What is branding anyway?

The term ‘Branding’ can be the root cause of plenty frustration for agencies. This is because clients may not always fully understand what branding means or involves, and so instead their focus is solely on tangible assets and measurable results they’re expecting, rather than the bigger picture of what brand means. This can result in agencies being undervalued.

All this huffing and puffing comes from one place – a communal misunderstanding of what branding is and what it means. Though the term ‘brand’ might be scattered across agency websites, the industry doesn’t offer a clear definition, which means clients feel they don’t have their expectations met. So, when it comes down to it, what exactly is branding anyway?

Branding is a big idea

If you’ve ever looked up the definition of ‘brand’, you’ll know it’s not straightforward. You might be able to give examples of what a ‘good’ brand looks like (cue Apple, Nike, etc.) but if someone asked you to grasp exactly what makes them special, you might struggle.

Indeed, the method for creating a brand varies from one agency to another, each using a different methodology and process to reach what they then present back as a ‘brand’. No wonder some clients are left confused.

This confusion lies in the inability to pin branding down to a physical output. Branding is an overarching idea that influences how people perceive and feel about your business. This means it can’t be characterised in a singular way or have its impact measured laterally.

Branding is has layers

The versatile nature of branding means the term is sometimes overused and misapplied, particularly by agencies. It describes a set of company values in one sentence and a logo in the next.

This is because the principal idea of branding breaks down into specific tones, elements and assets, so the term ‘brand’ encompasses everything from this big idea outwards.

Agencies are working hard to make clearer the understanding. In the meantime, we will explain how the term ‘branding’ is being used and what exactly it means (or at least should mean):

Brand strategy: this outlines the big idea and how it is deployed effectively across all areas of a business.

Brand experience: this relates to the experiences created in any physical and digital environments customers interact with.

Brand identity: sometimes simply called ‘identity’, this refers to the physical elements that give a brand its personality and make it easily recognisable to customers e.g. look and tone of voice.

Brand positioning: this is how a business uses a brand to place itself in the market. The aim of brand positioning is to differentiate your company from competitors as much as possible.

Brand assets: these are key elements of intellectual property that are unique to a brand, such as a logo, symbol, strapline.

Brand guidelines: these are rules that set out how the brand assets should be used, e.g. where logos should be positioned and how the business should ‘speak’ to customers tonally.

Brand values: these are a set of beliefs that underline how the business operates and behaves.

Brand audit: this is a process of evaluating the whole brand’s effectiveness and delivering recommendations for improvements.

Brand refresh: this is when a brand identity is updated to make it stronger, more modern or better suited to business needs.

Rebrand: this is a complete rethinking of an entire brand, including the big overarching idea that guides it.

By understanding these terms, as the client you can question agencies on what they’re offering and get the exact help you need with your brand.

Branding is meaningful

Ever read a business’ statement of purpose and been left more confused than enlightened as to what they do?

To be successful, a brand needs to be truthful to the business, chime with customers and be as clear and simple as possible. Of course, if you have a complex business offering, then you’ll need to use more than a single word or image to explain it, but brands need to say something meaningful and do so effectively. Otherwise, how will your customers understand or relate to it?

It’s also important for clients to keep in mind that your brand is your personality. The tone of voice and design style you use will all be interpreted by the audience you’re trying to target. As a result, it’s important to keep the audience’s perspective in mind to ensure the brand will be relatable to them.

When reviewing your brand, as the business owner you should ask yourself:

• Does my brand stand for anything?

• Will customers get the connection to the business?

• Will customers feel a loyalty and relate to it?

In short, it’s important that both clients and agencies remember it’s the customer (not the board of directors or internal stakeholders) that the brand should be talking to. Agencies that really want to add value will constantly hold a client to account and ensure they’re considering a customer’s perspective at every stage. If they’re not doing this, then they might not be the right agency for you.

Branding makes an impact

Effective branding makes an impact on customers and the business. Though the impact of a good brand can’t be directly linked to specific metrics, there are some benefits widely reported as a result of an effective brand:

• Positive customer recognition.

• Better employee engagement.

• Improved internal understanding of values and purpose.

• More effective marketing and advertising.

• Increased customer loyalty.

Plus, an effective brand will lead to more sales thanks to the greater recognition and more effective advertising it creates. Again, this can’t be quantitively measured and may take a long time to be felt. However, if your customers and internal audiences don’t understand or get excited about your brand, or if you don’t see positive effects within a few months, then you need to start asking questions about your brand.

We can help you with your brand

With an experienced team and an established process, our agency understands what it takes to create an effective – and unique – brand, whatever a business’ industry or target audience. We pride ourselves on partnering with our clients to have open conversations, communicate honestly and deliver truly effective brand solutions.

To find out more about how we could transform your brand, send an email with your brief to hello@designmc.org