There are so many articles that go in-depth about the definition and basics of branding. In this post I'd like to expand upon that and explain why it's important and why you should consider branding your business. With that said, let's venture down this rabbit hole!
First, let me provide you with an obligatory definition:
What is Branding?
To paraphrase Entrepreneur, consider your brand as an image that symbolizes a promise to your audience. It tells them exactly what to expect and reminds them why you're different from your competitors. It's not just a logo and not just for larger companies that have been around for a while like Coca-Cola or Nike.
Now that we've defined branding, let's get back on topic. Why is it important? Here are a few answers:
It's a direct reflection on your business
When you go in for a job interview think about how much you put into your appearance and how cautious you are with your application materials. I remember adjusting multiple cover letters and resumes to match a company's mission, tone, and job description. Perhaps you've done this too in hope that this would set you apart from the other candidates. Just like the process of applying for a job, branding is all about first impressions. What is your audience going to expect, see, or feel before you work with them? The answer involves the visual aspects of your brand like your logo and marketing materials.
This is why branding must be one of the first things you invest in before your business is seen by others. Cheap, inaccurate branding can lead to confusion. Think about your name, industry, and the message you want to send out to your customers. Your brand should reflect that and more. For example, if you sell tacos from a food truck and your tagline is "made with love and spicy goodness" and your logo is the Tasmanian Devil cartoon demolishing a taco, your brand is not only infringing on copyrights from Warner Bros., but it's downright confusing. (How does the Tasmanian Devil represent quality?)
The key is to be memorable. Even if your brand is seen by people and they don't do business with you right away, you'll want them to think of you first and foremost when they need your services. You might have amazing skills to offer or a really nice product ready to sell, but it won't mean a thing until you've been properly branded.
IT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE COMPETITION
Every business is unique and has something different to offer. Take a brief look at your competition and think about what you do best, then use that to attract customers and let them be a part of your brand. From there, consider your ideal audience and create visuals and wording that will lure them in. As time goes by, your audience may shift a little, so it's important to adjust accordingly. In other words, give the people what they want!
Case in point, let's a take a look at the competition for women's designer purses. For a while the hottest brand near my area was Coach. Everywhere I went, I saw women sporting their line of handbags, shoes, and watches. Now, I've noticed that Michael Kors has become the next big thing. It may be because of their "jet-set luxury" look or the fact that their brand appeals more to Millennials. At any rate, they have been credited for taking a large chunk out of Coach's sales. Of course Coach may have been the cause of their own distress by adding too many outlet stores throughout the U.S. Consequently, this has diluted the image they once held with wealthier woman. (Source.) Just by looking at a poll from Weddingbee, I think this may prove to be true.
Most recently, however, I've noticed that Coach has shifted their brand in effort to win back their younger audience. Just take a look at this snapshot of their website below:
Note the skateboard, green energy drink, yoga mat, coffee cup, etc. Not only are their bags significantly simpler in design, but they're projecting a message of modern diversity. Who knows, maybe they will bounce back and retake the throne as the #1 modern luxury brand for women.
The point is, we live in a very brand-aware society and the impression that is placed on your brand will stay with people for a while. In the case of Michael Kors vs. Coach, which ever you choose I bet it's because you associate one or the other with quality and refinement.
IT'S MORE THAN WHAT YOU SEE
Design is subjective and will always be perceived differently. Subjective is a fancy term that evokes emotion, personal opinion, and jogs individual thought.
If you're a visual person like me, you might find it hard to believe that there is more to branding than just the design portion, especially if that's what initially attracts you. The fact is, a lot of what seems attractive to us should also appeal to our senses and create an experience. Even if we're not aware of it.
An example of a successfully branded business marketed to women is J. Crew. Under the direction of CEO, Jenna Lyons, and Tom Mora (the head of women's design), they have recently transformed this brand to appeal to a younger audience. When you walk into one of their stores, you instantly get the feeling that they're offering refined, timeless, and feminine pieces. They're known for selling quality clothing and long-time customers expect a great fit, an innovative selection of designs, and durability. It helps that they heavily focus on all of these things while consciously maintaining their integrity and style. (Source.)
How does the subjective experience come into play here? I'll show you. I recently came across this wonderfully entertaining blog post from Tess Yocom, a writer for Bustle's Fashion and Beauty column. Throughout this article she makes remarks about the emotional experiences she has associated with the J. Crew brand. For example, here's her description of the store: "walking in a J. Crew store is basically like stepping foot on your rich relative's yacht. Everything is so perfect and color coordinated and lovely. It's heaven." To read more, here's the source.
If one person can feel this way about the J. Crew brand, it's safe to say that their customer experience is pretty successful.
IT'S A part of a strategy
When you first start a business, you'll probably create a business name, develop a business plan, and decide on a business model that's suitable for your size. In the midst of all of this, it's easy to forget that you should also establish a brand strategy.
A brand strategy is a game plan for your business's message and the goal is to figure out how this will be communicated and effectively delivered to your targeted audience. In a nutshell, it's the what, where, how, when, and to whom.
For example, if this were a football team making a play, here's a breakdown of what they'd do:
Make a touchdown and win the game.
On the football field in the Red Zone.
Try to trick the opposing team with a fake field goal.
Point the ball at the goal posts, then quickly throw the ball to an offensive tackle.
When it counts.
How does a branding campaign contribute to this strategy? The answer is simple. A branding campaign is another contributing factor to the subjective experience. It serves as a visual for the what, where, how, when, and to whom. Consider your name, logo, color scheme, slogan, message, and branding experience (i.e. sounds, smells, feelings, associations, adjectives, etc.) In a nutshell, your brand should strategically address all of these things and leave your audience wanting more.
It leads to Customer Loyalty
If you take a look at the soft drink industry, you're probably familiar with the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi consumer divide. I know first hand how powerful this is because my mother has always been an avid Coca-Cola supporter while my aunt prefers the taste of Pepsi. Throughout my life this has been a repeated argument between my two family members even though neither of them have had a soft drink in years. So why do they feel so strongly about these two brands? It's the power of customer loyalty at work ladies and gents.
In a nutshell, a strong brand is the result of a successful message. Focus on your long-term branding goals and make it your mission to be an authority for your industry or niche. The more you practice this, the more depth it will create for your brand and you'll find that people will be willing to take the time to listen to what you have to say.
When you first start out and want to attract your ideal audience, it's also important to keep your message and image crystal clear and consistent. For example, your visuals should use the same logo, colors, fonts, illustrations, etc. If you change it up every five years, it might hinder customer recognition and diminish your identity.
If you do both of these things well, over time you'll establish trust. Your audience will not only like you, but they'll form bonds with your brand and that only leads to growth and a loyal following.
Do you have anything else to add? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject matter.