How to talk about your “branding” so your audience gets it?

Your branding is not your brand.

These two terms are often misunderstood even by experienced marketers.

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 4.35.35 PMA brand is a set of associations in memory linked to a company, product, or service through its name, logo, and other branding elements, that provides a compelling promise of value to customers and other stakeholders.

You win with customers when they perceive your offering provides more compelling value, and so is better and different from your competitors.

Branding is what you do to imbue that set of associations. It usually refers to ALL aspects of the brand’s communication with customers and other stakeholders.

Branding seeks to achieve two important goals:

  • To help customers identify your company, and its products and services.
  • To shape customers perceptions about your company, and its products and services in a way that is meaningful to them so they perceive compelling functional and emotional benefits from their interactions and experiences with the brand

An identification effect

The word “brand” is from the Old Norse word “brandr”. It means: to burn a mark to identify ownership.

The first goal of branding is to make your products and services distinguishable from those of your competitors.

You are more likely to achieve this when your primary branding elements and codes of communication—brand name, logo, visual identity, etc., are:

  • Distinctive: Help your company, and its products and services to stand out
  • Consistent: Used repeatedly in a similar way to build recognition and recall

 A brand meaning effect

The second goal of branding is to foster meaning in the minds of your customers—to help them to think and feel about your products and services in a way that is meaningful to them though their interactions and experiences with the brand. That’s why brand management is often referred to as “brand meaning” management.

Depending on the particular challenge facing a marketing manager, primary branding elements may be chosen solely to foster a strong identification effect or to facilitate both strong identification and brand meaning effects.

In either case, the goal of marketing management is to foster the desired set of associations—the brand meaning– through marketing communications [and the marketing mix].

 The role of marketing communications 

Marketing communications frequently play a crucial, but not always the primary role in branding a company and its products and services.

Traditional advertising, internet marketing, publicity, sponsorships etc., are valuable tools for fostering strong identification and brand meaning effects. They play a key role in associating a company, and its products and services, with meaning: rational and emotional values, and a distinctive personality that provides the basis for differentiation and a stronger competitive position in the marketplace.

The role of marketing communications in fostering brand meaning effects is greatest when brands compete in product-markets that are opaque than they do in product-markets that are transparent. It’s therefore important to consider your brand’s opacity to develop a winning brand strategy.

 The role of the marketing mix

Many marketers believe that marketing communications is the focal point of their branding. This premise misses the powerful manner in which other aspects of the marketing mix–product, pricing, place, and people strategies–help to foster both identification and brand meaning effects, and thereby associate a company, and its products and services, with the desired meaning.

Tiffany & Co. is a case in point

The Tiffany & Co. brand name and blue box are the primary branding elements for this retailer.

Both of these branding elements act as powerful mental anchors for a set of associations that foster compelling rational, emotional and symbolic value for customers and other stakeholders. These associations represent the Tiffany & Co. brand in the minds of its customers.

For Tiffany & Co., its marketing communications play an important role in its branding efforts. However, every aspect of the marketing mix plays an equally valuable role in fostering branding effects in the minds of its customers and other stakeholders:

  • The Tiffany product line is defined by jewelry of the highest quality and most glamorous collections created by the brand’s groundbreaking designers at price points to match
  • Tiffany stores are situated in premium, high street locations in major urban centers around the globe
  • Every aspect of the store designs conveys a distinctive and contemporary sophistication and elegance
  • Tiffany service is in a class of its own and has been purposefully designed to be the perfect accompaniment to the high quality and glamorous product-line and the sophisticated and elegant store experience.

As this example illustrates,  the goal of Tiffany’s branding is to build its brand.

By that I mean, its goal is to nurture the desired set of associations in the minds of its customers and other stakeholders, linked to the company, and its products and services, through its name, logo and other branding elements, that provides them with a compelling promise of value.

About ashleykonson

STRATEGY CONSULTING | EXECUTIVE COACHING | CORPORATE TRAINING | KEYNOTE SPEAKING | Ashley Konson is the Managing Partner of Global Brand Leaders Inc., a new kind of brand consulting company dedicated to making brands and their teams leaders across the globe. He is a Brand Leader, Business Consultant and Award-Winning Educator, and a recognized thought leader and fervent advocate of the premise that strong brands and businesses achieve and sustain their market positions because they are strong Inside out™.
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16 Responses to How to talk about your “branding” so your audience gets it?

  1. compliancebranding says:

    Brand = reputation. The perception on the street.

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Ed, my thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I agree with your succinct definition. The question is “How do we get our team to comprehend the reputation we desire on the street.”

  2. Interesting article Ashley. Brand is truly one of the most overused and widely misunderstood terms out there. Highly competitive brands also understand the importance of aligning talent brand with consumer brand, so all employees know how to engage with and support the brand promise. I viewed a valuable webinar last week from Linked In, during which they shared a few relevant statistics (all taken with a grain of salt of course): internal/external brand alignment results in 50% lower cost per new hire b/c you’re attracting the right type of talent. Also, close to 30% reduction in employee turnover is realized. Tangible business benefits can be realized through intentional brand management. Our team may be developing a motion graphic to explain what brand is via an interesting take on an age old tale. If we publish it, I’ll make sure to send share. Thanks for the dialog on brand!

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Racheal, my thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I agree with you about brand being and overused and misunderstood term I’d enjoy seeing your motion graphic so hope that you will choose to share it with me.

  3. David Kline says:

    I like this post. Very interesting. I think your two goals sum up the concept of branding nicely.

    Explaining branding to others can be a challenge, even for someone in the branding business. At a networking event recently, when I told someone (an educated, intelligent person) that I did branding, they immediately assumed I was a cowboy. Really! When I get the opportunity to tell people more about what I do, I usually begin by explaining that “branding,” like marketing, is a concept that has different meanings to different people. For my purposes, branding is everything a company does that is seen or experienced by their customers and prospects, not just the things like a logo that people typically associate with the word. Even the smell of the shop when a customer walks in (if it is retail) is a part of the brand. So, logos, ads, online messaging, price, location (if b2c), interior design… all of it contributes to the brand.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. This very much reflects my thinking. Well argued.

  5. Jen Edds says:

    Great article. I run into this regularly. It seems even more difficult for me to explain sometimes because my area of specialty is sound/audio branding. Business owners seem to be familiar with the importance of the visual piece, but the importance of a consistent “sound” and tone of the brand often seem to be overlooked initially.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  6. RobertB says:

    Because I work for a family owned business that doesn’t understand the difference between advertising and marketing, it becomes difficult to express ideas as this. We are a food manufacturer (b2c) and have been so for over a 100 years. The issue with our company is not the product, but with brand recognition or brand meankng in an over saturated super market. I like how you explain this in such a way that it could be possible for the family to potentially understand this and go forward creating that great brand I know it could have.

  7. Yes, it is amazing how many managers don’t really understand “branding” (or what a brand really consists of). I teach a branding course at NYU and focus on the strategic end – developiing a unique meaning (emotionally and rationally) for a brand. However, I try to keep it simple – your defiinition of a brand is perfect, although I interpret “branding” as the process of developing this distinct meaning and promise. I would use the word “marketing” to replace “branding” as the former embraces all means of communication to build awareness and connect with target customers. Jay

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Jay, my thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Given your last comment, I see marketing/brand strategy is more. Check out my posts on “What is brand strategy?” and “Marketing strategy is business strategy.” Cheers!

  8. Very well written, Ashley. The distinction between brand strategy and the process and tools of branding have become blurred. I define a brand as the promise a company can own that its competitors either can not or simply have not owned that will resonate and motivate prospects, customers and employees. A brand is not a logo, slogan or trademark.

  9. Mireille AbouHanna says:

    Very well said. I am a strong supporter of building a strong brand name that combines both the physical and emotional attributes of the brand.
    For busineses or companies name, I would add a new component to it though, which is being a ‘web’ or ‘SEO’ friendly. When deciding on a name we need to keep in mind the website ranking. I was working yesterday on my new company’s name and would like to share it with you and the readers to have your opinion.
    My primary target is Entrepreneurs who wants to get into social media to promote their company. And my secondary target is those who are starting their own company and want guidance on building their marketing strategy including brand identity, brand platform, competitive analysis, marketing & communication plan and benefit from the cheap social media platform. The name I chose is ‘Marketing #iSMART’. Let me know your thoughts.

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