The term “brand” is interpreted many different ways.
It’s generally accepted that “brand” is synonymous with “company” or “product.” Under this understanding, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Nike are “brands.”
The elements that make Starbucks Starbucks—such as visual identity, voice, personality, mission, and other differentiators—may also be collectively referred to as that company’s “brand.”
While these interpretations aren’t necessarily wrong, “brand” means something different in the marketing world than it does to the general public. Brand is your customers’ perception of your business, what they have in mind when they think of your company, the feelings they have about your company or product. Brand is a gut feeling.
If you have a business, you have a brand. And a strong brand is one of your business’s most valuable assets.
WHAT IS BRANDING?
Branding is about shaping the meaning of your company or product in your customers’ minds.
This is easy to say, difficult to do. (Unless you have a mind-control device.) That’s because your brand will mean something different to every person. They’ll form their own idea based on their personal experiences. Plus, your customers’ perception is not set in stone. It’s always changing, from touchpoint to touchpoint.
This is why you have to take control of shaping what your brand represents.
THE IMPACT OF A STRONG BRAND
How do you create a strong brand? We’ll explore the elements of branding later, but building a brand that resonates with your customers starts with understanding one important thing: Your customers!
If you don’t have a firm grasp on what your customers value, believe, want, and need, you won’t be able to build a brand that resonates with them.
Yeti is an example of a company that has mastered branding. Yeti mainly sells coolers and drinkware—not exactly a sexy business to be in. But it knows its audience and how to reach it.
In its early days, Yeti reached its core audience of hunters and fishermen through grassroots marketing at trade shows. Today, its message that Yeti is “Built for the Wild,” coupled with the undoubted quality of its products, resonates with people far beyond this core audience.
Yeti has become somewhat of a status symbol. Basic Yeti coolers start in the $300 range. Does everyone need a cooler this overbuilt when you can get a Coleman for $30? Probably not. But a lot of people want one (and to be seen with one). Not only have Yeti’s sales soared to around $450 million, but people take pride in wearing shirts emblazoned with logo or slapping the stickers on their cars.
Yeti has created a brand around a lifestyle. When you buy a Yeti product, you don’t just get a cooler or tumbler. You get membership in the Yeti tribe. Would Yeti have such a cult following if its coolers weren’t so pricey or synonymous with hardcore adventuring? Yeti tumblers grace the desks of many office workers who probably aren’t avid outdoorsmen but enjoy what the brand stands for and being associated with it.
Yeti’s success did not happen by accident, but through calculated branding. (And on the foundation of a quality, desired product, of course!)
CREATING BRAND VALUE
Branding matters because it helps you create brand value, which absolutely impacts business success. Seth Godin defines “brand value” as “the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.”
Think of why someone would purchase a Yeti instead of a similarly-designed RTIC that performs comparably but costs $200 less. Sure, there might be a slight quality difference, but enough to account for that price discrepancy?
Even if your industry is wildly different from Yeti’s, you can also create brand value that sets you apart by:
1. Knowing Your Audience
As mentioned, knowing your target audience is the key to developing a brand that resonates with them.
You already know the basics about your audience members, since you’ve created an offering for them. We recommend creating customer personas so that you can really narrow down demographic and psychographic information. This will also help you determine how to best reach them with messages about your offerings.
2. Defining Your Purpose
You know the story, mission, and purpose at the heart of your organization. Have you clearly defined them? Does your audience know them?
Your brand has to stand for something. Why does it exist? What problems do your products solve? Why should people care? What is the value beyond the product? Tell an authentic story throughout your customer touchpoints. Define your mission, vision, and values, and make sure everything your company does is reflective of them.
3. Differentiating Your Brand
Your brand must set you apart from the competition. Why should a customer purchase from you over your competitors? Understand which key qualities and benefits of your offerings set you apart—and create a value proposition that highlights them.
4. Creating Brand Personality
Think of your brand as having its own identity. Craft a brand personality, imagining that your brand is a person.
Give your brand a voice, visual identity, and message that connects with your core customers.
5. Communicating Consistently
Once your purpose, your key differentiators, and your brand personality are set, you’ve got to communicate them consistently across all channels. This will help your audience recognize your organization and know what to expect from it. Inconsistency is confusing to customers, and it’ll make it more difficult to build your brand.
To help, create a brand guide that outlines key aspects of your brand. It should cover:
- Logo usage
- Color palette
- Tone & voice
Make sure every representative of your organization is well versed on your brand guidelines.
6. Living Your Brand
Your brand has to be present in all that you do. No matter the touchpoint, it should be reflected authentically.
If Yeti didn’t stand by its excellent warranties despite professing the quality of its products, its brand would take a hit. However, it’s well known for its excellent customer service. (It’s important to note here that good branding ultimately will not save a bad product.)
Your brand should be communicated consistently and authentically in product design, packaging, customer service, advertising, messages from your CEO, and everywhere else.
BRANDING IS ONGOING
Brand value not only brings in more sales; it’s something that employees can take pride in. Something that all stakeholders can get behind and want to be a part of.
Is the perception of your business in line with what you want your customers, employees, and investors as well as the general public to think? If not, get to work! But remember that branding is a process—and that you can only shape it, not force it.
Check out our other Marketing 101 Blogs:
Marketing 101: Why You Need a Marketing Plan (and How to Create One)