So Let’s start with clearly identifying what Branding is and what it isn’t.
We all know the history of the term that originates with cattle branding as a way of clearly identifying ownership of herds. Time has moved on since then and so has branding and what it has come to represent. And with that of course comes misrepresentations and misconceptions too.
The biggest misconception of all is that Brands are Logo’s. A Logo is not, in fact a Brand. Logo’s are merely a symbol for the brand or a visual representation of the brand. It’s important but it is just that; a symbol for something deeper.
The other misconception is that having your logo everywhere; on your website, on your product packaging, your letterhead means that you’re managing your brand. It doesn’t. It just means you’re managing your logo.
So let’s clear it up. What is a brand?
The experts say
‘Branding represents a cultural process, performed in an interplay between art and business, production and consumption, images and stories, design and communication…’
Salzer-Morling and Strannegard 20047; and Schroeder 2005
And while it’s a mouthful, I like that it speaks about branding as cultural process, as art, as consumption, as production and of course as design and communication. It’s an expansive view and one I prefer to the limiting view of the Logo as Brand.
Marty Neumeier, Author of some of my favourite books on this subject puts it simply
“it’s a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company”
And it’s how they feel about what you do, what you say, how you act, how you react, how you’re perceived and finally as he so cleverly put it
“It’s not what you say it is… It’s what THEY say it is”
Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
THEY meaning your customers, your competitors, your employees, investors, the marketplace etc and how they’ve made sense of who you are and what you stand for. This statement is a true representation of communication as receiver phenomenon i.e. it’s the senders responsibility to ensure that the information comes through crystal clear.
The trick is to ensure that you’ve communicated clearly enough to the market place in everything you do that THEY are receiving your vision of who you truly are and not a ‘noisy’ version that’s cluttered with stuff that’s irrelevant.
In today’s world customers are actively trying to make sense of that noise and finding ways to distinguish between signal and noise.
Check out Shane Parrish’s article on how he does it in his article on
So why is Branding so important today?
Branding is important because it can be a point of difference in itself. The world we live in is different to what was there before. So much has plateaued and there are very few of the traditional features and benefits that you can be different about unless you’re in the Disrupter Business like AirBnB, Amazon or Uber.
Customers have many more choices than they ever had before. You will rarely be the only one in the marketplace doing something.
Competitors copy each other’s features as soon as they are introduced so this is a difficult way to differentiate. Advances in manufacturing mean that quality is no longer a core way to differentiate – quality is assumed. Price has also become relatively standardised unless you take it to the edge.
Often the only way to differentiate now is through branding.
If all things are equal how will a product or service stand out from the rest. Will it be the familiar (I always buy this) … will it be for some symbolic reason (What does this say about me)… is it be because of social media buzz…
And this is where branding comes in.
Customers are asking Who’s talking about this product? What are they saying? What does the product look like? Why is it different? Where is it being sold? What kind of people buy it? Which “tribe” will I be joining if I buy it? If I buy it, what does it say about me? What does the cost say about desirability? Who makes it? Can I trust them?
So what if you could answer those questions, in the way that you communicate, before they are ever asked?…
“When brand communication comes through intact – crystal clear and potent – it goes straight into people’s brains without distortion, noise or the need to think too much about it…”
Branding is simply a more efficient way to sell things. It’s about telling a story…And telling that same story every time your customer comes in contact with everything you do and are.
So if you can get the story right before you look at logo, business card or brochure then the rest is easy…
Branding – How to Do It Better
In his book Primal Branding, Patrick Hanlon explains how the most powerful brands create a community of believers around the brand, revealing the seven components that will help every company and marketer capture the public imagination and seize a bigger slice of the pie. He calls it the Primal Code.
All belief systems have seven pieces of code that work together to make them believable. The more pieces, the more believable the belief system becomes.
When products and services have all seven pieces of the code they become a meaningful part of our culture. They become the Google, and Nikes of the world.
When causes have all seven pieces of the code they become the civil rights movement, women’s movement etc.
When personalities have all seven pieces of the code they become Oprah, Andy Warhol or U2.
So why not build the code for your brand story?
Answer these simple questions which are a blend and my interpretation of both Marty Neumeier’s and Patrick Hanlon’s work in this area.
- Who are you and tell us your back story.
- What do you do and why does it matter?
- Are you different to others and why does that matter?
- What do you believe in?
- What icons, symbols or words are used which express this?
- Who are your biggest supporters or believers?
- Why don’t some people believe in you?
- Who is the leader in your business? What’s their Story?
You will find that it will be difficult to answer these questions at first. Expect that there will be gaps but you’ll discover that as you start thinking about it, the answers will start to formulate.
This I promise you: If you are able to answer these questions you will have the makings of a solid brand and all your marketing and your communication will be able to flow from this. You will never be ‘off message’ again.
If you have a brand story that you would like to share, I’d love to speak with you. I’m compiling some research in this area and would love to include yours.
Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about strategic marketing and branding in particular then check out our online course – Get Strategic… Get Results – here’s a link to our 14 Day Free Trial.