That’s kind of a mystery, right? The word brand or branding is used widely and more often than not in a context where it doesn’t even belong. Definitions you hear will vary. There might be as many as there are variations of breakfast cereals on a supermarket shelf. Branding is and means something different to each one of us. Some think it’s the logo you see on a product. Others think it’s the TV commercial they saw last night or a slogan that’s so often repeated on the radio you will never get it out of your head again. The thing is, they are all right. Logos, slogans, advertisements, they are all part of a brand strategy.
Brands exist in the minds of people who interact with them. – Brian Collins
To me, though, branding is much more than that. It is more than what you see. Branding is very complex and I won’t even try to put another definition out there. In this post, I just want to give you an example of what branding means in a very simple way and I will break down the different elements of branding. This will give you a much clearer view of what branding is and what it contains than just a uber-complicated definition.
A simple way to think about branding
You have just bought a new phone. The phone, you are holding in your hand, is not really branding. Though it might have some visible style elements you associate with a certain brand e.g. their logo, brand colors, form, or user interface. The reason why you are holding this phone in your hand, why you purchased it, that is branding. Branding is working when you are making decisions on why you prefer one brand over another? In this case, why you bought an iPhone and not a Samsung? And if you are not even aware of making this decision consciously, then it’s successful branding. Because if you are honest, you didn’t just buy it because of the price, quality, or options you have (all conscious decisions), you also bought it because of how it makes you feel when holding it in your hand (emotion).
Why is branding complex?
As consumers, we mostly don’t get to see what elements are behind a well-planned branding strategy. We only see its outcome and are tricked to believe branding only consists of visuals. So let’s talk a bit about the process of branding and what other elements branding consists of that might be even more important than the things we see.
The branding process
A branding process mostly starts with a new business or product and a vision. The vision is not more than just how you want your brand to be seen or what you want to stand for in the future. You will then have to form a strategy to put this vision into action by communicating it to your audience.
A good way to express your vision more clearly and approach your audience accordingly is to define your brand values first. This means you have to come up with the key values you want your brand to stand for. They kind of turn your vision into a mission because, in everything you do, you will have to act accordingly to your values.
Attention: Your brand values are not the same as your brand value. The brand value is about where you stand in the market or how valuable your brand is amongst your clients in regard to your competition.
The brand values are the core of your branding and with that, also the core of a strong brand foundation. You can see the foundation as base work you have to do to build a solid and successful brand. It consists of 4 elements:
In 1 to 3 sentences you have to explain to your audience who you are, what your brand stands for and how they can profit. It’s kind of a promise you make to your audience.
Where is your place in the market? The position defines your place in the market amongst your competitors. It’s about what makes you different. It also gives you the chance to identify your ideal audience and how you can communicate with them.
If you want to connect with your audience, you have to give your brand a personality they can identify with. What do they think about you? How do you want to appear to them? Think of your brand persona as a real-life person. If your brand was a person, who would it be? You can give your brand attributes or character traits that align with your values.
Your brand story tells your audience why you created your business and what triggered this decision. But it’s not only about you. It should also include how your audience can profit from your product/ service. A good story does this in a way that creates an emotional connection between your brand and your audience.
You have probably seen all elements of branding are interlinked with each other. So there’s no wonder what I call paraphernalia, is also an extension of your foundation.
This includes all visual aspects of your branding e.g. logo, fonts, colors, images, icons. With these, you create the outer appearance of your brand. They represent the foundation you have built.
Cultivating the way you communicate with your audience makes your brand unique. Although it will take some time to elaborate on your brand’s voice, it is important in building trust. Your communication should be based on your values and transport your mission in everything you put out there e.g. story, customer service, newsletter, social media posts.
This is the action plan that’s going to take your brand in the right direction. By setting up and implementing the right strategy, your vision will become a reality. The strategy should include your short and long-term goals and a detailed plan on how to reach them.
In short: Branding always starts with a vision. The core of every brand is its values and the starting point for the branding process. First, you have to build a solid brand foundation including mission, position, persona, and story. After you have laid the foundation, you can add further important elements as design, voice, and strategy.