What is Branding? Definition & Effective Brand Strategy
Discover the power of branding! Understand the fundamentals and leverage effective brand strategy!
Written by RamotionNov 7, 202316 min read
Last updated: Nov 8, 2023
Do you know that the history of branding goes back dozens of centuries? According to the London College of Contemporary Arts, it dates back to around 2000 BC. In its earliest form, it was used to depict ownership by farmers.
What is branding?
Branding is an ongoing process of supporting and cultivating a brand's distinct identity in consumers' minds. It covers multiple activities to increase brand value, reinforce brand recall, and market business through digital and traditional marketing.
The discipline has evolved and grown over the centuries. The actual branding as we know it today took its shape in the 19th and 20th, becoming an art and a crucial part of any successful business. It has been gaining momentum ever since.
According to Nielsen Media Research lists, there are already over 500,000 brands. Though, the reason for such immense popularity does not lie in everyone's desire to become a proud part of this thousand-year tradition but rather a necessity to survive.
Branding has become the surefire way to signify the origins and values of the company, prove itself as a reliable seller, stand out from the oversaturated market, connect directly with potential customers, and fight the competition.
Let's dive into this old but relevant concept and see its importance in business development these days.
First things first – what is a brand? The brand is a concept (that can be anything: product, service, company, conglomeration, and even human being) with a unique identity. It is immediately recognizable and publicly distinguished from others due to original and authentic traits and even behavior. It is a cornerstone of branding.
What are key elements of branding?
The key elements of brand and branding are the company name, logo, design, slogan, personality, values, mission statement, and unique selling proposition. They underlie all actions taken by the brand management and team.
Some excellent examples are Coke, KFC, Ikea, and Microsoft. One of the personal brand representatives is Madonna, with her lifestyle brands Material Girl and Truth or Dare by Madonna.
How Does Branding Cultivate Strong Brands?
Differentiating your company from generic products is a matter of survival and further existence. No one will give their money and preferences easily. No one will become loyal customers to a company just because.
The customer's decision-making process has become tricky. It is getting harder and harder to influence it. Nevertheless, a strong brand identity pulled by well-thought-out corporate branding can still do that.
A purpose-driven branding makes it easier to cultivate a strong, positive brand image and tell the story behind a company. It showcases values, mission, purpose, personality, and value proposition. It clearly and consistently communicates these attributes in every communication and touchpoint, establishing healthy relationships and turning clients into the company's evangelists.
Every step taken during branding (whether a campaign or event) reminds customers about the company's unique features, reinforces an emotional bond, and cements a foundation for long term brand growth.
Target Audience for Branding
One of the most significant advantages of what is branding is that it eliminates all guessing from the decision-making process and provides the company's departments with relevant information. It constantly tracks and monitors fluctuations in the mainstream to get knowledge for meeting current expectations and demands.
The market changes constantly. For instance, today, modern customers are concerned about the company's values, their environmentally-friendly approaches, and community responsibilities. Building a brand's image with a strong reputation that naturally adapts to whatever is coming is crucial.
Therefore, the target audience for branding is companies that want to define themselves as a brand that actively operates in the market, not just an economic entity that strives to exist. This rule applies to most market representatives across all niches, with some exceptions.
Some products and companies easily thrive without this concept. For example, if the business works in a small area, targets a small crowd, or knows all of its customers personally, like a small pub in the neighborhood, branding is unnecessary.
Types of Branding
Branding goes beyond creating an impressive and meaningful visual identity with a beautiful logo and catchy slogan. It incorporates multiple actions and efforts crucial for the target audience to understand the business and form a strong brand image in their minds.
The discipline may take different forms and shapes depending on the company's short- and long-term goals. Let's consider five popular types.
1. Personal Branding
Personal branding is associated with a person's unique features, traits, vision, and behavior. Brand centers around the personality, whereas branding focuses on shaping a public persona. All prominent individuals like Elon Musk, Madonna, and Channel are representative examples.
Though, this doesn't mean you need to hold 16 official Guinness World Records, including Best-Selling Female Recording Artist, to become a personal brand. Anyone can enjoy the benefits of this type. If you are a solopreneur or self-employed, freelance writer or designer, podcast or YouTube channel creator, or just starting a venture, you might unlock the true power hidden in becoming a brand.
It should be noted that this type comes with lots of responsibilities and pitfalls. It may easily backfire if the target audience finds your behavior inappropriate. Even the top branding agencies cannot save you from losing your reputation due to impulse comments.
Retail Branding has become increasingly popular with the rise of e-commerce. Much like any brick-and-mortar store, every digital store heavily relies on it to stay afloat, fight competition, and achieve its long-term goals.
This type of branding differs from others because it focuses on customers and how they feel when surfing through shop online or entering the physical store.
According to surveys, over 65% of consumers expect more meaningful brand experiences. Therefore, retail branding goes beyond just promoting brand identity. It zeros in on the shopping experience (especially customer service) and puts clients at the heart of strategies and campaigns.
The brand's personality and values underlie all efforts to create a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints, communication, and distribution channels.
Apple, Starbucks, Disney, and Aldi are great examples that speak to the heart of their target audience and meet their demands and expectations.
Product and Service Branding
Ever notice how 'Jacuzzi' has become synonymous with 'hot tube' or "Google" with " surf the web"? They are excellent examples of well-thought-out product or service branding.
This type of branding focuses only on the company's product or service. It makes the latter a top priority and centers everything around building a strong reputation and positive overall perception so that one day, the selling item becomes synonymous with the niche or carves its sub-niche.
Product or service branding implies activities in all channels through which the customers interact with the company. Since the modern market includes dozens and hundreds of touchpoints, effective branding also ensures consistency across all of them. It keeps the company's efforts on track and maximizes overall impact.
On top of that, with new selling goods backed like hot pancakes, a well-thought-out ongoing branding process provides the target audience with relevant reasons and some skillfully nurtured emotional anchors to choose you over others.
Geographic and Cultural Branding
Geographic branding focuses on a particular area and thrives on aspects that are specific to that. It can be a city, region, state, country, or union.
Cultural branding fixates its efforts around customs and aspects that build a certain level of relevance to its target audience's lifestyle.
Both these types of branding have a unique selling point that, as a rule, is authentic and original. For example, geographic one chooses the unique traits of a specific region as a selling point or hypes the history of the place.
As for cultural branding, it humanizes the company and puts it in the relevant context. It might employ the company's commitment to society, customer's traditions, the well-being of their employees, or even their efforts to protect the environment to create a strong bond connection with the market.
Hotels, airlines, taxi companies, and other representatives of tourism and tourism-adjacent businesses employ these types to take their game and positioning to the next level.
Although e-commerce is an integral part of the retail niche, it has its unique traits. For example, it operates only in digital expanses and focuses on digital communication channels and touchpoints.
Many e-commerce platforms do not have physical stores; therefore, their shopping experience boils down to visual presentation, the usability of the website, and the efficacy of customer-facing employees.
E-commerce branding prioritizes the digital shopping experience and customers' positive impression and perception of the company online. Its primary branding efforts are aimed at accomplishing these main goals:
- develop trust in customers,
- raise the company's credibility,
- reinforce the retailer's reputation.
The importance lies in the growing online commerce trend is hard to overestimate. Everyone sells goods or offers services, from hand-made brochures to masterclasses to proofreading academic papers. Whatever size of digital shop you have, e-commerce branding is what you need to stand out from the crowd.
Marketing vs. Branding
Marketing and branding are undoubtedly connected and overlap in many areas. Some people even use them interchangeably. However, there are numerous distinctiveness between these two that you need to know and understand to maximize the effect from both disciplines. Let's dot all the "i"s.
Branding is the process of establishing a company as a brand and transmitting its personality and values in products, campaigns, and strategies. Whereas marketing is a process of promoting the company and raising awareness.
Also it is your strategy and foundation for achieving short- and long-term goals. It determines these aspects: the company's personality, traits that make the company unique, internal company culture, how people should feel when they think of business, etc. It keeps the brand stable and unchanged regardless of fluctuation in the market.
Marketing, in turn, refers to supporting a brand's core values and delivering key messages and unique selling points to the target audience by implementing branding strategies. It constantly evolves and changes to adapt the brand to the market's new demands, preferences, and expectations.
Brand elements are unique aspects of a company or brand's design personality that describe it on many levels. From how the team addresses the customer's issue to the font the company should use to create a headline in promo email to styles that should be applied on the website or social media profiles, they are cornerstones of cohesive and consistent brand guidelines. They collaborate to make the company unique, deliver its personality to the target audience, and make sure proper brand perception.
The fundamental brand elements are:
- Brand name,
- Brand logo,
- Color scheme,
- Tone and voice,
- Graphics and imagery.
Slogans, catchphrases, and mascots are getting increasingly popular in branding. They personify the company, making it closer to customers, and at the same time, reinforce marketing campaigns because they quickly get stuck in consumers' heads and remind them about the company. However, some companies may easily thrive without them.
Branding Strategy Essentials
Branding is nothing without a good strategy that channels efforts in the right direction, keeps the company on track, and maximizes the impact of marketing activities. It is essential for growing and developing the company into a strong player in the market with a recognizable, memorable, and potent brand.
Branding strategy does multiple vital tasks: it communicates core brand values, identifies strengths in marketing concepts and weaknesses in brand development, filters out ill-advised ideas, focuses on long-term goals, sets a benchmark to measure progress, and gets everyone on the same page. Every successful brand starts with a well-thought-out strategy.
Developing an effective brand strategy requires the team to analyze and master its essential components. These aspects underpin decisions made across all departments and prioritize the initiatives that align with the company's core vision, values, and goals. At a minimum, this includes the following:
1. Company values and mission.
The company outlines its core values and mission to create a driving force for all decisions and initiatives. The team determines the ideal customer by locating those who share the same values.
2. Unique brand image and voice
The company establishes a foundation for emotional branding by analyzing its personality and key traits. The team finds the voice and tone that shape the overall brand image and correctly delivers the message across all touchpoints to the target audience.
3. Target audience
The company uncovers the market's demographics, emotional inclinations, needs, behavioral patterns, expectations, and, most importantly, the problems to offer a relevant solution.
4. Competitive advantages
The company dives deep into competitors' strengths and weaknesses to define ways to stand out from the crowd and run campaigns that will supersede others.
5. Promotion techniques
There are hundreds of ways to promote the company. It is easy to go wrong. A carefully planned branding strategy effectively filters out those marketing communications that will damage the business memorable brand image.
Much like original branding, an anti-branding trend also focuses on activities to cultivate and promote the company's unique identity, break through the noise to fight competition, and win a place under the Sun.
Unlike traditional one, it ditches the rules, trends, or conventions and tries to find a unique way for customers to capitalize on their craving for novelty, surprise, and originality. It is not afraid to show and even capitalize on its flaws and imperfections to become more relatable to people.
Sometimes, brand storytelling and anti-branding campaigns center around a sense of authenticity; other times, they focus on humor. Sometimes, you may see how brands decide to be offensive and use witty and snarky remarks; other times, brands team together to create a show with lots of drama. Just remember the epic battle between Audi and BMW and their ways of trolling each other.
A dozen communication channels are available for companies to reach their target audience and to communicate effectively their core vision and critical brand message. The most popular options are website, social media posts, advertising, physical presence, email, events, and partnerships. Consider the top three.
Website is the first way to establish a company online and reveal its unique personality. It is a solid foundation to deliver your message, find supporters, provide a unique user experience, and make yourself heard.
The power of organic traffic is enormous. Do you know that most online experiences start with a search engine? It is the lifeblood of everything from brand development to high conversions and revenue.
Do you know that social media has over 4.9 billion users globally? Add to this its vast diversity, and you will get one of the most vital communication channels to reach the audience and reinforce brand identity.
Indeed, social media opens multiple opportunities. The sky is the limit, from offering customer support to engaging the target audience with the brand's values to turning users into the brand ambassadors and evangelists and building a tightly-knit community.
Advertising is a traditional approach to brand building and marketing. It has been with us for decades, but still, it is a potent method of reaching out to the target market. This includes both online and offline advertisements. Depending on the market's concentration zones and preferences, you may benefit from one or another option. As a rule, online advertisements are run on Google, websites, and social media, whereas offline advertisements can be seen on billboards, local events, and print media.
Although e-commerce quickly expands its influence, oldie-but-goodie brick-and-mortar stores are in the lead. The reason is simple: not only do people crave a warm human touch, but they also enjoy examining and, so to say, "feeling" the product before making a decision. Therefore, this channel should also be taken into account.
Depending on where your audience is the most active and what content they prefer, you need to prioritize format and channel. Considering the goal of interaction is also highly recommended because it tells you which marketing channel you should explore closely.
Examples of Iconic Branding
Almost every product you buy (whether it is a washing machine, notebook, or bar of chocolate) is made by companies with strong brands. BMW, McDonald's, Coke, KFC, Ikea, and Microsoft are other brands that represent iconic branding.
Do not get sidetracked by their tremendous success. It was not immediate. Every company has its unique journey full of ups and downs. It is not all sunshine and roses.
Consider McDonald's. The most popular fast-food chain has been involved in numerous scandals. From questionable meats to labor issues, the company has gone through rough times that have shattered its reputation. However, to this day, we are still loving it.
Another good example is BMW. It ranks as the 30th most profitable company in the world. Despite that, only recently, the EU has issued fines of $1 billion (€875 million) to Volkswagen and BMW for their involvement in the emissions cartel. This has tarnished its reputation, but still, its brand recognition and brand valuation are huge. The company beats every other car manufacturing group in terms of profitability.
The secret to their success lies in their total devotion and commitment to their brand identity. They stay true to their vision and mission and make the most out of branding strategy to avoid stagnation and degradation regardless of scandals, challenges, fluctuations in the market, and constant shifts in market preferences.
The brand is the most precious possession of a company regardless of niche, target audience, and age. It is a unique identity of business that makes it recognizable and memorable. It drives engagement and encourages consumers to buy from you. It is so powerful that it stands behind growth, development, and the company's success.
It comes of considerable importance in today's oversaturated market and economic instability. However, it is nothing without a well-thought-out branding strategy that gets everyone together, clarifies core values, supports marketing and advertising initiatives, and underpins all decisions to keep the company on its unique track to prosperity.
Even though there are numerous ways to support successful branding of a company (at least dozens of communication channels to deliver your core values and critical message exist), still branding requires facing challenges. It is an ongoing process with lots of problems. Even the best of the best experience fails and downgrades.
The only way is to prioritize branding, stay true to the brand promise, and commit to chosen strategy.
What's the origin of the term "branding"?
Branding refers to the practice of branding livestock. The concept has been around for thousands of years. Today, it is an ongoing process of turning the company into a brand with a unique personality and strong reputation.
Why is branding important in marketing?
Underpinning all marketing initiatives makes branding crucial for the discipline. It amplifies the company's presence on the market and gives customers, who have become increasingly picky these days, good reasons to choose a company over others.
Reasons to choose branding over marketing?
Branding and marketing overlap each other. However, the first one is a cornerstone of everything. It cultivates customer recognition, increases brand loyalty, ensures consistency across communication channels, amplifies credibility, and even improves company values. With professional branding tips, it easily takes a company to the next level.
What are branding's benefits?
It gives your organization a unique identity, makes it relatable to the target audience, and filters out decisions that may damage brand image, market position, and revenue. It channels efforts in the right direction and maximizes resources, giving startups a real chance to become leaders someday.
Branding or marketing: which is first?
Branding is a cornerstone of a company's existence. It underlies all decisions and initiatives, including marketing strategies. Therefore, it comes first.