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What is branding?


By E. Mahony – spotlightideas.co.uk – Revised 2010

Branding = marketing, or branding as one of many parts of marketing?
Some see branding as equalling marketing. Others see it as a part of marketing. One of many parts – parts such as advertising, market research, direct marketing, and so on.
Perhaps branding is somewhere in between. At its best, branding is often closely tied in with different areas of marketing. But, at the same time, branding does have some specific goals of its own. This article attempts to explore this.

Branding: art and science.
Branding is something you can pick up from books. There are best practices you can learn from mentors. This works particularly well, perhaps, in a corporate brand environment (but certainly not exclusively at all). The scientific approach involves things such as carrying out research to ensure the brand is relevant to customers. Using the scientific approach to achieve brand consistency. And so on. But a brand is more than just logically-based research, planning, strategy, tactics and so on. It’s, also, about subjective values. It’s about creating something unique that is interesting and makes some sort of connection with audiences at an emotional / psychological level. This involves creativity, and, risk-taking, and so on. And is often learned, to an important degree, on the job. This is particularly important for start-ups. And something that people in an entrepreneurial environment are often best at.

Some sort of Definition – introduction
But to start off giving some sort of definition (but keeping the definition sketchy, as opposed to something set-in-stone and dry, as branding is, as briefly mentioned, an art not just a science). Branding is about creating expectations that have some sort of emotional / psychological attraction with audiences. The best brands fulfil these expectations. Branding is about trying to establish some sort of method by which customers can easily identify your brand. Although branding is about ‘summing up’ in a sense, it’s, also, paradoxically, about the opposite. It’s, also, about offering something so that your customers are intrigued, want to know more, and develop a long-term connection, with your brand.

Some sort of Definition – summing up your band: making it easier to remember
Branding is about getting customers to perceive the brand in a certain favourable way. That the brand will solve some problem or fulfil some wish customers have according to the expectations created by the brand. The brand might appear favourable to the customer in different ways but, overall, you want the brand to be recognized and remembered as easily as possible – and recognized and remembered in a way that is instantly positive. You might achieve this through a logo (i.e. great logo such as Nike – for me, for example, the logo represents positivity, and compliments well, the Nike ad slogan ‘Just do it’); packaging (i.e. the gold packaging of Toblerone chocolate – I, for example, associate the chocolate with festive, family occasions); advertising (i.e. the surreal ad of the man jumping around a pint of Guinness makes me think of fun and interesting times in pubs). Of course generally brands, including the ones mentioned here, rely on all of these (logo, packaging, advertising). But they often rely on other things too such as company name, website look, and so on.

Some sort of Definition – creating expectations / fulfilling expectations.
But a brand depends on more than just things such as company name and logo. It creates expectations in every way the brand is experienced by the customer. But a brand is, also, about fulfilling expectations. Those expectations could, partly, be fulfilled in the various ways the customer comes into contact with the brand. This could be customer service, for example. But in particular with the product (or service) itself.
Branding isn’t about short-term selling. However, saying this, if a customer is not sure what to buy, but has come across a brand they find more interesting than others, then the chances are, they will go for this brand. But the real goals of the brand are to:
- get the customer to come back and buy again.
- get the customer to talk about the brand in a positive way to others
The brand must fulfil the customer’s expectations but, also, at the same time, have enough about it for the customer to become interested and, even, intrigued in the brand in general.

Some sort of Definition – special, subjective quality
A brand is about being different to the competition. Standing out in some unique way. There are lots of nice chocolate bars you can buy. But Toblerone with its triangular shape and gold packaging is fairly unique. It stands out in an interesting way. ‘Unique’ is important, however, on its own it’s not enough.
Related to ‘uinque’ is the idea of the brand having some special, subjective quality that draws the customer closer to the brand (you could argue that the triangular shape and gold packaging of Toblerone – combined with the unusual chocolate inside – isn’t just about being unique, it’s, also about offering something special – Toblerone could have been unique in a different way but in a way that doesn’t capture the imagination of its customers). Guinness, for me in particular, is a brand that has this special, subjective quality. When I think of Guinness, I think of fun, being relaxed, interesting times, and so on. I suppose I think these things because of Guinness adverts. But, also, because I think of Guinness in the context of Dublin (with its pubs and the Guinness factory). And so on.
This part of branding is very much about being creative. It could include not just packaging and advertising, but also, the product itself, PR, publicity (something which Richard Branson of Virgin is particularly good at), brand story (i.e. Ben and Jerry selling their first ice-cream from an old van) and more. It’s not surprising to see why ‘creativity’ in branding is particularly prevalent with entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs such as Branson, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and others.

Branding at every point of customer experience (of the brand)
Something to think about: the way brands can be judged at every conceivable point a customer comes into contact with them. This applies to all brands. However, large corporate brands (where many different forms of marketing are used, and where the business model, overall, can be quite extensive) have to take particular care.
It’s not just that branding can be connected to different parts of marketing in general. But that branding can be even integral to the business model, itself.

Age / Location
Guinness is really old (around 250 years old). And its origins lie in the very heart of Dublin. Unlike many modern drink brands today, Guinness wasn’t thought up in a boardroom (but there are many successful brands out there that were thought up in the boardroom – drink brands such as Red Bull and Innocent, for example). Age and location can (not always) help create brand authenticity, but, also, interest / brand story, and so on.

Brand openness / social media
Related to the idea of authenticity is openness. This works particularly well in social media. In social media the brand has the opportunity to open up to its audience, and, thereby, increase customer loyalty.

Benefits of branding
- Someone might not have tried the brand out, but the brand image might influence them, at least as a firt-time buyer over another brand (or product / service)
- Can create loyalty amongst customers
- Can assist in, and make easier, word-of-mouth because branding involves ‘summing up’ values that the customer can easily take away (and communicate to others)
- Associated brands can be launched more easily from successful existing brands
- A brand can be worth a lot more than the actual physical assets of the company

Disadvantages of branding
- When times are lean, customers are often more concerned in price/value than the more subjective elements of branding such as look / feel, and so on.

Brand Strategy / Tactics
Although creativity is essential, strategy and tactics are essential, too. You need to know what your brand stands for. What its values are. What sort of message you are going to communicate to your audience overall. And how this fits in with your marketing goals, overall.

Skills / attributes / approach required for branding
Research. For product development, perhaps, as well as for marketplace and competition (coming up with gap in the market), potential customers, and more.
Creative. Need to come up with all sorts of ideas. Ideas for brand values. But, also, ideas to make your brand interesting. And more.
Human. Understanding your customers in general, social media, customer service, and more, all require a human approach.
Goals, strategy and tactics. To help in the creation of brand values. As well as in things such as implementing brand values, and communicating the brand message, consistenly.
Patience. Branding is more about the long-term than it is about immediate, obvious short-term successes.
Evaluating. Seeing how things are going. And tweaking where necessary.

What do you think?

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One Comment

  1. Nice post! your branding insights are great. this is a great help to alot of online business starters like us. thanks!


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