| Branding

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This post was updated in June 2022. It was originally written in 2016.

Branding as a Buddist Koan


When I talk with clients and prospects about branding I can sense their confusion. Rather than tell you what branding is, let’s talk about what branding is not.

Sometimes branding feels so ephemeral. It’s hard to define, encompasses many things, yet is none of them.

Branding is not your logo.

Well, it’s not only your logo. It’s more than your logo. I think we’ve all heard this one enough times by now.

Your logo symbolizes your brand, and a well-designed logo can provide a strong foundation for developing a memorable brand identity. Having a poorly designed logo or weak name will make it much harder to develop a professional visual identity for your company, product or service.

Branding is not your web site.

For many businesses, your web site may be very central to establishing and promoting your brand image. Your logo is usually highly visible on your web site. The design of your web site is the perfect place to build a full visual identity based on the colors you choose, the style of photos or illustrations you use, and the overall look and feel of the site. Additionally, the writing on your web site gives you the opportunity to build consistent voice for your brand.

Your brand is more than just your web site, but for many businesses, your web site is the face of your online brand.

Branding is not marketing.

Our firm, Visible Logic, gets called many things—from a design firm to a branding firm to a web development firm to a marketing firm. I see how confusing this is to people trying to find good resources in any and all of these areas. There is overlap between branding and marketing, yet they are distinct.

Marketing’s goal is to increase interest in your product and service and entice people to buy. For people to consider buying from you they must first gain awareness of what you are selling. Then they will decide that it may be helpful (or enjoyable) to them and finally they will make the decision to buy.

Your brand identity should always be clearly evident in your marketing materials. And the goal of some marketing activities may be primarily on brand awareness.

However, there are marketing tactics that can have little to do with branding. For example, certain contests could generate a lot of sales leads, but not improve your brand in the long run.

The best marketing builds brand awareness (which may or may not be linked to increased revenues) while simultaneously accomplishing a goal that is more specifically tied to increasing sales and revenues.

Branding is not advertising.

A lot of advertising works to build brand awareness. As you’ve probably heard, you generally need repetition in advertising for it to effective.

This is similar with building brand recognition. The more brand touch points someone experiences, the more likely they are to know and trust your brand.

However, those touch points may or may not be all advertising; they could be an e-newsletter, social media, your web site, etc.

Branding is not a promise.

This one’s a pet peeve of mine! I hate when people say “your brand is a promise.” While I understand the sentiment behind it, I think it’s one of the worst definitions of a brand.

The idea behind this expression is that much of what defines a brand is intangible. It’s a lot like the word reputation, we all know what it means, but it’s difficult to trap. And yes, part of your brand is your reputation, the service you provide and the good will you have in the community. But it goes beyond just a promise.

Branding is not storytelling.

Your brand may incorporate storytelling into its voice. Storytelling is an effective way to build emotion and humanness into your company, product or service.

There is a lot of hype right now around storytelling, and storytelling can be a strong way to connect with customers and prospects. Evidence shows us that people like stories. Writing (or talking) with a storytelling tone and arc, can be more effective than just a features and benefits-driven approach.

But storytelling, in and of itself, is not branding. How you tell your stories is something that can be part of your brand. Are they funny, or sad or dramatic? Are they told from your point of view or from your customers? Are they short or long? Written, illustrated or in video format? Well-done storytelling makes for a memorable brand. But there are also strong brands where storytelling would not mesh with their personality, and that’s OK.

Why is it so challenging to define brand and branding?

I think it’s because it’s both internal and external. It’s about highly-controlled visual elements such as logos and intangible qualities such as reputation. Your brand stands for you and represents you, yet not everything that encompasses your brand is built by you.

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