Branding touches every single facet of experience. It is design, copy tone of voice, customer service, company culture, purpose, values, mission and marketing approach all wrapped up in one. This makes defining exactly what a brand is a little tricky. But, in amongst the grey areas, there are some clear black and whites.
1. A brand is a perception
At the end of the day, a brand is the perception a consumer has about a company. That perception can be shaped and influenced (through brand storytelling and marketing), and infused into tangible objects like merchandise. But it is the perception that matters most.
It is perception that translates to whether a consumer feels good about your brand or ambivalent (or worse). Obviously creating a positive connection will translate to sales. Therefore, your most important task is to ensure that your audience perceive your brand as trustworthy and able to help them solve whatever challenge they are trying to address.
In the not too distant past, salespeople would walk around the neighbourhood and knock on doors to sell their products. This veritable stranger had the task of convincing the person in front of them that what they were selling was worth buying. It can help to imagine your brand as a stranger. What qualities does your brand need to get new customers — who may be skeptical about trusting you — across the line? What will make them jump the precipice and convert from stranger to acquaintance to friend to advocate?
3. A brand is a relationship
In stark contrast to being a stranger, a brand is also a relationship. It's what takes place between your business and your audience, once they convert from strangers to customers or followers. There are two important things to consider here:
- Everything you do feeds that relationship. This is why every single touchpoint between your business and your customers is part of your brand. And just like between two people, things can go sour if the relationship isn't nurtured.
- It's not enough to just make an initial connection, you have to work at maintaining that relationship. One great way to do this is to segment your audience for a more personalised marketing approach.
4. A brand is not just a logo
Or a website or a business card or your marketing strategy. As we've already discussed, a brand is the sum of all these things plus so much more. Branding that stops at logo design is as effective as going fishing by dipping your hands in the water and attempting to grab a fish as it swims by. Potentially possible (with a lot of patience and a heck of grit) but much harder than it needs to be.
5. A brand is not what you say it is
You can tell people what you think your brand is, sure, but they will always decide for themselves what they think of it. This is why it's always more effective to focus on shaping their perception than trying to force them to adopt your perception. How do you shape their perception? Demonstrate that you are what you say you are. If you say that you care about social justice issues but use sweat shops to make your products, you're being incongruent with your own values. Inconsistencies reek of inauthenticity and this breeds distrust. Always be open, honest and don't try to be something you're not.
6. A brand is not what you're selling
Your brand is the vehicle through which you sell your product or service, not those things themselves. It's how you communicate with your audience about those things. It shifts, grows and changes in response to your audience and their perception of it. It is, metaphorically speaking, a living, breathing organism and it requires regular care and attention to keep it alive.