Why True Branding Encompasses Every Aspect of Your Business
The word “brand” gets thrown around in the corporate world like cheap confetti. People yell with gusto about the importance and value of branding but fail to follow up with what it is and how to do it. Worse still, people almost immediately recoil at the sound of the word and proclaim, “It’s not my job! That one belongs to the marketing department.” All of that begs the question, what is branding anyway?
Branding Is Not Just For Cowboys
If, like me, you grew up watching old westerns with your dad, then the mental image that comes to mind when you think of branding involves livestock and a red-hot branding iron. While that idea may not be completely fictitious, the correlation between branding livestock and branding in the corporate world is primarily metaphorical and historical, with both concepts rooted in the idea of identification and ownership, but they have evolved differently over time. This isn’t an article about branding livestock (phew!), so I’ll leave that analogy there.
The widely accepted definition of a brand goes something like the following:
“A brand is a product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, and concepts so it can be easily communicated and, usually, marketed to an appropriate audience.”
Branding: More Than A Few Simple Words Could Ever Convey
I don’t know about you, but to my ears, that definition suffers on two fronts: It’s unbearably stuffy and super-vague. A less stuffy and vague definition could be as follows:
“A brand is the image and perception of a product, service, or concept held by its customers, users, supporters, and detractors alike.”
This definition is a step in the right direction, but it is still just a snapshot. A brand is more than can be conveyed in a sentence or two. To understand what a brand is, you need to immerse yourself in its core principles and understand how that relates to every aspect of your business. There is no single list of principles which must be followed or adhered to. There is no step-by-step guide to what is required to create and establish a brand. And, if you got 100 people in a room and asked them all what the core principles of branding are, you would end up with 100 different answers.
Instead of reeling off a list of things I consider when putting a brand together, I have compiled a list of the common threads found in nearly all responses to the question, “What is a brand?”
Brand Identity & Differentiation
Brand Identity: Establishing a unique visual and verbal identity.
Differentiation: Setting the brand apart from competitors in a meaningful way.
Customer Engagement & Experience
Emotional Connection: Building a relationship with customers beyond the product.
Customer Experience: Ensuring every interaction with the brand is positive and consistent.
Brand Loyalty and Advocacy: Fostering customer loyalty and encouraging word-of-mouth promotion.
Consistency & Adaptability
Consistency: Maintaining a cohesive brand image and message across all platforms.
Adaptability: Evolving the brand to stay relevant in changing markets and consumer preferences.
Strategic Alignment & Evaluation
Value Proposition: Communicating the benefit and experience offered to customers.
Employee Engagement: Ensuring employees understand and embody brand values.
Measurement and Analysis: Tracking brand performance and making data-driven decisions for improvement.
As you can see, the principles listed are grouped together in four main clusters. These groups reflect the multifaceted nature of branding, covering how a brand presents itself, connects with its audience, remains consistent yet adaptable, and aligns its internal and external strategies for continuous improvement and market relevance.
Branding Is The Web That Connects All The Elements Of Your Business
It’s not enough to know what the principles are, though. You also need to understand how these elements affect every business area. Branding is not just the concern of the C-Suite; it impacts the lives of every person in every position within your organisation. Ensuring that each cluster of branding principles is fully realised requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. Here’s how a company might approach each cluster.
Branding: Brand Identity & Differentiation
Developing a Strong Brand Identity:
Market Research: Understand your target audience, their needs, and preferences.
Brand Workshops: Involve key stakeholders in defining the brand’s mission, vision, and values.
Professional Design: Invest in high-quality design for logos, color schemes, and visual elements.
Competitive Analysis: Regularly assess what competitors are doing and identify gaps.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Clearly define what sets your brand apart.
Innovation: Continuously seek ways to innovate in products, services, or customer experience.
Branding: Customer Engagement & Experience
Building Emotional Connections:
Storytelling: Use compelling narratives that resonate with your audience.
Customer-Centric Approach: Prioritize customer needs and feedback in decision-making.
Brand Community: Foster a community around your brand through social media, events, or loyalty programs.
Enhancing Customer Experience:
Training: Ensure employees are well-trained in customer service and brand values.
Feedback Loops: Implement systems to gather and act on customer feedback.
Consistent Quality: Regularly evaluate and maintain the quality of products/services.
Branding: Consistency & Adaptability
Brand Guidelines: Develop comprehensive guidelines for brand usage across all platforms.
Internal Communication: Regularly communicate brand updates and guidelines to employees.
Quality Control: Set standards for quality and ensure they are met consistently.
Market Monitoring: Stay informed about industry trends and consumer behaviour shifts.
Flexibility in Strategy: Be willing to adjust marketing and business strategies as needed.
Innovation Culture: Encourage a culture that embraces change and experimentation.
Branding: Strategic Alignment & Evaluation
Aligning Strategy with Brand Values:
Internal Workshops: Align employees with the brand’s mission and values.
Integrated Strategies: Ensure marketing, sales, HR, and other strategies are brand-aligned.
Leadership Example: Leadership should exemplify and reinforce brand values.
Evaluating Brand Performance:
Metrics and KPIs: Identify key performance indicators for brand health.
Regular Audits: Conduct brand audits to assess public perception and internal alignment.
Responsive Actions: Be ready to make strategic adjustments based on evaluation outcomes.
Implementing these steps involves a cross-departmental effort and a commitment to the brand’s long-term vision. It’s not just a marketing initiative; it requires involvement from the top levels of leadership down to every employee in the organisation.
Unpacking the Multifaceted World of Corporate Branding
The concept of “branding” is often misunderstood and narrowly associated with the marketing department, but it’s much more than that. Initially, the term “brand” conjures images of livestock branding, a metaphorical and historical parallel to corporate branding, which is rooted in identification and ownership. However, the modern corporate understanding of branding has evolved significantly from this origin. The common definition of a brand as a distinct product, service, or concept, while accurate, is considered stuffy and vague. A more nuanced view sees a brand as the collective image and perception held by customers, users, supporters, and detractors, encompassing more than just a logo or a product. Understanding a brand requires immersion in its core principles, which vary widely, as evidenced by the diverse opinions on what constitutes these principles.
The essence of branding in the corporate world can be distilled into four main clusters, each addressing a different aspect of branding. These include Brand Identity & Differentiation, Customer Engagement & Experience, Consistency & Adaptability, and Strategic Alignment & Evaluation. Brand Identity involves establishing a unique visual and verbal identity, while Differentiation focuses on setting the brand apart from competitors. Customer Engagement builds an emotional connection beyond the product, and Consistency ensures a cohesive brand image across platforms. Strategic Alignment involves communicating the brand’s value proposition and ensuring employees embody brand values. Implementing these principles is not confined to the marketing department but requires a holistic approach involving every person and department within an organisation. This comprehensive strategy spans from understanding the target audience to maintaining quality control and adapting to market changes, demonstrating that branding is a multifaceted, organization-wide endeavour.