Understanding Branding (& No It's Not Your Logo!)

Branding is a buzzword, y’all. It’s like the Helvetica of interwebz right now and as easy as it is to throw around and slap it on everything – do we even know what it means?


WHAT BRANDING ISN’T

The way my brain works, it’s easier for me to understand what something isn’t first. Branding isn’t “just a logo.” Branding isn’t “just a website.” Branding isn’t “JUST _________ (fill in the blank with any one word).” I can say that anything you put in the blank is wrong, because branding is way more than a simple one-word answer.

Let’s talk about how branding isn’t just your logo. Do you know how many companies I follow on Instagram? I don’t, but for purposes of this post, let’s say I follow 100 companies. It can be anything from one-woman companies who sell hand-lettered stationery to corporate companies who sell a million dollars worth of apparel a day. Do you know how many times I see any company’s LOGOS while scrolling through Instagram? 0. Like, literally, zilch.

Do you know what I do see? Stylized photographs that are consistent in their mood and colors, or someone’s desk with all their tools laid out, or someone’s hand wearing really awesome rings holding a big coffee cup. Whatever I see – it influences how I feel about that company and what I think their values are and who their ideal customer is (and if I am that customer or not).

Over time I learn about this company, I perceive things about them and I still probably couldn’t tell you what their logo is. Now, eventually, I’ll decide I want to buy something and I think, oh I bet so-and-so offers that, and I’ll head to their website and I will think, “WOW! This looks exactly like what I imagined in would, based off their Instagram feed. Oh, that’s their logo? That’s awesome, it’s so fitting. They have a really well designed and considered brand identity.”

Had their Instagram feed been just daily posts of their logo, would I even be following them? No. Branding is more than your logo. Your logo is an element of your branding, but just an element.


WHAT BRANDING IS

That definition of brand identity is “how a company wants to be perceived by others.” I am slightly conflicted with this definition, because the word “wants.” I’ll explain it like this: a brand identity is created and used in an attempt to control how a company is perceived by others – how a company is actually perceived by others depends on whether the brand identity is working or not.


HOW IT WORKS

If Nike says “our brand identity wants to make people perceive us as a motivated fitness brand” but then all their photos have slightly overweight people watching Netflix, and their tweets say things like “yesterday you said tomorrow, but it’s kind of rainy out so, like, whatevz” then their branding would be very unsuccessful. There’s a difference between what the company “wants” and what is actually happening.

One way to help control what is actually happening is to have a cohesive brand. The definition of cohesive says “well integrated; unified.”  That’s what needs to be just sitting, simmering, in the back of your head at all time when you are out making, creating, posting, whatever-ing as your company. Is this well-integrated? Is this unified? If it’s not – then don’t put it out there.

In our Nike example, if someone was to look at the tweet before posting and say “hey, does having an excuse for not working out fit into our message? Does it make people perceive us a motivated fitness company?” the answer would be a big, fat (pun intended) NO. So they wouldn’t post it. And their brand would be better for it.

For The Crown Fox, my identity does not include my awkward life tweets of things that happen on the daily. So, despite how funny I find them, I refrain from tweeting to my business account about how the grocery store put cat food and wine right next to each other for my convenience. Just like whoever runs Nike’s twitter might be totally terrible at running and like trip and fall every time they run – do they tweet about that? No! They tweet things like “Weather conditions can’t stop your run” and “You’ve only just begun.”


WHAT BRANDING INCLUDES

When I create a brand identity for someone it includes visual elements – a logo, a stationery suite, color palettes, etc. But, more importantly, it includes analyzing and understanding the company, their purpose, their target client, and how they want to be perceived. MORE importantly than that, it includes helping the client to see the importance of knowing these things about their company. If you're more of a DIYer then check out Branding 101: Building Your Base.

It would be cool, and somewhat profitable (Maybe? I have no idea) to churn out logos for $50 a pop and spend about half an hour thinking about it. But would that help my client see success in the future? Would my client have a greater understanding of who they are, what they do, and who they serve? Would they be able to create content that pulls their target customer in and makes them more profit? Maybe! Maybe they would. But probably they wouldn’t. Probably they wouldn’t stand out in the crowd as a company that is worth buying from. Probably they wouldn’t connect with future customers in a way that builds loyalty or trust.


THE MAIN POINT

I realize I’m like the queen of metaphors and examples over here. I’ll simplify it though. Branding isn’t your logo. Branding is everything you are putting out into the world in regards to your company, and works to build recognition, loyalty, and trust.

Visually, it does include the logo. But, it also includes how you tweet, and what your sidebar graphics look like on your blog, and whether or not your images have a lot white space in them, and so on. Outside of visuals it includes understanding what your mission is, where you want your company to go, and who you serve. Most importantly, it all ties together in a cohesive and memorable way.

Answering those questions confidently can take time and introspection and, for me, a lot of talking it through with others. But once you “get it” understanding how you should use social media, and what your logo should look like, and what colors fulfill those goals is “the easy part.” Okay, false, the “easier” part. If you want more help answering those questions then this is the eBook for you!


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Posted on October 5, 2015 and filed under Branding.