What do you think of when you hear the word "brand"? Do you think of your company's logo, website, or mascot? Maybe you think of another famous logo like the Nike swoosh or Apple's apple. Many consumers believe that "brand" means something visual, like a logo or a website, and they are somewhat correct; a brand is illustrated through its visual identity. But a brand is so much more than that. And a savvy business owner understands this important detail.
What is a Brand?
Your company's brand is reflected in the feelings people experience when they hear your business name in conversation, see your social media posts, or read your emails. Your brand is present in your business mission, values, and messaging. It is the promise you make about what your customers can expect from you. In short, your brand is both your reputation and your DNA.
Because a brand is wrapped up in a person's emotions, it's easy to see how attached consumers can be to a particular brand. We all have products and services we can't live without. It might be Starbucks coffee or an iPhone. Products that have become an integral part of your life and your identity. That is successful branding. Last year, we wrote a blog entitled 4 Reasons Why People Fall In Love With Brands on this phenomenon.
We've established that branding is important and more than your logo. But that is just the beginning of the story. Let’s dig deeper.
Branding versus Marketing
Let's take a minute to establish the differences between branding and marketing. In the simplest terms, your brand is your reputation, and your marketing is your communication. Brand is strategy, and marketing is tactics.
What is the emotion your company is known for? Your brand is the first word that comes to mind. More than just a word, it’s the nucleus of your company. It’s the idea that every decision is based on. Expert Al Ries explained the concept of brand this way, "If you want to build a brand, you must focus your efforts on owning a word in the prospects’ mind. A word nobody else owns.”
Here are some examples:
- Volvo = safety
- Zappos = customer service
- Rolex = prestige
- Apple = simplicity
These companies embody their brand via a complete 360-degree picture of their business, including mission, vision, values, culture, customs, and style. A good brand is a constant entity on which customers, employees, vendors, and stakeholders can rely to be consistent, positive, and relevant to their lives.
On the other hand, marketing is the steps you take to deliver your brand message. These tactics will evolve as your organization's priorities and needs change. Marketing is both offline and online methods to communicate your brand. Sending direct mail, attending trade shows, and creating in-store displays are examples of marketing. If the messages are meaningful, they are successful. But the best messaging in the world will be lost or ignored if your brand is unclear or negatively viewed.
Brand Building Never Ends
You can see how important branding is to any business. Without a consistent and recognizable brand, a company has no presence, identity, or foundation for impactful messaging. Building a brand can take years, even decades. It's something that must be consistently communicated and updated.
On the other hand, it can take much less time to undermine a brand. Negative PR and consumer reactions to out-of-touch branding have killed plenty of brands. A brand is not set in stone or a fortress of steel. Brand building never ends. A brand must be cultivated and safeguarded.
There are times, however, when the market necessitates shifting a brand to a new strategy. Kodak is a good example. Despite having invented the first digital camera in 1975, the presence of cameras in every smartphone has made their products obsolete. In 2012, the 124-year old company filed for bankruptcy. In order to survive, the company pivoted to other printing-related products in the B2B space. They also dabbled in brand licensing and user generated content platforms. They’ve also tried to position their consumer product division through a nostalgia lens. The jury is still out on if they will be successful. The lesson here is that your brand is strong only when your market positioning strategy is strong. Keep track of demand shifts and pivot as needed. And don’t lose sight of your customer.
The Elements of Brand Strategy
Your brand strategy is the foundation your brand messaging and visual expression are built on. It establishes who, where and what you are, how you're different, and why you matter. There are five elements to a brand strategy. They are:
- Brand Positioning: This is the competitive space your brand occupies in the market. It articulates who your product or service is for, the need your customers have, and how your product fills that need. For example, Phase 3's positioning is: "For busy marketers who are being asked to do more with fewer resources, Phase 3 simplifies work by delivering the most-needed marketing services in-house under one roof.
- Value Proposition: Your Value Proposition (VP) is a clear and succinct statement of the benefit or solution your company offers that differentiates your product or service from the competition. Your VP explains why customers should buy from you. It’s your company’s promise of value to every customer. For example, Phase 3's unique value proposition is "Ideation to execution."
- Brand Narrative: Your brand narrative expands on your value proposition and brand positioning to more completely express your company’s core strengths and reasons for being, including the benefit to your customer. It's a longer story (usually 3-5 paragraphs written for an external audience using engaging language that highlights your brand personality.
- Brand Headline: Your brand headline quickly and effectively communicates your VP or your promise of value. A good brand headline is memorable and differentiates your brand in the mind of your customers.
- Brand Messaging: The goal with your brand messaging is to introduce your brand in a unique and engaging way. Brand messaging will consist of 1 or 2 paragraphs that position your company in a unique and engaging way. Your messaging should include authoritative, emotive language that reflects your brand personality. This messaging will be used in all brand collateral and websites.
The Details of a Brand
Using the elements of your brand as your guide, you then build out the details. These should include your visual identity, verbal communication guidelines, written communication guidelines, and more.
Your Brand Identity & Visual System is a collection of elements that represents your brand and helps to tell its story. It will depict colors, photography, fonts, and graphic elements to represent the overarching mood and design direction for the development. The Brand Visual System will also illustrate how these elements would come together on specific, relevant marketing materials, including but not limited to brochures, business cards or marketing collateral.
Your brand theme runs through your messaging, expression, and activation. It communicates the essence of your value proposition, purpose, position, and attributes in an inspiring and meaningful word or phrase. It is a great internal tool to help you unify your brand messaging, expression and activation ideas. It can also serve as an external tagline, though it does not have to.
Your communication standards are the rules and guidelines for both verbal and written communication. Communication standards include:
- brand voice and tone
- the approved company, product, and program names and the rules when writing them
- approved rules on leadership titles and attributions
- rules on using highly sensitive words and other writing guidelines
- email signature standards
- voicemail standards
- approved press release boilerplates
Many companies may also have a slightly revised version of their external communication standards for internal communications.
Physical and Digital Locations
Your brand also includes the physical and digital places where your brand is showcased. This includes your physical locations like stores, offices, or warehouses and your owned media channels like your website and social media channels. Phase 3 has worked with many clients to create immersive brand experiences in their physical locations that engage both internal and external audiences.
Your company should have guidelines for illustrating your brand and engaging with the public. Depending on the platform audience, you may have separate photo/graphic guidelines or voice/tone standards for each digital channel.
All of these elements should be captured in a style guidelines document that will establish the standards for all marketing and sales touchpoints and materials, to ensure consistency across your brand.
Refreshing Your Brand
A brand needs to be nurtured and grown. You should never ignore it or leave it to stagnate. It's essential to review it regularly. If you are concerned that your company's brand may need to be updated, or you've recently added programs or services, or you've been inconsistent in your marketing, a refresh will help. A refresh does not mean a complete overhaul of your brand. It's more of a tactical effort than a strategic pivot.
Nevertheless, considerable thought should be put into anything having to do with your brand. Make sure that a refresh will elevate the brand, not harm it. Our brand experts can help you undergo a brand refresh. Check out some of our recent projects and if you are inspired, contact us today.