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The importance of branding

The word branding originally came from a time when cattle farmers branded their animals with a hot iron to mark their ownership. Each farm or ranch would have its own brand mark usually made up of initials to identify its animals. Although branding and commerce have both grown significantly since then, the idea of the brand logo has not changed much: a simple, bold image that stays in the mind. But a logo is just part of a wider branding exercise that every company should carefully consider.

What is branding in marketing?

Branding is the way a company communicates itself both visually and verbally so that it becomes instantly recognisable to customers. A brand is an intangible concept and yet it forms a very clear idea of what a company does based on its values and identity. Brand identity comprises all visual communications, from the logo design to the typography and colour palette a brand uses on things like its packaging and website. By creating a cohesive identity, the brand experience becomes seamless, and the customer can identify the brand through cues like colour and style before they have even read the brand name. Although brand name is equally important in creating a memorable brand. For instance, the name Amazon recalls the diversity of the rainforest. Amazon.com wanted to become the number one destination for a wide variety of products. In fact, anything that the customer could possibly want, despite originally selling only books – the desire to expand was always there and evident in the name.

Once a visual identity has been decided, a brand guidelines document is usually created to communicate it across the business. By following these guidelines when designing marketing materials, employees and third parties (like a branding agency) can keep the brand’s aesthetics intact across all touchpoints. As well as the brand’s visual style, tone of voice is also very important, representing how the brand speaks. Tone of voice can either be part of the brand guidelines or a separate keystone document.

Why is branding important?

Branding can be the difference between success and failure, all depending on how well it is executed. It may be an area that isn’t given much thought, particularly if a company is hastily created or because founding members feel that things like graphic design are an unnecessary expense. And yet, without the consistency that branding provides, new products or services can easily get lost among competitors with a stronger brand. A powerful brand can create loyal customers, so it’s vital for a new company to think about how it wants to be seen before it launches.

Apple is often cited as a strong brand. It broke the mould on many fronts, from its name and logo having nothing to do with computers (although originally called Apple Computer Company) to its founder’s attitude and personality having a strong effect on the brand’s identity. Although there were originally three co-founders, Steve Jobs eventually drove the brand to prominence, and it was his desire for precision and minimalism that became inextricably linked with the brand. When he died, these design principles were maintained by Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive. Apple was also a change-maker in that its slogan, “Think Different” was purely inspirational and again, did not refer to the product. Other brands which have managed this successfully include Nike, with their “Just Do It” strapline. Both are short, snappy, and aspirational, so that the customer then connects the brand’s products with the chance to live and make real that philosophy for themselves. This creates brand equity, meaning that the brand’s value increases as people begin to perceive the products as being better and more desirable than other brands because of how they make them feel.

Part of brand management is assessing when a company may need a rebrand. This is not uncommon – it can just be a new logo, or it can be an entire rebranding exercise, changing the look and feel of a brand totally. This can be because the brand feels dated, or because the brand’s values have changed. If for example, a brand promise no longer feels relevant or true, updating that one aspect of the branding requires that all aspects be reviewed.

What are branding strategies?

A brand strategy is a document used by all stakeholders in planning the operations of a company. It is a plan that outlines the company’s goals for the brand, one year, three years, five years or further down the line. Activities are planned within the timeline to raise brand awareness among existing and new customers. These tend to be milestone events like new product launches and associated campaigns on social media or through more traditional advertising. Within the brand strategy there will likely be other strategies such as the content strategy, outlining the marketing assets which will be required like blogs, design templates, and copy for social media. The focus of these brand-building activities, especially for marketers, is on creating a brand experience, gaining competitive advantage, and improving financial performance.

As a company expands, it may have multiple products, ranges, and potential sub-brands, all with their own brand strategies. Large, global brands that have expanded over the years sometimes take the decision to unify the brand strategy and simplify communications. This may come after market research shows, for example, that the customer is confused by the differences between the various products, what they offer, and which one is right for them. Coca Cola’s One Brand strategy unites its various products like Diet Coke and Coca Cola Zero Sugar. The products have their own brands and target audiences, but at their core they are all part of the same family.

What is personal branding?

With the rise of social media has emerged the concept of personal branding. Your personal brand is how you present yourself to the world – particularly as a public figure or an expert in your field. 

Increasingly, with social media offering a platform for comment and opinion, many people are public figures whether they intended it or not. Either way, it’s important to think about how you appear to others, what you communicate, and how you communicate it in order to establish a strong personal brand. Someone’s business persona can become a brand in itself or a brand can grow out of a person’s popularity.

What is corporate branding?

Corporate branding is more about pushing the brand as a whole, rather than focusing on products or services. What are a company’s brand values? Does the company have a mission statement that resonates with the times in which we live? These are questions that investors or potential employees may ask. But it also applies to customers who buy into the brand as a whole and are most likely to be early adopters when it comes to any new products the company launches. 

Things that may come under corporate branding that are increasingly important to customers include Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the company’s HR policies. In fact, how a company is perceived by potential employees is down to employer branding, another arm of corporate branding. This includes how the company nurtures its internal culture, how it treats its employees, and how this is communicated.

Learn more about branding in international business

Branding is key to all business and is particularly important to international businesses operating in different territories. Understanding the message that certain logos or words send, as well as the symbolism of particular colours in different cultures, is crucial when operating globally. 

Add to your knowledge and expertise with an MSc International Business, Leadership and Management from University of York.