seeing the advent of brands as a set of associations or feelings folks have with a company or product line.
In today’s corporate landscape, the primary concern is not the quality of a given product, but how well that product and the brand can build an authentic bond with consumers. And to do that, brands often rely on clever messaging and a more “human” form of advertising.
(Source: Under Armour)
To fully grasp the importance of branding, it’s necessary to gain a basic understanding of exactly what it is.
If you think of your brand as a set of associations and perceptions that people have about your company, products, etc., than branding is your attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help your business perform better.
When done correctly, branding allows customers to easily understand what you offer, what you stand for, how you’re different from the competition, and how their lives can be made easier by utilizing your services.
In order to do this effectively, you’ll need to define your brand. The question is: How?
According to an article in Entrepreneur Magazine, these are the four questions you need to be able to answer about your brand in order to get the ball rolling:
1. What is your company’s mission?
2. What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
3. What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
4. What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?
Once you’re able to answer these questions, you’ll need to do some customer research.
“Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers,” says John Williams in his piece for Entrepreneur Magazine. “And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.”
In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, 64% of people cite shared values as the main reason they have a relationship with a brand.
Building Your Brand
Now that you’ve defined your brand and understand your customers, it’s time to get into the real nitty gritty of the project: Getting the word out.
Here are a few tips via Shopify:
- Create an eye-catching logo
- Develop a brand message that conveys what your business aims to do for its customers– what you’re best at. Geico promises to save you 15% in 15 minutes. That’s its brand promise. Marriott promises quiet luxury. What are you promising your customers? And are you delivering?
- Make sure your visual elements match your message, and your brand. If you’re promising innovation, don’t use greys and boring images.
- Develop standards for employee dress and behavior that support your brand promise. Make sure they understand what your brand is and can support it.
- Apply your visuals across every marketing tool you use, from advertising to signage to store displays to mailings to shopping bags.
The Branding Journal provides an excellent example of how branding affects different offerings of bottled water.
Water is a free resource that every human being needs to live and survive, yet it became a product the day humans and companies started to commercialize it.
By attaching different logos, messaging, packaging, etc. to the same product, the many different companies selling bottled water branded their “product” in a different way.
- Evian makes you feel young
- Perrier is refreshing, bubbling and sexy
- Fiji Water is pure, healthy and natural
- Voss is high class, exclusive
The same thing can be said about Coke vs. Pepsi. Both companies effectively sell a sweet tasting carbonated beverage, however many people feel a strong connection and brand loyalty to one over the other.
While both have subtle taste differences, they’re both essentially the same product. So why do certain people associate to a different one? The answer lies in how those companies and their brands have connected with and continue connecting with their customers.
Why is Branding Important?
Branding plays a vital role in determining the success - or failure - of a business.
If your company fails to forge abond with consumers, be it through a poor customer experience or a mere lack of visibility, consumers will move on to another brand or product without a second thought. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what your customers will do: according to an infographic published by Kissmetrics, 61% of customers take their business to a competitor when they end a business relationship
With this in mind, here are a few reasons why you should focus on branding:
- Branding improves recognition: Your brand encompasses both visual elements and associations people make with your products and services. So the more memorable your logo design, customer service, etc. are the more likely people are to make those associations. And as long as those associations are positive, customers will buy and keep buying.
- Branding helps you connect with customers emotionally: Building a brand helps you to create trust with your target market, and helps to create brand loyalty, according to an article by The Branding Journal. By evoking positive feelings within a person, they will feel more comfortable doing business with you, and continuing to do business with you.
- Branding shows that you’re put-together: People notice if you put time and effort into yourself. If you show up to a meeting disheveled, people may see you as messy or disorganized. If you’re well groomed and put together, the opinions will be the opposite.
The same goes for your branding.
If you put little effort into it, a potential customer may shy away from you because they won’t trust you. But a polished brand image shows that you’re competent and know how to run your business.
Branding Strategy Development
Effective brand strategy is a multi-faceted process, encompassing not only your logo, website and name, but everything your company stands for.
The true challenge lies more with determining exactly how you effectively get your message out to the consumers than it does with determining who you are as a company.
A successful brand requires, above anything else, consistency in both communication and experience across the many different interactions the public will have with your company.
It also entails strong messaging that strikes the right chords with your target audience.
Here are some tips that can help get you on your way towards developing your branding strategy:
Define a branding mission statement
Before you can move forward building a brand that consumers trust, you need to know exactly what it is that your business represents and what you stand for.
A mission statement will provide a definitive answer to this question by defining your purpose for existing. This is the foundation of which all other branding is built from.
In a recent article written Sonia Gregory from FreshSparks.com, she outlines how Nike has executed this principle to perfection
Their tagline, as many of us know, is “Just Do It,” but their mission statement is different.
Their mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
If you think about any of their messaging that you’ve seen, this mission is clearly expressed to its fullest meaning pretty much across the board.
They have advertising showing their laboratories and scientists reading charts, analyzing their products. The wording they use to describe the materials used, the purpose for each individual product they sell. The billboards showcasing some of the best athletes in the world using their equipment in the top levels of athletic competition.
All of these different branding efforts encourage you to feel as though you can perform your very best with their innovative, top of the line equipment.
1. Develop all-encompassing brand standards
The idea here is to ingrain in your customers certain expectations as they relate to the quality of your products, your customer service, how you’re making your customers’ lives better, and how customers feel when they use or see your brand or products. Of course, these expectations also mean your brand has to consistently deliver.
Entrepreneur Magazine offers a great example of a large company that has accomplished this: Coca Cola.
“A big part of Coca-Cola’s success comes from its ability to transmit feelings and expectations through its branded elements,” writes Aaron Agius. “When you see that red and white can, you know you’re going to get a crisp, refreshing beverage no matter where in the world you’re buying it.”
Accomplishing this requires a combination of very focused messaging and extreme levels of consistency across all platforms of consumer contact.
However, with the right imagery, messaging, targeting and positive customer experience, your business can too be one that people associate with what your goals are.
2. Research your target client group
According to a write up by Hinge Marketing, businesses that do systematic research on their target client group grow faster and are more profitable.
There are a few ways to go about doing this.
- Google Analytics provides valuable demographic data on visitors who come to your website. (Make sure you have your site tagged properly so the program can accurately collect data).
- Conduct surveys via e-mail blast or newsletters to get a better grip on who your customers are.
- Look into your competition, and gather information on their methods for further insight
This is an important step in making sure your branding is effective. By learning more about your clients, getting a better angle on their perspectives and their priorities, you can better anticipate their needs and create branding and messaging that will resonate with them.
4. Get involved in the community
People who observe your branded elements should feel as if they’re part of a community and that they have a shared bond with other consumers in the same situation.
Expedia did a fantastic job of this with their “Find Yours” campaign, where they encouraged users of the site to share their travel stories with others, creating a powerful sense of community.
If you can find a way for people to share their common interests and common experiences with your brand, then they will feel a stronger psychological connection to your brand, and therefore be more inclined to continue coming back for more.
5. Be your brand’s biggest advocate
Once you’ve established the major elementsof your branding efforts, you should remain steadfast in representing them.
No one knows your business as intimately as you do, so spread the word. Remain actively involved to ensure that the message you’ve crafted is spread correctly and to the right people.
Encourage your employees to advocate for the brand as well. Since they also interact with the public while representing your business, it’s important for them to be aligned with the mission, vision and core values of your brand.
If customers see that you are engaged and are truly living the mission of your company, then they will feel more confident about continuing to do business with your brand.
If you don’t, they’ll be aware of that as well, and could end up leaving for good.
Branding Success Stories
Nike: Just Do It
As a company Nike, has always been synonymous with exercise, but it wasn’t always the giant it is today.
Once upon a time, Nike’s product catered almost exclusively to marathon runners.
As personal physical fitness became more mainstream, Nike saw an opportunity to become much more than just a running shoe.
Their past communications model only emphasized elite athletes in hyper-competitive sports, otherwise known as the “top-of-the-pyramid” communications model, writes Jerome Conlon of Branding Strategy Insider.
This caused a great disconnect with the average person, and allowed budding rival Reebok, to swoop in and gain control of the rest of the fitness world.
Eventually Nike realized that to truly succeed, they needed to appeal not just to the top of the pyramid athletes, but to sports and fitness enthusiasts of all stripes.
They reexamined their mission. Rather than focusing solely on elite athletes – and, therefore, signaling to weekend warriors that they weren’t good enough to wear Nike – the brand sought to capture and deliver authentic athletic performance across thousands of sports and fitness products, all while encouraging people to go out and exercise. “Just Do It” was born and was a smashing success.
In 1988, Nike sales were at $800 million and by 1998 their sales exceeded $9.2 billion and are still climbing today.
As craft beer and micro-brews continue to shoot their way up in popularity, the larger brewers faced a new branding challenge to remain relevant.
Anheuser-Busch (makers of Budweiser), saw the need to remain in touch with their tenured consumers, as well as grab hold of the newly of-drinking-age clientele.
To accomplish both goals, they developed a bold plan to gain the attention of both groups.
Market research performed by the company found that their core customer was 42% more likely to drive a pick-up truck, was middle and working class, and self-identified as patriotic.
This is the basis for their “America” rebranding campaign in the summer of 2016, in which they briefly changed their name on the cans to America.
Budweiser wanted to not just portray that they had a quality product, but that they were as American as cheeseburgers and apple pie.
Part of its genius is that not only does it resonate with its core audience, but it does so in a very cost-effective manner.
They only slightly changed the design of the can to contain the new name, a relatively inexpensive modification. And the brand’s fame assured that the change would be reported and shared across social media and across traditional news outlets. In fact Budweiser itself had to produce very little of its own marketing content.
Considering the changes and content were miniscule, the company received a staggering return on a relatively small investment: within 48 hours of launch, Budweiser’s total impressions rose by over 1 billion.
And that was just the beginning – following the name change, they still had the remainder of the summer and election season to go.
What this move accomplished for them was greater than just selling more cans of beer. They simultaneously reclaimed their core consumer base, and re-established their place in American culture.
Whether your business is large or small, local or international, there are few (if any) tasks as important as branding.
Although there may be other companies that sell similar or even the same products, your brand is the one thing that can help you stand out from the crowd.
Making connections– both through psychological association and through practical experience– will influence how consumers view you. Keeping this in mind can go a long way in determining just how successful your brand will be.