What is branding?
In marketing parlance, a company’s brand is defined as how the company appears to the outside world.
The usage of that word — “brand” — has shifted. Fifty years ago, the term was synonymous with “logo,” and to many people who aren’t in the business of marketing, they still mean the same thing. This is only fair; a logo is analogous to a unique mark that ranchers brand on cattle.
The representation of a brand (the name, the logo, the colors and typography used in marketing and advertising) is often referred to as the brand visual identity. But that’s just a subset. There’s so much more: the company’s unique place in the market, the perception of the brand’s quality and value, the brand’s customer demographics and customer perception of the brand’s customers (these are different things), the company’s reputation, the reputation of its leadership, and so on. Open a marketing textbook and you’ll find a more comprehensive list, but you get the idea.
Branding is the work done to define and create the brand.
A branding agency has a more strategic scope than a traditional marketing or advertising agency. While most branding agencies will also manage the execution of marketing materials and create and run advertising campaigns, they earn their name by launching, relaunching, and maintaining brands depending on the client’s need. This approach requires a deeper understanding of a company’s goals and developing a brand strategy through exercises like market research and competitive research. An agency can conduct customer surveys or even focus groups for understanding unmet desires (often called need states) and to test product ideas, names, and slogans. The resulting actions can include visual identity design, brand and product marketing plans, and even product roadmap recommendations.
We think that any organization can make use of an outside team to help evaluate, build, or improve their brand. Of course, we’re an agency, so you’d expect us to say that. But, it makes sense. An outside team can take a hard, unbiased look at what a company is doing, and they’ll have the time and expertise to perform the research and analysis that an organization may not be able to do on their own. Organizations may be really, really good at building products or services and selling those products to a core set of customers, but few businesses survive and grow by selling the same product to the same people over and over again.
A growth plan is critical, but executing on a plan without a clearly defined goal and the research to back it up is a good way to lose a lot of money. Growth requires understanding customers, and if you’re an organization with aspirations for growth, effective branding means that customers understand you. It’s your brand which drives awareness, and then loyalty.