What is Branding?
Branding is the act of defining and refining the essence or identity of a business, product, service, or institution—it is creating that which comes to represent the totality of experiences and associations with a product or service.
Some believe that branding is a promise you make to your customer. We believe this to be a shallow interpretation, as branding encompasses the promise as well as how, when, and why you make the promise. More broadly, a brand is the voice, heart, mind, and style of a business.
Heart —History & Future
In conjunction with business strategy & brand strategy, branding builds an intentional future as a steward of owner and stakeholder goals. It communicates these goals downstream across all business departments and builds the necessary processes & rituals to accomplish them, the byproduct is company culture.
The above illustration of downstreaming culture details the bond between origin story and company culture. All businesses begin as idealism: hopes, dreams, opportunities, a shining light attracting the investment, and obsessive attention required of entrepreneurial endeavor. Although an evolution of business concept is inevitable, successful brands integrate origin story into their brand identity as it underpins the business culture and therefore how they accomplish tasks as well as what they cannot accomplish. A shift away from the origin story, whether because of new management, acquisition, or other, will likely cause the business unit to fail without a rebrand.
The question of a business’s future goals is of equal importance to the origin story. Goals give shape to the strategies necessary to achieve the goals and the integrations required to bring strategy to life. A non-exhaustive list would include required investment in resources, processes & IP needed to outstrip competition, profit formulae that enable you to meet those goals, marketing & exit strategy, and as well as team and lifestyle success criteria.
The Process: Voice, Style & Brain
A brand’s tone of voice marries the business promise to its attending psychology. Voice development is the cultivated meeting point of art and science—cultivated, in the sense that is studied & organized. The science practiced is brand strategy, or the research performed to define technical opportunity spaces in a marketplace that would allow a business concept to thrive by increasing its barriers to competition and helping to position its products or services as non-commoditized.
Like art, voice establishes tone to convey and compel argument. The argument in a business case, “why you should buy my product over my competitors.” Branding employs specific tools to make this argument, namely, design (iconography or logo design, color palettes, and typography) and copywriting. These sub-disciplines are informed by research into the brand strategy and prioritize key marketplace insights in their development.
After research, brand identity & voice development begin with the bespoke process of identity development. For BS LLC, this process employs market insights to inform creative research. Creative research is the process of scouring historical usage of iconography, art, and language & linguistics to communicate themes. Successful themes are prioritized into brand worlds or creative pathways that can carry forward the intentions of brand strategy research. The selected brand world is developed into brand guidelines.
With the brand system in hand, we enact the brand across the business touchpoints. Focusing on the interfaces between business and customer as well as the interfaces between strategy, identity, and experience.
The Product: Job Theory & Brand Experience
Branding is only as good as its ingredients. With business, it is a complex recipe, including everything mentioned above as well as the product/products themselves.
As students of Job Theory, we believe that brands are successful only when the product itself meets the unmet needs of consumers or meets the needs of the consumers better than the competition.
As such, an important role of branding is to communicate and pursue business and product innovation essential to create utility in the business-customer relationship.
Once a product is good enough for the marketplace, the brand is responsible for creating the most perfect product experience possible. To do that, it asks “what are the experiences in purchasing and using a product that we need to provide in order to get the job done perfectly” (Clayton Christensen, HBS). Through this process, we can de-commoditize products and services basis of competition.
With established brands, we audit the customer journey to evaluate purchasing and product usage. This practice allows us to understand threats and opportunities in the sale and communication of the process and ensure its consistency through all sales mediums.
Like anything worthwhile, powerful brands require maintenance: entropy affects all things including brands. To maintain brands to the level of Coca-Cola or Nike, branding is a process, not an event. Brand equity is created in the constant pursuit and refinement of the brand. The pursuit is made up of customer relationships, visual and technological audits, process audits, profit formulae oversight, and marketing. Once established, the fastest way to develop brand equity is through marketing strategy.
BS LLC is a branding agency based in Cincinnati, OH. We help companies, individuals and institutions build powerful brands that improve their position in today’s competitive marketplace.