Our branding guide will cover the subject of branding; what it is, how it works and how you can use it to help improve your business and perception of your service or product.

We are often asked to explain what exactly branding is and means. The simple answer is that branding is an effort to increase value by building and communicating differentiation…. got it? Read on, to learn in depth…

What do we mean by the term, brand?

The words brand and branding are thrown around by people who often have a lot of misconceptions. Let’s start by dispelling some myths:

  1. A Brand is not a logo
  2. A Brand is not graphic design
  3. A Brand is not a product
  4. A Brand is not a visual identity

The simplest answer is that a brand is a perception that a person (or group of people) have of a product, service, company or organization. The perception cannot be controlled, but may be actively influenced through communication, marketing and corporate identity. When many people have the same perception of a company, it can be said that the company has a brand. For example, let’s look at the Coca-Cola brand.

Coke is essentially just a soft drink, not unlike many others, the difference being if Coke were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would still survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business. Why? Without the Coke brand, the glass is half empty.

Coke is the a world’s top Global Brand for good reason. Coke’s brand value is $120 billion, just over double the market cap without the brand value. Coke’s success is guided by its 2020 Vision goals around innovation, focus, and creativity, and it achieves impressive global presence through standout ad campaigns, bold design, digital savvy, all of these promoting their simple, universally relevant theme that weaves throughout all brand communications: happiness.

What is branding?

As we now know, a brand is a perception in people’s minds. It’s a gut feeling about a service or product. Therefore, branding is an effort or program that works to develop, define, influence and encourage these perceptions, which will help the business perform better and become focused.

We can get very deep and theoretical about branding, its core principles and the process – all of which are very important aspects of building a great brand. But at another level, branding is simply being honest.

Why you need branding

Your brand is your reputation. When customers make a purchasing decision, that decision is based on one thing — does your brand speak to them in a way that encourages the desired perception of your organization? Branding can help you stand out from your competitors, add value to your offering and engage with your customers.

Brand differentiation

Branding is a way of clearly highlighting what makes you different, and more desirable than the competition. Effective branding elevates a product or organization from being just one commodity amongst many identical commodities, to become something with a unique character and promise. Take Dyson for example, they put forth the idea that they were revolutionary, provocative and aggressive. Dyson as a company managed to draw attention not only to its proposition, but also to the entire vacuum cleaner category. Before its appearance, hardly anyone would have considered the design of vacuum cleaners as something to get excited about.

Differentiation is an innate human response. Our brain acts as a filter to protect us from the vast amount of irrelevant information. Brands need to S T A N D O U T and be bold to be noticed. You don’t need to have an exciting product or service, you just need to have courage and imagination. Companies and brands are constantly battling to claim the leadership in their category. But even though every brand wants to lead, most end up doing things that are very similar to their competitors.

In their book Welcome to Your Brain, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang wrote that, ‘Most of the time, your brain favours speed, interpreting events based on rules of thumb that are easy to apply, but not always logical.’ This idea is based on concept in psychology called dual process theory. Its basic idea is that when weighing-up options individuals use both an unconscious (emotional or gut-feeling) process and a conscious (rational and structural) process . Psychologist Daniel Kahneman labels the two processes System 1 (intuition) and System 2 (reasoning).

System 1 (intuition) thinking is fast and automatic and often relies on emotional cues. Kahneman notes that intuition is based on well-established habits and so is very difficult to change or manipulate. System 2 thinking (reasoning) however, is slower and much more volatile, based on conscious judgments and attitudes. It is suggested that when people are choosing a brand, they tend to make decisions based on intuition and then rationalize those decisions afterwards. They do so because the human brain favours speed: people want to decide as quickly as possible.

This is why we believe it’s so important for all businesses to understand the intuitive rules of thumb people use to choose one brand over another.

Connecting with people

Along with differentiation is engaging with your customers. Branding is also about building a relationship between a brand and its audience, creating a strong emotional connection. A meaningful connection is what will give a brand longevity in the marketplace.

When brand’s communication come through intact—crystal clear and potent— it goes straight into people’s brains without distortion or the need to think too hard about it.

Defining your brand

If you’re thinking about how to become an extraordinary brand or if you want to assess where your brand stands at the moment, you’ll need to consider:

  • What makes you different?
  • Why do you matter?
  • What do you believe in?
  • Where will you end up?
  • What motivates you every day?
  • How do you want to come across?

If you can start to answer these questions with clarity and consistency then you have the basis for developing a strong brand.

Branding for different sectors

Start-up Business Branding

If you’re launching a new business, you’re in a unique position. You’re small, responsive and adaptable. It’s much easier to look at a market from the outside, assess the competition, opportunities or gaps in the market. This allows you to launch a brand that challenges and shakes up the conventions of the sector. It takes guts, but you can often reap huge rewards!

Service Company Branding

In essence, service brands are built on the people who deliver them. Generally companies and organizations are providing a service of some sort. For service brands, customer service is the dominant part of the offer. For this reason, it’s critical to reflect the brand in the way the service is provided and the way staff interact with customers.

Business to Business Branding

B2B Branding is about trust. If you’re looking for a professional to help you invest money you may choose a company based on what you’ve seen and heard or if the company seems like they could help you make good decisions. But in order for you to choose them (and not their competitor), you also must trust the individuals who will be advising me, not just the company.

B2B branding often include stakeholder touchpoints that have little or no visual presence in the market, but can have a huge impact on your company’s reputation. The list includes things such as CEO vision, employee training, pricing strategy, customer relationships, and sales force communications. Each of these items are an essential part of a company’s brand, but because they’re not visible, business leaders often overlook them. The principles of effective branding apply in just the same way in the B2B sector as elsewhere.

Design and branding

You can have the best graphic designer in the country working on your brand identity, logo and website, but without a solid brand behind it, it will not work. The design firm should know what the brand actually stands for (the big idea). Only from there can they develop a visual identity that is meaningful, strong, simple and works across all the company’s communications.

Article by Rob Barnett
Brand Strategist & Managing Director at Straydog