What is branding? Well, for starters, let’s look at what branding is not. A brand isn’t a logo. Nor is it a color palette. Sure, visual identity is important, but that’s only one small component of building a memorable, sustainable brand. Likewise, branding isn’t about mimicking your most successful competitors.
We can’t tell you how often we get calls from companies asking us to help them brand a product or rebrand their business, only to realize after some conversation that they don’t really understand what branding means. That’s when we start the education.
So what IS branding?
Branding is the continual process of knowing your marketplace, correctly anticipating what will be relevant to your customers, and identifying that which differentiates your business from the competition. It’s about communicating what your company does better than anyone else to people who will benefit.
It starts with a single word
If you can sum up your brand value in a single word (or two), then you’re off to a good start. A classic example from the automotive industry beautifully demonstrates this idea.
If we say “safety” as it relates to car brands, chances are Volvo will come to mind. That’s because Volvo has built its brand around being the safest car in the world, and the company has successfully embodied this single-word brand identity for decades.
In the 1940s, the visionaries at Volvo decided that safety would become an important factor in choosing a car. Keep in mind, this was long before seatbelts were even a thing. Volvo believed that consumers would place a higher value on a car that was inherently safer than all others.
But claiming the brand was only the beginning. The leaders at Volvo understood that to perpetually “own” the brand, they must steer their business strategies with the brand promise always top of mind. That meant research and development to continuously introduce new and better safety innovations.
Volvo was first to market with the three-point seatbelt, airbags, crumple zones in case of collision and prototypes for child safety seats. More recently, the company can be credited for leading the industry with blind spot sensors, braking alerts and other driver intelligence technologies. As a result, Volvo has remained the steadfast safety leader in the automotive industry, continually ranking #1 in safety in independent tests.
Finding your unique brand promise
When we lead our clients through the process of branding or rebranding, we help them find that single word. We ask them to brainstorm descriptive words (adjectives) that describe their business or product. We challenge them to seriously examine their unique attributes and match those strengths with what their customers want and need. This starts with two simple questions:
- What makes your organization, products or services different from your competitors?
- What do you offer that is truly relevant to your customers and/or potential customers?
A careful exploration of these questions will help you carve out a unique brand platform that sets your company or organization apart.
Let’s say you’re launching a new brand of shoes, and your target consumers are trendsetting, socially conscious females and males under age 30. Your shoe designs are Simple and Comfortable and will be offered in a Range of Colors. Some might say they make a Fashion Statement. Your manufacturing process will deliver Good Quality and utilize Recycled Content whenever possible. Your shoes will be Moderately Priced.
These brand attributes are all likely to resonate with your trendsetting, socially aware millennial consumers, but there isn’t much there that’s truly different from what many other shoe brands offer.
However, what if you put a philanthropic spin on your offering, demonstrating your brand to be Socially Responsible. For example, how about donating one pair of shoes to children living in poverty for every pair your customers purchase. Sound familiar?
That’s exactly how the shoe company TOMS created a distinctive brand identity that connects with customers based on shared values.
6 steps to uncovering your brand value
Carving out a real brand distinction isn’t easy. It requires gathering insights from within and outside of your company and bringing creative minds together to critically evaluate your value to the marketplace. We recommend a brand development process that goes something like this:
- Form a branding team or task force – made up of your business leaders, creative thinkers in your company, and your branding agency – to drive the process.
- Solicit input from your key internal stakeholders – management, employees and industry influencers. This can be done through surveys or a facilitated brainstorming session that explores strengths, weaknesses, market opportunities and brand potential.
- Look outside your company to understand customer preferences and perceptions. Qualitative research will tell you what’s important to your customers, what they think of your company or product, and how they view your competitors.
- Organize and analyze these internal and external insights to inform your branding team.
- Bring your team together to:
- Explore and vet possibilities for your brand platform
- Apply our model for developing a brand theme that differentiates your company and is highly relevant to your customers
- Develop your compelling brand positioning statement
- Craft key value propositions by target audience
- Consider possible taglines for your business or product (but only if it enhances your brand positioning; a tagline just for the sake of having one isn’t helpful)
- Design your visual brand identity – your logo, color palette and key visuals
Then comes the launch (an altogether different discussion).
Over nearly two decades as a branding agency and marketing consulting firm, Group3 has seen the rise and fall of many brands. Despite the myriad advertising gimmicks and technology platforms that have come and gone, one truth remains. If you don’t have a strong sense of who you are as a company – and you’re not able to clearly communicate that value to a market that finds it relevant – even the most advanced marketing tools won’t keep your business from falling short of its potential.
Are you looking for a branding agency to help launch or rebrand your company or organization? If our take on branding makes sense to you, then let’s chat. Contact Group3’s branding experts in Raleigh to learn more.