What is branding and why does it matter?
As Jeff Bezos puts it "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room". Simply put, it is how others perceive you.
The term "branding" is often misunderstood as simply referring to your logo. At its core, branding is so much more than that. It is a compilation of experiences, emotional values, visuals, and interactions that can make or break you in any market. Your brand is the soul of your organization.
Brands are built with time and not by any object or endeavor alone. It's a culmination of things that you do and interactions you have with your customers that go into building your brand. Good brands understand the importance of equilibrium and consistency. They know that over time this will earn them the authority, trust, and respect to turn once prospects into promoters of your brand. They understand that every single thing they do goes back into the outside perception of them and are mindful of every move and decision they make as an organization-from the colors they use in their logo, creative content and strategy, and even to what kinds of social action they choose to take.
Branding matters because it is your reputation in everything in everything you do. It's the very shadow that you cast on others. What does yours say about you?
Brand image is typically a broad list of things. Usually, it refers back to your visual appearance and aesthetic. Sometimes, it may be referred to as "brand identity". Note: we've chosen to use the term brand image so we can stick to strictly how things look about your brand. One could interchange the term "identity" with "essence" in describing the heart of a brand, so we will stick to brand image for this purpose.
The branding process as a whole is much like defining yourself as a person. Your style and how you dress are a part of it. It's usually the part that people see first to draw conclusions. While mom always taught us not to judge a book by its cover, let's face it: appearances matter. If you show up on a first date looking sloppy and uncaring about how you present yourself, you're likely not going to convince your date that you're different from the rest or willing to go the extra mile to impress them. The same goes for attracting new customers.
Brand image is usually what consumers will see and notice first - it's safe to say your brand image will be their first impression of you. It's important that your brand looks attractive to your target audience enough to make them want to learn more. It may mean ensuring you have a professionally designed logo, making sure your fonts are not dated-looking, or making sure that the images of the people you use in your collateral are reflective of the audience you want to attract. Whatever it is, you'll want to make sure to leave a good impression.
Once you make a good first impression, it will be up to your brand essence (see below) to truly sell your brand the rest of the way, but that doesn't give you an excuse to slack off. Consistency is key in building trust, reliability, and longevity in both who you are and how you appear to be. Any small change that you make to your brand runs the risk of confusing consumers and impacting their trust and understanding of you. Be sure to check in on your brand from time to time and assess that you are relevant. If you come to find that you're not, and changes need to be made, be sure to thoughtfully ensure changes you make to your brand will only reinforce the foundation you've laid.
Marketing strategist Donald Miller is famous for saying "if you confuse, you lose". Remember once you've developed your brand identity to create a complete guide ( an all-encompassing how-to for your logo usage, colors, visuals, photography, tone of voice, etc) or a condensed style guide for the web (brief guide dictating logo usage, colors, fonts) so that all who represent your brand are carrying things out consistently and in alignment with your brand.
Brand touchpoints are any parts of your brand that have contact with consumers. They can be physical or indirect.
Physical touch points include your website, marketing materials, logo, takeaways, or other advertising pieces. Each of the pieces makes up a brand's image. Remember, a brand's image reflects back who a brand really is or it's brand essence. Your physical touchpoints are also first impressions of your brand, so you'll want to be sure that your physical touchpoints not only reflect your identity but are also reflective of who your brand is at its core and reflective of your values.
Indirect touchpoints are a bit more obscure things to consider but they can leave a lasting impression of your brand you'll want to be mindful of. Examples of these could include ambassadors and experiences. Ambassadors are people who represent and promote your brand.
Employees are the ultimate example of a brand ambassador. How they conduct themselves while wearing your brand and how they treat your customers is a huge brand touchpoint that will shape someone's experience with your brand. An important thing to consider with this as well is that in the cases of especially customer-facing employees, they still represent your brand even off the clock. How they conduct themselves in public can also play a significant role in your customer's perception of your company. While everyone has a private life outside of their jobs, most companies would agree that they typically try to hire those who accurately reflect their brand and hold true to a similar set of values. An interaction with a customer outside of business hours could impact their perception of the kind of organization you run, so be sure to check in with your employees from time to time to make sure they understand how they represent you both on and off the clock.
The other example to consider here are influencers whom you pay to spread the word and generate good PR for your organization. While influencers can be very good for a brand, it's also important to consider that they may be a bit of a wild card. If the influencer you’ve hired gets themself into hot water for whatever reason, remember that they are still tied to your brand. While connecting the dots could take some time for the general public to make, you’ll want to be prepared with a good PR strategy to do some damage control and set the record straight as it relates to your brand’s relationship with that person– or even be prepared to make some tough calls if truly needed.
And on an ending note, the cult followings you can attract can also influence the perception of your brand one way or another.
It’s safe to say that interactions by those associated with our brand have the potential to affect a consumer’s perception of an organization any way you slice it. Be sure you’ll handle those scenarios in a way that lets your target audience and loyal customers know that you do what you do with integrity–even if it means making some hard, uncomfortable decisions.
If brand identity is walking the walk, brand essence is talking the talk. Brand essence is the soul of your organization. Looking great on your first date may score you the dinner out, but it definitely won’t land you a second date if your personality isn’t favorable to your date or you can’t find common ground to connect on. This is the same for your brand.
A great-looking logo and website are key to piquing your target audience’s interest over your competitors. As we mentioned earlier, it is actually critical to make that amazing first impression. But once you gain that attention, do you have enough substance to make someone buy into it?
Brand essence circles back to what you do, why you do it, and what makes you stand out from everyone else. It’s who you are, what you do, why you do it, what you’re passionate about, and what makes you different. It’s what you stand for. Brand essence is made up of your services (what you do), your personality (who you are in what you do), your innovation (why you’re better than the competition), and the benefits you offer (how you make consumers’ lives better than your competitors). It’s the sum of who you authentically are at your core as an organization and it typically invokes some type of feeling with consumers.
Good feelings with your brand essence could lead you to new customers. Bad feelings around your brand essence can give you negative publicity and cost you your customers. It seems lofty, but in practice it all makes sense. People surround themselves with things that align with their values or things that serve a purpose to them.
Brand identity is the suit you wear on the first day on the job, but your brand essence is the skills you have to actually do your job.
Brand experience is exactly how it sounds. It's the experience consumers have with your brand when they interact with you- and identity and essence play a part in that.
Identity and essence matter when it comes to perception. If you look sloppy, then the perception will be that you are sloppy. If you are perceived as sloppy, it doesn't matter how great your service is- it will be harder to convince a new audience to give your brand a try than if you looked polished.
Having a great image but bad service is even worse. Brand experience is the culmination of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and opinions a consumer has in response to your brand identity, touchpoints, and essence.
Think about some really memorable brands when you interact with them. When leaving a CiCi's Pizza, employees would shout loudly at you and waive when you got to the door "CICI YA LATER!". A high-end hotel chain may have a doorman in white gloves to
hold the door open for you, and offer complimentary, hot breakfasts, signature amenities, or rewards perks to loyal customers. Amazon offers free two-day shipping and free returns for its Prime Members.
These small interactions and experiences are equally as important and defining as your identity and help reinforce your essence. As people grow to love and trust your brand, they are defining experiences that may seal the deal for some in realizing what sets you apart. The delicate balance, however, is if any of these unique, defining experiences is ever disrupted or changed.
A change in a normal greeting or salutation from a brand could leave a customer feeling lost or confused. A hotel that once offered a full, hot breakfast to customers that cuts budgets to stop doing that will likely suffer from negative reviews. An online retailer that has a sharp change in its return policies or graciousness will likely suffer the effects via bad reviews or lost customers. An off-putting employee could cost you a few good customers.
When people interact with your brand—whether it's through your marketing materials or an actual service experience—it is a part of their brand experience. Their experience with you shapes their perception. A polished brand and well-aligned brand essence can
help turn a prospect into a loyal customer.
Brand experience vs user experience
Brand experience refers to the overall experience and sentiments users have when they interact with your brand as a whole. User experience refers to the actual experience and ability to use, understand, and interact with key brand touchpoints—typically, a website. While these two things are separate entities, a bad user experience will ultimately create a bad brand experience.
Building a Brand
Now that we've talked a little bit about what branding is, let's talk about how we actually use these terms to build your brand! A new brand will take time to create. Even if you whip up a stellar logo overnight, remember that branding is also what emotional value that logo holds within the heart of a consumer. That emotional value comes from so many different factors than how you look. Start building your brand step by step:
In the brand strategy phase, you will identify the building blocks of what makes your brand unique. Think of it as the blueprint to your brand or the roadmap that will lead you to where you ultimately want to go. In the strategy phase, you'll want to identify and define things such as:
- Who You Are (Brand Name)
- Brand Name
- Your Mission and Vision
- Your Purpose and Values
- Your tone of voice and personality
- Who Your Customers Are (Buyer Personas)
- Who are they currently?
- Who do you want to attract?
- Your competitors (Competitor Analysis)
What do you do?
- What products or services do you offer?
- What sets you apart or matters (values, quality, price, etc.)
- What is your brand message or story?
- What does your target audience need?
- What drives their purchasing decisions?
- What are their pain points currently?
One great way to get a full picture of your brand strategy is to engage in a Storybrand Workshop exercise. In his book "Building a Storybrand", marketing strategist Donald Miller concluded that building and communicating a brand is much like telling a good story. In every good story, there are conflicts that need to be resolved. Along for the ride is usually a hero, a guide, and a sense
of impending doom or failure that will either come to fruition or be overcome.
As a certified Storybrand Agency, Vendilli Digital Group can lead you through a workshop that will succinctly help you to identify and answer the "who, what, why, where, and how" of your brand strategy. The process will work to help you discover and identify your unique values and positioning and help you to craft a succinct and easy-to-communicate and understand "Brandscript" that acts as a summary of all of these questions and answers identified.
The next step in building a brand is likely the most well-known and obvious when branding comes to mind: the brand image. Brand image is how you look and appear to a consumer, but its effects are felt both consciously and subconsciously through how you choose to appear.
The brand image includes creating:
- Your logo
- Your colors
- Your Typography
- Shapes Used
- Patterns and Textures
- Merchandise and Promotional Materials
- Your website
Now that you have developed your identity, it's time to put yourself out there! Brand marketing is what you do to get your name out there and showcase what you do to consumers Brand marketing is the thoughtful delivery of your brand message and identity to consumers across different channels.
Examples of brand marketing include:
- Pay Per Click Advertising
- TV Commercials
- Print Collateral, flyers, mailers,
- Email Marketing
- SE initiatives
- Social Media
Brand marketing is the avenue by which you look for consumers, what you use to communicate with them, and how you talk to them. In the world of dating, it's like deciding if using Tinder or Christian Mingle is the best way for you to get a favorable match.
Rebrand Vs Refresh
Which applies to you and how to do you use each of these effectively? To summarize:
- New brand - This is the creation of a new brand. It’s appropriate for a new company to get off the ground and everything will be brand new as nothing exists.
- Rebrand - This is like building a new brand, but it is usually the result of a merger, damage control, change of values, or a new target market. Things may carry over from existing brands or they may all be completely new. It’s a heavier lift and mostly back to square one of building a new brand.
- Refresh - This is usually an update of existing visual elements to reflect current trends and markets. The company as a whole, its mission, and its values, are not changing. Services and product offerings do not change. It’s simply updating your logo, colors, styles, etc. to stay relevant with your target audience.
Brand Awareness & Management
In marketing, awareness is at the top of the marketing funnel. It is the first stage in a buyer's journey. Branding in itself is a hard metric to quantify. Some digital marketers argue that branding is solely a vanity metric and means nothing in the scheme of actual results and conversions. Yet, brand awareness is necessary to gain the trust needed to earn a conversion.
Brand awareness campaigns and conversion campaigns CAN use the same types of advertising channels to advertise, however, some outlets are more favorable for conversion efforts than others, and some may be more favorable for awareness.
For example, it may not make sense for companies with tight budgets to use costly pay-for-click advertising for brand awareness efforts as the most significant, measurable metric would be impressions. Impressions don't necessarily indicate an immediate sale but seeing the ad could impact a buyer into learning more about a brand in time to make a later purchase. Likewise, posting daily tidbits on social media may not earn a sale today, but in telling the story, building the experience, and creating a relationship with the consumer, it may earn a conversion in the future.
What does an awareness campaign do?
However, where awareness campaigns and conversion campaigns typically differ is in the content and message they promote.
An awareness campaign would appeal more to set the stage with the emotions of your target audience. It would try to gain that attention, pique their interest, and create an emotional response that would allow them to learn more about your company; products, or services. It may show lots of imagery that resonates with your target audience and then reiterate your brand message, name, and / or slogan. This is all top-of-the-funnel marketing. It is a tease in getting your name and positioning out there to new customers, but the importance of branding just doesn't stop there in the buyer's journey.
While the high-level, feel-good brand campaign tactics aren't exactly going to get you direct conversions, that's not to say they are not valuable. A consistent brand message and look, as we mentioned, build trust in time. While your advertising strategies may need to evolve to become more direct as buyers work their way through the marketing funnel, your overall image and positioning stay the same. Instead of seeing ads that are showing your brand positioning and slogan, users further down the funnel may see an incentive for a product offer, etc. But, the ad itself and creative in how it looks and is put together must be cohesive with and reflective of your brand if it is to make sense and uphold the integrity you have been working to build.
How do we measure brand awareness in marketing?
Brand awareness can be a little difficult to quantify as its spread is so wide. Billboards with your logo and website are examples of awareness efforts that are extremely hard to measure their impact.
If you have a website set up with Google Analytics and other tracking tools, you can use some of the data available to connect the dots. Site traffic metrics could be the result of brand awareness efforts depending upon your marketing efforts as a whole. With Google Analytics, you can usually get a pretty detailed breakdown of who is using their site, where they are coming from, and what they are looking for.
If you are running pay-per-click ads for brand awareness, you'd likely want to see how many impressions there were for your ad or, the number of people that the ad reached, as a sign of success. Because brand awareness is a wide net of spreading the word about who you are and what you do, clicks and conversions wouldn't necessarily be the best indicator of the success of an awareness campaign.
On social media, your efforts could be measured by how many people your post reached, the number of shares, the number of likes, or the number of followers. Again, having 200k likes or followers may not be indicative at all of the numbers of active customers you have– it does mean that your brand message has the potential to reach at least that many people with your efforts.
It can be a hard bargain to get CFOs and those in higher-standing positions to understand the value of awareness efforts. Many want to see results and sales, fast. Those are great goals and tactics to consider, but sometimes users just need to be educated and nurtured a little bit in order to feel confident in giving you their business. The lack of measurable results does not mean that branding does not matter by any means.
The final stages of the funnel—loyalty, and advocacy—are the fruits of your brand marketing efforts. When you turn a customer into a repeat customer and then into a promoter, you can rest assured knowing that you've done your job (and your brand!) right.
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