What Is The Essence of Branding?

I’ve had the wonderful experience of spending a lot of time recently with successful entrepreneurs. They have a lot in common. First off, there is an undeniable passion for their business. Next the uncanny ability to not only spot a new opportunity but to jump on it with little to no hesitation. And lastly they also tend to think of branding as something that just happens by doing a good job.

If you are the only employee, that might be okay because you control everything. But if you have a staff, your brand is bigger than just you and the value you bring to the table. Because you cannot control every interaction between employees, suppliers, and customers; you cannot totally control your brand.

Gut Feelings

I define brand as the gut feeling of those people that has been exposed to your company and/or products and services. Since you cannot control individual gut feelings, you cannot control your brand. You can, however, influence it. You have a vision for the type of company/products that you want to known for. If your desired brand image is out of alignment with your customers, employees, suppliers, and any one else that is aware of you, you have a problem. Good branding is alignment between your promises and their experiences. If you can reliably delight those people, you’re brand will grow.

The discipline of branding is simply taking proactive steps to ensure that alignment with your vision. These steps can take many forms, here are a few:

  • improved company image (logo, letterhead, advertising, marketing communications, packaging, etc…)
  • improved products
  • better customer service
  • improved accounting processes

Obviously, some of these things are easier to implement than others. It’s easy to get a fresh look and feel for your marketing and advertising materials – though it may not be cheap. Others will take intense cultural changes throughout the entire company to see the benefits. The better you understand your unique value, your vision, and the desires of your customers, the better you can build your brand.

Branding Is Not Optional

Branding is happening whether you are driving it or not. Every interaction with your company creates an impression in that person. And it doesn’t even have to be directly with you. How many times have you steered clear of a product or service based on the advice of a friend? In that case, you never get the chance to make a positive impression. It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is because they’ll never get that far. That’s why the old adage of “one satisfied customer is worth ten” still rings true.

Entrepreneurs like to steer clear of branding because it forces them to put a stake in the ground. That’s scary because they’re comfortable pursuing every opportunity that looks beneficial – regardless of how it affects the current setup. It’s a fine line to walk. You need to be known as the best in some space. Customers aren’t looking for the next tool that slices, dices, and juliennes. They want the best slicer on the market. It’s very much the Long Tail theory.

To really be a powerful brand, you must have alignment between your vision and those gut feelings. In a commodity market, brand is the primary driver of purchase. People are loyal to brands – though that’s waning with increasing selection and standardization. A strong brand today has to be unique. It has to stand heads and shoulders above the competition. A strong brand doesn’t compete in markets, it defines markets.

The tip of the iceberg is focusing on brand alignment. The harder part is creating alignment. It’s making the changes in your organization that affect employee/supplier/customer experiences. A lower price is just one option – and usually not the best one.

If you view branding as an expense or a necessary evil, you’re already behind the curve.

Nick Rice

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  1. Nick, Interesting piece. A colleague of mine defines brand as “a shortcut to a decision” – and in terms of how we think, that amounts to a recognisable pattern or story.

    The pattern that’s created in customers and prospects minds cumulatively as a result of every interaction and contact with our product or service. And, with any story, there has to be a sense of ongoing movement and progression appropriate to their expectations. So if you start well, make sure you finish well, or your brand will suffer more than if you had started badly in the first place.

  2. You are right- branding is not optional. It’s really a matter of brand or get branded. Like you say, it’s best to be in the position of control.

  3. Tony, Rosanna, Golfers,

    You’re all right! Brand is about your companys/products/services reputation. Like I said in the post, you cannot totally control it, you can only work to keep it inline with your vision.

    Golfer, I love your last statement. The little things make the biggest difference to customers. It’s going above and beyond their expectations to delight them. Just meeting their expectation is not where you need to stop. That’s just the minimum. True brand development happens when users are overjoyed by their experience. That’s when they remember you and recommend you.

    Preference leads to loyalty which leads to refferals & profits

  4. GolfersWired says

    Branding is about image, whether it be the visual image of your company or the image of your company’s reputation. PayPal for example, has an incredible brand in the since of name recognition and visual image, but reputation wise it has struggled with their ability to provide excellent support. This has negatively impacted there brand image and ultimiately has left them vulnerable to companies such as Google who have a positive brand and are entering into their space. Bottom line is everything you do impacts your brand, even the little things!

  5. One last comment to add to the above – branding, in many cases, will take time. Marketers cannot “create brand awareness” in a month or two or six. It is created by day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year attention to the business. We live in an “instant” society. We are told that results must be immediate or close to it. Building a brand – a successful brand- does take time. But, the longer the brand sits in the minds of consumers, the harder it is to knock it out.

  6. Carol, you’re right on. A huge component of a strong brand is consistency. A lot depends on your offering. You can go to Starbucks three of four times a day – not to mention using their product at home and in the office. So it’s easy to get a quick (and consistent) impression of them. Other offerings like care dealerships only see the same customer once every 2-5 years. So they have to put a lot of emphasis on an outstanding experience to have you remember them next time.

    Great comment!

  7. Nick, I agree with all your points. So often people mistaken a logo design as branding, rather than just a visual representation of a brand. To make a brand effective, businesses need to define what their brand stands for, what their value proposition is and what beliefs they would like the marketplace to have of their brand. Then, they need to stay consistent with those beliefs by living their brand in everything they do.

  8. There is a very interesting follow up argument to this post taking place here: http://www.onlinemarketingsydney.com.au/2006/11/online-branding-in-21st-century.html

  9. dapo akintoye says

    i have come to understand that since you influence the perceptioin of your brand, it has a lot to do with what it is you are saying that people hear, but much more with what it is you are not saying that people hear as well