Have you ever asked yourself why the promotional material that performs the best is often that which shows off your brand less? There’s a good reason. Too many people are missing the true meaning of the branding process. You may think all you need is a logo, but a logo is nothing without a strong identity.
The word branding has pretty much been beat to death over the last few years. For many people, branding represents outwardly aggressive marketing of the kind that doesn’t even try to fit in with the rest of their efforts. Branding seems to be a very self-involved process and this perception has created many brands that put themselves at the center of things instead of remembering that they exist for one reason only: to serve their customers.
Branding is used and performed on a very superficial level – even, in many cases, by those who pretend to offer branding as a service. For many marketers, a brand’s appearance can be summed up with a logo and a colorful frame that simply needs to be plastered on every photo uploaded to social media. The more protrusive the better.
The people have spoken
In the end, especially in recent years, consumers have voted with their feet. Not coincidentally, what works best today are the photos that actually don’t show off your brand, and even the biggest brands in the world are working hard to create content that looks authentic, raw and amateur to a certain degree, as if a private user created it. By the way, the same principle applies to written marketing content that features your brand name in every-other sentence: people get fed up with this material, and rightly so.
But branding is much more than a logo, it is the endowment of a company with a complete identity, exactly like a person. If you focus only on external appearance without touching what lies beneath, you get a superficial brand that might make a good initial impression, but not one with any staying power. All the big brands – those that last for years, or even generations – have an amazing external appearance. But all of them, without exception, also have an identity and character that you can identify without even seeing a logo.
So what is branding and why do we need it?
The goal is clear: Your aim is to create an identity, first and foremost in order to create a sense of connection and belonging among your target audience. As the man (or woman) behind the brand, you have a truth and a message you want to get out there, but you have no chance of reaching everyone in the world, introducing yourself and explaining what makes you special. Branding is meant to do that for you. The question is how to get it right.
Just like with people, a large part of the messages sent out into the world aren’t communicated verbally, but between the lines and beneath the surface. They are communicated through action, insinuation and your ability to inspire certain emotions and feelings. That’s exactly what your brand needs to know how to do. Don’t scream your message out loud, just be your message.
How do you do it?
First of all, you need to understand who you are, or in other words, what character you want to create. What kind of people would you like to connect to you? From here you can define your values. What do you and your brand specialize in? What do you believe in? How would you like to be perceived? This is all part of your identity.
Now the goal is to communicate this identity in various ways: a set of rules for yourself, a consistent vocabulary, colors that set the right mood, and behavioral characteristics that belong to the brand, like who it is, where it’s from, how it looks, how it talks, what it likes, what it will never ever do, etc. It’s an entire range of elements that, together, create a whole greater than the sum of its parts: your persona or character.
This whole – the character you created – needs to communicate the feeling you wanted to inspire – a feeling that will cause your audience to identify with your brand and feel a sense of belonging. Since you’re creating an identity from scratch, every action your brand takes has to be consistent and appropriate for the character you gave it, just like a character in a theater production. You have to learn to think like it, speak like it and behave like it.
Does your logo really represent you?
Even though we talked about graphic elements, you have to remember that means more than a logo. There is meaning behind every line, shape and color. It doesn’t always look like it, but people feel it. That means that if you’re just going with the flow, you’re likely to create a confusing brand that people won’t understand or connect to.
So, even if you have a logo that you like, that doesn’t mean that it’s good for your brand. In the same way, if you wrote an article you’re in love with, that doesn’t mean it will bring you the results you were hoping for.
What does good branding look like?
If you’ve done good work, you’ve created a well-rounded and interesting character for your brand that has depth and meaning behind what it says and does. How will you know that you’re getting it right? The principle is clear: If you’re interesting, people will want to hear you and consume what you have to offer. That’s what creates a strong brand with the potential to grow organically. Without it, you just have a pretty logo and an aggressive sales campaign.