What is Branding? And Why Does it Matter?

What is Branding?

Companies and consumers take their products personally. Emotional connection, compatibility, loyalty… many of the values associated with branding also go along with interpersonal relationships. And just as in a social connection, a company that wants to be liked, valued and trusted by its customers needs to project a good image, make a strong initial impression, inspire confidence and remain connected. This is accomplished through branding.

Branding is an ongoing process whereby a business creates a presence in a consumer’s consciousness, including an image of the company and an impression of the product. Simply put, branding differentiates a company from its competitors and establishes the qualities that make a product worth buying. Branding includes everything surrounding a business’ image, and incorporates the company’s identity, logo and marketing.

Brand and Identity

Companies want to establish a relationship with buyers. Buyers who like a brand will buy their products, seek them out instead of competitors, remain loyal over time and promote their products through word of mouth. When companies engage in branding, they are saying to consumers, “this is who I am, this is why you should like me.” A brand is, essentially, the company’s personality: it’s values and the qualities that make it unique. A company’s identity, on the other hand, is its appearance: the look and style that show off those values. In this analogy, a logo is a company’s face: a headshot that calls to mind the whole entity behind it. A company that wants to be popular needs to have a strong brand, strong identity and strong logo, and all need to work hand-in-hand.

Good Branding

Good branding establishes and maintains a relationship with customers. To do so, good branding must do the following:

  • Communicate a clear message: The company’s story and values, summed up clearly and succinctly. A message communicates to the customer why the company or product is special.
  • Back up the message: Examples that demonstrate the company’s stated values. Backing up the message establishes for the customer why the company is reliable and builds trust.
  • Establish an emotional connection: Content that inspires feelings, such as humor, excitement or pleasure. Establishing an emotional connection makes the customer care about the company.
  • Build loyalty: Ongoing reiteration of the message. Building loyalty through new ad campaigns and logo updates keeps the brand relevant to the customer and keeps them engaged with the company.

Great Branding

Why settle for good branding when you can have great branding? Visual devices make the difference between a good brand and a great one. Thoughtful and innovative visual devises can make a logo, package or ad campaign as important as the product behind it. Even better? Staying clear and consistent by tying them all together. Target is an excellent example of great branding through well-thought out and integrated visual design. The brand’s message is all about making well-designed items affordable, and the in-store brand of clothing and household goods, “Threshold”, is simple and chic. The chain’s tagline sums up their mission succinctly: “Expect more. Pay less.”

Target has established a clear, attractive and integrated identity. The Target signature look is clean, lively, chic and fun, and suggests that the good life can be accessible to everyone. Target’s logo is elegantly simple: a few clean clean red and white lines form the graphic and the store name appears in crisp, red Helvetica type. In the brick-and-mortar store, red and white are the predominant colors in store displays and furnishing, and circles are a repeated decorative element. Packaging, from shopping bags to the store loyalty card, employs the same visual theme- red with white circles, white with red circles, varying sizes and placement, Helvetica font- without simply repeating the company’s logo. The Target website uses the same typography and visual elements, as do its print and digital advertisements. Target advertisements feature attractive but realistic-looking people, including families and pets, interacting with the brand’s visual devises. Importantly, the store regularly updates not only its in-store seasonal collections but its advertising campaigns in order to stay fresh. Target’s approach is highly successful because it is approachable, recognizable and integrated across all aspects of the company.

Branding Pitfalls

Establishing a relationship between a company and a consumer can be as tricky as forming an interpersonal connection. Companies, like people, can easily project the wrong image, send mixed signals or fail to stand out from the crowd. Common mistakes in branding include:

  • Representing too many (or conflicting) values: Branding should define a company in terms of one or two core values, such as “elite and refined,” “well-made and low-cost,” or “youthful and trendy.” Consumers won’t believe in a company that claims to be all of the above.
  • Cumbersome branding: Generally speaking, a tagline should consist of no more than a few words, a logo of no more than a few forms. Simple designs are easier to reproduce across platforms, can be updated more smoothly and are more recognizable. Nike’s “swoosh” logo and three-word tagline are the definition of iconic simplicity.
  • Inconsistent identity: Multiple styles and looks within a company only serve to dilute its image. Designers should think of each aspect of a company- from its website to its packaging- as an expression of the brand. Visual consistency is key for creating unity and recognizability, and should include graphics, color and typography. Branding should also maintain the same voice and attitude across all platforms, whether that language is hip, polished or casual.
  • Uninteresting content: An accomplished designer can make a product’s package as desirable as the product inside (think Altoids tins and Crown Royal bags). Great design can make an advertisement entertaining or beautiful enough to go viral. Uninspired content may represent a brand, but cannot celebrate it, and customers won’t feel excited about the product.

Avoid these pitfalls and you’re well on your way to creating successful branding, winning over customers with a message and identity that are clear, credible, engaging and consistent.

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