In the language of the Ancient Norse, “brandr” meant “to burn” — a word that was ultimately adapted to “brand” in English. At that time (and as far back as 2,000 BC at least), it meant marking cattle in a distinctive way, but in the early Industrial Revolution, the word came to also encompass the process of uniquely marking and marketing a company. Today, it’s virtually impossible to read a business book or article without happening across it, and while most execs and other leaders have some idea of what’s involved, far too few have a comprehensive awareness. Now, a fuzzy idea of branding as a concept is one thing, but having an unclear idea of your brand is flatly dangerous — not least because it will diminish your recognizability and credibility in the marketplace and be detrimental to a marketing strategy.
What is branding?
According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a brand refers to “the set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding [it]… A brand is a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience”.
Strong branding creates customer beliefs and expectations. It includes your story, its value proposition and its mission. While the product name or logo is important, they are not the brand itself: they are simply helping potential customers identify you and distinguish you from competitors.
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Why it’s essential for businesses
Branding is not an afterthought, one to be put off until things are “not so busy”. First, this mythical time is unlikely to come. Second, it is the foundation of a company’s identity: You simply cannot afford to operate without being able to show your target audience who you are. And there are other (and almost equally obvious) benefits to creating a strong brand from the beginning: According to Statista, well-known and well-executed brands are more likely to generate growth funding.
Naturally, a strong brand will help you stand out from your competitors. Especially if you are operating in a crowded marketplace, this can make the difference between growth or failure. Having a well-crafted one from the moment your business starts operating will be a huge help in building loyal customers.
How the process works
Even if you have never done any formal branding exercises, your business has one already: Any and all snippets of information about it in the public domain contributes to potential customers’ or investors’ perceptions. If your company is new, chances are there is limited information available — you are a bit of a blank page — whereas if you have been operating for a while, the amount may be substantial. Experienced marketing consultants start by collecting and analyzing it all: They look at your website and social media presence, and also listen to your customers and competitors to understand what your corporate identity is. Based on that data, they will report on perceived personality, voice, and how you are being received by target audiences. In many cases, without this formal processes, honing a clearly-defined brand is impossible. And rest assured: a fuzzy one is almost as detrimental as not having any at all.
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The “brand book”
For a new business, it’s natural that graphics, fonts, and other branding elements are experimented with and periodically adapted. As a company grows, however, it becomes important to have defined reference points and a degree of formality. This is where brand books are invaluable, which ensure that everyone who works for you as an employee, contractor or supplier has the same understanding of what the company is all about. Many such books also include company history, mission and vision, and target customers. While its information (both visual and written) is formalized, it is also living document that will change as the brand matures.
How branding relates to other company departments
A well-crafted brand becomes the anchor of the entire marketing department, to be sure, but much public relations strategy and activity will also be focused on raising its awareness and promoting its credibility within target markets. Without clear branding, your PR team can only do so much. With it, messaging becomes more coherent, resonant and ultimately successful. A deep dive into the social media virtual space is an excellent way for PR to build a fan base and otherwise grow a brand community. These fans, whether they have already bought your products or not, will be increasingly instrumental to growth, in part because the credibility they generate means you can reach out to more potential followers and further accelerate growth.
Related: 5 Common Challenges Entrepreneurs Face When Creating a Brand Name
Branding is far more than just a marketing category. It is an indispensable tool for startups, new businesses, and entrepreneurs to set themselves apart. In defining values, visuals and voice clearly, they leave a lasting impression with markets, inspire loyalty and create memorable experiences.