Branding is a subject that's frequently referred to and rarely defined. It's an area that many business owners and bloggers are familiar with and understand the need for, but they may not be able to clearly define it or explain it's importance. So today I'm breaking down this familiar topic to answer some key questions: What is branding and why is it important?
What is branding?
Branding is a term that gets thrown around often, especially in small business circles. It's one of those words that's used but never defined, and it seems like everyone has their own definition. So let me start by clearing up 2 common misconceptions about branding.
- Branding is not simply a logo. A logo is definitely a large part of a brand, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Confusing a logo and a brand is common, but it misses the mark.
- Branding is not just for large companies. When we think "brand," we often think of the brands we're most familiar with, like Nike and Campbell's Soup. But the truth of the matter is that every business has a brand, and your brand is always communicating something visually to your audience. It might be telling them that you're intentional and pay attention to details, or it could be giving off the impression that you're uncertain, confused, and don't have a clue what you're doing.
A brand isn't simply a logo and it isn't just for large companies; a brand is the complete image of a business. These quotes help break it down further:
"Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be." Entrepreneur.com
Before your customer or client ever has an experience with you, your business, or your products, they're first seeing your brand in some shape or form. Your brand gives them a glimpse at what they will experience with you; it gives them expectations. Think about restaurants, for example. Fast food chains, like McDonald's and Taco Bell, have brands that are more colorful and friendly; they're trying to catch your attention. They don't promise a fine dining experience. Instead, their brand tells you that you can expect a meal that's quick and inexpensive. Now think about some of the nicest, most expensive restaurants in your area. Chances are, their brands are refined and sophisticated. You can expect to have a one-of-a-kind fine dining experience, just from their logo and their atmosphere.
My favorite part of the definition above is that last sentence. "Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be." Branding is a reflection of a business. Because businesses don't have an appearance from the start, a brand is built to reflect a business's character. Great brands are intentional about using elements like their logo, website, and tone to portray not only who they are, but who they want to be. It's like cleaning the house before guests come over; you want to put your best foot forward. When I'm going through branding consultations with my clients, I focus more on what they want their business to be rather than what their business is right now because that's the image, promise, and experience I want their customers to imagine. And that's where the next quote comes in.
"Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice versa." Jay Bauer
In other words, branding is dressing your business for the part; it's the art of making your audience say the right things and set the right expectations for your business. Branding uses your business's tone, logo, color scheme, and identity to align what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. This next quote simplifies these definitions and concepts even more.
"Your brand is whatever your customer says it is." Anonymous
Branding is the art of getting your audience to say the right things about your business. It's important to note that although there are aspects of you that should be seen in the branding of your business, your brand is about your ideal customer.
Components of branding
We can separate all of the components of a brand into 2 categories: the tangible and the intangible. The tangible components of a brand are those that are visual - a logo, website, marketing materials, packaging, tags, advertisements, menus, business cards, etc. But the other component of branding is one that isn't considered as often. The intangible aspects of your brand are your business's tone/voice, the terminology you use, and the experience you provide. Both tangible and intangible components are equally important to a business's brand.
For example, the Starbucks brand contains both tangible and intangible components. When you think of Starbucks, what visual images come to mind? You might think of the siren logo, the color green, their white cups (or depending on the season, their red cups) with the cardboard sleeves, their chalkboard signs that advertise new products and specials, their seasonal door graphics, their festive gift cards. All of these aspects are tangible components of the Starbucks brand. On the other hand, what non-visual aspects make you think of Starbucks? You might think of the strong smell of coffee, the sound of casual music playing as you work on your laptop or enjoy a coffee date with a friend, and the names of their drink sizes (tall, grande, venti, trenta).
And then there's Apple. The tangible, visual aspects of the Apple brand are its iconic logo, the sleek design of their products, the "belly button" on iPhones and iPads, their user interfaces, their simple advertisements, and the Myriad typeface. For the intangible, we think of the terminology of their products (iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook), their standard sounds for notifications and ring tones, and maybe even more familiar, Siri's voice. All of these components are part of Apple's brand.
Why is branding important?
Branding gives customers a mental image of your business.
Most people have a visual memory; they remember things by what they look like. When we think about memories, people, or places, images usually come to mind. The same is true for a brand. The visual, tangible aspects of your brand give your audience images to remember it by and associate it with. For example, when you think of McDonald's, you probably think of those iconic yellow arches. When you think of Pepsi, you probably think of that round red, white, and blue logo. When you think of Nike, you probably think of that simple, popular checkmark. Branding gives your audience a picture of your business.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to work with a babies, bumps and births photographer, Emily Gerald. Before we designed her brand, her business had no tangible components for her customers and potential customers to associate it with. Her new brand gave them a mental image and was designed to appeal to her ideal audience: expectant moms.
Branding makes your business memorable and recognizable.
Creating an image and identity for your business makes it recognizable, even if you're only seeing one aspect of it. For example, what business might you think of if you saw this illustrative, handwritten text or this foil wrapped burrito?
These components of the Chipotle brand make the restaurant chain recognizable to its audience.
Branding differentiates your business from competitors.
Branding allows you to set your business apart from its competitors. Take these three familiar brands for example: FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service.
They all offer similar (if not identical) services, but their brands help differentiate their businesses from each other.
Branding creates an emotional bond and customer loyalty.
We're all guilty of getting comfortable with different brands and products, whether it's our preference in soda, car manufacturer, or toothpaste. People develop an emotional attachment with their favorite brands, which creates customer loyalty. Every business owner longs for that from their audience, and branding has the potential to keep customers coming back time and time again.
And if it's done right, branding can win the attention of your ideal customer.
When designed correctly, great branding catches the eye of the clients you want to work with and the customers you desire to purchase your products.
Southern Weddings Magazine does a great job of appealing to Southern, soon-to-be brides with their soft, feminine colors, girly, hand-lettered logo, and their charming colloquialisms. Every decision they make seems to stem from knowing their ideal audience well.
There are numerous benefits of great business branding. Successful businesses realize this (and I would argue that great branding is a large reason that some of these businesses are successful in the first place). Branding gives an audience a great first impression of your business, it makes your business memorable and recognizable by associating it with certain images and experiences, it makes your business stand apart from competitors, it creates customer loyalty causing people to return to your business time and time again, and it helps attract your ideal customers.