Branding: The Practical Guide For Brand Owners

Branding Ultimate guide

Branding is one of the many concepts in marketing that we hear a lot about but is very elusive to define.  

Brand owners may want to be seen as providing products with “unique desired value” … but, whether customers perceive that “unique desired value” is where a brand can succeed or fail.

Of all the explanations of what branding really means, the best one I have found is this. Branding is not the product. It is not the product’s logo or packaging. It’s not even a competitive positioning, a set of values, or an idle promise.

When a brand recommends itself to a customer, what it is actually saying is, “Use me, and this is the new you that you can become.” If you take this idea of branding, you are not branding the product at all. You are branding a “new you” of the customer via your branded product.

I like this notion of branding because it is less inward-looking about the product and what it stands for. It is outward-facing, customer-centric, and more oriented toward how it can help transform a customer’s life.

This guide has a series of cluster posts that expand on the topic of “Branding.”

Contents ...

To find a special gift waiting for you on this page, click the button below to take a peek, before you read on … 

Branding basics and the concept of market differentiation

Branding is all about differentiation because it involves creating a unique identity for a product or service that sets it apart from competitors in the market.

Differentiation offers several benefits to a brand, including increased brand recognition, customer loyalty, and profitability. By creating a unique identity and value proposition that sets the brand apart from competitors, differentiation can help increase brand recognition and awareness.

Consumers are more likely to remember and choose a brand that stands out from the competition. This can lead to increased market share and revenue for the brand.

Additionally, differentiation can inspire customer loyalty by connecting the brand and its target audience. Consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand they perceive as unique and valuable. This can lead to increased customer lifetime value and profitability for the brand.

1. Branding versus brands: are they different concepts?

Branding and brands are different concepts. A brand refers to the overall perception and reputation of a product or service in the minds of consumers.

It encompasses consumers’ emotional and intellectual associations with the brand and is influenced by various factors, such as product quality, customer service, marketing, and brand identity.

Branding, on the other hand, refers to the process of creating and managing a brand’s identity and reputation in the market. It involves developing a brand identity, messaging, and positioning that resonates with the target audience and effectively communicates the brand’s unique value proposition.

While branding is the process of building a brand identity, the brand itself is the result of that process, representing the overall perception and reputation of the product or service in the minds of consumers.

2. How does branding increase the value of a business?

Branding can increase the value of a business in several ways. A strong brand can enhance the reputation and perceived value of a product or service, making it more attractive to consumers and potentially allowing the business to charge a premium price.

A recognizable and trusted brand can also help a business stand out from competitors in the market, increasing its market share and profitability.

Additionally, a strong brand can inspire customer loyalty, leading to increased customer lifetime value and repeat business.

A well-developed brand identity and messaging can also help a business attract investors and potential partners, increasing its overall value and potential for growth.

3. What does branding do for a customer of a business?

A strong brand identity can help customers make informed purchasing decisions by providing a clear understanding of the brand’s unique value proposition and differentiating it from competitors.

A well-established brand can also inspire confidence and trust in customers by communicating a sense of reliability and consistency.

Additionally, a recognizable and trusted brand can make customers feel more connected to the products or services they are purchasing, fostering a sense of loyalty and creating a positive customer experience.

By investing in branding and building a strong brand identity, businesses can create a more enjoyable and engaging experience for their customers, increasing their satisfaction and overall brand perception.

4. Why do businesses confuse branding with just a logo?

Businesses may confuse branding with just a logo because a logo is a visible and tangible representation of a brand that is easily recognizable.

However, branding is much more than just a logo. It encompasses the overall perception and reputation of a product or service in the minds of consumers, including emotional and intellectual associations with the brand.

Branding involves creating and managing a brand’s identity, messaging, and positioning to effectively communicate its unique value proposition and differentiate it from competitors.

While a logo is an essential branding component, it is just one aspect of a more extensive process that involves developing a consistent and memorable brand identity and reputation in the market.

5. Experts' quotes on the value and definition of branding

If you love quotes from people who matter, here are a few about branding that are eye-opening. No matter how long you’ve been in the branding business, these quotes are worth reverting to now and again.

Jay Baer

"Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice-versa."

Seth Godin

"A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection, or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

The 8 key branding-related topics marketers need to know

There are so many facets to branding that it may take a ton of textbooks to explain it all. But, here, in this article, I want to give you a serious yet quick overview of the whole branding landscape. I have it for you in 8 sub-topics. 
8 Branding-Related Topics
(Please use this infographic with credits intact.) 

1. What is branding and why does it matter to businesses?

What all does branding encompass as a marketing concept?

Branding encompasses a wide range of marketing concepts including developing a brand strategy that effectively communicates the brand’s unique value proposition and positioning, creating a recognizable and memorable brand identity, and developing messaging and advertising campaigns that resonate with the target audience.

Effective branding also involves understanding the target audience, their needs, preferences, and values, and aligning the brand’s messaging and positioning with these insights.

Additionally, branding involves ongoing monitoring and management of the brand’s reputation and perception in the market, including responding to feedback and evolving market conditions.

By taking a holistic approach to branding as a marketing concept, businesses can effectively differentiate themselves from competitors, build customer loyalty, and increase their overall market share and profitability.

Why does branding matter so much to businesses?

Branding matters so much to businesses for several reasons:

  • Branding can help businesses stand out from competitors in the market, creating a unique and recognizable identity that resonates with customers and inspires loyalty.
  • Effective branding can increase the perceived value of a product or service, allowing businesses to charge a premium price and achieve higher profit margins.
  • A strong brand can enhance a business’s reputation and credibility, making it more attractive to investors, potential partners, and customers. This can lead to increased market share, profitability, and long-term success.

Watch two guys trying hard to define branding ... video!

Sometimes it helps to see people talk about branding and its importance. That’s why I picked this video as an example – it’s from EnvisionIT Solutions, and it has their “Table Talk” guys, Kevin and Mike, trying to explain “branding.” The fact that they are struggling to cage the idea of branding into a small understandable concept is funny. But in the end, they get the main points out, and that’s all that matters.

2. Types of branding and their distinctive characteristics

What are the differences between the many types of brands?

There are many ways to break up branding into its sub-types. The system I like to follow is this one. Here it’s about which part of the business is the most recognized brand.

  • Personal Brands: People like to brand themselves as their businesses’ top product or spearheads. Their branding and values permeate the business. Solopreneurs, professional entrepreneurs, small business owners, and even some big business owners like Elon Musk or Richard Branson like the idea of being personal brands taller than their businesses.
  • Product Brands or Service Brands: These are the two typical types of brands we often encounter. The business or owner may not be as well recognized as the product or service. For example, Dove Soap or FedEx  – where the product or service brand is how we recall these businesses.
  • Company Brands: Some companies like to sound more recognizable than their owners or products (the idea is that the umbrella corporate brand must survive new owners or new products). Airbnb and Starbucks are great examples.
  • Purpose Brands: This is a relatively new class of businesses that like to make a brand out of their purpose (thus giving themselves more room to extend their product ranges deeper into their purpose territory). The Body Shop and Imperfect Foods are two great brands that grew from solid purposes.
  • C-Suite Brands: In some cases, neither the business owners nor the products are the heroes of branding, but the CEOs (or other C-Suite Officers of the business) are made the brands most listened to. Indira Nooyi of Pepsico and Sundar Pichai of Google are some excellent examples. They speak publicly, write op-eds often, and become voices of power in top management circles.

Do different types of brands need different types of marketing?

Different types of brands typically require different marketing strategies to reach and resonate with their target audience effectively.

For example, a luxury brand may use high-end advertising and sponsorships to create a sense of exclusivity and appeal to affluent customers. In contrast, a value brand may focus on low-cost promotions and discounts to appeal to budget-conscious consumers.

Similarly, a brand targeting a younger demographic may use social media and influencer marketing to connect with its audience. A brand targeting an older demographic may use traditional advertising channels like print and television.

Additionally, a B2B brand may use a different marketing strategy than a B2C brand, as their target audience, messaging, and channels may differ.

Why some businesses go for multi-level branding ... video!

Stephen Houraghan of the Brand Master Academy has a neat video (below) that breaks up branding into eight different types of brands. His approach is that brand marketers have to choose which kind of brand they most want to be as a strategy. Stephen also explains how some businesses deliberately and strategically choose to adopt multi-level branding or a crossover of different types of branding for good reasons.

3. About main brands, sub-brands, and brand architecture

All about parent brands and child brands and their mixups

Life is easy for the marketer when a business has just one predominant brand.

The issues become complex when the company launches several other brands when the marketer’s dilemma becomes: “Which brand is the parent? Which is the child brand?”

The problems don’t end there.

There are further questions the marketer must ask, like: “Will the children’s brands have more children’s brands in the future? Should I have the same umbrella branding for all my brands – or should each of my brands have a distinctly different identity? Or should I make them look like a set of brands from my business, even if they are in disparate niches?”

Planning your brand family tree ... 3 ways to do it

To solve this problem, marketers usually arrange their brands in one of these three formations: 

  • The House Of Brands formation separates the master brand from brand extensions and detaches each extension. For example, Proctor & Gamble is the parent brand, but the individual sub-brands like Tide, Pampers, and Old Spice are detached and separate brands without an overshadowing parent brand. P&G is listed somewhere on the packaging in the fine print, but do people read the fine print?
  • The Branded House formation strongly expresses the parent brand but adds the child brands (usually the different service brands) as suffixes to the parent brand, so there’s no doubt that it’s a set of brands led by a parent brand. FedEx is a classic example with sub-brands like FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, or FedEx Office. (These are also known as brand extensions.)
  • The Endorsed Brand (or Hybrid) formation usually has the parent brand as the big master brand, while the sub-brands become small properties that are quasi-independent but lean on the master brand for their power. For example, the Marriott Hotels group has many endorsed properties with separate names but always wearing the Marriott logo in bold. We don’t always know each property as well as we do the parent brand.

(There is a detailed explanation of brand architecture in the video below.)

"Brand architecture" or arraying your brands ... video!

Col Gray of the “Rock Your Brand” YouTube Channel has a terrific video where he explains in detail the importance of solid brand architecture – and how the three types of brand hierarchy formations can be best leveraged. He gives excellent examples too. I hope you notice the benefits he counts for brands with good architecture – time is saved by solid pre-planning, and so is an enormous amount of money in the long run. 

4. Brand assets – how to manage and leverage their value

Make a list of all your brand assets as you grow them

What are brand assets? They should importantly include anything unique to your company. They must also be well-known and closely associated with your brand. For example, the McDonald’s Arches or the Swoosh of Nike have become huge brand assets.

Other regular brand assets could include logos, artwork, mascots, graphics, business cards, letterheads, templates, webinars, sales videos, press releases, color palettes, slogans, taglines, hashtags, typefaces, audio clips, smells, favors, language, tone of voice, endorsers, influencers …

The more brand assets you have, the more you need a systematic way of managing them. So you have to detail the management practices to follow, such as …

… what to include in your resource library; the technology used to organize assets; the roles of the admin team managing the assets; the file naming conventions; how and when various assets are to be used, inventoried, and updated; what formats files must be stored and when they are to be archived; guidelines on the way assets can be adapted for different devices …

Technology evolution can inspire new brand asset ideas

The evolution of technology can inspire new brand asset ideas by providing new opportunities for creative expression and innovation. 

This has led to the development of new branding assets, such as social media profiles, interactive ads, mobile apps, 3D logos, immersive brand experiences,  smart home devices, or wearable technology.

By embracing new technology and exploring innovative ways to express their brand identity, businesses can create memorable and effective brand assets that resonate with their target audience and drive long-term success.

I remember how several businesses scrambled to create several new branded hashtags when they all suddenly realized you could trademark your hashtags for social media.

How to create distinctive brand assets ... video!

Julian Cole of Strategy Finishing School has a good explainer video about distinctive brand assets. He enumerates eight different types with well-known examples – and shows you the importance of creating distinctive brand assets if you cannot find them in your brand’s history.

To find a special gift waiting for you on this page, click the button below to take a peek, before you read on … 

5. How various terms and concepts in branding stack up

For jargon-collectors, brand-related terms are a goldmine

You may have noticed that the word “brand” is often a prefix for hundreds of associated terms and concepts …

… for example, brand strategy, brand differentiation, brand purpose, brand ethics, brand code, brand colors, and brand hashtags …

Some of these brand-related terms can be found in textbooks that are at least four decades old, suggesting they are evergreen brand-related ideas, such as brand promise, brand positioning, brand personality, brand identity, etc.

Some are new words that have grown out of recent trends and emerging technology, such as mobile brands, brand AI, 3D branding, and brand sustainability …

Finding a way to categorize brand-related concepts

Since there could be so many concepts connected with branding, it makes sense to categorize the most critical directions most of these concepts fall into. You would find that most of the important brand-related terms can be grouped into these six categories:

  • How a brand looks and sounds to its target audiences: This category would include concepts related to the visual and messaging elements that make up a brand, such as the logo, color scheme, and tagline.
  • How a brand competes against similars in the market: This category would include concepts related to how a brand is positioned in the marketplace in relation to its competitors, such as the target audience, unique selling proposition, and overall brand personality.
  • How a business leverages its brand for maximum gain: This category would include concepts related to the overall plan for developing and managing a brand, including things like market research, target audience identification, and the development of a brand positioning statement.
  • How a brand communicates across different channels: This category includes concepts related to how a brand is communicated to the public, such as advertising, public relations, and social media marketing.
  • How a business manages its brand and keeps it up-to-date: This category would include concepts related to how a brand is managed over time, such as monitoring and measuring brand performance, driving the brand team, and adapting to changing market conditions.
  • How a brand adds economic value to a business: This category would include concepts related to the value that a brand brings to a company, taking into account things like brand earnings, brand assets value, customer loyalty, and the ability to charge premium prices for products or services.

This is one possible way of categorizing branding concepts … different experts may use other types of categorization. We have so many terms in branding because it is a vast field, and each sub-concept requires specialized knowledge, skills, and techniques to be executed correctly.

My brand-related word cloud attempt that still failed the test

Just for a lark, I put down about 80 terms and concepts associated with the word “brand” and made a word cloud of it …  and just after I had finished, I found still more I could have added … like Brand Conscience, Brand Activism, and Brand Resets. It seems someone is having a lot of fun finding new angles to add to branding.

Word Cloud Of Brand Terms

6. Building a brand – the process, the challenges, the wins

The entrepreneur's joy when a new brand is born – or reborn

There is nothing as exciting to a new entrepreneur than to see the first contours of the business’s primary brand. It’s like the moment when all plans are coming to fruition.

But with the expectations of a great future for the brand – and many wins – also come the challenges.

Apart from new entrepreneurs shaping their first shiny new brands, there is also the class of old entrepreneurs with brands that need “rebranding” to stay with the times. This is no less of an interesting exercise.

Sometimes, the legacy of the old brand can be incorporated beautifully into the new brand to give it more depth. But sometimes, all legacy needs to be wiped off, and the rebranding needs to start from scratch.

Don't let long term brand dreams become short-term dust

Everybody would love to build a brand that lasts for years and grows even more memorable and distinctive as it ages. But one of the main difficulties to cross in that exquisite dream of owning an ageless brand is that technology and consumers’ buying trends are rapidly changing.

Marketers chase the long-term dream but end up making short-term decisions that burn their brands to dust in quick time.

So how do you build a brand that can last and also be with the current market conditions at any time? The secret is to have solid fundamentals and core values for the brand (like its promise, value proposition, ethics, and authenticity) … but to be flexible in adapting the brand’s messaging to the behaviors of its evolving target audiences and the devices and technology they adopt.

As they say, be firm on principles but flexible on methods.

Watch as a brand gets built from scratch ... video!

Of all the questions I usually get about building a brand, about 85% of the time, people mean the brand logo design and personality. Nevertheless, people are very excited about their brand design, so I included this excellent video to show you how a great brand identity can be built. It’s from Shopify. I like that this video builds an example brand even as it explains the principles.

7. Growing a brand – the long game with twists and turns

What are the main challenges of growing a brand?

Growing a brand can be challenging, as it requires overcoming various obstacles and staying ahead of the competition.

One of the main challenges of growing a brand is maintaining a consistent and compelling brand identity and messaging as the brand expands and evolves. As a brand grows, it can become more challenging to maintain a clear and consistent message across all channels and touchpoints.

Another challenge is staying relevant and adapting to changing market conditions, as consumer preferences and trends can shift rapidly in today’s fast-paced business landscape.

Additionally, growing a brand requires investing in infrastructure, such as supply chain and logistics, to support increased demand, which can be costly and time-consuming.

How to grow your brand ... four ways to do it

Although we all call it “brand growth,” we really mean growing our brand by increasing its customer base. A brand is only as big as its customer base is. If we want more growth, we must continuously find and fold in more customers.

Brand growth can be achieved in four ways:

  • One, see if there are opportunities to retain your customers and not lose them to competition through poor service or neglect. This is the least expensive type of brand growth. You’ll need to spend more on customer nurturing.
  • Two, explore if current customers can be made to purchase more … for which you may have to grow your product range or accessories or tie in new services with products. You’ll need to spend more on production.
  • Three, examine if you can increase your customer base with new customers from adjacent market niches, new geographies, or new age groups. You’ll need to spend more on marketing.
  • Four, diversify from your initial niche into new niche areas of complementary potential. Explore new types of products evolving out of new technology. You’ll need to spend more on experimentation.

Brand growth through innovative expansion ... video!

Mattel, the manufacturer of the Barbie doll, thought it would be a great idea to grow their brand by including mothers of girl children into their fold. If more mothers could be convinced to allow their young daughters to grow by playing with Barbie dolls, think how much larger the brand could become. To this formula, they added another growth fertilizer: brand storytelling.

See the video below on how beautifully Mattel told mothers to encourage their daughters to let their imaginations grow with Barbie!

8. Brand messaging for building trust, community, sales 

What do you want messaging to do for your brand?

As brand communication experts say, “Communicating about your business is one thing, but communicating as your business is another.” This is what brand messaging is all about. If your brand were a person, how would that person speak to people it wanted to attract as buyers?

Before you decide on how your brand should develop its messaging, you must determine what you want it to do for your brand – should it increase brand trust, help build a brand community, or grow sales? Knowing the purpose of messaging is the place to start.

After goals are set, brand messaging is about how your brand speaks. (In fact, it’s often called “brand speak.”) The purpose of coordinating your brand messaging is to ensure that you’re saying the right things at the right time and that, in doing so, you’re encouraging audiences to know better about your business.

Effective brand messaging influences people to have a good opinion of your brand – a precursor to everything your brand wants to achieve.

A consistent brand personality will have a clear brand voice

Your brand’s personality dramatically affects how it messages or communicates. For example, if your brand personality is that of an expert, its messaging should be sophisticated and serious. If your brand’s personality is informal, its messaging could include more fun, honesty, or friendliness.

Most often, brands plan on one type of personality, but how their message clashes with that personality. Beware of this because customers get distinctly uncomfortable with a “schizophrenic brand personality.” Consistency of tone, voice, and style of communication is crucial.

If a brand’s messaging and communication style clash with its personality, it can create confusion and discomfort for customers, leading to negative brand perception.

A well-defined and consistent brand personality can help build trust and loyalty with customers, inspiring long-term relationships and increasing the brand’s overall value.

The spectacular brand messaging of Dove soap ... video!

We’ve all heard of the Dove Soap “You are more beautiful thank you think!” campaign, where ordinary women are made to see that whatever they feel they look like, they are the most beautiful women in the world. But it’s how a brand sends down this messaging that grabs its audience’s emotions, beliefs, trust, sense of community … and sales!

This film from Dove has every ingredient, including outstanding storytelling, that encapsulates phenomenal messaging. Watch over and over … and enjoy!

To find a special gift waiting for you on this page, click the button below to take a peek, before you read on … 

FAQs and answers on the value of branding to businesses

Some of the most commonly asked questions on branding are listed below … with their quick answers. These are good extra angles from which to understand and surcharge your business with the power of branding.

1. How long does it take for a brand to gain awareness?

The time it takes for a brand to gain awareness can vary widely depending on several factors, including the size of the target market, the competitiveness of the industry, and the effectiveness of the brand’s marketing strategies. Building brand awareness is a gradual process that involves consistently promoting the brand through various channels, such as advertising, social media, public relations, and events. A brand can gain awareness within months or years, but it must be an ongoing effort.

2. What does it take to build a highly successful brand?

Building a highly successful brand requires a strategic approach prioritizing several vital elements, including a clear brand identity and value proposition, exceptional product quality and innovation, effective marketing and advertising strategies, a focus on customer satisfaction and loyalty, and a willingness to adapt to changing market conditions. Successful brands also tend to have a solid corporate culture and commitment to social responsibility, which can further enhance their reputation and attract new customers.

3. What makes people choose one brand over another?

Various factors can influence a person’s decision to choose one brand over another. These include brand reputation, quality, price, convenience, product features, customer service, personal values, and brand loyalty. Consumers are also often willing to pay more for products of higher quality or offer convenience, such as ease of purchase or delivery. Additionally, brand loyalty can play a significant role in a person’s decision-making process.

4. What goes into the marketing of a luxury brand?

Marketing a luxury brand requires a unique approach to creating an aspirational image and emphasizing exclusivity, quality, and craftsmanship. A successful luxury brand marketing strategy often involves carefully curating the brand’s image and reputation through high-end advertising, public relations, and event sponsorships. Luxury brands also tend to prioritize personalized customer experiences, often offering bespoke products and exceptional customer service to their clientele. 

5. Why do many brands fail to make a mark or last?

There are several reasons why many brands fail to make a mark or last, including poor product quality, inadequate market research, insufficient funding, ineffective marketing strategies, intense competition, and changing consumer preferences. Brands that fail to innovate or adapt to changing market conditions risk losing relevance and becoming obsolete. Additionally, brands that do not prioritize customer satisfaction struggle to build a loyal customer base.

Pro tips to take away in summary ...

1. Every definition of branding is true in its own way, but since branding is so difficult to define, it all sounds more complex than it should be. The simplest definition may be to see a brand from the customer’s eyes and say, “Branding is how customers believe and trust a product can transform their lives better than any other brand.”

2. If you want to become a pro at branding, there are at least 8 concepts or ideas – sub-topics, if you will – that can help you get a grip on the whole subject. These broadly cover all the areas you should know.

3. Branding is one of the most critical aspects of marketing, and it takes a lot to get it right. Always consider branding to be a long-term exercise. Your brand messaging can be flexible to meet the market’s demands as it evolves, but your brand’s core should never change in a hurry. It must age and mellow like fine wine.

BONUS: How to get help with your branding and content marketing

Branding and content marketing are tough because they require a deep understanding of the target audience, a commitment to delivering high-quality content consistently, and ongoing optimization to remain effective. This is where an expert hand can be invaluable.

With cutting-edge knowledge of the latest industry trends and best practices, an expert can help provide the guidance and support needed to achieve the desired results.

Rather than slog at it yourself and spend time and money on trial-and-error, make it simple … let me help you.
Let’s have a free, no-obligations Zoom chat. We can locate the potential to power up your branding and content marketing. Let me know your goals and budgets, and I will offer you some readily implementable suggestions. 
If we’re a good fit for each other, you could consider outsourcing your branding and content marketing projects to me. I am confident I can take your business to an enviable position. 
Click the button below to book a free 30-45 minute online ZOOM meeting; we’ll take it from there!
Shobha Ponnappa

"I am committed to elevating my clients' branding and content marketing to a dominant position because I believe that a strong and distinctive brand identity, coupled with high-quality content, can be a game-changer for businesses. I've done it over and over for 40+ years and 125+ clients."

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Give yourself truly big benefits.

Get my weekly newsletter packed with cutting edge brand content tips, tricks, tactics, techniques, and trends. I scour the Net for you.

Get a free download of my 93-page eBook “BRANDSPEAK” … on how to deploy content marketing for total brand domination.

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Just fill in the form to join my community … we have big and small brands for company. You’ll stay on the speedway to growth.