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The term branding is one that is loaded with questions, preconceptions and common misunderstandings. In fact, one of the frequent questions we get is, “What is branding?” This is almost always followed up with, “And, why do I need it?”

Think of branding as a conglomeration of marketing strategy, corporate identity design and good, old-fashioned market research. The purpose of branding is to help your business figure out who it is; to define a place in its market and a personality that exemplifies it. This personality takes the form of your company’s logo, colors, typefaces, messaging, copy writing style, the appearance of your offices or stores, how your staff interacts with its customers and even the physical personification of the company itself.

In fact, you probably already know what the end results of branding are. Think Starbuck’s, McDonalds, Apple, BMW, Google, Yahoo! and many other large corporations whose names invoke instant recognition and feelings.

Your brand is simply who you are, inside and out. And the best part? You don’t have to be a large corporation to benefit from great branding.

If you walk into a Starbuck’s anywhere in the world, chances are, you know what kind of experience you are going to get. Not just in terms of customer service or coffee taste, but also in terms of the store’s decor, design, layout, merchandising and general atmosphere.

Branding is focusing your efforts, fine-tuning your message and bringing it to life in all aspects of everything you do. There’s no reason a small business can’t have the same level of recognition and consistency. And more importantly, there’s no reason a small business shouldn’t.

Great, so now you are still wondering about that second question: why do you need it?

It’s no secret that being in business is no picnic. You are trying to build a product, service or selection that will keep your customers coming back—and convert potential customers to new customers. You want customer loyalty. It can be a challenge when your competition is cutting prices or they always seem to be one step ahead of you. How do you stand out and differentiate yourself from them?

That’s where the branding process comes in. During the process and research that drive it, information is gathered that helps you pinpoint what your strengths and weaknesses are, how you differ from your competition, how you perceive yourself, and how your business is perceived by your customers and employees. Additionally, your target market is defined and the best ways to reach that market are also determined. It is from this information that a brand personality is developed.

What are its traits? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Is it your best friend who always has the right thing to say at the right time? Or is it a long-time trusted adviser who offers sage financial advice? Does it take care of your needs quickly and efficiently? Or does it take time to do things slowly and methodically? Maybe it’s a wise-cracking tour guide or a silly character.

Once the branding is established, you should be able to walk away from the process with a brand style guide. This is essentially a document that tells you, and your graphic designers, sign makers, interior designers, copy writers, web developers and advertising agency how to represent your brand in all media channels.

The end goal is to create a high level of consistency, credibility and distinction in everything your business does. People will know what to expect when they set foot in your door for the first time and they will be impressed by the professionalism of your organization. Our society is a very image conscious one, especially as younger generations become young adult consumers. You have only a few seconds to make an impression on a potential customer. Simply put, businesses who have a clear, focused and consistent brand and image will gain an advantage in the marketplace.

If your company needs help branding or would like more information on this topic, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.