Branding is one of those difficult-to-define words like “justice” or “equality.” It means something different to just about everyone, so much so that some people begin to wonder if it means anything at all. Well, it does mean something, and it’s actually pretty important.
Branding is the reason you see the word Nike and immediately think “quality athletic products.” And branding is the reason people will spend more for Coke or Bayer Aspirin than they will for the non-brand alternatives. Branding is the way you show customers your product is valuable and distinctive.
At its core, branding is a promise you make to your customers that your product is special and different from other products like it. That promise involves an assertion of who you are and what people can expect from you.
In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was branded as an agent of change, and John McCain was branded as the maverick. Obama was elected and, after six years in office, his approval rating is teetering around the 40 percent mark. Some would say this is because not much has changed in Washington, like they expected it would change. In other words, the 40 percent approval rating could be because constituents don’t feel Obama has delivered on his brand.
Branding is grounded in symbolic language and instantly recognizable iconography—a logo. Your logo is the very foundation of your brand. You don’t have to hear the word Nike to recognize Nike—you just have to see that pervasive, cursive slash mark, for example. Upon that foundation iconographic language, your brand is built and extended through web materials, packaging concepts and marketing strategy.
Every time you pay your monthly home mortgage, you add equity—value—to your most important asset. Every time you successfully market your brand, you add equity to it. How much your product is worth is subjective, a function of what people believe about it. This is the essence of brand strategy, which is communicated through advertising, distribution, packaging, your website, social media and more. To be effective, brand strategy must be unwavering and consistent.
Just Love That Gecko!
Who would have guessed a dozen years ago that the way to sell insurance was by making it funny? Isn’t insurance supposed to be serious business? Well, it was, until Geico showed up with that genius branding strategy. Suddenly, everyone else is doing the same thing, and for a very good reason. Branding isn’t about logic—it’s about emotion.
People might justify their buying decisions with logic, but they make their buying decisions based on emotion. You might tell people you bought a certain car brand because of great gas mileage, but the truth is, you probably bought it because you were buying into carefully branded messaging, like financial success, to make your neighbors envious of your living the good life.
How To Define And Build Your Brand
Here are some quick tips to get your branding strategy started:
- Define it. Start with an objective assessment of your product’s benefits and features. Then, do some research to find out what your customers currently think about it. Finally, write down what you want them to think about it. Now you have your set goal.
- Create a logo and a tagline. You want a cool graphic that’s related to your product, that’s also memorable and instantly recognizable. You’ll probably want to get some help from professionals who do this for a living. You also need a tagline that connects effortlessly with your logo. Again, Nike has a great logo, but also a great, well-connected tagline: Just do it.
- Create your messages. What are the three or four messages you want consistently to deliver? Keep them concise and clear, and include them in every communication.
- Make it pervasive. Your logo needs to appear everywhere, and your messaging needs to be included through every marketing channel.
- Define a voice. Your narrative voice is simply the way you communicate. It can be formal, funny, conservative or edgy. Above all, it must be consistent.
- Deliver on your promises. It’s a simple rule: don’t make promises you can’t keep, because your customers will hold you to those promises. If you’re an agent of change, you better make some changes.
Branding might seem like something that’s just for the big guys, but the fact is that every business, including every small business, needs to know what it stands for and communicate that branding message clearly and consistently to its customers. If you do, you’ll reap the financial rewards of a successful brand for years to come.