The concept of “branding” is often misunderstood, not only among the general public and business owners but also within the branding industry itself. Professionals frequently misuse the term, leading to widespread confusion about what a “brand” truly is and how “branding” should be properly defined. By clarifying these concepts, we can reveal the significant benefits businesses can gain from a deep understanding of branding and its impact on their success.
Throughout my career, I’ve encountered numerous instances where I’ve had to explain to executives and business owners the essence of their company’s brand. A major hurdle is the variety of definitions people hold about what constitutes a brand. Achieving a unanimous, clear definition is crucial to demystifying the brand’s role and its influence on business performance.
The general public may not need to grasp the full scope of branding since they’re not typically involved in developing or launching brands. However, they play a crucial role as the recipients of brand initiatives and contribute to defining a brand’s essence through their purchasing preferences and feedback, which can be gathered directly or inferred from sales data. Business stakeholders, including owners, entrepreneurs, and organizational leaders, are pivotal in determining their brand’s trajectory. It’s vital for them to comprehend the mechanics of a brand and the ramifications of branding on their operations. The disparity between companies that adeptly manage their branding and those that don’t is often reflected in the longevity of their brand. A robust branding strategy equips companies for sustainability, whereas those lacking in this area tend to falter.
In my discussions with branding professionals from corporations like Maytag, Principal Financial, Massey Ferguson, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft, I’ve found that the core principles of a brand initiative remain consistent, regardless of the company’s size. The foundational approach is universal.
Why Is Branding Misunderstood?
Branding is often misunderstood because a brand isn’t a physical entity; it’s a construct formed in the minds of customers, shaped by their cumulative perceptions of a company, product, service, or individual. The process of “branding” involves the strategic efforts marketing and branding firms undertake to cultivate these perceptions and achieve the best possible outcomes.
The confusion also stems from varying beliefs about what a brand represents. Some equate it with a logo, others with a product, and some even with the company’s owner. This confusion is particularly problematic when it comes from those responsible for a company’s branding efforts. If key decision-makers don’t understand their own brand, how can they effectively brand their company, product, or service?
To tackle the complexity of “branding,” we must first accurately define a “brand.” The term has its roots in the Old Norse word “brandr,” which means to burn, originally referring to the practice of marking livestock to denote ownership. Today, a brand is better understood as the aggregate of experiences and interactions customers have with a business, leading to a general perception or reputation.
Consider the analogy of meeting a new person: your impression of them evolves with each interaction. Similarly, a brand is judged based on the collective experiences people have with it. As Brand Channel suggests, branding encompasses both tangible and intangible attributes, including functional and emotional benefits, which form the beliefs people associate with a brand within its context (Grimaldi, 2013).
Branding, then, is the deliberate development of this perception. It’s a complex, intangible process that considers all facets of a company, such as its products, services, culture, leadership, size, location, history, mission, vision, and communication materials. A comprehensive branding initiative may take months to complete, but when executed well, it yields substantial rewards. It provides a clear identity for the company, enabling it to compete effectively in its industry and offering a consistent resource for marketing and communication efforts.
A well-defined brand fosters consistency and trust, which are essential for customers to feel confident in their decision to purchase and engage with a company. Therefore, it’s imperative for those involved in brand development to grasp the true meaning of a strong brand and its significance in nurturing business growth and building intellectual brand equity.