26 August 2020
Branding is the mechanism by which consumers both recognise a product, company or service and develop an emotional connection to it.
Building a brand doesn't happen on the white board back in the office, it takes place in the collective minds of the people who buy or might buy your product or service. Branding is about people.
The origins of branding
Branding dates to the practice of burning a distinctive mark into the hides of cattle for proof of ownership because cattle rustling (stealing) became a thing. However, in the sale yards, buyers began using the brand to identify the good quality beasts seeking out certain brands that had a reputation for producing quality livestock.
The concept of marking goods (or branding) was transferred to traded goods. It wasn't enough to brand something, you also had to put the effort into building a reputation for quality. Building such a reputation took time.
Thus, branding is more than just the mark (or brand), it's built through developing a reputation (trust) through not just advertising but also corporate or product behavior.
The logo and corporate identity
The recognition part of branding is easier to understand. “The Mark” (aka logo, dinkus, etc.) is a graphic or logo-type that needs to be unique, memorable and consistent with the brand image. In popular thinking, "brand" and "logo" are synonymous, but marketers use the term "branding" to describe a bigger concept.
A logo however, is not a brand. The brand is the reputation that the mark stands for.
This is the most crucial concept for understanding what a brand is.
Wagu Beef - branding what traditionally has been a commodity product.
The brand image is planned by the owner of The Mark and is the intended position for the brand in the market, and the complete back story - what does the brand stand for, and how does it differ from its competitors?
The marketer is the architect of the brand but the building site is the collective minds of the target market (people).
The brand building process is achieved through orchestrating how the brand behaves (product attributes, product performance and customer service) and delivering messaging through marketing communications, which includes advertising, publicity, trade shows, websites, sales people, digital promotion - any tool used for communication.
Through consistent application of the brand personality in all corporate behaviors and communications, and delivering messages to the target market, over time a consistent image of what The Mark means (a reputation) is built-up in their collective minds.
Building a brand takes times
Coca-Cola - brand valued at USD$64 billion
“Over time” is the operative concept; brands aren’t built over night; it takes a long time to build a consistent brand image in a significant number of people’s minds. Huge investment in marketing is required. The term “brand equity” is used to describe the end result of this investment.
The result is whenever the target market see The Mark they recall the brand’s story, invoking both recall of their knowledge of the brand but also an emotional response. Building an emotional connection is the key to successful marketing.
Marketers ensure consistency in communications by writing brand specification documents that paint a complete picture of the brand. Future marketing campaigns or marketing decisions affecting the brand are ensured to be consistent with the brand specification.
The brand specification will include specifications for the application of the brand (colours, graphics, fonts and associated graphic devices and how it will be applied to products, external signage, printed stationary, business cards, T-shirts, vehicles, social media - everything - this is called a corporate identity in the situation where an organisation is branded, or similar for product/service branding.
But importantly, the brand specification will also include a definition of brand values and brand personality.
Intel - brand valued at USD$39.5 billion
Consistency is crucial
Strict adherence to a brand specification is the foundation of building a great brand. The key components of a brand specification are...
- Logo and visual standards: the logo is the visual identification that brands a company or product.
- Brand values: are the principals the brand stands for
- Brand personality: marketers use a short statement to define the brand's personality.
All public facing manifestations of the brand must be calibrated with reference to the brand specification. In this way a consistent image is projected.
In practical marketing there are three main reasons for doing this...
Marketers think of brands like people. People who behave consistently and adhere to principles are naturally thought of as trust worthy. This should not be misconstrued with "boring". The brand values might be "Exciting", Outgoing", "Adventurous" or even "Quirky" - that's fine, as long as the brand consistently behaves that way. And this would apply to the creative strategy used in advertising, the copy writing style, art direction and even the types of events the brand might sponsor.
Red Bull is a classic example of a brand where "action", "excitement" and "energy" are core brand values. Hence, they are major sponsors of action sports and not (say) Opera or theater.
The human brain is optimised for building connections. Topics that have many connections are more easily recalled. A key connection is colour. Researchers ballpark the number of colours we can distinguish at around a million. Hence, marketers specify very particular colours for logos and associated visual elements and apply them with great consistency. Consistency applies across the whole range of the brand specification. Many brand specifications even specify the tone of voice to be used in copy writing and even specify key words or phrases that should be used in every communication.
The brand specification provides a starting point for the development of all marketing strategies and the development of marketing communications. It specifies everything, thus pricing decisions become clearer, distribution strategies, product and promotions all must support the building of the brand. So, while the initial work developing the brand specification can be very costly, the implementation becomes more cost effective.
Simple things like designing business cards or designing building signage is straight forward (and are usually specified in the brand style guide).
Yes but, isn't it boring?
There is a brand vandal in everyone just waiting to be released along with our inner creativity.
Thus, we see sales people creating brochures "our sales brochures have become boring, they all look the same" and come-up with something completely different and usually shocking. New colours are added, different type fonts (thank you Microsoft Office) and Power Point presentations with hideous scrolls and clip art.
The flaw in this thinking is to assume the target market are similarly bored. Just because within our corporate lives we are saturated with the tireless and never ending exposure to the brand graphics and have become "bored", that doesn't mean the customer has.
Further, people have personal preferences and their own ideas about colours and design. Given the opportunity to create or influence the way communications are created provides the individual with the opportunity to inject their own preferences and ideas. This is not good practice and is one of the biggest mistakes.
Perhaps one of the most iconic logos in Australia today.
When it was first launched it was met with derision "my kid could have designed that!"
However, the genius of logo design is coming-up with a mark that is simple, memorable and distinctive.
And applying it consistently.