The actual meaning of ‘brand’

A blog piece, branding

As a designers, we hear people talking about ‘brand’, it’s something prospective clients mention a lot. And it’s a word that easily gets dropped into conversations with agencies. Sometimes without really clarifying their point. However, the question from Puur for today is “what does ‘brand’ actually mean?”. We ask this, because unfortunately over the last decade or so the word ‘Brand’ has become something of ‘catch all’ phrase and one that few really take the time to explain.

It is an incredibly important subject for any business, whatever its size. Because ‘brand’ is the reason people will camp outside a store to buy a new product that no one has ever seen let alone used. ‘Brand’ says something about you to your peers as well as current and prospective customers. It can help command a higher price point and entice the better employees. It can be the difference between a sale or no sale.

What do I think ‘brand’ means?

So let’s get into this, what do I think ‘brand’ means? My definition is one that I have honed and finessed over the years:

‘Brand’ is a promise, it’s an emotional connection that your customer has with your product or service. This is based on every touch point in the visual and verbal identity, and the associations and inherent value that this creates to the outside world.

If you went to Wikipedia and looked up ‘brand’ you’d get…

A brand is a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”[1] Branding began as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. A modern example of a brand is Coca Cola which belongs to the Coca-Cola Company.

LogoNotBrand2

It’s a nice insight of where the word came from. However, there are very distinct and important differences between ‘Branding’, ‘Brand marque’ or ‘brand name’ and ‘Brand’ which Wikipedia fails to really mention. Branding is the development and application of your icons, words and pictures based on your unique values and selling proposition.

In really basic terms branding is the application of your company’s words and pictures. You can control it, build consistency and create a strong image to the outside (and internal) world. Both ‘brand marque’ (the ‘logo’) and your ‘brand name’ (the name by which you sell you product or service) are part of your branding toolkit.

brand is basically ‘a promise created in the mind of your customer’

So we know what your branding is, but that isn’t actually your brand. When someone says, ‘we can create your brand’, they really are talking rubbish. Because when you distil down the above definition, brand is basically ‘a promise created in the mind of your customer’. That is helped by branding, but is effected by so much more.

Your brand is the perception you create in your consumers eyes, and as such is effected by pretty much everything; news, your organisations name, your peers, reviews from other customers, even seemingly stupid things like the temperature of your offices, how your telephones are answered, and the coffee you serve while customers wait etc.

So now we have an understanding of what Brand is, but how can we ensure it’s always positive if you don’t control so many of the inputs? Luckily there are 6 simple ways that a company can positively influence their customers’ thoughts and by doing this help build positive perception of you and your company. Here are some quick wins:

1. Know what your company stand for.

Knowing what you stand for seems a no brainer, but it needs to go further than just the nuts and bolts of what you do. Even plumbers need to be more than just good at their job nowadays. Brands need to talk to their audience as ‘friends’, so understanding the subjects that matter and how to talk about them is critical.

You can and should talk about your strengths, which you would have found out through honest analysis of what you do. Don’t hide your weaknesses, but try and talk about them positively and honestly. If you’re not clear about you then how will your customers be?

2. Be consistent with your branding

A simple rule of thumb is that when you start to become tired of your visual identity, that’s most likely when it is starting to build recognition in your customers. Remember this isn’t about your likes or dislikes, it is aimed at your target audience. Also it’s not all just about the pictures, your verbal identity (how you say what you say) is key too. You can influence many of the thoughts that your customers have about you, and how they talk about you, by having consistent messaging.

3. Ensure your service matches the promise

So talking about your strengths and even your weaknesses with show honestly and a whole bunch of positive words. But how your customers are treated will be key.

Customer service is a huge part of a company’s ‘brand’, especially when the definition of ‘brand’ is so customer focused – Make sure that your service and business practices are in-line with your values – the ‘what you stand for’ part of your identity. If your customer service doesn’t match the promise, your reputation could be damaged irreparably.

4. Don’t try to appeal to everyone.

Focus on your core market for your product or service and know it inside out. Ensure that you speak to these people in the way that they aspire to be spoken to. Trying to talk to too many people will dilute your message and could confuse.

5. It’s important to engage the internal audience

Engage with everyone in your company, they all need to understand what you stand for and where you want to go. They are the people that produce your product or deliver your service, if they don’t know what you stand for how are your customers going to? If they are your first point of contact then again, they will be your customers first impression.

6. Listen to the experts

Finally, this is where people like us come in. When developing an identity to reflect your values and positively influence your audience you really need expert advice. Just as you wouldn’t think of doing your own legal work or take on the job of building your own software (obviously unless you were a solicitor or a software developer etc), why would you create your own branding? Your employees will most definitely have an opinion on how you should move forward, and listening is important. Your brand and branding is at stake though, so gone are the days when Bob in accounts can just knock up a logo in Paintshop pro and it not make much of a difference to your orders.

How can we help in all this?

Puur in Colchester can help you with advice on your current branding, help you gain feedback to what your audience thinks of you and also create an identity (organically or otherwise) which can assist in the drive for business growth. We help ensure that your audience associates your product or service as the right solution to their need. Give us a call today to chat about your current challenge.

Photos by Clark Tibbs, Марьян Блан and Patrik Michalicka on the brilliant Unsplash
This post was first posted in August 2012

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