One thing I’ve learned in my career is that “branding” means different things to different people. For those who aren’t marketers, the word is sometimes used interchangeably with the idea of a visual identity, like a logo. Fair enough. It’s a brand mark, after all. So isn’t that your brand? Well, it’s a bit more complex than that.
This is the first installment in a series that will help you understand each aspect of your brand, beginning with the basics. Speaking about branding in a common language, with shared understanding, will help you evaluate your brand and determine what, if anything, could be done to strengthen it.
A real world example
Without question, a visual identity is a critical part of a brand. But it’s really the last step—the sign that signifies the deeper meaning embedded there. Think of an enduring brand symbol you’ve known your entire life, something like Coca-Cola. There are plenty of other soft drink brands capable of making a perfectly delicious cola product, so what is it about Coke that makes it so much more successful? Fundamentally, it’s simple. As a brand, everything Coca-Cola says or does, every way in which it’s positioned in the marketplace, is directly connected to enjoying life, and it’s this simple premise, this idea at the core of the brand, that is the wellspring of brand loyalty. Think about it: you’ve never seen Coke advertise anything other than vibrant, smiling people, bottles of the good stuff in hand, enjoying every moment. There simply is no application of the Coca-Cola brand that isn’t directly traceable to the tagline “Enjoy Coke.”
Brands are deeply emotional because people are emotional
When you think about the things to which you’re most loyal (friends, family, a sports team, types of music, whatever), what attributes solidify that loyalty for you? Without knowing you, I would guess it’s a series of values or ideas that resonate with you on a deep, almost indescribable subconscious level. It might be something like kindness or honesty or reliability or identity or wisdom, but in the abstract—not measurable but a deep seeded sense; not a series of evidence or proof but an unspoken awareness and certainty. You could go one layer deeper and ask why these things establishing the core of who or what something is are felt with such certainty, subconsciously attracting people and inspiring loyalty. The answer is that these elements are languageless sentiments that become focal points indicating sameness and, therefore, trust and authenticity. In other words, loyalty—true loyalty that is, the kind that is earned, not demanded—is a reflection of ourselves and that which we intrinsically hold dear, at the deepest level.
These same ideas reside at the core of all successful brands because the people who create them understand why they were created in the first place. This concept of why is often phrased as a belief in something that is or ought to be, which, in turn, the brand and its products support. It might be a belief in the importance of self-expression, or that people who work hard deserve luxury, or even something as grand as acting locally to solve problems globally. No matter how it’s articulated, the why is the mirror in which audiences see themselves and become invested in a brand’s story, values, essence, and more.
It’s simple, really…
So what is branding? It’s a process of revealing and articulating intrinsic motivating aspects and reflecting them in a way people can see themselves, moving them not just to believe in why you’re doing what you do, but to understand it, effortlessly. In other words, how you think and feel about a brand is the brand.