BRANDING: Why is it so misunderstood?

Branding

The term “Branding” is greatly misunderstood by the general public, business owners, and within the branding industry. Many professionals often misuse the word and therefore have created a broad misunderstanding of what a “brand” is and how “branding” is defined. Furthermore, defining what “branding” is and understanding the impact of the misuse of the word by business professionals will help to uncover how they might benefit by having a clear understanding of the term and the effect on their business.

There have been many occasions in my professional career where I have been challenged to explain to an executive or a business owner what their company brand is. One of the first challenges to overcome is the differing definitions many people have about the meaning of a brand. Until we can come to a clear and definitive definition where we all agree on the meaning of a brand, we will continue to misunderstand the brand’s importance and how it affects our business.

The general public doesn’t have to be concerned about the direct and complete definition of branding because they are typically not in charge of helping to develop, redefine, or even launch brands. However, they do play an important role because they are the target of a brand initiative. The general public also helps to define what a brand is and occasionally will be asked for their opinion either directly through a survey or indirectly through the preference of purchase for a particular product or service. The amount of sales for product or service is one of the simple ways to help define the popularity of a brand.

Businesses on the other hand are major players on how their brand performs. Whether they are owners, entrepreneurs, or a people in charge within an organization, these individuals are typically leading the charge with branding efforts for their company. It is important for them to understand how a brand works and how branding impacts their business. The difference between companies that understand how to “brand” and the companies that do not are typically defined by the longevity of the brand. Companies that execute a strong branding initiative are better prepared for survival. Companies that do not are typically short-lived. For the past several decades, I have spoken to many people in charge of branding for companies such as Maytag, Principal Financial, Massey Ferguson, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft to name a few. Frankly, there is no difference in the composition of a brand initiative between a Fortune 500 company and a small entrepreneurial shop. The premise is still the same.

A well-thought-out brand strategy will help you grow your business.

So why all the confusion about branding? First, it is my opinion that most people do not understand branding because a “brand” is not something you can really touch or feel. Your brand is created in the mind of your customers. It is the accumulative perception someone gets from your company, product, service, person, etc. And “branding” is the process that professional marketing, advertising, and branding companies apply to each brand initiative in order to get the best outcome.

Again, there is a lot of confusion about what a “brand” is. There are some people that believe a brand is the company logo. Others might say the brand is the company product. And still, others might even say the company brand is the owner of the company itself. These responses are typically from owners of companies and marketing professionals in charge of “branding” their product or service. Hence, there is an additional problem. How can major decision-makers in an organization “brand” a company, product or service if they do not understand what their brand is?

In order to understand the complex problem of “branding”, we must first understand what a “brand” is. Historically, the term brand comes from the Old Norse brandr, meaning to burn. Its origin was meant to imply a burnt stamp signifying ownership of livestock from one farmer to another. This is probably the closest real live example we have to date. The meaning has evolved and today people’s misunderstanding and misuse of the word plays havoc in the branding industry. It is not uncommon for someone to mention, “I just re-branded my company.” When pushed for details, they would usually respond with the notion that they had a new logo created for the company. Creating a new logo for the company is not re-branding, it is That is merely having someone create a new logo.

So, let’s clear up and define the meaning of “brand.” More importantly, let’s clear up the context of how a business uses these words “brand and branding”. This is my definition, which is a more accurate definition. A “brand” is an accumulation of touch points from your business and as a result, it creates a general perception of your brand. When asked, they will be able to define your brand based on their experience with it. Think about it this way. When you first meet someone, you begin to create an impression of that person. After you have met and spoken to them several times, your perception of them begins to become more clear and definitive. Later, someone might ask you “What do you think about John?” At that point you would say things such as “He is a really nice guy,” or “He is really funny,” or “He seemed really busy and did not have much time for me,” or “He is really intelligent.” As you can imagine, these are the same type of perceptions people have about your brand. They will generalize their overall opinions and come to a conclusion. As stated on the Brand Channel “As branding is deeply anchored in psycho-sociology, it takes into account both tangible and intangible attributes, e.g., functional and emotional benefits. Therefore, those attributes compose the beliefs that the brand’s audience recalls when they think about the brand in its context”  (Grimaldi, 2013).

So, if a “brand” is a cumulative perception someone has about a business, then the term “branding” is the process of developing that perception. The reason “branding” is so misunderstood is due to the fact that it is a very complex process and the outcome is not tangible. Since a “brand” is the perception of what you think about a company, it is more difficult to understand. It is intangible.

Branding is the process of helping companies to define who they are and how people see them. Taken into consideration are all aspects of the company including the product, service, culture, owners, size of the company, location of the company, history, mission, vision, website, receptionist, communication collateral, and much more. The process of branding also includes detailed research and clear definitions of the brand position, brand essence, brand character, differentiators, SWOT statements, value proposition, and more. The branding process is complex and very time intensive. Branding initiatives can take as little as 3 months for a small business to one year for a larger and more complex brand. Although once done properly, the outcome can be very rewarding. With a clear definition of the “brand,” a company is better prepared to compete and grow in their particular industry space. A well-done branding initiative also provides essential resources for the marketing, advertising, and communications team to draw from without the exhaustive need to create it at every communication juncture. The consistency of a brand has long been a factor in developing a positive perspective about an individual brand. A well-thought-out branding initiative helps companies achieve a strong level of that consistency and trust someone needs in order to make that most important decision, purchase and engage your company in solving their need.

It is important for people in charge of brand development to understand what a strong “brand” means to their business. They would be better equipped to grow their business and at the same time gain intellectual brand equity.

 

About Alex Valderrama

Alex Valderrama
Alex Valderrama is one of the nation’s top Brand Strategists, Award-winning Designer, Author, and the Principal at Cranium. Through his unique experience working with several hundred clients, he has helped many brands lead in their industry with Business Growth, Brand Strategy and Customer Experience Design. Alex has worked with some of Nation’s most well-known brands such as Truven Health Analytics, Principal Financial, Citi Community Capital, Massey Ferguson, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Gates Rubber, National CineMedia, and Fathom Events. In addition, he has also worked with small businesses such as Basil Doc’s Pizza, Spavia, Santa Claran Hotel, and Aldo Leopardi just to name a few. Alex gained his BFA at the International Academy of Design with emphasis in Visual Communications. He also achieved the honor of Summa cum laude. Alex has taught advanced branding and marketing courses at Arapahoe Community College and Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado. In the past, he has been the curriculum advisor to several universities as well as a mentor to both students and interns. Alex has served as a judge for several national branding and marketing competitions. He lectures regularly on branding and marketing throughout the design community and the business sector. Alex has also served as a marketing board member and independent branding advisor for several community development projects, non-profit organizations, business groups and marketing associations. Additionally, Alex has held several board positions with the local American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and Business Marketing Association (BMA) Chapters. Alex frequently writes about branding and his agency has received over 80 national and international awards from esteemed industry competitions such as Print Magazine, Graphics and American Corporate Identity. His work has also appeared in over 20 international publications such as: The Big Book of Logos 3; The Best of Business Card Design 5; Blue is Hot, Red is Cool; Direct Response Graphics Book; Rockport’s Letterhead; Logo Design 6 Source Book; and, Best of Brochure Design 5 just to name a few.

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