Back in the day, cattle were branded to help protect breeders and buyers from rustlers. Today’s iconic brands are often forged by unscrupulous knock-offs to mislead the gullible consumer. But, increasingly, the very word ‘brand’ has become the wild west of marketing and is used by marketing agencies and consultants to mislead businesses about the services and expertise being offered. Today’s caveat is ‘Beware of ‘hustlers!’
Branding fills the ‘gap’ between advertising and marketing. A global Google search on ‘branding agencies’ lists 80,400,000 entries 1. In reality, the number of true experts in branding lies in the rounding – probably less than one thousand. But what does a branding agency do?
The answer is – a lot, and not much. There are a lot of web-site designers and SEO experts claiming to be brand experts. There are also a lot of graphic designers, package design experts, media consultants, personal image consultants and copywriters calling themselves ‘branders’ or ‘branding experts'. Most advertising agencies now include branding in their name or their own marketing materials, but many do not truly understand what branding really is.
So, what is branding?
It’s not a clever name or a slick logo. It’s not a tag line to improve your search engine ranking. And it’s not a short social media blitz or an expensive advertising campaign to provide top-of-mind name recognition for a few weeks.
Are these things important? Perhaps!
But they are not branding.
To understand branding, you have to understand why people purchase your product or service when there are so many alternatives out there. Of course, they have to be aware that you exist, that’s what advertising and public relations is about.
They will want to explore the details of your offering, and today that requires an accessible and informative website.
They may seek the opinions of others about you, so social media may play a role, as ‘social proof’.
But ultimately, people buy, and more importantly re-buy, from organisations (from brands essentially), with whom they have an emotional connection.
Advertisers will tell you that cute kids or cuddly cats trigger those sorts of response. Colour consultants can match your packaging to the mood you want to convey. SEO experts can tell you the words that buyers are searching for, but not what underlying, often unconscious, driver is prompting their search, or triggering their procurement decision.
The actual definition of “Branding” according to the Cambridge Dictionary2 is the ‘act of giving a company a particular design or symbol in order to advertise its products and services’. That particular design or symbol it refers too must represents the emotional relationship that your business has with your target audience. In other words, a brand then, is what the consumer thinks of, and experiences, when they buy from you.
The image that your customer understand about you and your business is called your “brand”.
A brand, your brand is more important than what your business makes or offers and is more important than a cool name or an awesome logo. We talk about the importance of branding, but most businesses are often confused on why branding is so important.
The importance of branding
Branding is important because people often make a judgment in their buying process (about your brand) based on initial impression and the experience the customer receives from you.
A good brand will create a personality like a living person, and will tell a story about the service or product they are buying. In many cases it will give your business a voice.
Understanding this can also make a difference in your marketing activities. A brand’s visual identity is what your customer sees and what they you identify with. And a brand’s voice is what your customers hear or read about, or what your brand says to them.
How well-known your brand is recognised depends on how much brand awareness your business has, how much and often your brand is seen. This relates directly to how much, and what type of marketing or advertising you do to build your brand awareness.
Bringing it all together
While all the other considerations are important, a true branding expert will help you develop the ‘brand’ which re-affirms the buyer’s self-image, not just for the initial purchase, and not just for themselves.
An effective brand is promoted by the buyer. They are proud of their decision and are not afraid to advocate for you. And your branding makes it easy for them to do so! Even if you are not a Gucci or a Nike, or one of the top 10 global Fashion brands.3
Branding is an umbrella activity which expands on and protects your investment in graphic design, packaging, product design, web development, social media, advertising, and public relations, events, and all your other potential marketing activities.
Branding is where advertising stops and marketing doesn’t go.
Genuine branding costs a little more but delivers both short and long-term ROI.
Old tricks – New Safeguards
Rustlers tried many things to re-brand cattle. The honest buyer looked for pedigree and proof of origin. As with today’s knock-offs, it takes only a little bit of investigation to determine the fakes from the genuine article. But many people still get fooled.
As you are making a significant investment in your business, it’s worth your while to do ‘due diligence’ on your branding advisor. It takes a little bit of your time but can save you a lot of money!
Look into the breadth and the depth of the ‘portfolio’ – and beyond. Is it limited to one or two areas of expertise? Check their qualifications and the references. Is there substance behind the inclusive use of every one of today’s ‘must have’ buzz-words?
Look for results!
Only if they’ve delivered them for others can they deliver them for you.
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