Everything seems to be about branding these days. But ask 50 people what it means and you might get 50 different answers. Ask ten "branding experts" and you may also get 50 answers. Regardless of the answers, if you want to get noticed and attract the clientele that you desire in today's visually overloaded world, defining and refining your brand should be a big part of your strategy, if it isn't already. So I thought it might be good to bring some clarity to this often confused but powerful concept.
What it isn't
It might be helpful to start with what branding isn't before defining what it is, in order to clear away the clutter. Branding is not your logo, your slogan, your website or your values. All these things are a part of branding, but it's so much more encompassing than that, deeper than that. I think the following quote frames it nicely:
"Branding is the sum of every tangible and intangible connection that someone has with your business." - Caroline Winegeart
Branding is not what you think you are, but rather, it is how others perceive you, how they connect with you, how they feel about you. Put another way, it's not just who you are and what you do, but how that is perceived by the public. The nature of business is that it's a promise, for example: my products and service are excellent. Branding is the promise you make combined with how users perceive the promise was met. So how do you develop good branding if all these things are true?
In a sense, it's about learning to leverage those perceptions for maximum effect. You might be thinking, "Wait a minute!" that sounds like manipulation. Well, it can be, if your aim is to present a false promise. But if you're being authentic, it isn't manipulative at all. It's being smart about how you do business. Good branding is learning to focus and streamline what you do and who you are, targeted at who you want reach. And in this age, with so much noise fighting for people's attention, branding is absolutely essential to building a platform that has sustainable growth. You need a unique, well structured "voice" that speaks to your audience.
Every person, company or cause wants to stand out, and has to fight for our attention. And in a world of ever increasing imagery and information, that isn't changing anytime soon.
What Effective Branding really is And how you can use it effectively
TELL YOUR STORY
People want to connect with stories. They value authenticity. Stop trying to appeal to everyone and first spend some time re-discovering who you are as a business. You may even want to ask your loyal clientele why they choose you. There is something about you that is unique. Tap into that, and strengthen it. Play to your strengths, because they reflect what you love, believe in and who you are, and people will connect with that.
If branding is about how people perceive your business, then telling your story effectively and knowing your audience becomes very important. The most common mistake is trying to be all things to all people, which means you can only speak superficially. This is motivated by thinking "more customers means more profits." But it's a losing strategy. Branding needs to be directed. Focused. Connecting with the target. Be courageous to say no to some things that may need to go. The bright side means that you get to say yes to more that you really want to. If you become an expert people will seek you out. If you only do a little bit of everything, they will just go to a place like Walmart, where that level of product is frankly cheaper.
Why do you do business? What gets you up in the morning? What do you believe in? Stand for something, and don't be afraid to let it be known. Think of Toms shoes (I'm personally not a fan) but it's hard to argue with their results. People really connect with their ethos. They aren't just buying shoes, they are buying why they are made and why the company was started - it's humanitarian values.
You might find it strange that nothing I've mentioned has much to do with design, per se. Design is a part of branding, but unless you are aware of the true essence of what branding is, you can waste a lot of money on design that ultimately falls short. And I really don't want that. When you choose a designer or agency, find one that is truly invested in who you are, and wants to bring that out in how they design. Don't waste your money trying to attract customers in ineffective ways - define your brand well first.
Look at Tesla - they don't spend any money on advertising... and they are killing it. They do advertise, but its not advertising in the conventional sense. But what they DO HAVE is a very strong, well designed brand with consistent, clear values: environmental sustainability, style, forward thinking. Their CEO also knows how to leverage the media to create buzz. Which brings me to the final point: Strong branding makes advertising your business so much easier. A lot of this has to do with something as old as time itself: word of mouth. Still the most powerful form of advertising! How you do business, how you fulfill the promises you make, your values and character. That's effective branding. In our age, social media is the new "word of mouth." And people will tweetbook-hashtag-agram endlessly for the brands that they connect with. And if you want them to connect with you, you need to know who you are, and speak that clearly and authentically. That's smart branding.