What (Exactly) Is Branding?

The word “exactly” comes to mind when I’m inevitably asked the question “what is branding.” I use the word ‘inevitably’ to emphasize the eventual Pandora’s Box of questions I’m asked once I meet someone and they find out the type of work that I do.

“Well, what is branding exactly?” they ask.

“Exactly,” I say, in a semi-sarcastic way.

Branding means more than one thing and typically, it means different things to different people. Some people see branding as “good PR” and others believe it to be just a logo or a mark; it most certainly can include both of those things and much more. For me, branding starts and ends with a story. A story influences a vision and a vision influences a mission. A mission stirs determination and direction and with determination comes a focus and goal-setting (sometimes). With a somewhat clear direction in place, we can begin to find clarity as a brand. But, don’t mistake the word clarity to mean fully clear – brands are constantly changing and re-inventing themselves forcing us to always question strategy. When I talk about clarity, I mean clarity in what our company represents, who we are, and where we want to be in the future. That is where a brand starts. Clarity in what our audience cares about and what they want to know. Clarity in how we choose to communicate our message and in how it will resonate. A clear direction and a strong message should guide the creative and visual aspects of the brand. Any solid brand worth its weight in gold likely began with these points of consideration in mind.

A colleague of mine once said, “Let your name, slogan and logo have a story so that it stands for something,” and I would have to agree. If you are an established organization this isn’t a choice. You must communicate your story and have a clear message so that your audience can pick up what you’re trying to get across. Ultimately, we want our audiences to walk away with a positive feeling and to grasp a theme or concept. That is the starting point for your brand which will allow you to expand and grow. Think of your brand as the foundation of your organization’s house; it is the starting point of construction for a communication plan. It is the ever important solid ground that upholds the pillars of what your organization stands for. It upholds your values, message, corporate mindset, and so much more. Your brand is the jumping off point for everything else you do in marketing, sales, culture, and communications. At Brasco ///, we take the approach of “Brand – Plan – Execute” and it is this overarching approach that we have seen work time and time again. When a brand is built on a strong foundation, we have a guide for the creative process and are able to more efficiently craft a plan and follow through to execution. I’m not overstating any of this. I don’t take branding seriously because of my work. I take it seriously because it is something I strongly know to be an important building block towards success and which helps meet the growth goals for many organizations.

Here are a few tips and takeaways for you when evaluating your brand:

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in Discovery – Invest time and resources in conducting a brand audit to review where your organization’s brand stands today. What is the past history of your brand? We will expand on what to include in a proper brand audit in a future post, but be sure to get feedback from all stakeholders, both internally and externally.
  2. Know Your Direction – Ensure that your leadership team has a decent grasp of direction and vision for the company. It doesn’t have to be 100% fully vetted out before you start a branding process. Some of that work will happen during a brand audit and/or a full rebrand. But having this in place will save some time and money.
  3. Be Open Minded – The final outcome of a branding process will be so much more successful if you unshackle from yourself, any preconceived notions and irrelevant restrictions that may be placing limitations on future brand growth and direction. It’s ok to think “transformative”, even if in the end, the reigns are pulled back. Being open-minded will allow for a more robust creative thought process.
  4. Work With A 3rd Party – We rebranded our agency about 3 years ago—all on our own. It’s a difficult process for most companies,¬†even US… and we’re a creative branding agency! Why was it so hard? We were too close to our own brand. We needed outside perspectives, ideas, and market insights to help us move in a new direction. Although we finished our own rebrand and we were happy with the outcome, the next time we embark on evaluating the Brasco /// brand, which will happen soon, we will work with someone we respect outside of our agency walls. I suggest you do the same.
  5. Have Fun – It can be easy to fall into a stressful state of worry because, well, this is important work. But if you have fun during the process and work with a proven agency or consultant to help you through the process –¬† the journey will be that much more satisfying and positive. And surprise, you will be much happier in the end.

So, what “exactly” does your brand stand for? How well are you communicating the message, both visually and with words? Is your brand strategy aligned with your marketing plan? Or, are you just skipping the “Brand & Plan”, and going straight to execution? You are not alone, but that is not a good thing.