Ask any number of people ‘what is branding’ and you’ll probably get completely different answers. Branding is one of the most important ways to define your business, and yet even people who work in marketing and design can be vague about what branding means.
So it’s not a surprise that many business owners are also unsure about what ‘branding’ means and why branding is important for your business growth and success. This uncertainty can lead to several problems :
- A poor approach to brand consistency.
- Paying far more for branding advice than you need to.
- Getting branding that doesn’t work for your business.
- Retaining old branding that isn’t relevant to the business you have today.
- General unease about working with branding professionals.
I’ve come across all these issues – and they exist in businesses of all shapes and sizes. You might even recognise them in your own organisation.
I want to help business owners, marketing managers, managing directors and anyone responsible for promoting a business, to feel more comfortable with branding, and understand when it’s time to take a fresh look at their companies branding, and how to approach it with strategic purpose.
Here’s my quick guide to branding :
What is branding ?
There is a clear difference between branding and a brand. Branding refers to the visual part of your image – logo, colour and typeface, for example – the bits your customer can see.
This definition of branding comes from Hubspot :
“Branding is the process of creating the brand identity of a company. This process also delivers materials that support the brand, like a logo, tagline, visual design, or tone of voice.”
What is a brand ?
I define ‘brand’ as the experience people have with your company – it represents your approach, your values, the way you want to be perceived and the way you act. Those people include your customers, your employees, your suppliers, your shareholders, and those in your community or network.
Just having a visual image isn’t enough. In an ideal world, you will take the time to understand all the people I’ve talked about above, along with your business purpose and vision, before you even think about what your brand will look like.
Your brand helps to define why you’re in business at all. Once you know this, you can apply a consistent approach to everything you do. This reinforces your brand, allows people to connect and engage with your business and ultimately helps you to drive marketing and sales more efficiently and effectively.
Why branding is important for your business ?
How do you want people to think about your business ? How do you want them to feel when they buy from you, work with you or work for you ? How is your business different from your competitors ?
This is the essence of branding. It’s about giving your business a clear, understandable personality that will be communicated through everything you do. This gives you a number of clear commercial benefits :
- Stand out from the competition in your market.
- Build stronger relationships with your audience.
- Align your business with your target customers.
- Develop trust with the people who interact with you.
- Make it easier to recruit and retain employees.
- Create customer loyalty that delivers new business and referrals.
Some businesses make the mistake of thinking that a logo is enough. Or that branding is something that is all cost and no return.
Yet those companies who have invested in proper branding understand that it is a vital tool for growth and success. Think about the companies you interact with – the local businesses you trust, the partners you work with, the competitors in your market. Companies who invest in brand strategy and visual branding, and back that investment with a positive customer experience, are likely to be more successful than those who don’t.
So, branding is critical for business success. How do you do it ?
The key elements of successful branding
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to branding, a good graphic designer should follow a proven process that will produce the best results. For me, this process is :
You can read more about all these elements in detail in my blog on the branding design process. But I want to address the first point here. As part of that process, there are key elements to consider :
- Logo – the visual image that represents your business or organisation.
- Typography – the font and styling that’s applied to any text you use.
- Colour palette – the primary and secondary colours for your branding.
- Image style – the images or graphics you use, and how you use them.
- Tone of voice – the way you talk to your customers and how that makes them feel.
Each of these elements plays a role in establishing branding that represents and reflects your business clearly and consistently.
So, how does this process work if you already have a brand ? How do you know when it’s time to take a fresh look ?
What is rebranding – and when should you do it ?
As a small business owner, I know there are only so many things you can invest in when you start your business. You may need to invest in premises, stock, staff and IT systems – so branding could be a long way down your list.
That’s fine – the most important thing is that you get your business off the ground and get some money in. For many startup businesses, the initial investment is just in a logo that will get you going – something you can use on your business cards, or a basic website.
As your business grows, however, the time will come when you start to think about ‘growing up’ your brand. This is a rebranding exercise, and it’s a great way to demonstrate that you are growing as a company, and to support your future strategy.
Here are some indicators that it might be time for a rebrand :
- You’re finding it hard to differentiate your offer against your competition.
- Your business has grown and your existing brand doesn’t reflect that.
- Your brand is often used inconsistently.
- You need to position yourself to expand, enter a new market, or appeal to a different audience.
- Your brand hasn’t been updated for at least five years, and looks tired and outdated.
- You are merging or partnering with another business.
- Your shareholders or stakeholders have raised branding as an issue.
If it’s time for your business to have more than just a logo, and you’re ready to take a strategic approach to business growth, a rebranding exercise could be just what you need.
What to expect from the branding process
An effective branding process results in a set of assets and brand guidelines you can use to define and promote your business. Your logo and branding should be designed by a professional graphic designer who understands how to transform your story into an appropriate visual identity for your business.
When clients work with me, I take them through a structured branding process. It begins with a questionnaire which helps uncover your overall goals for your business. The outcome of the questionnaire informs the brief for the project. Without getting the answers to key questions, it can be difficult, if not impossible to create a unique and memorable visual identity for your business. A designer who is happy to go straight into the creative process without taking the time to understand your business should be a red flag.
Branding is a considered purchase and should be seen as an investment and not an expense. It’s important to follow a proper branding process and avoid cutting corners. Quick fixes may seem like a cheaper option in the short-term, but this is often counterproductive. I have clients who came to me after paying for quick fixes to their visual identity – only to find out it was just a temporary solution to a deeper issue. If you desire long-term, positive outcomes, then your mindset needs to shift from urgency and panic to patience and focus.
What is the branding process ?
The branding process is a series of logical steps taken to build a consistent visual identity for your business.
My branding process consists of 4 stages ; research, creation, application and delivery.
A rebranding follows a similar process but includes an audit of your current branding and marketing materials as part of the research phase.
By following this process, you are involved at every step, with complete transparency on the thinking behind design concepts. You’ll see how your brand will look in various applications and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to test your new or updated designs with selected people inside and outside your business.
Branding plays an important role in your organisation’s success. With a planned, strategic approach, you can stand out from the competition by creating a distinct brand identity that connects with your customers, and put your business in the ideal position for growth.