What the Heck is Branding?

I had a chat with a friend recently who is looking to take his business to the next level. We were talking about websites and marketing and standing out from the crowd. I asked him about his brand. What makes it special – different from the rest of the competition? Who is his customer and what is it that draws them to that brand – his shop? He didn’t know. He wasn’t really sure what I meant by “brand”.

Let’s just take a look for a second at this concept of “branding”. He like many people, think of branding as the logo, website, marketing or advertising when actually your brand has much less to do with those “outward-in” business tools and much more of an “inward-out” story about who and what compromises the essence of the business. It’s the sum of experiences and messaging about your shop, products, services, value… all of it. It comes from the inside of the company structure, not from the last cool commercial you created (although cool commercials might be a part of your brand). It’s who you are and what you stand for. It’s the promise to your customer that you are something special.

If you are a shop selling jewelry, for example what is it that makes you special or unique to the market? Are you the highest quality gemstones or one of a kind jewelry design? Do you sell reasonably priced jewelry with loads of selection? Are you experts in your specific niche of the jewelry industry? Do you have the market on black pearls or Hawaiian styles? Do you have the best customer service in the industry? Do you give back and are environmentally caring? What is it about you that makes you – you?

Once you have that, then you can work on the rest of the “outward-in” stuff like your logo and your website design. All those things like your business cards, digital marketing strategies and campaigns, content and voice have got to come after you know who you are on the inside. Then you follow through in all areas of your business with that story. Emphasize it, shout it from the rooftops! Make sure that voice and message is in every single point of contact with that consumer.

All the best brands in the world have that. Brands on the down slide have lost that focus.

Think about Apple. Apple screams who they are in every ad, web page, store front and commercial. Of course we may not all like what they are screaming, but it’s crystal clear. And the people who are their target like it, which is what they are aiming for. Good branding is about knowing who you are and who your target audience is. Then getting that conversation going with them in the words they want to hear.

Keep in mind, it has to be real. If you tout yourself as having the best customer service, you better have it. If you say you serve the best seafood in town, it better be true. If you promise the best quality merchandise then your customer better not be getting knock-offs and inferiors. Keep your brand real and pure and those people who have an affinity for it will stay true and loyal to your products.

Take a look at Seth Godin’s brand definition which I think really nails it.