We’re often told to avoid technical terminology when we’re marketing to our customers – but even when we’re trying to keep it simple, if we’re a specialist in a particular area, the words we use may mean different things to different people. I thought it might be useful to run through some of the terms often used in my field, and explain what they mean.
What is branding?
The term stems from when farmers branded their cattle with a hot iron to mark ownership. These days I believe they use ear-tags for that (I’m not an expert btw, my experience with cattle is best left to a whole other story), and so the term has moved on to be (arguably) the clearest way to distinguish one company from another.
Is that different to the term ‘brand’?
Yep. Think of branding as a mostly visual thing, generally a logo, a set of colours and some style guides. A brand however is more of a ‘personality’ that can be presented in many forms, often called touch-points. Nike has their slogan ‘Just do it’, which is as much a part of their brand as their swoosh logo. A brand can be reflected as an attitude or philosophy, a feeling or experience, a sound, even a smell. Your favourite perfume reflects a brand as much as the (hopefully) pleasant smell.
Wait a minute. These things cross over, don’t they?
Yep. Loads. Let’s simplify it for this article to say that branding is often more visual and design orientated, whilst ‘brand’ is a little less tangible. A good brand expert will have a keen eye for ‘branding’, and a keen mind or ‘feel’ for ‘brand’.
Alright then. So what’s brand strategy and brand management?
Let’s start with brand strategy. This is where you sit down and determine your brand personality, and what your brand should mean to people, mostly to your customers, but also your management, your staff, and your suppliers. It’s generally a way to reflect your values and qualities as simply as possible.
We know for example, that Apple (for the most part) put good design front and centre of everything they produce. We also know that they charge a premium for that perceived quality, and so they’ve already positioned themselves as a premium brand, without ever saying their prices are high. That’s in large part down to their brand strategy. They can also come across as quite aloof, something that historically might be associated with having massive confidence in their brand, but as society changes and social media becomes an essential part of brand strategy, even the most confident brands are ‘warming’ their stance in order to become more engaging with younger generations.
So good brand strategy ensures that everything a company does, everything they produce, the way they talk, the way they design their customer experience, reflects their qualities and personality in their brand strategy.
Onto brand management, which is the most natural partner to brand strategy. Once the strategy is established, brand management ensures it’s followed through all the required touch-points. It’s almost like policing the use of the brand, but slightly less formal.
In a large(ish) company, there’s likely to be a person solely responsible for brand management (called a Brand Manager, funnily enough), whilst in smaller companies, it’s likely to be the MD or Marketing Manager checking that everything reflects the brand strategy. Some companies out-source this role to their designer or creative agency, to utilise someone with specialist knowledge. You might think that could slow things down, particularly in a small company – but if things are planned well, it’s just part of the process. And it’s an important one.
You banged on a bit there Pope, it’s clearly something you care about.
The thing is, it can seem very easy to be your own brand manager, but that doesn’t mean you should be doing it all yourself. Same with designing brand elements or touch-points. This is often where we see the biggest differences in quality between those that get it right, and those that perhaps don’t quite see the benefits of getting it right. I have every faith the intention is there, but the execution can be… disappointing. Don’t get me wrong – but remember the skills someone has in running their own business don’t necessarily cross over into branding because they have an (arguably subjective) view on how things should ‘look’. So I’d always recommend talking to an expert!
Ok yeah, moving on then.
So brand/branding is obviously important. How do you know if you’re doing it well? I mean you can’t measure it, can you? It’s all visuals and touchy feely stuff.
Welcome to my world! It’s certainly not one of those straightforward things, but there are some simple things any MD, Marketing Manager or team can do to answer those questions themselves.
- Make sure you understand your values and differences (I did say this would be simple)
- Make sure your customers understand your values and differences Well, do they? How do you know? When was the last time you asked?
- Have a look at the diagram below. Where is your brand? Where are your competitors?
- Have a think about your position on the chart. Be honest with yourself. Is it where you really are? (this is where asking your customers, your staff, and other associates is helpful)
- More importantly, is it where you want to be? If it isn’t, what needs to change to get you there?
Congratulations! You’ve just found a simple way to measure the effectiveness of your brand strategy.
Really?! That was easy. What should I do next?
Yep, really. It’s simple stuff. At least it should be – if you found it hard to answer those questions, or plot your current and future positions on the graph, then it might take a little extra work to get there.
It’s not designed to be hugely comprehensive at this stage (I’m trying to keep this article as succinct as I can) – for example we could use a similar chart to look at other ‘metrics’ such as innovation, trust, reliability, customer sentiment etc. But it’s a good way of getting started, and once you get started, you’ll see how exciting brand strategy can be, especially with great design working alongside it.
The good news is that you don’t have to do that work on your own. If you work with a creative agency, you should probably have a chat with them about your findings. If you don’t, then it’s probably a good idea to arrange a coffee and a catch-up with an expert in this area…