What is branding, anyway?

Close up of the tips of colored pencils. The text reads, "What IS branding, really?"

For all the buzz about “branding,” there is a lot of confusion out there about what a brand actually is. Many of our clients think that the word “brand” is interchangeable with the word “logo,” while some branding experts will tell you that a brand is, “Everything your customers think about and associate with your business when you’re not around.”

No wonder so many people are confused, with such a wide range of potential definitions out there!

In general, “branding” is everything that you do to establish an image of your company in your customers’ minds (and hearts!) This can indeed range from a simple logo, to how you write your company “about” page, to details like how you train your service staff to interact with customers.

All serious businesses should spend some time thinking about how they want their customers to perceive them, and establish a set of “branding guidelines” that can be referred to by people at every level of the company to keep all materials produced by the company – and all the experiences it creates for its customers – “on brand.”

How to create a brand for your business

This can sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Imagine you are about to survey all of your customers for the top 3 words they think describe your company. What 3 words would you WANT them to say?

  • An accounting firm might want their top 3 descriptive word to be trustworthy, professional and knowledgeable.
  • A grocery store might prefer local, caring and affordable.
  • A high-end car dealership might choose luxury, status and exclusive.

Some good ways to come up with potential list of words are to think about what makes your business or product stand out. Why do customers choose you over others?

Once you know how you want to appear to your customers, start thinking about what kinds of colors, images, fonts, phrases and experiences could contribute to creating that impression. Those are the sorts of things that should go into your branding guidelines.

An important thing to keep in mind is that choosing to not establish your guidelines is also a decision, and rather than projecting a neutral image, what you are projecting tends to be chaos and unprofessionalism.

A company whose brand is about being eco-friendly – that is, they want their customers to think of them as eco-friendly and are taking dedicated steps to ensure that they do – might establish branding guidelines that include making ample use of the color green, using brown recycled paper bags and twine for packaging, and teach their sales staff to be able to present information about how choosing the company’s products will positively impact the customer’s carbon footprint.

What goes into a company’s brand guidelines?

At its most basic, a business’ brand guidelines should include:

  • Some method of describing what kind of experience and perception your company is seeking to create for its customers (and employees.) This might take the form of the top 3 words you think describe your company, a brief paragraph describing the company’s vision, or anything else that gets this message across.
  • A logo or “logo set” (variants on the same logo to fit different use cases – for example, a horizontal and a vertical configuration.)
  • Specific typographic guidelines (which fonts does your business use, at what size, and where?)
  • Your company color palette, and details about how much deviation from that palette is allowed, and the specific situations in which those deviations are okay.

You can include anything else that contributes to your brand that you want to keep consistent. Here’s a few extra ideas:

  • Taglines, common phrases, and even words that should be emphasized in company copy.
  • Photography or illustration guidelines, in general and also for specific scenarios. For example, you might dictate how much air space should be above a person’s head when their headshots are taken for the company website.
  • The “customer avatars” you use, or what audiences you are primarily speaking to.
  • Employee dress or uniform guidelines.
  • The specific scent that should be spritzed in retail locations to promote a certain atmosphere – for example, cinnamon essential oils in a store that sells holiday decor.
  • Guidelines about how much diversity is required in images the company uses.
  • What signature your employees should use in their emails.
  • How phones should be answered.
  • Where, when and how often to identify your non-profit partnerships.

Write down anything that helps to craft your company image.

Once you have your branding guidelines established, make sure that every manager in your company sees and understands it, and check periodically to see that everyone is adhering to your brand guidelines so that your whole company looks polished and stays on message.

There are huge benefits to having an established brand that go well beyond just warm fuzzies your customers might get. We’ll talk about those in our next post!

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2017-12-22T07:01:01-08:00

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