Branding: What is it?
Soft drinks have been around for more than a century, yet one stands out as the definitive choice for most people. When we sit down at a restaurant, look over the menu, and the server comes to take our drink order, it is highly likely you’ll say this:
“I’ll have a Coke, please.”
There are dozens of soft drinks to choose from at any given restaurant, but when faced with the choice, Coca-Cola is the brand that most of us recognize as the standard. Why is that?
It could be because the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. has been around since the 1880’s and can attribute its success to history alone.
It could be that their competitors aren’t as savvy in the marketing department.
Maybe it’s because it just objectively tastes better?
If you were looking at the marketing angle, you would be right, but not because Coca-Cola’s competitors aren’t marketing effectively; after all, most of us are just as likely to drink Pepsi (which appears to discredit the flavour argument); rather, the secret to Coke’s longstanding global market success lies in their superior branding.
In my previous article, “6 Common Marketing Challenges for Startups“, I mentioned branding in relation to how customers perceive what you’re selling, but did not cover it in much detail. Today, I intend to provide you a comprehensive overview of what exactly this aspect of marketing is all about.
Above are three of the most recognizable logos ever designed. The companies who own them are so iconic even children know exactly what they represent. Apple and Google are considered the world’s leading technology firms, while McDonald’s ranks the highest grossing fast food restaurant in the global market. Chances are you knew exactly who these companies were without needing me to tell you; but how? Like Coca-Cola, the secret lies in effective branding strategies, one of the pillars of good marketing. To understand how to take advantage of these strategies, though, we first need to know what a “brand” is:
“[The] name given to a product or service from a specific source. Used in this sense, ‘brand’ is similar to the current meaning of the word ‘trademark.'”
– Jerry McLaughlin, Forbes (2011)
The basic idea of a brand is to distinguish what you’re selling from the rest of the products in a particular market. Much like how farmers used to burn marks into their cattle (also called “branding”), the products distributed and marketed by today’s companies have unique marks to help consumers identify where that product came from.
Brand Name Vs. Brand Identity
Brand Name: The Objective
The brand name is the physical name and logo displayed on or attached to a product or service. Its presence is literal and it objectively exists. A brand name is exactly what you expect: the physical, legal identity of a product which is a tangible component of its experience.
Examples of Brand Names
Brand Identity: The Subjective
A brand is about more than putting your company’s name on something. When customer’s use or interact with your product, they begin to associate various concepts with it, and those associations become part of their opinion of your brand. This includes design choices such as packaging, colour, and logo placement. In essence, the brand identity is the overall experience your customers have with your product.
Components of Brand Identity
Developing Your Brand
When it comes to strategically building your brand, there’s no models or templates to follow. In a marketplace saturated with cheap mockups and similarly designed products, branding in itself is one of the few strategies marketers can employ to highlight what makes their company unique. That being said, these are my recommendations:
Know Your Audience
As is the case with all marketing strategies, you need to have a thorough understanding of who your audience is, including their psychographic profile, their purchasing behaviours, their media habits, and any other preferences you can get your hands on. This data is the key to connecting with your customers.
Have a Purpose
Your brand should stand for something, or represent a cause. This is usually in line with your company’s mission statement, but it can be different depending on the nature of the brand and the audience. Regardless, your brand will perform better and resonate more strongly with your customers if it has a deeper meaning or mission attached to it.
Maintain a consistent image of what your brand is about. Don’t post or share unrelated content if it doesn’t align with the image you want to present. For example, it would not be consistent for Google to promote content related to exercise and fitness, because it isn’t part of their brand; however, it would make sense for an athletic company such as Nike.
Appeal to Emotion
At the end of the day, customers choose brands that they identify with. Get personal with your marketing, address topics and ideas that inspire, spark joy, or bring a tear to the eye. Don’t abuse the emotional angle, though, or you run the risk of damaging your brand by alienating or upsetting your audience.
Sometimes, you need to switch things up. This may seem contradictory to maintaining consistency (and it is), but while your content needs to be consistent, the methods you use to design, convey, and distribute it can be flexible. If radio isn’t helping your brand, try YouTube videos, and if your spokesperson isn’t relevant anymore, find a new one.
NOTE: These are guidelines only and should not be applied as a strict formula or process for building your brand. Each branding strategy is unique because the brand itself is unique, and your marketing should reflect that.
Brand equity is a measure of how much your brand is worth; more specifically, how much revenue the brand is earning for your company. If you have more than one brand, then measuring brand equity can be a useful tool for figuring out where to focus the majority of your marketing decisions.
For example, Apple and its product lines (iPhone, Mac, etc.) comprised 30% of the company’s value in 2016 – including all other assets. At the time, this was equal to $214.5 billion.
Knowing that 2/3 of their revenue comes from iPhone sales, Apple’s marketing, research, and product development resources are heavily invested in maintaining that brand equity in the highly competitive mobile technology marketplace.
Understanding the value of your brand is complex, but the upside is that it helps you focus your efforts on what’s working for your brand rather than what isn’t. Take the time to really think about the image you want to present to your customers and centre your marketing plan around that idea.
Director of Marketing
A graduate of Algonquin College’s School of Business with a background in marketing and advertising, Aerik has worked at the Ottawa Black Business Alliance since December of 2018. When he isn’t dreaming up new strategies or writing articles, he works as a marketing consultant. Aerik is particularly passionate about the arts, human rights, and the environment.
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