[Deep Dive] Branding: Are you out of your depth?

Branding is the hot topic on every business owner’s lips these days. Ironically, however, it is also one of the least understood concepts. Since I only associated branding with very unhappy cows, I figured it was time for me to hit the stacks and teach myself everything there is to know about it. Well, I learned the hard way that starting research into branding is like opening a big can of slimy, muddy, worms. After hours of research, I felt like tearing my hair out and screaming “Why did I ever think a simple Google-search project would turn me into a branding guru?!” I never considered that there was a reason there are so many companies full of professionals who teach and market branding. Obviously this is a topic that goes way over my head. But all of that research did at least teach me some of the branding basics:

What is Branding?

Part of the problem with understanding branding is that there are many ways to define branding! Branding can be:

  • Every experience a customer has with you. Branding is “the promise and delivery of an experience throughout every point of contact” according to Blackcoffee, a brand expression consultancy. These customer “contact points” include web searches, conversations, social media, emails, recommendations, and more.
  • The identification and education of who you are. Branding is about “education management- helping people understand who you are, what you do, and whom you serve” says branding expert Lorrie Thomas Ross.
  • What makes you distinct from others. Branding is a “tool that allows your messaging to cut through the noise of an overcrowded marketplace” says Blackcoffee. Consumers “use brand as an identification tool” to recognize your brand as distinct.

In short, your brand includes any feature that helps identify you, educate others about who you are and what you do, and differentiate you from others in the same market. Every time a customer comes in contact with your company, they experience your brand, whether you are aware of it or not.

Why is branding important?

Your customers experience your brand whenever they come into contact with your company. If you are not consciously managing your brand, you may be sending the wrong message to potential customers. Branding is about creating company personality that focuses on “who your target customers want and need you to be,” says Entrepreneur.com. Understand who your target audience is, what they expect, and then show them through your brand why you’re best equipped to give them what they need.

Consumers use brands to make purchasing decisions and to navigate the overwhelming marketplace. A good brand will allow a customer to easily identify if your brand is right for them or not. As Blackcoffee notes, “When brand meaning and relevance are clear, the brand will hold a stronger position in consumer’s minds and the more likely they are to choose it.”

So, why do you need to brand? First of all, your company is already in the public eye, so you need to make sure you are in charge of managing how your company is being viewed. By creating and managing a good brand, you will provide customers with a solid understanding of who you are, what your product/service is, and why they should (or should not) choose your company.

How do I brand?

Here’s where things get complicated. Branding means many things: designing your brand personality, developing your image, incorporating your company message through marketing, and much, much more. Branding includes everything from forming logos to creating your own online text content. Where do you even begin? My advice would be to get educated! (And I don’t mean a little Google search like I tried). Invest time: take some classes on corporate branding and/or hire a professional who can work with you to develop your company brand. Branding is too important to mess up; if you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s what the professionals are for!

What the professionals have to say

Carmen Sutherland and Suzanne McGinnis from ThreeDefined, a local Austin marketing boutique, offer these suggestions for brand management:

  1. Branding is truly the foundation of your business identity and worth investing in. Having a professional, consistent look and strategy helps present the best you to your customers across all platforms and touch points.
  2. Keep it simple. Cluttering your brand too many elements/colors/fonts creates chaos. Stick to a 1-2 colors, 1-2 fonts, 1-2 main message points.
  3. The most important thing to keep in mind when branding is consistency – have a recipe and stick to it!

Last thoughts

Managing your brand is not a one person job. That’s why most companies hire people like bloggers, graphic artists, receptionists, marketing consultants, and PR managers. You’re amazing, but you can’t do everything! Instead, you should focus on what you know and love about your business, and get help for the rest. As much as I love self-empowerment, there are some things that just need a little expert touch.

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