For a long time, I was skeptical of the idea of brands. Sure, they seem necessary for up-and-coming business to improve awareness, but are they really necessary? Take Coca-Cola for example. They could cease all advertising entirely and start selling their products in plain gray packaging and still sell millions of bottles around the globe, right? Of course they could. So why, I thought, is a brand necessary for them?
Then I realized, I had been mistaken all along as to what a brand was. A logo and advertising are part of a brand, but they no more make a brand than a bag of flour and sack of apples make a pie.
So what is a brand? According to How Branding Works:
“(A brand) can allow you, your employees, your vendors, and others to know what makes your group unique, both in tangible and intangible terms.”
In other words, the brand is what makes a company unique, what sets it apart from the competition. It’s what the company is known for. Logos, jingles, advertising and marketing materials are integral parts of brand-building, but so are customer service and the overall experience of purchasing.
Let’s look at logos, for an example. Humans are visual creatures, and as a result logos work largely on a subconscious level. Virtually no one looks at a logo and thinks, “hmm, you know what, this looks interesting, I’m going to buy their product.” Instead you notice the Nike swoosh on a pair of trainers or the golden arches of McDonalds. If you had a positive experience there before, the brand is already formed in your mind. You associate the Big Mac you loved so much with the golden arches, and in turn with McDonald’s. That’s their brand. The brand is so much more than “I’m loving it” or the arches, or even the Big Mac. It’s all of these things combined.
Take, for example, one of my favorite brands. It’s from a small, locally-owned service station near my house which has branded itself as “Home of the hand-tightened lug nuts”. Now anyone who has ever cursed, struggled, and cut themselves trying to loosen an over-torqued lug nut knows, this is a huge selling point. This place has probably been using this slogan for 50 years, and while it’s not a flashy and instantly catchy jingle developed by a Manhattan ad agency, it says a lot about the station. To me, it says, “We’re small and locally-owned. We understand the troubles of our neighbors because we live here too. We’re not out to cheat anybody, and while we may not be the cheapest or the fastest, we do quality work.” And it’s true. That type of branding is invaluable. Plus, it worked on me. Whenever I have an issue with my car, I go visit this station, because I know they’re honest and they do a good job. That’s their brand.
Of course, not all branding is successful. According to David Brier, president and creative director for DBD International, there is a litmus test for branding:
“Does your brand really create the necessary ties with your consumers and potential consumers to rise above an overstimulated marketplace? Very few brands do, and the smarter (not necessarily bigger) brands take full advantage of this weakness.”
In order to fully optimize a brand, a company first must identify what type of brand it is. How Branding Works identifies two specific types of brands:
“Specific brand: A brand that defines itself narrowly and with detail. Examples include Starbucks, Ray-Ban, and Kleenex.
Vague brand: A brand that defines itself via characteristics, emotions, and broad strokes. Examples include IBM (the new IBM), National Geographic, and Disney.”
A lot of companies struggle with a brand identity, especially in the start-up phase. As a result, they’re unsure which branding strategy to utilize. That really depends a lot on unique needs and goals, but a good rule of thumb, again from How Branding Works is:
“As you develop your brand, try to think into the future to where you want to take it.”
But one thing any company can not afford to be without is a brand.