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What is Branding?

Lots of branding buzz words are tossed around with varying agreement on their specific definitions. While text book definitions can be found in many places, they seldom reflect the nuances that, ironically, are most important in creating successful brands in the marketplace. With that in mind, this is how I frame the concepts based on years of success.

Brand Stew

In many respects, brands are like an experiential stew. They are a mixture of experiences for prospects and customers – some complementary, some conflicting – that are continually reorganized as new experiences are added. Some reinforce the desired flavor, others counteract it.

The goal of branding is to identify the elements, the experiences, in the Brand Stew that reinforce the optimum flavor and emphasize them in marketing and operational efforts, while minimizing the experiences that counteract or dilute the optimum flavor.

Branding Ingredients

Brand Experience:
Brands are experiences – nothing more, nothing less.

Brand Value:
Great brands, successful brands, create “fulfilling” experiences – they fulfill rational and emotional needs. And because these experiences are fulfilling, the brand is perceived to have value.

Brand Promise:
The brand promise is the rational and emotional value that a brand delivers to the target audience – or promises to deliver.

Brand Positioning:
Simply stated, brand positioning is the act of maximizing perceptions of a brand’s value by clearly communicating its unique experience that is meaningful for the target audience and differentiates it from competitors.

Brand Identity:
Every brand has a distinct identity, a unique experience. This identity develops in the minds of employees (brand “owners” or “deliverers”), potential employees, and customers/clients (brand “users”) over time based upon a brand’s perceived performance, its history, its products or services, and its marketing communications. A brand’s identity is made up of two equally important parts:

  1. The rational core, or what the brand stands for, what puts it at the top of its category
  2. The emotion/image wrapping of the brand, how the brand looks, how it feels, what makes it connect with the emotions and psychological motivations of internal and external stakeholders

In addition, a brand serves two equally important audiences:

  1. Internal constituencies – leadership, managers and employees who deliver the brand promise to customers/clients every day, as well as other internal stakeholders (e.g., Board of Directors)
  2. External clients – customers/clients, potential employees and other parties who are attracted to the brand for the unique rational and emotional benefits that it delivers to them

By understanding what your brand delivers that is most compelling for internal and external constituencies on both a rational and emotional level, you ensure that your brand identity – reflected through external and internal communications – reinforces the most motivating brand attractions.

Retail vs. Brand Advertising:
Consumers and business customers do not make a distinction between “retail” messages versus “branding” messages. These are artifacts of marketing and advertising parlance and our internal view of outbound marketing. To the target audience, all messages associated with a brand are components of the brand. European marketers really get this.

Brand Story:
All successful brands foster a dialogue with their target audience. They speak the same language as their target, and the “conversation” – in terms of both messaging and product experiences – fulfills specific psychosocial needs. And because brands with long-term success must keep up with changing consumer wants and needs, this dialogue must evolve as well. As a result, this dialogue is more akin to a story, a narrative, that is always moving forward, always interesting, always meeting needs.

At Brand Planning, we like dialogues too. Give us a call or drop us a note. We’d love to continue the conversation and hear about your story.