What is a brand? There’s a ton of confusion as to what branding is? I like to simplify.
A brand is the personality of a company. It’s the first thing consumers think of, or feel, when they see a company’s logo or product or hear their name. In fact, you can use the word “personality” as a direct substitute for “brand” to instantly clarify its meaning.
So let’s unpack everything you need to know about branding.
A quick Google search gives the following diverse range of answers for the term brand:
- “It is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers.”
- “A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.”
- “The name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
- “It is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image.”
- Advertising guru, David Ogilvy, defined the term brand as the “intangible sum of a products attributes.”
If you think of your company or brand as a person. What attributes make up its personality?
- What’s its name?
- What does it wear? (i.e., this is the brand’s visual identity, so the design. What images do you use, what are your brand colours)
- How does it communicate? (i.e., brand positioning—the benefits you want your target market to think of when they think of your brand)
- What are its core values and what does it stand for? (i.e., brand promise, value proposition)
- With whom does it associate? (i.e., target market)
- Is it well-known? (i.e., brand awareness—the extent to which consumers are familiar with the qualities or image of a particular brand of goods or services.)
Brand personality varies dramatically between businesses. For example Toyota’s target audience isn’t the same as Rolls Royce which is a luxury brand. So your brand experience is very different.
To help you get started, please use our How To Build A Brand worksheet.
Which brings me to brand awareness.
UNPACKING Brand Awareness
Brand awareness is consumers ability to recognize your brand or brand elements in different environments. For example, if your logo includes your brand name and an icon, could you remove the company name.
If consumers are able to identify an ad as representative of your brand without you having to state it, that’s good brand awareness.
Some small businesses look at the flashy advertising campaigns of well-known brands like Apple and Coca-Cola, and get caught up thinking they also need to spend time, money, and effort building brand awareness.
That’s putting the cart before the horse.
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How To Build A Brand
What came first, the sales or the brand awareness?
The sales, of course.
It’s true that as a company gets bigger, brand awareness feeds sales. However, don’t look at what they do now as big companies. Look at what these businesses did to get big in the first place.
When they were small, they certainly didn’t put huge amounts of money into their marketing with flashy ads on social media and brand-awareness campaigns. They hustled, they closed deals and they sold their products. If Apple, Dove, and Nike didn’t concentrate on sales to begin with, they wouldn’t exist today and, certainly, there would be no awareness of them.
So that’s why I tell small business owners, “The best form of brand building is selling.”
What better way for someone to understand your brand personality than by buying from you.
Branding is something you do after someone has bought from you rather than something you do to induce them to buy from you.
Trying to emulate the advertising practices of large businesses is a major mistake. (And I’ll go into this more, shortly)
If you’re in the startup phase, you’ll want to focus on direct response to build sales momentum, but I digress.
The Difference Between A Brand And Brand Name
There’s a lot of jargon around branding and it can seem more complicated than it actually is. And, you know, it’s even trickier because the definition of “a brand” has changed over time.
So let’s take a moment to head back to the slaughterhouses in the early 1900s to trace its roots. I know. Not pleasant. I’ll be quick.
Back then, cattle ranchers in the US started “branding” their animals with hot or branding irons so it would be easier to recognize the ranch each animal was from. And just like that, the word “brand” was born.
But over 100 years later, the meaning has changed, and now the mark burned onto the hide of a cow would fall into the “brand name” category. Why?
Because you can actually see it and identify it as a product deriving from a specific company, whether it’s on a website, packaging, information in a newsletter or blog, a cow, etc.
And now, “brand” is used to refer to the perception customers have about a product or service; it only exists in someone’s mind. So yeah, a brand’s name plays a part in this, but there’s a lot more.
You can also use PR to build your brand name. See for yourself.
Remember my definition of a brand? I see it as the personality of a business. It’s the first thing you think of, or how you feel, when you see a logo or hear its name.
- Tiffany’s packaging—the little, robin-egg blue box (romance? special moments? wealth?)
- YouTube (entertainment? entrepreneurship? stardom?)
- Nike (speed? fashion? controversy?)
- Coca-cola (nostalgia? celebration? pleasure?)
So brand and brand names are totally different. Now let’s move on.
What is Brand Equity?
I once heard it described as customers crossing the road to buy from you even though there’s a supplier of an equivalent product on their side of the road.
Brand equity can manifest itself in the form of
- customer loyalty,
- repeat business, or
- even a price premium you can charge for your product or service.
For me, nothing illustrates this better than seeing droves of people lining up for the latest Apple gadget or limited edition Nike shoes while their competitors with plentiful stock and no lines get much lower demand.
This kind of equity is born out of amazing previous customer experiences, which turn customers into raving fans. This is something that simply can’t be bought with hype-filled awareness campaigns.
The advice I’d give to any small-to-medium business wanting to work on branding is, focus on sales and create raving-fan customers after the sale.
Brand Identity vs. Brand Image
So in a nutshell:
- Brand identity (you can control this): It’s the voice you give your product or service.
- Brand image (you can’t control this): It’s what your customers hear.
Simple, right? But just concentrate on selling and creating raving-fan customers.
What Is Brand Strategy?
And you know what I’m going to say in the end. It all boils down to making sales and creating raving-fan customers for small- to medium-sized businesses, so you don’t have to sweat it.
But it’s always good to be able to identify what not to sweat.
Ok, so large-company marketing is also sometimes known as mass marketing. It’s used by major brands such as Coca-Cola, Google, and Apple who have massive advertising budget and a strategy about how to use that money.
The goal of this type of advertising is to remind customers and prospects about your brand as well as the products and services you offer.
The idea is that the more times you run ads from your brand, the more likely people are to have it at the top of their consciousness when they go to make a purchasing decision.
It’s an effective brand strategy; however, it’s very expensive to successfully pull off and takes a lot of time. You have to saturate various types of advertising media—TV, print, radio, and internet—on a very regular basis and over an extended period of time.
However, a major problem arises when small businesses try to imitate Coca-Cola, Samsung or Apple. The few times they run their ads is like a drop in the ocean.
It’s nowhere near enough to reach the consciousness of their target audience, which is bombarded with thousands of brand messages each day. They get drowned out and see little or no return for their investment.
Following the path of other successful businesses is smart, but it’s vital that you understand the full strategy you’re investing in and that you’re able to execute it.
Brand strategy from an outside observer’s perspective can be very different from the reality. If you’re following a strategy that has different priorities than yours, or has a vastly different budget, then it’s highly unlikely it’ll generate the results you need.
Why Is Branding Important?
Now, diving in a bit deeper, I want to address a couple other topics—assets and value propositions—and how they relate to building your brand:
How do tangible and intangible assets differ
What kind of asset is a company’s brand? So assets are basically everything a company owns, and they fall into two categories:
- Tangible assets: are physical and include cash, inventory, purchased items like equipment, buildings, and investments.
- Intangible assets: non-physical including accounts receivable, patents, intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, your company’s name.
To break it down, intangible assets are seen as having more long-term value than tangible assets because tangible assets are expendable. For example, the brand name Apple Inc. is of greater long-term value than thousands of warehouses full of the latest iPhone.
So yes, building your brand name will be a valuable intangible asset to your company.
What are the elements of an effective value proposition
Will it help build brand loyalty? So simply put, a value proposition is a statement about the value a business offers its customers through its products or services. You can usually find this in the “About Us” page or a mission statement.
You create a value proposition when you answer the following:
- What are your company’s core values and what does it stand for? (i.e., brand promise, value proposition)
And to flesh it out more, you could read for hours about creating an effective value proposition for your company, but I’ll sum up the key elements:
- understand your target market (what brings them both joy and pain)
- connect with them (by being real)
- add massive value to their lives (this will create raving-fan customers and brand loyalty)
Why Invest In Branding?
Unless you’re Nike, Google, Microsoft or another big-name company with a massive advertising budget, don’t invest in branding. Your customer base don’t care about this.
For small- to medium-sized businesses, the best form of brand building is selling.
Because like I mentioned earlier, it’s something you do after someone has bought from you. Rather than something you do to persuade them to buy from you.
In the same way you can get a sense of someone’s personality after you’ve dealt with them, the same thing goes for your company and it’s brand.
As a small business owner your focus should be around creating raving-fan customers. If you do this correctly, your brand will build itself.
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