What is branding, anyway? It is regularly tossed around by both amateurs and veterans in the marketing and advertising field as if it was some hot, sexy stuff right out of Hollywood and carried with it a glitter of its own. Branding sounds so glamorous, right?
Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s cold and hard, and extremely precious to the minutest details possible. But it would be hard to deny that there is a touch of humanity to the branding concept. Guess what? That makes defining the B-word almost impossible to people who don’t understand it yet.
However, I aim to achieve the impossible in this letter. So let’s get on with it.
A Few Branding Definitions...
The question is tricky, and I would like to start with Cheryl Burgess’ quote from Blue Focus Marketing: “A brand is a reason to choose.” That’s trite and cute, but no novice will probably be able to understand the concept of Branding from that little quote.
Okay, let’s hear what Mr Leo Burnett has to say: “A brand symbol is anything that leaves a mental picture of the brand’s identity.” Ah! Now we got a far more concrete answer this time.
So, a brand is formed with one or more ‘props’ that instantly help a prospect to recall the personality of a company. The symbols can be anything and everything starting from name, term, design, symbol or anything whatsoever—as per the American Marketing Institute.
Let’s hear what one of my most favourite marketing authors need to say about it.
A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. – Seth Godin
As we can understand from the definitions above, a brand is not tangible in nature. So, don’t think you have a brand just because you paid that Fiverr designer $25 to design a cool logo for your website. Brand is all about perception.
Al Ries says, “A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.” In Ze Frank’s words, it’s the “emotional aftertaste” that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service or company. More like the hot iron mark on a steer’s hindquarters. Just remember, the business, and not the customer, is the steer here.
My Perception of Brand (Pun Intended)
If you were to ask me, an insignificant marketing copywriter, I would say:
Your brand, in essence, is akin to a living being: it has an identity and personality, name, culture, vision, emotion and intelligence. Or let’s say, your brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. Your brand name brings back a complete snapshot of everything he thinks he knows about you—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s innovative and professional). Your brand name, which lives in reality, activates the essence of your brand, which lives in imagination.
I agree with the remark made by Jeremy Miller of Sticky Branding that branding is forming an emotional connection with your customer. That relationship resides in your customer’s mind.
Mr Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?” I say EVERYTHING.
Now comes the far more important question. Marketers, adjust your glasses, grab a cup of coffee and pay attention now.
How Branding Relates To Marketing
To answer this question, I will have to start by quoting a TSL Marketing article:
“Successful branding yields benefits such as increased customer loyalty, an improved image, and a relatable identity.”
That being said, let us go over the objectives of marketing once.
Objective #1. Engage with target audience
Look, let me put this straight for you.
Nobody does business with a robot.
Even when a consumer is buying a product or service from a business, which is essentially an artificial person, they are still buying from a “person”.
And to prove that a business is human, it needs to act human. It needs to engage with its audience like a human.
By staying engaged with your target audience, you effectively humanise your brand and also set yourself up as an ideal person to buy from or do business with.
And who achieve this purpose?
Of course, the marketing team—because it’s the numero uno objective of marketing.
Objective #2. Prove industry leadership
When some random Mr Smith opens shop in your niche, the only way to stand out of the crowd is to get on top of the ladder.
This is the second biggest challenge of marketing—to become the first name in the customer’s mind in a particular industry.
Your marketing process including content marketing, that is, content, blog articles, offers, client communications, and social media engagement, should all focus on setting yourself and your company aside as industry thought leaders because when it comes time to open the wallet, people want to do business with them.
Once you are an industry leader, not only will your competitors but also prospects will follow you. They will listen to what you have to say. They will buy everything you say. They will follow you like little-lost puppies (well, maybe not so but still somewhat).
But for that to happen...
Your business needs to come to the front bench of the class.
You need to speak up a lot more than you already do.
You need to be present every day, even when it rains heavily.
Be proactive and participate in every event you can.
That’s when you get that much-coveted attention from both your class teacher and that special blue-eyed blonde you like.
Objective #3. Building a loyal following
I didn’t use the word “leads” or “traffic”.
Do you think it sounds too harsh to your prospects?
Suppose, you go over to your favourite cafe, and the waiter standing beside you flatly shouts out to the barista, “Hey Mack, another existing customer arrived. Generate as much revenue from him as possible.” Would you visit that cafe again? I guess no.
That is exactly why I hate business terminology.
Forget about building a pile of leads.
Start building a community.
You don’t need customers. You need loyal supporters of the WHY of your business as suggested by Simon Sinek.
And I hate repeating it. It’s again a part of marketing.
Now speaking of supporters—and loyalty—we have finally reached to the most important objective of marketing.
Objective #4. Establish a brand that your target audience “falls in love” with.
If you have read so far, you are in for a treat.
Because I am finally going to answer one of the most baffling marketing questions now.
Is branding actually marketing? Yes, a resounding yes.
You see, marketing aims towards determining and laying the foundation of your business brand.
But actually, the whole process of marketing is in essence brand building.
Yes, that’s right.
It’s not just the one of the objectives of marketing. It is the ONLY objective of marketing.
Whether you market a product or a whole company, you are essentially moving towards entrenching the brand of the business.
Let me tell you from my own experience and from what most marketing folks will tell you, the very first step is to define the end goal, that is, the brand to be established.
Who are we as a company?
What keywords do people search to find our products/service?
Who are our buyer personas?
What makes us different?
How do we convey our expertise through content and graphics?
What value are we providing?
What makes customers buy from us? What makes them return?
Then, all forms of marketing get executed to make the brand a ‘reality’ in the mind of the customers.
A complete paradox this article has been, hasn’t it? Reality-imagination, beginning-end, branding-marketing...whew!
Your takeaway of the letter:
The brand is the perception someone holds in their head about you, a product, a service, an organisation, a cause, or an idea. Brand building is the deliberate and skilful application of effort to create the desired perception in someone else’s mind. That’s the first and last goal of marketing.
How marketing does that?
Moving the prospect through various stages to converting them into customers, and finally, into brand evangelists. It starts with Branding, and it ends with Branding. This one sentence pretty much sums it all up.
That’s the reason why David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame once ironically observed that “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people.” Because a brand is almost...forever. Many a company became giants and many withered away—all because of one word: branding.
By the way, if you are still confused about what branding is, just go by what David Meerman Scott says:
“Branding is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy.”
Can’t argue with that.
P. S. Take the How Strong Is Your Brand Personality? Test here and see where you stand in the Branding game.