Seattle Community

Kevin Simcock
Founder/Director of Possibilities
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
Very helpful
out of 10
31 votes

The Truth about Branding

Forget the "7 steps" or "top 10 ways" stuff and lets get down to the truth of what branding really means and how you can make your brand connect with consumers.
Written Apr 09, 2010, read 3182 times since then.


Recently I have come across numerous branding articles on blogs, community groups and other places throughout the Internet that I feel aren’t quite right. It seems today more than ever people are popping up all over the place with “7 steps” to a better this and that or “Sure fire ways” to generate whatever. The social groups and forums that people turn to for advice are being washed with information from people who quite frankly aren’t experts. Maybe they read a book and feel passionate about a topic or attended a seminar and want to share some findings. This is great for information sharing but as entrepreneurs we have to be careful on who we are following and what advice we are considering to be expert advice over general knowledge. Everyone has their own opinion on ways to generate results and they are entitled to them but you can’t ignore the fundamentals. As far as branding goes they’re vital to building your brand correctly versus executing on tactics that may generate limited results.

Branding is a topic dear and near to my heart. As an advertising professional I have spent the last 12 years building some of the top brands in North America such as LG Electronics, Colgate, Volvo and many more. Does this make me the Mr. Know-it-all about branding? No. But my experience has led me to gain a certain level of insight and knowledge that I feel can be a great benefit to most. No matter if your company is a multi-billion dollar company or a boot-strap start up the fundamentals are the same. At the core of a brand is a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) it’s your reason for being. It becomes the core building block for your brand. Without it people have no reason to believe in or motivation to engage with your brand.

Contrary to what some people may think, consumers buy your services and products based on emotional decisions. It’s a proven fact with tones of data to support it. (There are many emotional triggers that you can use such as: trust, fear, power, prestige or vice to connect with your consumers but that’s a whole other article.) So at the core of your brand you need an emotional magnet. This step is usually passed over by most start-up or small businesses because they are too anxious to get to market. They just want to get their website up and get their product or service to market. Then they wonder why after 6 months nothing is happening or it’s taking a really long time to gain traction in the market place. It’s because the most fundamental step in developing a brand has been missed.

So does having a USP mean you have a brand? No. It means you have the starting point for a brand. Once you have a solid USP you need to know what your objectives are. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish? It’s all part of a strategy. It’s what I consider your roadmap. Without it you’re brand is wandering aimlessly.

Most of the blogs, posts and other information channels that I’ve come across reference what I consider a tactic or a source for a brand message. No single tactic alone can build a brand. More importantly, if you haven’t established a USP these tactics will be limited in their success. There are four sources for brand messaging that can sum up the majority of channels for engaging with your consumers. These have been the staples of advertising and marketing for a very long time. Any marketer worth their weight will know these fundamentals.

Planned messaging – these are the traditional marketing messages – advertising, sales promotion, merchandising materials, publicity releases, event sponsorships and so on. These should all be working towards a determined set of communication objectives.

Product Messages – Every element of the marketing mix sends a message. Everything from product price to product placement sends an inferred message about your brand. For example customers receive one message from a $4,000 Rolex and a totally different message from a $30 Timex. When a product performs well consumers infer a positive message that reinforces the purchase decision. However if you have a gap between the products performance and the advertising message then you get a negative response from your consumers. Make sure “You do what you say and say what you do.”

Service Message – Many messages result from consumer interaction. This can take place anywhere from online to in a store. In most cases your service message can have a greater impact on your brand than any other message. People that receive poor customer service can often damage your brand, your product and your future faster with the many social networks available to them. Learning to deal with negative feedback effectively is a must in today’s market.

Unplanned messages – These are the messages that companies are often the last to find out about. They come in the form of employee gossip that spreads, news stories, comments by trade organizations or competitors, word of mouth rumours, blog posts, twitter etc.

Most tactics will fall into these four message channels. These channels are used to build brand equity, to engage your consumers and build brand loyalty with them. Simply posting a blog about your company or product is not building a brand. Simply putting up a website is not building a brand. These are single tactics of many used to help build brand equity. No one tactic alone can build your brand, you must use an integrated approach to your marketing efforts, make sure your message is clear, unique and carries fluently across all tactics. There are many elements that communicate your brand; your logo, your website, your business card, your advertising, your packaging etc. The sum of these efforts is what builds your brand loyalty and your brand equity not a single tactic alone.

Building a brand is a long and difficult process. There is no quick fix. There is no easy magical solution. Seek out the professionals; they are easier to spot than you think. Remember, when you are building your brand, your communication needs to be strategic, creative and collaborative.

I hope this will serve as a good guide for your business and your brand.


Learn more about the author, Kevin Simcock.

Comment on this article

  • Brand Strategist, Marketing Coach, Speaker, Writer 
Seattle, Washington 
Maria Ross
    Posted by Maria Ross, Seattle, Washington | Apr 12, 2010

    Amen! While I have a few Top 10 lists myself, they are more around "things to think about" rather than prescriptive answers, as every brand is different (or should be). I addressed this in my Biznik article here:

    I even had to manage my publisher for my upcoming book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to create an irresistible brand on any budget (coming June 2010 from Nor Lights Press). She had wanted me to add in some pithy blanket tactical advice and I told her no; that the whole point of the book was to give people a process or methodology to come to their own unique brand story and promise. A tech start-up is very different from a neighborhood cupcake shop yet both can be deemed small businesses!

    I don't agree with your premise that branding has to be "difficult" though. branding is about consistency is promise and deed and ensuring the promise resonates with your target audience. There are lots of authentic ways to "walk your talk" that are not difficult at all - they just require discipline. Yes, building a brand can take time to help people make those mental associations but I don't believe it is actually as difficult and arduous as some make it out to be. Those businesses that don't bother with "branding stuff" are the ones who buy into that faulty premise.

  • Wealth Management Strategist 
Bellevue, Washington 
Wesley Clark
    Posted by Wesley Clark, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 13, 2010


    Honestly, when I saw you receive a 5.1 rating, I had to read why you received such a "negative" rating. After reading your article, I am stumped, only to say it appears you might have possibly stepped on some peoples toes and they didn't like it. None-the-less, I appreciated your input and thought you brought up some good points. Good job!

  • Founder/Director of Possibilities 
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada 
Kevin Simcock
    Posted by Kevin Simcock, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | Apr 13, 2010

    Thanks Wesley and Maria for your feedback. I guess you can't get perfect 10's all the time. Maria to your point about the "difficult" reference in the article I should clarify that it's not really difficult per say what I meant to get across is that it isn't a quick process. It actually takes a fair bit of investment both time and money on both parts - client and company. Achieving brand equity is not something that happens in the short term but rather a long term goal. Wesley, you are probably right on the toe-stepping point. Although, I'm a true believer in having an opinion (an educated and constructive one) and voicing it. Having an opinion means being part of the conversation. Without it we are just sitting on the sidelines watching the conversation and that's no fun. :0)

  • Graphic Designer | Illustrator 
Bonney Lake, Washington 
Lori Kim Bergland
    Posted by Lori Kim Bergland, Bonney Lake, Washington | Apr 13, 2010

    Thanks for sharing - Love listening to passionate designers!

  • SEO Guru and Open Source Web Developer - NBS Crusader 
Courtenay, British Columbia Canada 
Reg Charie
    Posted by Reg Charie, Courtenay, British Columbia Canada | Apr 13, 2010

    You bring up some great points Kevin. I would like to point you at an article I just wrote about branding.


  • Real Estate Broker 
Bellevue, Washington 
Vic Lucero, Ph.D.
    Posted by Vic Lucero, Ph.D., Bellevue, Washington | Apr 13, 2010

    Kevin you are a smart guy...Thanks! There are many many self proclaimed dummies that are just trying to sell a re make on something that they heard from someone who heard from someone... Rated 10

  • Wedding Planner/Designer 
Marysville, Washington 
Bobbi Roth
    Posted by Bobbi Roth, Marysville, Washington | Apr 15, 2010

    Thanks, Kevin! I found this article very helpful, and it is also completely true. I am a wedding planner, and clients certainly buy on emotion! You could have described me two years ago ~ went the least expensive route possible for my website, and the content was what I thought needed to be there. I have since had my website redesigned, and I am well on my way to being branded. :)

    I don't read articles based on their rating ~ I guess even that is based on emotion for me as it was the title of your article that drew me in. I didn't notice your rating until I read the comments.

  • Owner/President 
Chicago, Illinois 
Brad Miller
    Posted by Brad Miller, Chicago, Illinois | Apr 15, 2010

    Vic, there may be many self-proclaimed experts, but who's would proclaim himself as a dummy?

  • Handmade Paper Importer 
Providence, Rhode Island 
Lauren Pearlman
    Posted by Lauren Pearlman, Providence, Rhode Island | Apr 15, 2010

    Kevin, I appreciate your cut-to-chase advice about branding. This is stuff I know intuitively as a business owner, but have difficulty articulating it, never mind executing it for the business. So, I'm glad to see it in writing- written by someone with experience.

    Thanks for the guide.

  • Marketing Consultant 
Morges, VD Switzerland 
Warren Smith
    Posted by Warren Smith, Morges, VD Switzerland | Apr 15, 2010

    Whilst the article doesn't provide practical tips and tricks (which is probably why it didn't get top ratings), it clearly makes an important point: Branding is a long-term venture and not something you can just quickly fix with a list of rules. Furthermore, each brand is different and will require emphasis on different aspects.

    I really appreciate Kevin's point on what he calls "service message" (would have called it brand contact points or interactions). Too many people discuss branding from the "identity side" only, which is ok if you're only interested in communicating around the brand. True brand equity however stems, as Kevin states, from the experience customers have with the brand.

    Measuring the importance of and the satisfaction levels at each of the interaction points with your brand is probably much more relevant in creating a great brand than taking on the latest fashion in web site design or any other fancy trick you may read about...

  • Educator 
Kenmore, Washington 
Darla  Atwood
    Posted by Darla Atwood, Kenmore, Washington | Apr 15, 2010

    I'm in the throes of branding our family business. I've read many articles about branding and marketing and am beginning to see our roadmap unfolding. I believe our roadmap to be so important and fundamental for success, I will stick with it until the wrinkles smooth out.

    Many years ago I was helped by a marketing expert, a true expert, who wrote the tagline "so quiet you can hear a pin drop." From him I learned the power of stirring up the emotional decision process for a target market.

    For me, it is easy to see how to build my branding around the emotional decision method, but for others, there's a lot more of the "give me the facts, don't mess with my emotions," decision making process.

    At what point, if it does, do all buying decisions become emotionally based?

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  • Writing and copywriting services 
Portland, Oregon 
Dave Jarecki
    Posted by Dave Jarecki, Portland, Oregon | Apr 15, 2010

    Beautiful and true.

    "Building a brand is a long and difficult process."

    Thank you for writing this and for sharing some top-level thinking with the Biznik audience.

  • graphic designer 
Katy, Texas 
Rob Barreda
    Posted by Rob Barreda, Katy, Texas | Apr 15, 2010

    Outstanding article Kevin. I couldn't agree more. As someone who has worked on only a handful branding campaigns, your article made it clear why some of the brainstorming sessions and ultimate decisions on where to take a brand worked and why some simply didn't.

    "Contrary to what some people may think, consumers buy your services and products based on emotional decisions."

    Amen, brother.

  • Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon
    Posted by Marc Gordon, Toronto, Ontario Canada | Apr 15, 2010

    Nice article. Lots of relevant info. I hope more people read it, especially startups.

  • Graphic Designer 
Trophy Club, Texas 
Tad Dobbs
    Posted by Tad Dobbs, Trophy Club, Texas | Apr 15, 2010

    Well stated. It great to see an article reinforcing the planning and strategy behind a brand. I completely agree that building a brand is a complicated and long process especially to allow the flexibility for future growth. Excellent article.

    Creative Squall


  • Student 
Big Rapids, Michigan 
Nicholas McCarthy
    Posted by Nicholas McCarthy, Big Rapids, Michigan | Apr 26, 2010

    Good post, It was great to have someone mention something about the sure fire way to getting things done quickly. Branding is a process that needs to be done and it takes a while, you had good information and really enjoyed reading this.

  • Student 
Big Rapids, Michigan 
Nicholas McCarthy
    Posted by Nicholas McCarthy, Big Rapids, Michigan | Apr 26, 2010

    Good post, It was great to have someone mention something about the sure fire way to getting things done quickly. Branding is a process that needs to be done and it takes a while, you had good information and really enjoyed reading this.

  • Founder/Director of Possibilities 
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada 
Kevin Simcock
    Posted by Kevin Simcock, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | Apr 28, 2010

    Thank you for all the great posts. I'm glad that so many of you agree with the information presented. I will continue to try and share as many insights as I can with all of you. Hopefully they will help some of you achieve success.