What is Branding? - Whiteboard Workflow

What is Branding?

Alongside “How much is logo design?” – “What is Branding?” is one of the most common questions we get asked when prospective clients approach us for new work. We often receive emails that say things like “I need a logo, a business card and a letterhead designed. Guess you could say I need branding!” and that’s where the idea for this post started out.

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BusinessDictionary.com explains branding as;

The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.

To me, that branding definition seems a little “fluffy.” It doesn’t really clear a whole lot up, so I’m going to dig into it further. What sort of thing does a brand do? What are brand expectations? Where does design come into branding? What are some of the most famous brands in the world and why are they so famous? Let’s take a look.

What is Branding?

Branding is not just a logo design. You can’t just design a logo and say “that’s branding.” You also can’t create a logo design and a set of stationery and call that branding either. That’s only a tiny part of it. Branding is how the general public views and perceives your company. It’s more than one visual identifier, it’s how an audience connects with your company on multiple levels and through different brand touch points.

A brand can be described as a company, service or product that has a voice and personality of it’s own. A designer can’t “make” a brand, that has to come from the company themselves. What are some of their core values? What do they stand for? What makes their product unique? What is their unique selling point? Questions like this form the basis of a brand strategy and should be established within the company in the first instance. A designer or design agency builds the foundation of a brand, or is brought in to enhance the brand’s visual and corporate identity.

A lot of people, including some designers, think that branding a company simply involves designing a handful of visual elements; logo design, stationery design, colours, fonts etc. In reality, it is a lot more involved than that. A design or brand agency knits together the values of the brand with the visual identity. We don’t just produce a variety of pretty designs and call it a branding project. Professional design agencies take concepts and ideas from the companies brand strategy and bring them to realisation in the most appropriate format, sometimes suggesting improvements or refining the original strategy along the way.

A professional design or branding agency creates visuals that make up the corporate identity of a company, showing what it stands for and highlighting their beliefs. It’s not just purely a logo design and some colours put together and made to look pretty.

There are some great articles and books available about branding. I’d highly recommend reading Jacob Cass’s article Branding, Identity and Logo Design Explained; in which Jacob candidly explains the difference between the three practices. The following video is also a great overview of the definition of branding and what branding is all about.

Why do Brands Hire Design Agencies?

Brands hire design agencies and graphic designers to establish or enhance their visual identity. When fully rebranding a company, the brand handbook goes out of the window, but in most cases, when hired by a company, designers are expected to work within a set of already established brand guidelines.

Brand identity guidelines describe how a brand’s identity should or shouldn’t be used across a variety of mediums. Logos are normally shown sitting on appropriate backgrounds, in appropriate colours. They’re also displayed in ways that they shouldn’t be used. There are a lot of easily accessible brand guidelines, Google is your friend but the Skype brand guidelines are a particularly great example.

Brand guidelines ensure that the identity of a company is preserved and kept coherent no matter which visual device it’s applied to. Depending on the company the brand identity/brand image can be made up of any number of devices. A company such as Nike could commission but not be limited to, the following to be created within their brand identity guidelines;

  • A logo design (the main symbol behind the entire identity and brand)
  • Stationery design (letterheads, business cards, compliment slips etc)
  • Marketing Collateral (Flyers, brochures, books, websites, etc)
  • Products & Packaging (Products sold and the packaging in which they come in)
  • Apparel Design (Tangible clothing items that are worn by employees or sold as part of the brand’s strategy)
  • Retail Design (interior and exterior signage as well as interior design of outlet stores)
  • Email Design (email template design for newsletters, in-house memos etc)
  • TV Advertising (visual style and elements of TV productions and advertising)
  • Other Communication

All of the items listed above and many many more make up a brands visual identity. The logo design is the embodiment of the brand wrapped up into one easily identifiable mark, but always remember, a logo design alone is not a brand. It only represents a brand. We’ve already written a fair bit of other stuff about logo design, check it out on the design blog if you’re unsure what a logo is or what they’re used for. Put simply, a logo design identifies a brand or product in it’s simplest form.

An Example of Perfect Branding

Perfect Branding - Apple Store Front

The easiest way to answer the question “What is Branding?” is to give the perfect example. In my eyes, one of the world’s biggest companies has their branding down to a tee, and that’s Apple. Everything Apple do forms part of their brand, and they do a lot of different things.

For those that don’t know, Apple are one of the world’s biggest technology companies that designs, develops and sells consumer electronics, ranging from laptops to phones to televisions. Apple was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in April 1976 and are now one of the most famous multinational corporations in the world.

Everything Apple do is calculated and adds value to their brand communication and identity. The way they name things and typeset things (iPhone, iPod, iMac) through to the clean, functional style of their website adds to the Apple brand. The Apple brand in simple terms is “brilliant design that works.” The way Apple deliver their keynote speeches, the accompanying videos on their website shortly before a product launch are all crystal clear in communication with an air of wonder and excitement built around them.

If somebody blindfolded you and drove you to a mystery location and when you opened your eyes and you saw bright white displays, perfectly shaped computers and gadgetry and shiny work surfaces, you would know that you were in an Apple store. That’s branding. Apple’s customers go to them for several reasons, they want the best in modern technological appliances and they want it to look fantastic and function perfectly. Even their product boxes open and smell a certain way.

Apple have perfected branding. They’ve took branding and expanded it into absolutely everything they do, building their whole company around it. People have a certain level of expectation from Apple because of their branding, and part of their brand strategy is to deliver that and go beyond their customer’s expectations each and every time.

How Important is Branding?

If you look at some of the biggest brands in the world, you’ll notice that their branding is well thought out and it’s no coincidence that they’re the successful ones. Branding is an important feature of any business and all businesses should consider it as part of their marketing strategy.

In the design industry a lot of people tell clients that they should “look at design as an investment, not an expenditure” and that’s not a bad way of thinking at all. When starting up, a lot of people will think “I’m not spending [x] amount on branding my company, it’s not worth it. I can do it myself for nothing.” And that is what costs a lot of start-up businesses money. Would you decide to fix your own plumbing? Or would you hire a professional to do it for you? It’s the same thing with branding your business and creating your corporate identity.

What tends to happen is that the companies that have branded professionally from an early stage in their life, go on to realise that their initial investment into their brand has paid dividends in the long run. If you had a choice of two companies to use, and one had clearly used a professional to develop their brand identity, and the other had used Microsoft Paint to design their identity, who would you use? And at the end of the day you don’t want your brand to end up on “Logo Designs Gone Wrong” like the Instituto de Estudos Orientais logo;

Instituto de Estudos Orientais Logo Design

One of my favourite things to do on my lunch break is scroll through one of Twitter’s networking hours such as #NorthEastHour and look at user avatars and company websites. In about 5-10 seconds it’s apparent which companies have used a professional to develop and enhance their brand, and which have relied on Paint and their “design knowledge” to deliver results. In an instant, I make a decision about whether I would buy something from the said company. If their branding looks professional, and their site works, I decide yes. If the work looks like it’s done by an amateur on a design trip, and their website doesn’t function properly, then I decide against it.

The above is just one example of people making a snap decision based on the way a company brands and presents itself. Their are many instances in which people will make a decision on whether or not use your brand for their particular need. People choose this based on a number of factors, but branding unprofessionally will certainly hurt your chances of success.

But, I Can’t Afford Professional Branding

Can you afford not to have professional branding? Sure, if you hire a professional branding agency, things can get very expensive very quickly. However, it’s all about the return on investment. If you invest £10,000 but make £100,000 as a result of branding or rebranding, then the initial expenditure has been worth it.

There are however some simple and low cost ways of making a difference to your brand strategy that you can start today to help build or reinforce your brand. Here are five questions to get you thinking about improving your branding.

1. What Does Your Brand Stand For?
Ask yourself what your brand is all about. What does your brand believe in? What do you want people to think about your brand when they hear your brand name? The supermarket brand Aldi is all about being a low cost supermarket, whereas Marks and Spencers’ branding positions them as a supermarket for high end luxury food products.

“Make a list of the differences and the extremes and start with that. A brand that stands for what all brands stand for stands for nothing much.” – Seth Godin

2. What Branded Collateral Already Exists?
Get all of your branded material out, spread it around your kitchen table and take a good look at it. Do you have a logo? Are you using the same logo design across all of your printed material? Does your logo look good? Is your contact information up correct on all of your collateral? Is it all consistent? Are you using the same colours and typefaces across all of your media?

3. Are You Using Social Media Correctly?

There are a lot of social media options available to businesses right now. At Canny Creative, we use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. Is your brand represented on social networking sites? Does the visual identity of your brand flow into your web presence too? It’s best to keep your social media sites similar in style to your printed collateral and your website design.

You also need to think about the language you use, what you talk about and what you share on social media. Should you really be talking to your friends about the latest football results using your business Twitter profile? Probably not. We’d advise saving that for your personal Twitter account.

4. Is Your Website Yielding Results?
If your website doesn’t look similar to the rest of your branded materials, then it’s time to bring it in line. Also make sure that your logo design and brand colours are featured prominently on your website, this will aid in raising brand awareness. Think about the way you present your service or product online. Are users seeing it in a positive light? Ask friends and family for feedback.

Does your website produce the results you were hoping? Are you making enough sales through your site? If you’re not, it’s worth exploring the user experience of your site. Is it easy enough for your users to make a purchase, or get in contact? Does your site work as it should? There are lots of questions you can ask yourself, but even fixing the most basic of problems will help you along your way.

5. What Can You Do To Change It?
If you’re unsure about any of the things we’ve talked about above, then I’d advise getting in touch with a professional branding or design agency to see how they can help you. If you have any doubt at all about your branding, pick up the phone and see what they can do for you. A lot agencies will offer a design consultation before starting work on a project.

If you’d rather go at it alone then; make sure you’re using a high quality version of your logo design and make sure the colours and typefaces that you use across your branded material are consistent. Visual elements are important and help potential customers remember your business.

So, What is Branding?

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=By9m3UBiRZM[/youtube]

We’ve had a look at an example of a brand doing it right and we’ve explored the importance of branding for startups. So, what is branding? I think one of the best definitions of brand I’ve seen is from the Tronvig Group;

“What sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization — whether or not, at that particular moment, you bought or did not buy.”

That’s branding summed up perfectly for me. It’s the way your brand sticks in people’s minds, and, in that instance, convinces them to buy or not to buy what you’re selling. However, branding isn’t always about convincing people to buy, it all comes back to your brand’s strategy and goals. Sometimes it’s about creating brand loyalty, raising money for charity, convincing them to use your service, read your books, hire you for a job. People work on building personal branding too.

To summarise; branding is not logo design. It’s not just about the visual elements of your brand. It’s what your brand believes in and how that’s represented. It’s all about invoking an emotional response from your customers or clients. Making them think what you want them to think as soon as they hear your brand name. Branding is how you and/or your company are perceived and by hiring a professional you can work alongside them to build the best brand possible.

What does branding mean to you? Share your thoughts, success stories and even failures in the comments below.

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