What is branding?

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In this post I will attempt to explain what branding is in the context of business or company branding. Hopefully this may go a little way towards helping businesses to understand the difference between a visual identity such as a logo and a wider concept that is a brand. This should result in more productive conversations and better results that actually improve business prospects. Understanding what branding is should enhance your ability to create a memorable and high impact brand.

Not many people understand what branding means

This often results in confusion and often poor results when businesses request design services. The chances are extremely high that your expected results from a ‘rebrand’ or a new website / print design will fall very short if you don’t understand what branding means.

The biggest issue is that it’s not often the fault of the business if they don’t get what branding is. A lot of trusted marketing sources don’t understand it either and inaccurate information about what branding really is has flooded the Internet.

The biggest myths of branding

For example, many people consider a logo to be a brand. It’s not! A logo is just part of a visual identity, it is a mark, a tag that visually represents the brand.

Graphic designers will also confuse the picture too. They will create visual identity systems where they show how a company logo, fonts, colours and images should be used in printed and online marketing collateral. They often call these documents ‘Brand Guidelines’ or ‘Brand Bible’. To be precise these documents are not brand guidelines, they are visual identity systems.

What branding really is

Apple probably have the most identifiable brand in existence today. Their brand has been synonymous for innovation and breaking the mould.

In its simplest terms branding can be summarised as the idea and image of a business or company.

The fact that a brand is more an ‘idea’ and a strategy than a visual image is why so many people mistake it as a logo or graphical entity. This makes it hard to pin down exactly what the brand behind a company is.

To help explain the ‘idea’ concept a bit more you can summarise a brand as a collection of:

  1. The ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ a business does.
  2. What people say about a business (customer perception / reputation).
  3. The ethos behind the business and what differentiates a business from every other similar business (unique selling propositions or USPs).
  4. The visual representation of the business in the form of marks (logos), colours and imagery.
  5. The way a business communicates to its audience. What language is used, what attitude is shown and how you explain things to your target audience.

Because branding is so important and underpins every part of marketing within your business you really have to get the wider concept that is a brand. It is not your logo, nor is it the colours and images in your website or brochure, it is the whole concept as to how people perceive you and how you communicate.

Branding mistakes to avoid

There are a number of reasons most businesses fail to carve a niche for themselves or generate a good understanding of who they are and how they operate. Most of those reasons fall to poor branding decisions due to a misunderstanding about what branding actually is.

welsh red dragon symbol
The welsh flag is considered a brand symbol for so many businesses based in South Wales.

For example, a lot of startups or small businesses will pay very little attention or time in building any kind of brand. They spend next to no money for a logo to be designed for them and assume that will be enough alone to help them drive a brand. Completely missing the point as to what it is that their target audience are engaging with in order to purchase from the business. For example, in South Wales, the welsh dragon is a popular symbol to adopt for a business identity. However, if your business is located in Wales and attracting welsh customers, why associate yourself with the obvious symbol of your ‘Welshness’ by having a red dragon in your logo? How are you differentiating yourself from your competitors who are also doing the same? You’re in Wales, you’re attracting Welsh customers, therefore, why do you need to say I’m so obviously Welsh? It’s a little obvious, no? What differentiates you from everyone else? It’s certainly NOT a reference to where you’re located or your nationalism!

Unless you get all of the pieces into place and really understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and what makes you different it’s going to be very hard to compete in most crowded industries. Your brand is your key component in engaging your customers and it needs to be consistent with your visual identity (logo, colours etc.) and your other forms of communication (the written word).

How to improve your brand

If you are a small or micro business that wants to find your own way with branding the best recommendation I have for you is to read this book from cover to cover: Start With Why, by Simon Sinek http://www.amazon.co.uk/Start-With-Why-Leaders-Everyone/dp/0241958229 (navigate to the Books page). Whilst it’s not specifically a ‘branding’ book it covers topics that help you to understand your ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ deeply enough to be able to build a solid brand from it.

You can also contact us at The SeedMill directly or signup to our email newsletter below. Our monthly newsletter has lots of information to help small businesses achieve impact through branding and marketing. We also run cost effective strategy workshops to help you understand all of the elements that make up your business brand. We can then create your visual identity for you as well, supporting your online marketing of your brand from there should you wish.

Ray Dale

Brand Strategist. Web Designer. Web Consultant. UX Designer. WordPress Specialist. Creative Director. Co-founder of The SeedMill. With 20 years of commercial experience in web and design industries, Ray is fascinated with all forms of design and business strategy, whether that is web design, video or data driven design. Having worked for small design agencies and large corporate companies, Ray has seen all sides of the web design and marketing industries. With a head full of ideas & strategies and a skillset that is rare to find, Ray is extremely passionate about helping businesses to achieve growth online through strategy and design.