Very nice, Akira.
Way to demystify the nature of branding!
Redefining Branding: without those annoying marketing jargons
How do we make talking about branding engaging? One way is to make it clear what it is that we are talking about. Let's define 'branding,' the Biznik way.
Why do people hate the term branding?
Some people, mostly in the industry (designers, marketers, consultants), are bored with the word. There's so much talk on the topic, it's like talking about weather. And most of these talks, like most weather talks, stays on the surface--"do you like the new Pepsi logo?" "how about that Tropicana package debacle"--it gets old rather quickly.
Then, some people are plain confused.
Sure, you hear a lot of people talk about "a brand" but what is it? It's like the buzzword du jour: "green"--a rather general, vague, unspecific word that means different things to different people. When you don't know exactly what a word means, and it's used a lot around you, it can be intimidating, and ultimately rather off-putting.
So, I would like to try and clarify what we mean by branding here at Lightfoot Branding. I mean, it's in the name of the site. We should start by stating what it is, right?
Let's start with a couple of synonyms.
Well, it's a tough choice. "Soul" might come close to it. Maybe "reputation." Hmmm, seem far-fetched? Read on...
Another step: what is branding NOT?
- It's not a logo, trademark, or a tagline. Not even when they are put together.
- It's not the benefits or the features of a product. Or what something tastes like.
- It's not your opinion, necessarily, of a company or a product.
To put it in concrete terms, Apple's brand isn't the apple logo or the "Think Different" tagline. Nor do iPhone, iPod, iMac and their OS X, define their brand. The combination of these things, plus their patent devil-in-the-detail design philosophy, gets close, but that's not the whole picture, either. And, their brand doesn't necessarily depend on your opinion of Apple products, positive or negative.
Let me try something else here. Picture a pair of sneakers in your head.
What brand is it?
You might say "Nike", "Adidas", "Sketchers", "Converse" or any other brands that come to your mind first.
The question is: why that particular brand, and not others?
My guess is that unless you are a brand manager of one of these companies, you'd be hard pressed to explain why brand A should pop into your head. It's more emotional than a logical thought process (so it's not really your "opinion" that counts), and I doubt it was their logo that popped in your head, though it probably figured in the picture somewhere.
The brand is that picture. Branding is what put that picture in your head.
The operative word here is "your" head. Not mine. Not the head of the owner of the company that makes those shoes (or the collective head of the corporate brand management team, as the case probably would be for these sneakers).
The brand exists somewhere between the company that makes the product, the product itself, and you, the consumer.
This is why I think "a brand" is like a soul, and also like a reputation. It's also like an image, and it can be like a good story.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR BRAND
Let's step up now. We want to be talking about YOUR brand, not some huge corporate shoemaker's.
So, now. Where is your brand?
That's right. IN BETWEEN YOU, YOUR PRODUCTS, AND YOUR CUSTOMERS.
Does that remind you of something? That's right. Your business. We are all here to create something for the benefit of customers, so they pay money to get that something. We need to focus on ourselves, our products, and our customers to make this happen.
This thinking about yourself, your offering, and your customer, it's also called marketing.
A good brand is a consequence of doing good business and marketing.
If you are starting out, you don't have a brand. No matter how fancy a logo you got made, or how great a product you have in the works. You need a customer who has a relationship with you first.
Does this sound rather hopeless to you? Sometimes it does to me. But, realizing that you have little control in what people think of you is essential to ultimately influencing your brand.
This realization, for one, prevents you from obsessing about your logo. If a brand exists in personal relationships, then each relationship creates a unique brand between you and your customer. Right? Then, if your logo isn't perfect now, so what? What matters is that your current customer has something to hang their unconscious thought on. More important is the message, and even more important than that is HOW your message is getting across.
WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
You can't separate branding (and marketing, for that matter) from your other operations, like sales, inventory, staff training. And yes, customer relations.
Thinking about branding as vague subconscious-level ideas instead of "a logo" enables you to think about your identity, image, and message in a holistic way. Better yet, you can see how it touches all other areas of your business.
Once you have everything working together to create positive relationships with your constituents, then it's much easier to control the outcome: your brand.
TAKING IT PERSONAL
Here's an example.
An early customer of mine had an idea for a dog day-care service. He asked us to design his start-up's logo. So we put our heads together to create the logo, the color scheme, and collateral pieces like business cards, a brochure, etc. But the gig turned out to be a lesson in branding for us both. You see, Lawrence Freese is a smart guy. He saw a market where there was this tremendous need and not much offering. And he cornered it.
But it's not just about finding a good idea, is it now? Or making a pretty logo to go along with it.
What we both realized as soon as he opened the door, was that it was all about the customers. Sure, he had a snappy logo and a bunch of schwags, but if it didn't match the business, the employees, the customers' experience, and the relationships that ensued between the customers and the business, then all that "branding" work we put in wasn't going to help, at all.
Luckily, we had put enough thought to the business's image, message and Lawrence's personality when we created the identity pieces, that the logo was a pretty good match from the start.
And, he nudged the brand along. Lawrence encouraged employees to adopt his brand of dog-loving, creating an atmosphere for the place and events that matched the personality of the business. He kept customers in a close loop by always talking to them, finding out about their dogs' quirks (he came up with a nickname for each of his customers' dogs, and posted pictures with these names on his web site), and staying touch with them through newsletters.
His brand? If you were in Portland between 2004 and 2007 (while BarkaLounge was in operation), owned a dog, it was the dog day care you'd thought of as a bit "cooler" than the rest. Definitely more masculine than "LexiDog" down the road.
Of course, it might be different, for you. If you didn't own a dog, or live in Portland, then who cares? The brand doesn't exist for you. And that's okay.
After all, it's all personal.
Learn more about the author, Akira Morita.
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