October 13, 2011
Think about your favorite slogans, logos, or product designs. Maybe you love Nike's swoosh. Or, does the classic shape of a Coke bottle bring a flood of happy memories? Whatever your preference, these items and associated emotions and thoughts are examples of branding. They allow us to identify a product without thinking about it. It also helps us generate opinions about a product without even trying it.
The term branding is a reference to our friends the cattle ranchers and their method of marking their livestock. Fortunately for us, corporations don't use hot irons to make their mark. However, strong brands still leave as indelible a mark on our minds.
For consumers, a brand name can help identify quality. This was more important in the early days where there were fewer national brands. If you moved from Boston to Chicago, you probably wouldn't recognize most of the products in your new local store. A national brand was reassuring for newcomers; it was a promise of quality.
Fast forward to 2011, we don't have the same set up of products. If you move to a different city, you will see the same products, more or less, in every store. Moreover, with the Internet, evaluating products based on the experiences of others makes trying unknown products less risky than it was 100 years ago.
The Internet also introduces another aspect to the equation: Choice. As Chris Anderson details in his book "The Long Tail," the Internet is a veritable treasure trove of every variety of product imaginable. Still, more options don't always make us happier, and this where branding comes into play. In a sea of options, brands help us make tough decisions.
Branding is mental and emotional shorthand reassuring the consumer that this product will satisfy his or her needs. A company like Apple can convince people to buy just about any new gadget. A lot of that has to do with its brand. In the electronics/computer world, Apple stands for quality products, that are stylish, and easy to use. That is the usefulness of brand. No matter what Apple puts its brand on, these qualities are understood as part of the package. Conversely, a brand can also do the opposite. If you think about it, you probably have your own biases about products that you would never by from a certain brand or company. In some cases, you might not even remember why. This can sometimes be the case for companies that expand into new territory. For instance, the brand equity Nike has with sports equipment and apparel might actual hurt them, at least initially, if they decided to create a line of formal business clothes.
So you know what branding is and what is does, but how do you create a brand? There are two points that every company or brand builder should keep in mind about branding. First, branding isn't something you sit down and spend a week working on and that's it. You certainly can brainstorm an identity and what you want your brand to stand for, but branding is an ongoing, almost evolutionary process. As your product develops and exists in the market, and as the market itself changes, your brand can change too. Most likely, you won't hit on the perfect brand on your first try.
The other important point is that you aren't 100 percent in control of your brand. The consumer, and his or her experience with your product and service, will play a role in your brand identity. No matter how clever the marketing identity you create is, if the user finds the actual product experience doesn't meet the marketing hype, experience will always trump marketing. As the adage goes, "nothing kills a bad product faster than good [marketing]."
That being said, branding is ultimately a strategy not necessarily a tactic. The tactic behind branding is called positioning. But your brand goes into everything you do. It is the string that ties your direct marketing to your online advertising to your public relations to your website. You are, in a sense, building your brand through all your other marketing efforts. The key to creating the brand is consistency and focus. It should be simple and straightforward.
Like I said earlier, even if you create a simple, straightforward brand identity, and you consistently stick to it with everything you do, consumer perception of your product can limit the effectiveness of your efforts. This is why listening to feedback is important. Look for unwanted or unintended views of your product. It also might help you find a niche or market for your brand you never thought of. This is the all part of the evolution.
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Jeff Francis is a marketing geek who would never refer to himself as a guru. He is that weird sort who enjoys watching commercials and analyzing communication strategies. He is also available for hire and would love to hear from you. So, head on over to the contact page and get in touch.