What do you think of when you hear the term branding? Is your first thought logo and colors? If it is, you’re right…but you’re probably also missing out on a whole range of powerful concepts that can help you grow and strengthen your business. So, if branding is more than just logos and colors, what is it? Let’s take a look at the history of the word, as it’s used in marketing, to help get a clearer perspective.
The History of Branding: “Cows” Before “Cans”
Branding was originally a way of marking livestock with a permanent mark to signify ownership. Thankfully, as small business owners we don’t need to be waving hot irons around to mark what’s ours! Over time the concept of branding has evolved: layers of function have been added until we end up with what branding can do for your business now. Looking at the historical layers makes it easier to understand why branding (done well) can be so beneficial:
Layer 1: Identify products and property
Along with branding livestock to show ownership, goods such as building bricks and ceramics were also marked to show where they were made and what material went into them. Watermarks on paper products were another form of branding used to identify origin and manufacturer.
Layer 2: Convey quality and earn trust
During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers started using brands to differentiate their product from generic or similar ones: Heinz vs Hunt’s ketchup, Robitussin cough syrup vs NyQuil, etc. In the late nineteenth century, the Trade Marks Registration Act came into force and now branding wasn’t just something a company did — a brand was something they owned.
Layer 3: Differentiate products and earn loyalty
The next layer was to use branding in advertising — and now companies were advertising the brand, not just the product. With the advent of TV and more sophisticated marketing strategies, companies started to integrate emotional messaging and associations into their advertising and marketing. By making emotional connections with customers, companies won loyalty for their brands.
Layer 4: Give the company personality
Eventually marketing became more about giving the faceless corporation a face and personality — making companies more human and building even more emotional connection with their customers. Marketing became more about promoting brands than products; which makes sense when you remember that most big brands have multiple individual products under their umbrella.
Layer 5: Make deep emotional connections
Modern marketing is more concerned with building deep emotional connections with customers than pushing brands or products. Companies use brand storytelling to communicate their core values, show their social responsibility, and empathize with their customers and clients. In this day and age, with so many goods and services to choose from, customers differentiate as much on how they feel about a company (and what they believe that company stands for) as they do on what the product or service offers. This type of marketing builds strong customer loyalty — driving both repeat business and ongoing word-of-mouth recommendations. As Skyword put it in this excellent blog about the history of branding:
“What we brand, how we brand it, and why we brand it has changed. But branding in the twenty-first century is still about taking ownership, and not just for property and products. It’s about owning what your company values and represents, owning up to your shortcomings, and earning customer trust and loyalty through your words, your actions, and your stories.”
So…What Exactly is Branding?
So now that you know how branding as we know it today came about, it makes it easy to understand the multiple moving parts comprising a good brand…and it’s more than just a fancy logo and pretty colors! Think of your business brand as a character you’re creating:
- What does it look like?
- What does it believe in?
- What drives its behavior?
- How does it behave?
- What kind of personality does it have?
- How does it show the world who it is?
From this you end up with:
- The core values of your brand — the non-negotiables and the driving motivators behind what your business/brand does.
- The personality of your brand — how it communicates with the world and demonstrates its core values.
- The visual image of your brand — which also demonstrates the personality and core values of the brand.
In addition to the points above, there are two other considerations to factor in: who you are, and who your target audience is. Your brand needs to be authentic to you, otherwise you’ll struggle with consistency. If you’re a vivacious extrovert, trying to create a brand personality that’s serious, business-like, or reserved might not be a good fit. On the other hand, if you’re more introverted or laid back, you might have a hard time pulling off a zany, loud, party animal-type brand.
By the same token, think about your target audience. If you want to attract retired or more mature people, you maybe don’t want an over-the-top, brash, or abrasive brand personality. If you’ve just had a mild panic attack, don’t worry. We’ll go into more detail about how to develop these ideas in a follow-up blog post. For now, just know that a brand goes deeper than the visual image of logos and colors.
Why should you care?
You may be asking yourself “So what? Why does that matter to me? I’m just one person.” And as a small business, all this talk of corporate brands probably does seem a little irrelevant. But it’s not. Here’s why:
- Your brand is the face of your business — and your image carries associations. It makes sense to create those associations thoughtfully!
- Your brand tells people what you believe in, how you operate, and what they can expect from working with you.
- Being consist with your brand can help build trust. Brand consistency is more than just sticking to your brand colors and logo — it’s how you communicate in all mediums, from web copy to social media to emails.
- Having a clear brand makes it easier to create content that conveys your mission and goals as a business.
- A strong brand will help attract clients you love — because they resonate with your values and what you offer; while repelling those you’d rather not work with because they’re not going to be a good fit for you.
- A consistent brand also inspires customer loyalty — and creates a fan base who will help promote your business via word of mouth, reviews, and testimonials. And nothing works better at building long-term success than social approval.
As you can see, even as a small business, having a strong brand can really boost your success. Next time we’ll look more deeply at how you can start creating a brand for your dog training business. Until then, take a look at these examples of companies doing a great job of using branding to connect with customers:
- Kula Cloth — for artsy, outdoor lovers who enjoy potty humor and supporting good causes.
- Trader Joes — the grocery store for fun-loving but discerning shoppers who are looking for a more personal, bespoke experience in food shopping.
- Dollar Shave Club — for men looking for a no-nonsense, easy answer to buying personal hygiene, skin care and shaving products. (Check out the Original Content link for some unique blogs about personal hygiene…)
Have a go at analyzing their branding — how are they getting their message across? Once you understand how branding works, it’s easier to apply those ideas to your own business.