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Branding 101: How to Tackle the Basics Like a Pro

Branding 101

We’ve all heard the Jeff Bezos quote, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room” — and he’s absolutely right. 

Before diving deeper into the basics of building a brand, it’s key to understand the differences between branding and marketing — terms often interchanged, but with distinct differences. In short, branding serves as the face, reputation and purpose of a company, making good branding mission critical. While marketing is equally as important, it refers to the strategies and processes for building awareness and communicating offerings that have value for customers, partners and society at large.

Knowing that building a brand is no easy feat, we’ve outlined the branding basics you need to know.

Identify Your Brand Strategy

To begin, every brand should define its purpose, or its reason for existence. This will guide decisions throughout the company’s lifetime, as well as add meaning to the work of employees. Your brand’s mission should also differentiate you from your competitors by highlighting unique traits through consistent messaging, allowing you to stand out even in a crowded space. A real-life example is Chipotle, a fast casual restaurant that elevates itself by offering fresh, high-quality ingredients. Note that we wrote “fast casual,” not “fast food.” Chipotle’s branding is so successful that it has helped create a new category of restaurants that rise above the negative connotations of fast food – although in reality there’s arguably little difference between the two monikers. 

Chipotle achieved this by identifying a need in the market, in this case it was consumer demand for healthy fast food options. Chipotle touts that their food doesn’t contain artificial flavors or preventives, and their restaurants don’t have microwaves or freezers to drive home the message that their food is fresh and healthier than many of their competitors. 

Another essential piece of your brand strategy is laying out clear goals that you want to achieve as your brand matures — even if these change in the future, it’s helpful to create a baseline. These goals might include earning market share, becoming an industry thought leader or making your brand more relevant with a new consumer segment. Companies should also focus on their emotional appeal to consumers, helping them to understand how the brand can improve their lives or solve a problem. In the case of Chipotle, the company focused on busy, working adults and emphasized that they could eat healthy, even though they didn’t have a lot of time, tapping into their value-add to attract customers. 

Develop Your Brand’s Identity

Brand identity encompasses the visible aspects of your brand — this includes the colors, designs, logo and communication style that customers use to identify you among competitors. 

For instance, almost anyone would recognize the McDonald’s golden arches that don the side of each restaurant as their brand identity, even when spotted from miles away. McDonald’s has maintained consistency from the beginning and continually made sure that any regional changes still feel familiar for consumers, such as adjusting the color of their arches at one of their Southwest locations.

Understand Your Brand Image

Tied closely with brand identity is brand image, which is the customer’s perception of a brand based on their previous interactions. This can evolve over time and doesn’t necessarily involve a customer making a purchase or using your products and/or services. For instance, Coke and Pepsi both maintain a strong brand image as seen through their public perception. Though they both operate in the beverage space, a study found that consumers see Coke as wholesome, honest and down-to-earth thanks to their advertising messaging that centers around traditions, family and friends, while they often view Pepsi as young and trendy, likely because of spokespeople such as Beyoncé, Cardi B and Kendall Jenner. Neither is better than the other, they’re just different.

If a company’s brand identity and brand image don’t align, it’s probably time to reevaluate both and fix the disconnect to eliminate the risk of sending mixed messages to potential customers. 

Build Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is a brand’s level of public recognition. For instance, Oreo has built strong brand awareness, to the point at which virtually any black and white sandwich cookie is dubbed an “Oreo.” The same high level of brand awareness can be seen in Kleenex, Tupperware, Band-Aid and many other brands that have become inextricably associated with an entire category of products. When a brand achieves this level of widespread recognition, it is called “brand dominance.” 

It’s important to note that brand dominance can sometimes be a double-edged sword. While it may seem like a goal for any brand to achieve that level of household notoriety, for some companies it can present an added challenge once their brand becomes synonymous with the product they offer. For example, say you ask your roommate to purchase “Kleenex” at the store; however, they come home with a cheaper generic brand. In this scenario, Kleenex, despite is notoriety, lost out on the sale because their brand is interchangeable with their product. 

There are many ways to build brand awareness, including public relations and social media programs, as well as through print and online advertising like native advertising. This approach requires a company to truly understand where their audience spends their time, the content they consume and the types of websites they scroll through. 

To gather this information, it’s best to take a step back and examine your audience’s demographics, such as their gender, age, location, language, stage of life and interests, to start. If you already have social media channels, those analytics are a great place to find this data. Depending on which social media tools you use, some offer insights into other accounts your followers also engage with so you can better understand the types of content that resonate best with them.

If you don’t have existing social platforms to reference, but are looking to establish a digital presence to build brand awareness, it’s still key to list out your key audience demographics so you can outline the topics that are top of mind for this group and research which platforms and websites they are most active on. When selecting social media channels, it’s important to consider how you plan to keep those channels active, as well as ensure your product is a natural fit. For example, if your products are not inherently visual, it might be best to avoid a photo-based social media site, like Instagram. Once you narrow down the channels, check out other brands that your audience engages with, as well as your competitors, to get a better sense of the types of content that resonate with your audience. In addition to targeting the right audience, high-quality images and well-written content are key to success on social media and any form of advertising.

There you have it. Those are the branding basics and everything you need to get started on building a stellar brand. We wish you all the best in your branding, marketing and advertising journey!