What is a Brand?
When people typically think of branding, they immediately associate it with having a cool logo or a memorable name like “Google” or “Facebook.” But branding goes far beyond having a cohesive visual experience for your business. Your brand includes things such as the look and feel of your website, how you engage on social media, and your customer service. It represents every aspect of your business.
For example, let’s look at a global brand like McDonald’s – what comes to mind when you think about Mickey D?
One thing that doesn’t is excellent customer service. Sure, you may have a friendly cashier here and there, but the truth is, those are the exceptions, not the norm. Bad service is a part of their brand.
Now think of a 5-star steakhouse.
If you walk into a 5-star steakhouse like Peter Luger in the oldest steakhouse in Brooklyn, what do you expect to get? Something historic since it’s been around since 1887. We also associate luxury because it’s 5-stars. And you expect excellent customer service because you’re paying for a $50 steak. Even if you’ve never been to Peter Luger, you can probably picture how restaurant experience based on the fact that it’s the oldest steakhouse in Brooklyn.
Now imagine going to Peter Luger and getting McDonald-style customer service – how would you feel? Even if the steak was the best you ever had in your life, if the experience is horrible, you’d never wholeheartedly recommend Peter Luger to friends and family. You may even write a bad review that will turn out customers, which hurts their bottom line.
That’s the power of branding – it can either help you or hurt you.
And because of this, you need to prioritize your branding – to make sure every aspect of your business is representing the brand you want your customers to perceive you. To create the brand experience you want them to have to your business. Your brand experience tells your consumer about the kind of business that you are, which means you want to craft the story you want your customers to tell so that they get it right.
In other words, as much as your brand is about what you craft, your brand is what your customer says it is.
Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t prioritize branding, which is a huge mistake. Poor branding impacts your business in many negative ways and can threaten the survival of your business (i.e., Theranos).
On top of setting your business up to thrive, there are other meaningful ways in which a powerful branding is important in setting you up for success.
Let’s look at a few.
Five Reasons Why Top-Notch Branding is Important:
Your brand is the face of your business. It’s the cover of your book. McDonald’s cover reads “fast and cheap.” What do you want your brand cover to convey?
Whatever it is, you need to make sure your products, services, and business show it. Because over time, however, your brand is viewed is how it’s going to be recognized. Moreover, once you have a reputation, it’s hard to change it.
If your branding is recognizable and produces a consistently enjoyable experience, it will help your consumers feel comfortable using your product or services.
Brand recognition is so strong that we can name brands purely from seeing their logo like these:
The reason why recognition is essential is that robust and positive recognition leads to a positive relationship between your business and your customers. This brand recognition distinguishes you from competitors who make similar products as you (admit it, you’re not the only one doing what you’re doing).
If you have branding that is recognizable and consistent throughout your business, people will feel comfortable in using your business or purchase from it. People start to trust you.
Let me ask you a question:
If a stranger and your best friend asked to borrow $1, who would you give that dollar to?
Clearly, the answer here is your best friend (or else you strongly believe they won’t pay you back). Pretty straightforward question, but the next question may not be:
Why would you give it to your best friend and not the stranger?
It comes down to the simple fact that you know your best friend. You trust them. You recognize them. So if they’re asking for $1, there has to be a good reason for it.
The same can’t be said for the stranger. You don’t know what the stranger’s motives are. They don’t trust them, so you don’t give them the dollar. This is exactly how a business works – you give money to businesses’ you trust and know.
And a healthy brand builds trust.
The best brands can feel like best friends. Branding encourages a positive image, which represents credibility. People are more likely to purchase from a business that they know because they’re trustworthy and legitimate. So if you don’t want to be a stranger asking for a dollar, you need to invest in your branding.
Take Apple, for example.
Apple’s branding is consistent with every product they launch, and they have a cult-like following. People trust Apple products to work (and work better than alternatives) that they’re willing to wait for hours on end to get the newest product (that aren’t cheap) they launch.
And we can’t talk about Apple without talking about advertisement. Branding will help to grow your business to be well-known and trusted.
Knowing what to advertise is another question!
Advertising comes as a part of branding – to send messages out to the world for your customers to see and hear. To stay front and center in their minds.
Properly branding your business helps you advertise to your audience because it lets you focus on their hopes and desires. If you don’t purposely brand your business, you’ll lose focus of your audience. Too narrow of a focus, and you risk “pigeon-holing” your business and you’ll struggle to expand into new markets. If you focus too broadly, you’ll fail to create a definable impression on your would-be customers.
An example of poor branding is Microsoft and the Zune. (If you have no idea what the Zune is, then you just proved my point.)
The Zune was Microsoft’s version of the iPod, and it was poorly advertised. Microsoft tried to sell the “social” aspect of the Zune and its ability to allow users to share music with each other wirelessly. I enjoy music as much as the next person, and I share music I like all the time. What I don’t want to do is stand around with someone else and wait for our music to exchange. This wasn’t what I was looking for in a mp3 player, and unless you actively wanted to rebel against Apple, you didn’t want one either.
The Zune wasn’t branded correctly, which led to poor advertisement and the eventual demise of the Zune (R.I.P. 2006 – 2012).
Back to Apple and the iPod for a second. The iPod advertised itself as “1,000 songs in your pocket.” That’s some beautiful advertisement! And why was Apple able to promote its mp3 better than Microsoft?
You guess it: branding.
Apple’s brand is about functionality, simplicity, and design. It’s customers look for these things, so using these things as their guideline, they knew that their customers weren’t looking for a “social” tool. No, they were looking for something that would allow them to create around as much music as humanly possible without needing a CD bag. So they sold their customers on functionality and simplicity.
People love to tell others about brands they love – good old fashioned word of mouth. As awesome as the iPod’s advertisement was, the best advertisement Apple has is the mantra adopted by every Apple customer (like myself) – “it just works.”
Advertising is essential for your business to bring customers to you and communicate to the world what your business is all about it. If it resonates with your would-be customer, then your brand will draw them to your business.
But if you want to communicate a unified message, you need to bring it all together. And that’s the next reason why you need to focus on your brand.
Up to this point, we’ve talked about how your brand impacts the world outside the walls of your business. Now we’ll look at how it affects your business internally.
Your business’ brand connects your products, logo, fonts, colors, voice, and everything else related to your business. If you’re able to unite and connect all of these components tightly, you’ll create a strong business.
Here’s an example to illustrate how you can mess up a brand image.
Picture a cowboy – what do you see?
- Big cowboy hat
- Leather boots
- 5 o’clock shadow for a beard
- A “six-shooter”
- Southern accent
These are the things we picture when we think of a cowboy. If any of these things were missing or replaced with something else, it’d affect how we preserve this individual.
How weird would it be if you saw a cowboy holding a sword? Or if he drove across in a clown car instead of a truck or a horse? No matter how hard this wannabe cowboy tries to convince you that he’s a cowboy, he’s not. Something’s off about the brand.
If you’re consistent and thorough with your brand, you’re more likely to get your image and message across. Your company’s logo, the design and layout of your website, (your storefront if you have a brick and mortar business), and even the way in which you communicate with employees and customers – these are all things that need to be consistent. And if you can better create this unity if you have a robust and precise brand. Committing to your brand allows you to deliver a clear message each time. So your cowboy looks and feels like a cowboy.
But to do this, you have to commit to your brand. It’s the single best way to successfully differentiate your business and communicate your business’s values, products, and services to your existing and potential customers. If done consistently over time, customers will come to know what they can expect from your business.
And once you set their expectations (and meet it), you’ll create loyalty.
When you brand something, you give it value. Take the dollar bill, for example. It’s nothing more than a piece of green, decorative paper, but try to find someone in the world who doesn’t immediately recognize it as a symbol and its value. You can’t.
Value comes from fulfilling promises, and branding, in our minds, is a promise made by a business to its audience. This promise tells the world who you are as a business and what you believe in.
- Whole Foods promise is healthy, organic foods.
- Walmart guarantees the lowest prices.
- Nike promises the perfect athletic gear.
And if your brand can fulfill this promise, you create loyalty – through good times and bad.
This happens because customers tend to be loyal to a brand if they align with the unique value that business brings to the world. Branding creates alignment with you and your most loyal, most passionate customers – what we call “superfans.” These superfans are people who come to know and love your brand, see that you fulfill your promise, and become repeat customers.
What’s so valuable about these individuals is that they’re not only loyal to your brand, they’re also promoters of your brand. Your superfans will bring more clients to your business by recommending it to close friends and family – just like how Apple fans try to convince their non-Apple friends to make the switch. In other words, by establishing a reputable brand, you can create the perfect balance of repeat and new customers (without doing the heavy lifting).
Let’s look at the U.S. Postal Service regarding brand loyalty.
If I have to go ship a package or get stamps, I’ll deliberately drive by a post office to go to a UPS store because the USPS brand doesn’t promise good customer service – something I value. No one looks forward going to the post office because you know you’re going to deal with a snarky customer representative.
On top of that, the quality of work speaks to what their brand represents. When you receive a package from USPS that looks like it was beaten up by a baseball team before it got to you, you don’t think, “these people care about me.” USPS doesn’t uphold its promise, so I have no loyalty to them.
The most profitable companies, big and small, have a single thing in common; an established brand as leaders in their industry. Of course, the product and service play a critical role in creating this image, but the image depends so much on building a robust, memorable brand. Your business’ branding is a reflection of what you offer your customers, and a brand that upholds its promises is a brand that creates confidence in knowing that if we were to buy from them, we’re going to get exactly what we wanted.
People don’t have relationships with products; they are loyal to brands. Brand loyalty is so strong that we don’t call tissues – they’re Kleenex. We “google” things – we don’t Bing them or yahoo them. Brands become a part of our vocabulary. And this brand loyalty establishes preference – a natural part of human psychology. People connect with things they feel represent them, so if your brand can connect people to your business, they’ll prefer it over alternatives.
Your Brand is Open 24-7
In today’s noisy world, branding is more important than ever, but creating a vibrant brand is a challenge which requires a sophisticated strategy to achieve dynamic growth for your brand. Your brand is not just about a product and a name. It goes beyond a memorable logo. Brands are like those Russian nesting dolls – they have many layers.
Branding is important because it increases the value of your company, creates an identity, communicates your purpose, and makes it easier for you to acquire new customers. Your brand represents the mission and ideas of your business; it sets you apart from the competition.
Your brand is everything – it’s your business’ DNA. It’s fundamental. It’s basic. It’s essential.
No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability.
Knowing this makes it easy to understand why branding is important. And it’s essential right now because your business already has a brand – whether you realize it or not. People google your business, they look at your logo, the posts you share, the content you create, and they decide if they want to do business with you or not. They use these elements and determine the story your brand is trying to tell. Take a look at your brand and decide whether or not your brand correctly reflects your business.
If it does not, invest in fixing the problem.
Invest the time, energy and resources to develop a brand you’re proud of, and you’ll open doors you didn’t know existed. But realize this will not happen overnight – good branding takes time and planning. But never forget that it’s worth the investment because strong branding will take your business from good to great.
From unknown to iconic.
The only decision you need to make is whether you want to define your business’s brand or allow it be to set by others.