These days, the term ‘branding’ is one of the common terms in the business world, and we hear a lot about it. For example:
“Branding strategies of that company are either exceptional or terrible,” “Properly adhering to branding principles is a specialized task,” “A brand that lacks proper branding will be eliminated from competition,” and so on.
Many companies and individuals are actively involved in this field, and numerous articles have been written about branding. Some individuals work as experts in brand recognition, brand design, and branding. However, at a non-specialist level, most people perceive branding or ‘branding’ as simply creating a logo, selecting a slogan, and repeating it on billboards, online advertisements, email marketing, and Instagram posts. Do you share a similar perspective?
The mentioned aspects are indeed part of branding, but branding is much broader than these expressions suggest! It involves specific stages and encompasses various key concepts; if we were to summarize, its intricacies are abundant. In this article, we aim to provide you with all the necessary information to understand what branding is and go beyond it.
Although in Iran, the concept of branding has become more prominent with the expansion of the internet and other digital marketing, management, and business concepts, the essence of branding is not a new concept! The word ‘branding’ is derived from the Scandinavian word ‘Brandr,’ which means ‘to burn.’
In ancient times, as evidence dating back 4,000 years ago from the Indus Valley Civilization suggests, every livestock owner would mark their animals with a specific burnt mark, much like a seal, on a part of the animal’s body to distinguish it. However, branding has evolved over the centuries: after farmers, industrialists employed a similar method to mark their products by branding them, which continued until the Industrial Revolution when factories used this method with some modifications. Today, it’s the turn of small, home-based, and large businesses to use a similar approach to establish their position in the minds of customers and the market.
What is the definition of branding for a business or branding?
Branding today is not just about ownership in the sense of physical ownership of goods or services; it encompasses a set of brand values that represent a company, business, factory, or startup. It also includes the perceptions and feelings of the brand’s audience. Branding involves efforts to promote and align the brand in various aspects and in all interactions between the brand and its audience. Ultimately, it’s about telling a consistent story across all these interactions, which is referred to as branding. It’s a story that people must emotionally connect with more than anything else, to the extent that they are willing to pay for it.
Before we proceed further, it’s essential to understand the difference between a brand and branding:
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as follows:
“A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that distinguishes one seller’s product or service from those of others.”
Branding principles fall under the umbrella of marketing and are a crucial requirement in the business world. Your company is undoubtedly not the only one producing pasta or ketchup, not the sole car manufacturer in the country, and you have domestic and international competitors. Even in terms of quality, two competitors in the same market segment may be quite similar. So, what sets, for example, Mercedes-Benz apart from BMW?
Answer: Better Branding!
In reality, one of the companies has done a more professional job of commercializing an identical product, and more customers feel inclined towards its products (essentially Brand A or B). So, while products or services can be copied, a brand is unique because it has a distinct identity and personality. The definition of branding, according to Kotler & Keller (2015), is seen as: ‘Endowing products and services with the power of a brand.’ Therefore, branding is a time-consuming and costly process of creating, maintaining, and promoting brand meaning in people’s minds. Additionally, branding is done with the aim of catering to the needs of several categories of audiences:
The first group is naturally consumers who will have a shortcut to deciding whether to use your product/services.
The second group includes employees, shareholders, suppliers, distributors, and third parties. Branding can be a motivating or inhibiting factor for an employee/investor (and other mentioned individuals) when it comes to collaborating with that brand. For example, nowadays, employees and investors place importance on the social or environmental responsibility of brands, and branding principles for a green business should reflect this.
Note: In addition to commercial and corporate branding, other types of branding include:
Content Branding: This aims to elevate the brand’s position and identity by producing and disseminating engaging content for the audience.
Digital Branding: Utilizing the internet, strategizing, and employing digital tools, it seeks to harmonize and target brand-audience relationships.
Personal Branding: Employing specific techniques and strategies, it creates a professional and trustworthy image of individuals, especially in the online space.
Country Branding: Countries strive to enhance their international reputation by employing common marketing concepts and techniques.
Employer Branding: It’s a strategy to position an organization/company as a ‘preferred employer’ for current and future employees, fostering a specific perspective about the company, its values, and working for it.
The Importance of Branding for Businesses or the Benefits of Strong Branding
Considering that the brand is the essence of your business and people connect with it just like a living being, you should be aware of the long-term effects of branding. For instance, think of Gillette and Coca-Cola; brands that several generations of people in different countries have lived with and have used them in various everyday situations to meet their needs.
Gillette isn’t the only razor or Coca-Cola isn’t the only soft drink in the world, but they have carved a place in the hearts of consumers among dozens of similar products and created a legion of loyal customers. Now, you somewhat understand what branding is. There are four advantages of branding as follows:
Creating Awareness Among Customers
This is the most critical advantage of branding. Your customers identify your brand through the logo, slogan, and consumption experience they have had with your services or products (both before and after purchase). Moreover, when your brand becomes established in the minds of customers, new customers are likely to follow the recommendations of previous buyers and become your patrons.
Therefore, investing in branding principles is not only not extravagant but also necessary. Of course, you must manage your expenses wisely.
Value Creation for Business
Through branding, you showcase a professional image of your company and solidify your position in the market. This, in turn, makes investors more inclined to collaborate with you. Professional branding demonstrates your expertise in your market and instills a sense of trust.
In addition to current and future customers, many employees consider the reputation of a brand when applying for a job. When someone works for a reputable brand, they are more likely to perform their duties excellently and contribute value to the company. They see themselves as part of the company and generally have a better work experience.
Moreover, due to the alignment of the company’s values and goals with what matters to the individual in their personal life, they are motivated to help others have an excellent experience with the company’s products and services.
Branding as a Facilitator of Advertising and Promotion
Advertising is considered one subset of branding, with the goal of portraying the brand. Conversely, when you have a powerful branding strategy in place, advertising becomes more effective, leading to the highest return on initial investment.
The Principles of Branding or Building a Brand
Branding is a complex and time-consuming endeavor, one that you must continue throughout the lifespan of your business. Major global brands react to societal events and the concerns of the communities where their consumers reside. For example, during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, we witnessed some companies exiting Russia and ceasing business operations there. However, this example is specific to businesses that have been in operation for several decades at least.
If you’re wondering how to brand, consider these steps in your branding journey:
Understanding Your Audience
As the first step in establishing a fundamental branding strategy or even rebranding, it’s essential to start with research on your target audience. You not only need to identify the industry you operate in but also understand your target audience, or more precisely, define your niche market. Because not everyone or the majority of people will be your final customers! Moreover, your financial resources and energy are not limitless for marketing to a wide spectrum of audiences.
To do this, there are various methods available (such as questionnaires and in-depth interviews with the audience), which can become more specialized and complex depending on your business. You should seek answers to questions like:
– Who are my target audiences? What are their ages, genders, educational backgrounds, and approximate income levels?
– What hidden or obvious needs and preferences do my target audiences have that I can fulfill?
Another benefit of audience profiling is that all the sub-teams within your business, such as marketing, public relations, sales support, and design, gain a coordinated understanding of potential customers, and they work together like gears in a well-oiled machine.
After identifying the initial personas of your audience, you can pinpoint your buyer personas more accurately in the following stages, making your marketing efforts increasingly targeted.
Understanding Your Competitors
You’re implementing these branding principles to differentiate your business from others and enrich your niche market in a way that competitors can’t outdo you. So, you understand that copying others won’t benefit you, but blindly forging ahead without understanding your competitors, their strategies, and marketing tactics isn’t a wise move either. Therefore, ask yourself questions like:
– What has made customers loyal to this brand?
– What steps has this brand taken to establish a distinct brand identity?
– What weaknesses does this brand have in its branding strategy?
As a result of this research, you should identify needs and preferences among your potential and common target audience that competitors haven’t been able to meet satisfactorily. Then, see what actions you can take that your competitors aren’t doing. How can you learn from their strengths and present those strategies even better?
Defining Brand Values, Goals, and Attributes
On the branding journey, you need to determine which fundamental values your brand represents. What promises will you make to your audience, and how will you fulfill them? What are its characteristics? Ultimately, this is one of the most crucial components that make up a brand, the very heart that your audience connects with and identifies your brand by.
The brand’s purpose is essentially the reason for its existence. Reflect on the moment the spark to establish your business struck you, and see what change you intended to create in the market that you deemed necessary for launching your business. Typically, this purpose and reason for existence becomes the brand’s slogan.
Brand promises are the actions you commit to performing to achieve your purpose. In contrast to the brand’s purpose, which is an internal exploration process, brand promises are what the brand pledges to do for its audience. For instance, imagine a bank whose purpose is to provide a better life for people in the lower strata of society. The brand promise could include various types of loans to help individuals buy homes or start businesses.
Regarding brand values, you can also use a template like this to communicate your message to the audience:
We provide [specific service/product] for [target market] to create [specific value]. If your company sells bottled mineral water, you can use the same template to express the value proposition of your brand like this:
“We sell bottled mineral water to hikers to keep them hydrated while helping them minimize their environmental impact. For every bottle of [Brand Name] water we sell, we plant a tree on your behalf.”
In this sentence, your value proposition is what you’ve based your competitive edge on in the market. So, find this value, work on it, and incorporate it into your brand’s message.
If your brand were a real person and you had to describe them, what words would you use to characterize your brand? What did your brand look like, and what behavioral traits attracted customers to it? If you select the right brand attributes, then when you talk about it on social media or in written materials, you know what tone and language to use. Remember, branding on Instagram and branding on LinkedIn are both crucial, and you should be aware of branding principles and techniques on these platforms.
If you’re unsure how to define brand attributes on your branding journey, the simplest way is to choose three to five traits that best describe your brand type to your audience. So, ask yourself this question:
“What metaphors or concepts can be used to describe the brand?” This way, you can consider your brand’s identity as a metaphor or imbue it with a human personality that helps you visualize the qualitative characteristics you want your brand to have.
The metaphor or persona we’re talking about can be inspired by a vehicle, an animal, a prominent figure, a sports team, or anything around you. It just needs to have a special place in your mind so that every time you think about it, it conveys the same mood to your audience that you have in mind.
Creating Visual Brand Assets
If you’ve noticed, you’ll see that large companies are recognizable worldwide with just a color or an icon because their brand identity goes beyond choosing a catchy name or a creative logo. They have succeeded in creating a brand-centric world that is comprehensible and relatable to people.
When it comes to visual brand identity, the logo is just one part of it. You need to think of an ecosystem of elements that harmonize with all your visual communications with your audience. In a categorization, you can identify three different elements of visual identity:
- Brand colors, icons, symbols, and imagery.
The function of colors in representing your identity goes beyond just looking attractive. The chosen colors should align with your corporate communications and help you achieve your communication goals. You’ve probably heard about the psychology of colors and how each color conveys a set of ideas and evokes specific emotions in people. So, when you want to pick the color or colors for your brand, you need to consider the characteristics of your brand and see which colors can best convey those characteristics.
Keep in mind that the story doesn’t end with choosing colors; these colors should always be present in your visual brand elements. For example, when you open Instagram and visit the McDonald’s page, you’ll see that their colors are consistent. Color, in itself, is a way to reinforce the identity of this fast-food brand, and McDonald’s strives to establish its presence in the minds of its audience through these colors.
Icons, Symbols, and Imagery
Among the elements that support brand identity, the logo is the most recognized symbol of a brand. The way you create a logo and reach its design is more critical than the symbols or specific icons used in its design. When working with illustrators and graphic designers, you need to ensure that the identity created for your brand is a backbone that supports your overall business identity and aligns with it.
For example, you may focus more on geometric shapes like circles or squares in your company, or consider symbols that your audience is more familiar with. The important thing is that when creating these graphic elements, you have a unified and coordinated visual identity in mind that strategically presents your brand in all customer interactions.
One of the questions that comes to mind when using letters in visual elements is whether to use lowercase or uppercase letters. If you have some knowledge of graphic design, you know that when determining brand typography guidelines, these questions arise. Just like the choice of brand colors, the details of typography are meaningful for conveying the brand message.
Usually, brands have a set of primary fonts and a set of secondary fonts, where the primary fonts are used for the logo. If you see the name “Coca-Cola” in English, you can quickly recognize it due to the unique primary fonts they use. Secondary fonts are the ones brands use for social media posts and marketing campaigns.
Slogans play a crucial role in brand identity. They are memorable phrases that can instantly evoke a brand in people’s minds. For example, some famous slogans include:
– “I’m lovin it” by McDonald’s
– “Think different” by Apple
– “Everyone uses it” (Microsoft)
– “Just do it” by Nike
Slogans are often designed because a logo alone may not be enough to connect with the audience. In many cases, both the logo and the slogan are used in advertising campaigns.
Some slogans have been used by companies for decades, while others have been updated to refresh their brand identity in the market.
Finding the Brand Voice
The brand voice is another fundamental aspect of creating brand identity. To find it, you need to revisit the characteristics of your brand and understand your buyer persona. Consider how you can convey your brand’s attributes to your buyers so that they are willing to listen to you despite their preferences and tastes.
For instance, if one of your brand’s characteristics is educational, the corresponding brand voice should be instructive and guiding.
Furthermore, it’s important to distinguish between the brand voice and tone. The brand voice remains consistent because it’s tied to your brand’s attributes. In contrast, the tone can change as it needs to adapt to different audience types and communication channels.
While solidifying your brand identity, ensure that any changes happening in various dimensions of your brand have a meaningful impact. Whether it’s your Instagram feed, website, or a physical store, the identity should be clearly defined and effectively communicated to your audience. Also, if you have a physical presence like exhibitions or retail spaces, the decor and layout should align seamlessly with your brand.
Marketing for a Brand
In this category of activities, brand management and stakeholders play a crucial role. After identifying the core elements of your brand and shaping its initial structure, the next step is to ensure the alignment of these elements with each other and maintain their performance quality. It’s worth noting that this is one of the most significant challenges that brands, whether large or small, face.
From a marketing and brand management perspective, numerous variables, individuals, and entities are involved, and they all hold importance. Therefore, to nurture the processes of management and marketing, several actions need to be taken.
First and foremost, make use of mapping. This entails gathering and categorizing data related to your audience and presenting it using tools such as Google Spreadsheets. Through this method, you can formulate strategies to achieve the goals you’ve set for your audience.
Consider that, just as your ultimate customers and consumers are important, paying attention to specific quality standards in the hiring of employees is equally crucial to maintain a positive company image. For example, if due to improper hiring or erroneous internal procedures, a negative perception of your company as a workplace arises, you cannot rectify this misconception among job seekers using the same strategies you employ for customers. Remember that one segment of your audience consists of stakeholders like employees.
With an understanding of all these elements, you now have a comprehensive grasp of what branding is and possess the complete toolkit for successful brand development within your company. You can now take steps towards transforming your brand. Additionally, for further insights into effective branding, consider reading HubSpot’s free booklet on the subject.
Furthermore, one of the best books ever published on the topic of brand storytelling is “The Fortune Cookie Principle” by Bernadette Jiwa. In this book, you’ll discover excellent tips for crafting flawless brand narratives and explore various real-world examples from businesses.
Note: Brand storytelling is a process that has emerged as marketing content increasingly aligns with storytelling. Considering that the human brain is wired to respond to meaningful narratives, neuroscience also confirms that storytelling is the most effective method for capturing the attention of customers. For more information and to learn how to craft brand stories with examples, click on the HubSpot blog link.
Other Branding Concepts
Creating a brand is just the beginning! After understanding what branding is, you should also pay attention to these aspects:
The moment you hear the word “apple,” the image of Apple’s iconic bitten apple logo probably comes to mind, doesn’t it? Likewise, upon hearing the phrase “Nobody is alone,” we recall the First Choice brand. In each of these cases, a visual design and a tagline are enough to remember these brands without seeing their company names. By simply recognizing a brand’s assets, you’ve achieved brand recognition.
Before anyone makes a purchase from you, they need to know that you exist! Brand awareness refers to familiarizing your potential target audience with your products, services, and brand identity. If you can expand this awareness to the point where your name sticks in the minds of your audience, then they will consider your brand.
Brand value is the worth that a brand holds beyond the products or services it offers.
You should understand that branding is not the end; it’s just the beginning. Afterward, you need to manage and maintain your brand to align with the ever-changing market demands and the evolving needs of customers. Elements like packaging, visual assets, and brand slogans may need to be adjusted to keep your brand identity fresh and up-to-date.
Managing all communication channels between the brand and its customers can be a complex endeavor. These channels can be both offline and online (digital), which has given rise to a field known as digital marketing.
Brand equity is the impact a brand has on a customer’s decision to buy from it. It encompasses the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, shaping how valuable or devalued its products or services appear.
Brand experience refers to the responses and emotions that arise within a customer when interacting with a brand.
Brand trust relates to the loyalty of customers and their belief in the brand. Is your brand perceived by customers as providing a reliable and valuable experience? Do they trust that your company acts fairly and lives up to its promises? Ultimately, if people purchase from you, will they do so with satisfaction and happiness?
Brand positioning, or brand’s place, refers to the specific position that brand holds in the market or in the customer’s mind.
Common Misconceptions about Branding
Having a brand doesn’t automatically guarantee premium pricing. It’s crucial to understand which segments of the population your brand targets. Do you consider your brand as luxury, average, or ordinary? This relates closely to aligning with brand values and correctly identifying your target market. Simply having a brand doesn’t justify high pricing.
There’s a difference between being a brand and having positive reputation and popularity. Just like some actors who are famous but not well-liked, your brand can’t gain followers simply by having a widely recognized name. You need to focus on quality and building relationships with customers.
A brand is not just a logo, emblem, or other visual elements. While these can be visual components of a brand, designing a logo alone is not equivalent to having a brand. You must create value and establish a personality for your business.
A brand and a trademark are not the same. Both can be legally registered, but a trademark is a legal and soulless entity, while a brand encompasses a wealth of concepts, experiences, emotions, and memories. In essence, a brand can be seen as the soul of a business.
Your brand is a subset of your business or company. It should be designed to align with the larger values of your business or organization.
Types of Branding Models
To effectively align all the components of branding and ensure nothing is overlooked, it’s beneficial to utilize branding models. These models have been developed by marketers over the years to help clarify what branding is and focus on essential tasks for business success. After thorough examination, you should select a model that aligns best with your business.
- Umbrella Brand Strategy:
The term “umbrella branding” is used to describe multiple brands that belong to a specific group of a business. This strategy is typically more suitable for larger companies or those with multiple mergers and acquisitions.
A company or business might have several strategies for umbrella branding for its sub-brands and subsidiaries. The main advantage of umbrella branding is that it simplifies product categorization in the market. If a conglomerate company, for example, utilizes this strategy, it streamlines the process of adding new products to the catalog.
However, before deciding on this branding strategy, you should start by establishing a robust hierarchical structure to determine whether it’s worth the investment for expansion. For example, consider the Nestlé food group. Under its umbrella (the French Nestlé company), there are multiple sub-brands.
In addition to well-defined sub-brands with distinct products (such as Nespresso or Häagen-Dazs), you might also find multiple umbrella brands like Maggi or Felix (pet food) under this conglomerate.
Nestlé doesn’t advertise its pet food sub-brands alongside its consumer food sub-brands; it means they don’t use similar advertising messages to sell all four brands. However, the two pet food sub-brands are still part of the Nestlé company.
So, developing an umbrella brand model isn’t an easy task. Before undertaking it, you must ensure that:
– Your brand always remains loyal to its nature.
– The brand is entirely distinguishable.
– The chosen brand carries positive aspects of the parent brand to any new product added to the catalog.
– In other words, your goal is to make many brands identifiable under one title.
The Brand Key Model
Introducing a diverse range of services/products under a single, unified brand can be challenging. However, by using the Brand Key model, you can analyze all facets of your company to see which areas need more attention and devise a more targeted strategy.
Some of the main advantages of this model include:
- Understanding how each brand adds value to your business.
- Knowing your current brand positioning in the market.
- Choosing digital channels to enhance and upgrade your brand’s interactions with customers.
- Understanding what actions you need to take to meet the potential needs of your customers.
The Brand Key model is implemented across 9 distinct levels. First, you need to define the essence of your brand, the benefits it offers to your customers, the values it represents, the reasons people should believe in your brand’s promises, and the unique selling proposition your brand offers.
In other words, this model helps you to, above all else, understand your brand.
Next, in the following step, it leads you to take a deep look at your competitive environment and see what other alternatives customers, aside from you, can find in the market. Who is your target buyer? What do you know about this group of buyers? What values and advantages have you established your brand on?
The Brand Key is a tool to dissect your company, your customers, and your competitors. In fact, it’s only through gaining deep insights into all these categories that you can find the right brand positioning.
The 12 Archetypes Model
Carl Gustav Jung, the eminent Swiss psychoanalyst and psychologist, is the creator of the 12 Archetypes model, which can be employed to elucidate universal behavior patterns. It is said that by studying these archetypes, one can gain self-awareness and recognize which behavioral category they fall into.
The list of archetypes includes:
- The Creator: Primarily focused on innovation and creation.
- The Ruler: Sets clear goals and determines the path to follow.
- The Caregiver: Cares for others more than oneself.
- The Everyman: Possesses modest and unassuming personality traits.
- The Fool: Knows how to entertain oneself.
- The Lover: Enthusiastic and displays authentic romantic behavior.
- The Hero: Strives for power and honor.
- The Magician: Forward-thinking and idealistic.
- The Outlaw: Acts contrary to norms and social conventions.
- The Explorer: Always open to new experiences.
- The Sage: Curious and intelligent.
- The Innocent: Sees goodness in everything.
However, these archetypes go far beyond describing human psychology. In fact, today they are used to explain branding, our relationships with certain brands, and the reasons for avoiding others. Hidden archetypes in a brand’s identity are among the factors that make us feel closer to one brand over another.
Simply reading a brief description of each archetype can help establish a connection with a brand. For example:
Brands like Adidas and Nike fall into the Hero category. Both of them speak of courage and determination and take pride in the skills acquired through hard work.
National Geographic and The North Face are Explorer archetypes. They always have their eyes set beyond their comfort zone and share a message of bravery and adventure.
As for Creator archetypes, Apple and YouTube are examples. They are always on the quest to create new things and share them with others, aiming to inspire others to speak about themselves.
Ruler archetypes include Chanel and Mercedes-Benz. These brands emphasize superiority and control and believe in achieving success in every aspect of life.
Defining a brand’s position and personality traits naturally aligns you with your target audience. Consequently, you can shape the communicative tone and attitude of your brand and establish lasting connections with your customers.
Working with the 12 archetypes is not limited to selecting a few characteristics. Rather, it’s about shaping the personality, thought processes, beliefs, and convictions of your brand. In this way, you give your brand a more human dimension, making it easier for people to relate to.
The Brand Pyramid Model
This model is particularly useful for startups that are about to enter the market. The Brand Pyramid Model helps you understand the core values and key benefits of your company.
Essentially, the Brand Pyramid Model makes the most tangible aspects of your brand evident and guides you toward the brand’s core essence. This model consists of five tiers:
- Features: What does the product do, and how does it do it?
- Functional Benefits: Why should your customers use your product, and what are the expected results?
- Emotional Benefits: What emotions do your products evoke in customers?
- Brand Personality and Core Values: Who is your ideal customer, and what are their most important values?
- Brand Essence: What are the most essential attributes of your brand that trigger emotional responses in your customers?
The primary advantage of working with this model is that it brings transparency to your brand’s essence. In other words, it helps businesses better understand their goals and objectives, consequently shedding light on the company’s brand strategy.
In this article, we discussed what branding and brand-building are all about. We emphasized that the ultimate goal of every business on Earth is to make a profit, and profit is obtained by gathering customers. Branding is one of the necessary steps to identify yourself to customers and to retain and build their loyalty. Branding has other benefits as well, such as attracting investors, engaging professionals, and attracting skilled employees to collaborate with you, ultimately creating a unique position in the minds of your audience for your services and products.
The fundamental principle of branding is to create a narrative for the customer that aligns with their values, interests, or needs. After the initial branding, your activities will become more specialized and complex, and now you need to undertake integration, maintenance, and, if necessary, rebranding. While rebranding may not be as well-known in Iran, examples of it can be found among Iranian businesses that may need consultation from a branding and marketing advisor.
As you interact with and learn from your customers over time, your brand and branding activities will mature. This maturity should be reflected in your website, application, social media, events, and all brand-related aspects.
Although you cannot have 100% control over people’s perception of your brand, you can think about all aspects of it before taking any action. To maximize the positive image of your brand, take branding seriously and make an honest effort to cultivate it!