What is Branding?
How to build a strategic brand for your business that stands out & gets you noticed.
Branding is typically thought of as a logo, name, or tagline that identifies a company or product from its competitors.
While it’s true that all of those elements form part of a brand, in reality, they’re only one small part of your greater brand identity.
So what does it really mean?
In The Brand Gap, Marty Nueminer defines branding as “what people say about your business when you’re not in the room or their gut feeling about your company, product or service”.
David Aaker categorizes it as “a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another” in Aaker on Branding.
At Highly Persuasive, we define branding as ‘how a company, individual, or organization is being perceived in the marketplace by everyone outside of the company’. In other words, it’s what people think your business is like versus what it’s actually like.
Regardless of how you word it, branding is about creating, maintaining & managing the perception of your business in the eyes of your audience.
1. Branding Has Changed
Today’s audience interacts with your business in different ways at different times.
When visitors see your website or marketing materials for the first time, it only takes them 7 seconds to form a strong first impression (right or wrong) of who you are & what it would be like to work with you.
These snap decisions about your business based on surface-level & superficial factors happen instantly & automatically and are often based on the look, feel and sound of your website or marketing materials.
When your brand identity doesn’t match your business identity, it can lead to a lot of problems.
How customers perceive your brand in the marketplace determines how they interact with your business. In order to get on their shortlist of companies to compare & consider, it’s essential that you make a great first impression.
Brands that are positioned as an authority in the niche usually have little trouble attracting a steady pipeline of eager to buy leads & prospects.
On the other hand, if the website or marketing materials are outdated or look unprofessional, it could seriously be damaging the brand’s reputation with prospective customers and even killing the sale before the sales process ever gets started.
2. What Makes Up Your Brand Identity?
Marketing has been documented as far back as the 15th century in books like The Marchants Avizo (1589) & The Complete English Tradesman (1726), but branding as we know it today is a relatively new phenomenon.
One of the few frameworks available to define brand identity, The Corporate Brand Identity Matrix was created by Professor Stephen Greyser of Harvard Business School and covers nine key categories of what makes up a brand identity.
According to this model, there are 9 primary brand categories which are broken down into 3 viewpoints: Internal, External & Internal/External:
- Brand Core
- Brand Culture
- Brand Relationships
- Brand Position
- Brand Expression
- Brand Personality
- Brand Expertise
- Mission And Vision
- Brand Value Proposition
The brand core acts as the foundation for the other eight elements in the matrix. When a brand identity is cohesive, each of the other elements will inform and reinforce the brand core, resulting in expressing the company’s values and what the brand stands for throughout different collateral & channels.
Here’s how we classify brand elements according to this framework.
A) Internal Branding
- Mission Statement
- Vision Statement
- Brand Personality
- Buyer Persona Development
- Buyer Journey Mapping
B) Internal / External Branding
- Brand Personality
- Brand Voice
- Brand Tone
- Brand Story
- Brand Values
- Brand Messaging
- Brand Architecture
- Brand Naming
- Brand Culture
C) External Branding
- Brand Positioning
- Marketing Collateral
- Staff Training Workshops
- Brand Videos
- Events / Trade Shows
- Logo / Trademarks
- Corporate Identity & Visual Systems
- Packaging Design
- Website Design / Development
- Wayfinding & Signage
You can find more information about this framework here.
3. Why is Branding Important for Business?
Your brand is perhaps your company’s most valuable asset. Why? Because branding enables you to control the way in which you’re positioned & perceived in the market by your customers.
– BRANDING GETS YOU MARKET RECOGNITION
Get your audience familiar with your brand & build positive associations by keeping your business top of mind throughout ongoing sales, marketing & advertising activation campaigns.
– BRANDING ATTRACTS IDEAL CUSTOMERS
Generate referrals through strong brand recognition, word of mouth & strategic referral programs. Once a brand has been well-established, referrals can act as the primary source for inbound lead generation.
– BRANDING BUILDS TRUST WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
When you present a cohesive brand identity it helps to build trust with your audience & potential customers.
– BRANDING MAKES THE COMPETITION IRRELEVANT
Branding radically differentiates your company by establishing your unique value proposition & positioning your company as an expert within the niche.
4. The Four-Phase Branding Process
How To Build A Strategic Brand Identity
Brands are complex marketing assets made up of different elements & touchpoints that progress & change with your business over time.
When approaching a rebrand, it’s always a good idea to get an overview of what’s involved in each phase of the process, so that you can consider what needs to be included in your brand identity.
To keep things consistent, we follow a four-step branding framework designed to discover key insights about the business & audience and build a brand experience to match their needs wants & desires. Below you’ll find a brief overview of our framework with a brief overview of some of the 40+ elements that go into our branding process.
1) BRAND DISCOVERY
Brand discovery is a thorough examination of your brand’s current position in the market compared to your competitors and a review of its effectiveness with customers.
In this phase you need to dive deep into your business to learn about your customers and why they buy from you, developing in-depth buyer personas that are used in the key development of your brand strategy.
We also evaluate your current brand & researching your industry, competitors & customers, to uncover areas of opportunities & sources of friction with your customers.
• BRAND AUDIT
Brand audits are a thorough & in-depth examination of your brand’s position in the market compared to your competitors.
• COMMUNICATION AUDIT
Assess your brand’s native tongue by analyzing the language, tone, and messaging surrounding your business at different touchpoints.
• BUYER PERSONA DEVELOPMENT
Buyer personas help you understand who you’re talking to, what they care about & what problems they’re trying to solve.
• BUYER JOURNEY MAPPING
Document how customers buy from you and which solutions they’re trying to achieve by mapping out the buyer’s Journey for your products and services.
• COMPETITOR ANALYSIS
Find out what your competitors are doing right (and wrong) in the eyes of your customers and capitalize on opportunities for unique positioning & advancement within your industry.
• WEBSITE & DIGITAL BRAND EVALUATION
Uncover areas of opportunity & concern by evaluating your website & how it makes your brand look in the eyes of your audience.
• SEO AND SEM AUDIT
Understand buyer intent by researching & evaluating how your customers buy online to structure your website and marketing to better guide your customers through the buyer’s journey.
• VISUAL EXPERIENCE AUDIT
Analyze the tone, mood, & feel of your brand along with competitors to determine customer expectations in terms of design, aesthetics & style across your industry.
• CUSTOMER INTERVIEWS
Have strategic interviews with your customers that result in high-value insights for your organization that you might not have otherwise uncovered.
2) BRAND STRATEGY
In this phase, it’s all about taking the insights gathered in the brand discovery phase & identifying & the core values of your business to create a brand strategy that’s centered around the needs & expectations of your audience.
Claim a unique place in the market with brand positioning that resonates with your audience and positions your brand as a thought leader within your niche.
• BRAND POSITIONING
Set the tone for your customer’s first impression of your brand by claiming your own unique place in the market.
• POSITIONING STATEMENT
Create your most powerful conversion tool; a unique positioning statement that defines who you are/what you do/how you’re different.
• MISSION STATEMENT
Mission statements are a testament to who your brand is & what you’re trying to achieve.
• VISION STATEMENT
A testament to who your brand is & what you’re trying to achieve.
• BRAND VALUES
The guiding principles that your brand lives by & what you instill in the culture, from the leadership to employees.
• BRAND PERSONALITY
Give your brand a living and breathing personality with opinions and outlooks on the world that your audience can relate to.
• BRAND VOICE
Your brand voice is what you say. It’s a consistent style of communication for use across all environments — online and offline — The objective is to express your position, showcase your identity and engage with target clients.
• BRAND TONE
Your brand tone is not what you say, but how you say it. Your brand tone is how you will use your brand voice to speak to different audiences and environments.
• BRAND STORY
Tell the story of your brand through strategic narratives that exemplify your brand attributes and reinforce your core brand position.
• BRAND MESSAGING
Tell your brand’s story the same way every time with strategic brand messaging that unifies your communication in a cohesive messaging strategy. Brand voice and messaging humanize your brand, making it relatable to your customers.
• BRAND ARCHITECTURE
Organize your products and services in a cohesive and connected system that’s uniquely yours.
• BRAND NAMING
Strong brand names convey a company’s unique value proposition & instantly differentiate it from the competition.
3) BRAND DESIGN
Your customers live in a world of constant interruptions & distractions. In order to capture their attention & make a memorable first impression, your visual brand needs to represent your brand strategy in a way that stands out & gets noticed.
Once the core brand strategy is in place, it’s time to apply the brand in the visual design. Everything from the logo and corporate identity to the website and marketing materials is designed to reinforce the core brand strategy development above.
This section depends a lot on your budget and the extent of the brand applications needed, but the goal of the brand identity is to communicate your brand characteristics that provoke the ideal thoughts, feelings, emotions & positioning targeted in the brand strategy across multiple mediums and touchpoints.
• LOGO / TRADEMARKS
Your logo acts as the visual trigger point between your customers and your brand. It should look and feel like your brand strategy & match your positioning.
• CORPORATE IDENTITY & VISUAL SYSTEMS
Represent your brand visually across multiple formats & keep your communications consistent with uniform design.
A short & catchy message that describes what your brand does, what you stand for, who you help or other key messaging.
Use color to create direct associations between your audience & your brand by applying it consistently & uniformly across formats.
Like color, brand typography helps you reinforce your brand in different mediums by using one consistent font family & styles in all of your print & digital communications.
• BRAND GUIDELINES
Keep your brand principles consistent throughout your organization with a comprehensive guidelines book.
• PACKAGING DESIGN
Stand out on the store shelves with attention-grabbing packaging design. Express your positioning by how you design the packaging.
• WEBSITE DESIGN / DEVELOPMENT
Create a branded website that acts as the foundation for all of your digital marketing campaigns & conveys your sales and marketing messaging around the clock.
• WAYFINDING & SIGNAGE
Get people where they need to go by creating signage that guides people through an indoor or outdoor environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space as a whole.
• BRAND ILLUSTRATIONS
Create a branded art direction with custom illustrations & visual assets that you can use in your sales and marketing collateral.
Create a unique set of icons or symbols to help people quickly navigate content or make sense of complex information.
4) BRAND ACTIVATION
Brand activation is the process of executing your brand consistently across multiple customer touchpoints & channels with the express purpose of increasing brand awareness & getting more people to know about your business.
The number one problem that most businesses face when it comes to leads & revenue is lack of awareness. People just simply don’t know that you exist, but if they did you could do business with some of them.
Once you have the message in place, you need to get it heard.
But it doesn’t just apply to new brands. When approaching a Rebrand, businesses can’t just make a few changes and hope everyone will notice, we need to make sure people are aware of it.
Here are some ways to implement brand activation in your sales & marketing activities.
• MARKETING COLLATERAL
Create a unified brand presence throughout print and digital that’s works to reinforce your brand strategy & drive awareness at multiple touchpoints.
• STAFF TRAINING WORKSHOPS
Get everyone on the same page with brand workshops and customer service training.
• BRAND VIDEOS
Get in front of your ideal customers with engaging videos that tell the story of your brand.
• EVENTS / TRADE SHOWS
Show up in person, confident and in sync, with an integrated brand experience on the event floor.
Develop compelling presentations designed to keep your audience engaged.
Tell your brand story through print and give customers a tangible asset they can share with coworkers and friends.
Distill complicated and dry information into a fun and easy to consume visual experience that’s 3 times more likely to be shared than articles.
• CULTURE & EMPLOYER BRANDING
Carry your brand throughout the company by building a strong brand culture with employees that attract & retain top talent.
Next Steps: Plan Your Brand Strategy
Hopefully, this has given you a new outlook on branding & why it’s crucial to differentiate from competitors & communicate value to your audience in today’s competitive landscape.
Planning out your new brand strategy can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!
We’ve created a new brand strategy planning template for business owners & business leaders to simplify the brand development process & make brand planning more strategic & effective by planning out your branding strategy from 50,000 feet.
- Plan your brand strategy outline from a bird’s eye view
- Understand which brand elements are most important
- Narrow focus to what you need now vs later
Download it here:
Get a Print Ready PDF Copy of This Guide With Extras