The “What’s What” of Branding

Well, the internet is down. Our neighbors cut the line outside, so I have just been writing all day about lots of different topics and you know what? It occurred to me to talk about branding. I’m going to help bring it into perspective and shed some light on this monster.

So… branding.

I talk to a lot of people about branding. Just about every job that FaHT deals with takes branding into account.

Branding is something that most small-to-medium sized business don’t fully see the value in. Most of them don’t even know the importance of branding and what a brand truly is.

I want to take some time and talk about branding. What is it? And how important is it for a company?

Branding can make or break you as a company, in more ways than one.

First, let’s talk about things that a brand is not. A brand is not a logo, it is not a website, it is not a person. A brand is an identity for person, place, or thing. Great, you have a logo and a website, but you don’t have a brand.

You have two visual guides that relate to your identity. But man, what does that mean?

It means what I just said, a brand is an identity. It is something that people can relate to in a visual, and experiential way. Having a logo, having an office, having company colors – those aren’t a brand, those are visual identifiers for a brand.

A brand is an identity for a company, place, person, or thing.

Let’s talk about what makes an identity. And let’s talk about people for a moment.

People have a personality, they have physical (visual) features, they communicate, they think, they grow and change, they have beliefs, other people experience emotions when they come into contact with people. A brand has all of these things.

There is depth and richness to a brand that most of us simply overlook. Just stop and think about your own identity, who you are, and what you’ve been through. Think about that.

Your journey, experiences, story, vision, dreams, friends, beliefs, and more – that’s what makes you, you.

A brand is no different. It is attached to a living organism – a company – that is changing, is on a journey, has partners, visions, dreams, etc…

It’s so deep that most of the world just misses it. They all experience it, but they miss it. You can drive through the most beautiful sunset in the world. Even if you’re right in the middle of the experience, unless you’re looking, you’ll miss it.

Since a brand is an identity, it can be broken up into hundreds of pieces, but I am only going to talk about few.

The first one is an experience:

A brand is something that is felt.

That goes way beyond a logo, or a website, or some colors. Every time you think about a brand you love, you automatically attach an experience to it.

The example I use all the time is Starbucks. See, what most people don’t know is that Starbucks’ brand is not their logo, it’s their coffee (Starbucks if you didn’t know that, that one’s on the house). You can go anywhere in the world and still experience the same cup of coffee, it tastes the same, it’s served at the same temp, they all have the same machines making it for you.

Why? Because it’s about the experience of that cup of coffee.

You and I know exactly what we are going to get and experience when we order one of their cups of coffee.

Let me give you another example of branding as a negative experience. Let’s take a look a United Airlines and the passenger that they beat and pulled off the plane. Most everyone knows what I am talking about. Well, that’s branding. United showed us what we would experience when they overbook their flights and when we don’t give up our seats.

Which is my second point:

You can negatively brand yourself.

What does that mean? It means you can give your customers a bad experience or come across in a negative way, and that is how your customers will see you. How do make your customers feel?

A great example just happened today. I am sitting here waiting for the INTERNET guy to come and fix our interwebs. The expected arrival time was between 10am-12pm. Awesome, so I waited for him to show up.

Well, noon rolled around and nobody showed, 12:30 rolled around and nobody showed. Finally 2:00 came and I got a text telling me that he was 15 mins away.

All I could think was that an update would have been nice. I wouldn’t have waited through lunch for him. Turns out he went and had lunch, super cool, I am so glad that he took the time to take care of himself. That is more important than my INTERNET.

What I am saying is the company could have given me one or two updates via text just to let me know what’s going on, and it would have made the experience much better. When I say internet repairman, I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t groan. That’s branding.

Identity is a two-way street. It’s not just about how you see yourself, but it’s also about how others see you.

You may be a straight-A student who is super responsible, but if you dress like the gang members down the street, people are going to think you’re a gang member.

When you’re creating marketing materials, thinking about uniforms, building a website, or looking at your website – you need to think about how others view you. You already know who you are. All of those things are not for you, they are for your customers.

People forget that though. We are constantly thinking from our own perspective.

Businesses aren’t thinking from their customers perspective. They don’t wonder what their customers, see, think, feel, and experience. When asked, every business says that they have great customer experience, and that they treat their customers better than anyone.

But just saying it is not a differentiator. Actions speak louder than words.

A brand is a story. Wow, it’s so simple. Holistically, a brand is just a story that is told through different mediums: from written to visual, to experiential, to imaginative even.

Some of the best brands evoke something almost magical and dreamlike, but it’s because of their story, it’s their journey.

Think about Disney as a brand, it’s crazy, they have a theme park just so you can experience the “Magical World of Disney.” Think about Walt Disney, and who he was. Think about his story, how Disney started, and the journey to get where they are today.

This last point:

You have to know your story.

This is one of the harder ones to implement, simply because this one takes time. It takes time as well as internal and external experiences.

This is why most smaller companies struggle with their brand, they just don’t know what their story is.

Most startups who are only 1-to-2 years old, struggle the most with branding because their journey just started and you just don’t know what you don’t know. It’s not a bad thing. You as a company haven’t experienced enough, haven’t walked down the path long enough to see things that are deep in the forest.

Let me sum it up in a couple of words:

A brand tells a story of an identity through visual and experiential mediums that evoke emotion and thought that people can identify with.



For those of you who read through all of this, I want to really thank you for taking the time to do it. I know that this is a long post, and I hope that it helped.