The definition of branding can be tricky to get to grips with and a branding definition is certainly difficult to write. Clients, friends, acquaintances, family members, business owners and others often struggle to understand what branding is actually all about.
What is branding? Is branding about your logo? Perhaps it’s what colours you use, or about the different types of marketing materials you have? Is it how your business talks to people through social media or where you decide to advertise? Well, actually it’s all of that and more.
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Let’s get to the bottom of it:
Branding is all about getting people to accept or believe that you are providing the best product or service for them, right at the moment that they come into contact with one of your products, services or marketing materials. When you can achieve that status with enough customers, your business growth will explode and you’ll start enjoying some hard earned success. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well actually, it is.
Here’s an example:
People needed a faster way to get around so cars were invented, now we have a large variety of brands that each stand for different things and have different company beliefs. Some brands are considered good, some bad. Some are known for being reliable, some aren’t. Some cost more, some cost less.
The important thing here is that people already know about the brands and can compile a short-list without even considering other lesser known businesses, who may in fact be a better option for them.
The process behind how you perceive a brand is similar to the way you form opinions about other people. You listen to what they say, watch how they act, hear about experiences other people have had with them, look at how they present themselves and consider the decisions they’ve made, before subconsciously putting it all together and forming your very first opinion of them; whether it’s right or wrong.
Branding is about doing everything you can to ensure that the relevant people think about your business in the right way.
But what actually affects your brand? Let’s take a look at some examples:
How likely are you to hire a solicitor after learning from a colleague that they turned up to court in their favourite wrestling outfit? Technically, their choice of clothing would have no real impact on how well they can do their job, but it will certainly change how people think about them and how willing people are going to be in trusting them with something that’s very important.
Sure, that’s a pretty extreme example, but it’s very relevant because people pay a great deal of attention to how businesses and their services or products look.
Let’s explore the same type of example in a more realistic setting:
Something great has happened to you, or someone close to you, so you all decide to go out for a meal to celebrate. You’re bored of going to the same old place so you decide you want to try somewhere new and head off into town to look for an exciting new restaurant that you’ve not been to before.
You’ve no doubt got at least one person who “volunteered” to look on TripAdvisor for suggestions. There are two main points of marketing contact here, which is important because this is when people will decide whether or not to make the first of several steps towards buying something from you.
Let’s dive into the details:
Offline – Physical Marketing
So you’re walking around and there are restaurants in every direction, you haven’t heard of half of them and everyone seems to have “heard things” about a selection of potential options, but not enough to make an informed decision and that’s the point.
When people aren’t able to spend hours researching something they must make a decision based on the information they have available to them at the time.
- Visual appeal of the restaurant – If a business doesn’t look like they care about how they present themselves to customers then certain types of people are going to look elsewhere.
- How many customers it has – When a business has lots of customers it’s a clear indication, and proof, that they’re doing at least something right – or why would so many others be spending money there?
- How much they charge – People will rate you based on how much you charge, if you haven’t done a good enough job of making them realise the value of your product or service they simply won’t pay for it.
If you look at a restaurant and the logo design has clearly had little to no thought put into it, the signage is old and the menus are held together with sellotape then you’re sending out one of two very clear messages; you either don’t care enough to want to look professional or you can’t afford to.
There’s no excuse for not caring and if you can’t afford to look like a serious contender then you’re going to have people that assume your restaurant is no good and that it’s probably best to steer clear.
Online – Presence & Web
Whilst walking around, your friend has been frantically searching online for some recommendations on local restaurants – and they certainly have a lot of information to sift through in a short amount of time.
- Reviews left by customers – Being able to manage and exceed customer expectations is what leads to good reviews. You can only do that if you truly understand the audience your business serves and what they want from your brand.
- The Website – Some industries can get away with a poor website, especially if they’re in a busy location, but it’s not doing them any favours. Restaurant’s should make the most of the their websites to attract new customers. If you want to grow your business into something bigger then you need to do things that your competitors aren’t, offering new services and products that make the best use of the staff, premises and assets available to you.
- Social Media – With everyone being connected these days, it’s very difficult to sweep bad customer experiences under the rug. It’s vital to communicate with people who show an interest in what you do; they can provide invaluable insights into what you’re doing right and where you might be able to improve. If you don’t understand who these people are or what motivates them then it’s unlikely that you’re going to get very far with them.
Online & Offline Factors
There are several factors that apply equally, regardless of whether it’s online or offline.
Effective Communication – When there’s lots of choice, people expect businesses to help them and make it easy to find the information that they need in order to make an informed decision. If a restaurant hasn’t taken the time to put their menu in a clearly visible location outside then they’re forcing people to go inside and initiate a conversation with staff; a commitment that most are unlikely to want to do until they are sure they want to eat there. A strong brand understands the needs of their customers and actively seeks to simplify their lives in some way.
- Pricing Transparency – Imagine if a restaurant refused to tell you the price of the items on their menu and forced you to either call them, or worse, physically visit them. When customers are forced to make a decision on who they are going to spend money with, they are almost always going to pick the company that understands them the most. Price is a huge factor, and if you’re not going to be transparent about that, or you can’t be bothered to make it easy for people to know how much you cost, they will likely want to find someone else.
There are many reasons why it’s important to manage the presence of your brand but ultimately the better you maintain how you communicate with potential customers or client, the better you’re going to do.
When people are making a purchasing decision but don’t have enough information to make an informed choice they will go with their gut feeling. This could in fact be completely wrong but if your brand doesn’t communicate everything it needs to in the right way then you’re leaving them with no other choice but to make snap decisions on information that can only be taken at face value.
Your brand needs to be visible, in a way that your customers need them to be.
Think about it:
There’s no point putting all of your information into a mobile app or poorly designed desktop application if the majority of your audience is over 65. If people find it difficult to navigate your website (no matter how pretty it is) then people are going to lose interest.
By establishing a brand and understanding the people who spend money with you you can connect with them in a way that they prefer – making their lives easier. People will usually always follow the path of least resistance. So, if your business is the easiest one to deal with then you’re going to see much more demand for whatever it is that you do.
Brand consistency is about effective communication that speaks to people in one language and helps them to understand why they should choose you over everyone else. We like to imagine a brand as a person, and thinking about it this way makes it a lot easier to understand.
People are consistent, we are, for the most part, creatures of habit. The way we speak, the behaviours we show and the choices we make all follow patterns and don’t tend to change very often. That’s what we’re used to, and it works well because you know what you can expect from someone before they’ve had a chance to do anything.
Brands should communicate with their customers or clients in the same way that two people would. If one of your friend sound like Del Boy and then all of a sudden starts speaking like Benedict Cumberbatch – you’re going to be at least a little concerned, and it’s going to confuse you. When it comes to a brand, the confusion, or concern, caused by that inconsistency equates to you losing both customers (loyal and new) and money.
Brand inconsistencies could be any of the following:
- Using different styles of language or tone
- Promoting your brand in multiple and conflicting locations
- Charging too much or too little for the customers/clients it attracts
- Not sticking to policies
- Using different visual styles
There’s a lot to consider, but by working with a professional branding and design agency you can rest easy knowing that you have a team of dedicated professionals looking over all of these elements with a fine tooth comb.
They will consider the use of language, and how to convert that to an appropriate visual style. They can advise you on how best to promote your brand and provide guidance on how your business should be communicating with customers or clients in the form of a branding and style guides
Without taking the time and effort to establish a strong brand, you run the risk of not looking serious or established enough to warrant people spending the amounts you charge. Companies that simply don’t have a brand or who try to pull off a DIY job are the biggest offenders here. Branding and design is an investment and you shouldn’t be trying to do it all yourself, if you do attempt to design your own brand identity or logo you’re likely to end up costing your business money in the long run.
Consider a wedding & events planner that actively promote that they are specialists in luxury, big budget events. Now, imagine if they were to use a mobile number and a Hotmail email address on their business cards, in their email signature and other branded marketing materials.
What’s the big deal?
Using a mobile phone number means that you aren’t a big enough business to warrant having a dedicated landline number. Once that thought enters their mind they’re going to start wondering about whether or not you are right for them.
The same can be said for using free email providers. To have a professional email solution costs less than £15 a year. It’s the difference between looking like a budget start up and an established business.
People will rightly start wondering about the credibility of your business:
“How can they deal in big budget events when they can’t even afford a professional email address or phone number?”
And they’d be right. It’s expected that professional companies would have a professional looking email address, website address and phone number.
“They must be small, inexperienced or a one person band, which means they are going to struggle if too many people book them.”
That might not be right at all, but it’s all about the impression that you’re giving people. That’s what your branding is telling them.
“I wonder whether they have done this type of job before and if they will know what to expect.”
These things are quite common, and when I started Canny, I didn’t have a landline number. However, it was one of the first things I fixed as the business grew, and suddenly I found the phone ringing a lot more often.
People want to know what you do and how you do it. Certain types of products and services require an element of proof as well, otherwise people simply won’t believe what you’re telling them or think it might be too good to be true.
If you tell people that you offer a high end service and then hand them a cheap, single sided, badly printed business card with a free email address then you’ve got brand inconsistency.
If your brochures, sales team and online marketing activities tell people that you provide a really simple, hassle free and modern service, but direct them to a poorly designed website that’s difficult to use and makes it hard for people to sign up to your service, then you’ve got brand inconsistency.
If you want people to believe that you’re a reliable provider of their favourite products and don’t respond to enquiries within 24 hours or provide information on refunds or guarantees, yep, you got it, you’ve got brand inconsistency.
When you have brand inconsistencies, people lose faith in your ability to provide a product or service that meets their needs in the ways that you claim it will. If you want to succeed, know who you’re selling to and tailor everything you do around them. If you don’t, they will either find someone who does or abandon you as soon as another company comes along that better caters for their needs.
To keep your brand consistent we must look at all aspects of it and ensure that they are all aligned and communicating the same message in the same way.
A brand consists of six primary characteristics that make up what’s known as the Brand Prism which was invented by Jean-Noël Kapferer:
- Physical Facet – Salient physical qualities which are seen by the target audience-like its color, shape, logo or anything that brings an image in the mind of the consumer when thinking or talking about the brand.
- Brand Personality – This defines the brand’s personality or character. Here the brand is personified and its traits are perceived in the eyes of the consumer in a particular way. It can be related to calling a person shy or stylish or philanthropic.
- Brand Culture – This represents the values and principles a brand stand for. For example, a brand that has a ‘Go Green’ motto will be eco-friendly is all tis aspects- from manufacturing to marketing.
- Brand Relationships – The relationship a brand has, with its customers, the way each communication relates to its target audience or how brands influence and provide a particular service to its customers.
- Customer Reflection – How a customer reflects with a particular brand. This is different with how customers perceive the brand. This talks more about the consumers who use the brand as opposed to the brand itself.
- Customer Self Image – This explains how a customer perceives himself by using the brand. For example, how men and women differentiate certain brands as being masculine or feminine.
If you want to know more about what a brand is physically made up of then you should read our previous branding post that also talks about how design agencies can help and what your business can lose by not having a strong brand.
In the following example you can see the Brand Prism in use for the soft drinks brand Pepsi:
It would be interesting to see the Coca Cola brand identity Prism and see if it can help us get to the bottom of the Coca Cola vs Pepsi debate once and for all!
Defining Your Brand Visually
How a brand manifests itself in the form of visual communication all stems from the the points outlined in the brand prism. Let’s think about some of the physical elements of your company and how they work together to represent your brand.
The scene above is from American Psycho and the key characters are playing a game of one-upmanship with their business cards. That’s how proud of them they are! That’s how you should feel about your brand and stationery.
- Logo Design – The first thing most people see of your brand. You can use your logo to appeal to specific groups and types of people instantly, in order to generate enough interest for them to want to find out more about your products or services.
- Stationery Design – By making use of professionally branded business cards, letterheads, flyers and other stationery items, you can reinforce the fact that your business is established within your industry.
- Shop Signage – Great looking shop signage is really effective in drawing in new customers or clients. They’ll be impressed with the visuals and are likely to have higher expectations as well as higher budgets.
- Website Design – For many businesses, this is their number one marketing tool. With the ability to carry out direct marketing on a personal level – rather than trying to market to people in a crowded and busy environment like FaceBook where they can easily get distracted and go elsewhere. It’s the equivalent of owning your own store, rather than running a stall in market.
Why is Branding Important?
Typically, for any kind of purchase that doesn’t involve trivial amounts of money you’re going to spend time thinking about how you can get what you want, or more, for the least amount of money possible. Ultimately you’re going to have to decide which branding or design agency you’re going to spend your money with. In order to do that you will want to know which is the absolute best product available.
But what does the best mean?
The best for her or the best for him? The best for kids or the best for adults? The best short term solution or the best long term solution? There are many different reasons why something appeals to you more than it might do for someone else; only you know what you want.
Professional brands attempt to make customers feel like they are the centre of the businesses world; that their products or services were created just for them. When people become fans of brands it’s because they believe those companies are looking out for them, trying to help solve their problems in a way that they can afford.
They don’t have to keep searching and reviewing other businesses and their products/services; they’ve already found one that gives them what they want, how they want it. More often than not, once someone has found a reliable provider they will stick with them until they are given a reason not to.
Customers will look at what you have to offer and the way everything is presented. If they like how you’ve done that they’ll probably give it a go. If they have a good experience then they will likely buy more with the same company; if they have a bad experience then they will find someone else unless there are no other alternatives or they believe that the company has changed or improved significantly since the last time they spent money with them.
Nothing says change more than a company rebranding themselves as it shows people they’re committing to doing things differently and that’s why businesses with long term reputation problems should consider this option.
This is how big companies make big money easily whilst maintaining strong growth.
Company A and B both sell food (let’s go with pizza because it’s awesome.) They all provide their pizzas in a different way because they know when people are going to spend money with them, why they choose to do so, what they’re looking for and how much they’re able to spend. So their brands (or lack of) cater for those specific people, well, quite specifically.
Company A charges £20 for a pizza, their primary customers are fairly affluent and work full-time in a big city. They close at 11pm knowing that their customers are likely going to be heading to bed at that point.
Company B charges £10 for a pizza, their primary customers are students, most of which are working part-time. They close at 3am knowing that a large portion of their customers will have been out late, drinking heavily and will find themselves in need of a particular type of food.
What appeals to the customers of Company A is highly unlikely to appeal to the customers of Company B. Both companies have a specific look about them and people know, without having to do a lot of research, roughly what to expect from them.
When you’re building your brand or starting your company, there are many questions to ask. But among them, should be:
- Who am I building this brand for?
- What problem am I attempting to solve?
- What does our brand stand for?
Armed with the answers to these questions, you will be able to successfully engage with a creative agency to help you with your branding efforts and breathe life into your vision.
Many companies that are struggling to grow are in that situation because they don’t know who they’re selling too, what problem they’re trying to solve or what they stand for. When you know these things it becomes much easier to plot a path of growth and success for your business. You will know which areas of your business to expand, what needs to be scaled back and you’ll understand how decisions are going to affect your business in the long term.
If you have any questions about branding your company, don’t hesitate to contact us. And as always, if you have any comments about defining your brand or the branding definition that we’ve outlined, let us know in the comments below.