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 and  customer-centric, and more oriented towards how it can help transform a customer’s life.

Contents ...

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Definitions of branding and the many directions they take

Defining branding isn't easy but the experts have ways of doing it

I am always wary of definitions because the more definitions of a topic I read, the more confused I get. But it is worth noting what some top-grade marketing minds have described “branding” as … it may give us many angles of approach for this concept called “branding.” 

Here are a collection of definitions (all from different perspectives that I thought would help you, my reader, get a better grip on what the term branding encompasses.

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.”

Heidi Cohen

"Brands are shorthand marketing messages that create emotional bonds with consumers. A brand creates perceived value for consumers through its personality in a way that makes it stand out from other similar products."

David Ogilvy

"A brand is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised."

Philip Kotler

"A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitor."

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."

How I define branding for myself and my clients

What did you get from all of these definitions? Are you any closer to understanding what branding is? Or would you prefer my own definition that I gave you before?  

Shobha Ponnappa

"A product's branding is the belief it can create in consumers' minds of how it can uniquely transform them into new versions of themselves. I can hear consumers asking a brand, "It's all very well what you say about yourself, but what's in it for me?"

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 landscape of branding. I have it for you in 8 sub-topics. 
8 Branding-Related Topics
(Please use this infographic with credits intact.) 

1. Why is branding important and what are its benefits

For sure, branding is much more than just your logo design

Many people think branding is restricted to how the product’s logo, advertising, or packaging is designed. This is a highly superficial perception of branding.

In truth, by branding itself, a product (or service, person, or company) chooses to show consumers how it differs from the competition and what it can do for consumers. This message is the beginning of branding. 

Where do you begin to understand what branding is?

Some call it a promise from the brand to the consumer and say it’s the most important part of branding. Some others say how the product positions itself as different from the competition lingers most in consumer minds.

And yet some others say branding is the personality of your product – if your product is a person, would a consumer like to know, get familiar with, and learn to trust that person?

The objective of branding is simple ... it's to build trust

We come to an important point here: trust. Eventually, whatever you do with a brand’s logo design, advertising message, or website, the whole idea is to create a feeling in the target consumer that this brand is worth knowing, getting close to, and trusting. 

Without trust, there can be no sales. Without sales, there can be no business earnings. This is the simple driving force behind all marketing. How to build brand trust is the goal of the game.

So, in summary, the importance of branding is about how a product’s presence, message, personality, or attributes create an intuitive feeling in the consumer that: “This brand seems better than others and is worth befriending and trusting to deliver what it says.”

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

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.

Watch this video to see how difficult branding is to explain – but when we see excellent branding, we sense how powerfully it can pull us!

2. Types of branding and their distinctive characteristics

How branding is usually broken up into sub-types

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 the principal product or spearheads of their businesses. 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 at a later stage into their purpose territory). The Body Shop and Imperfect Foods are two great brands that grew out of 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.

This video explains why some businesses go for multi-level branding

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. He explains the benefits of promoting different aspects of your business as your primary brand. 

I hope you’ll also notice in this video that Stephen 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.)

It's called "brand achitecture" when you array your brands

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. Brand architecture can become very expensive if it’s not done the first time correctly, and later fixes must be done to realign the architecture. Not only are these messy, but they can erode the parent brand by the time you’ve done the rearrangement.

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 are 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.

If you notice everything that relates to your brand and list it in a roster of assets, you’d have items like 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 …

Managing your many brand assets is quite a job

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

Always be savvy and keep your ears to the ground about emerging technologies that may demand that you create new types of assets and add them to your repertoire.

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

How to create distinctive brand assets ... watch this 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.

Julian also points out that you have to think long-term when creating distinctive brand assets … he talks of ensuring how they can work for you for the next two decades at least!

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.

(As a side note, I had a colleague who would go to marketing conferences and assiduously note down all the brand terms thrown at him by the speakers – so that he could stuff them all into his next Powerpoint presentation to stun potential clients!)

Word Cloud Of Brand Terms

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

The startup entrepreneur's joy when a new brand is born

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.

"Rebranding" is no less exciting, but it's challenging too

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.

How 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 the fact that technology and consumers’ buying trends are changing so rapidly.

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

Be firm on brand principles, but flexible on deployment methods

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 in this 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. As I have said before in this article, the brand identity is not the sum and substance of the brand – it’s just one part of a more significant process. 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

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

Although we all call it “brand growth,” what we really mean is 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 have to find and fold in more customers continuously.

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 lousy service, or neglect. This is the least expensive type of brand growth. You’ll need to spend more on customer nurturing.

Two, see 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, see if you can increase the customer base you have 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 can be great

Often, it happens that a brand sees potential customers it can target to grow its customer base, but it gets limited by its approach to growth, which is conventional.

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 first determine what you want the messaging 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.

What do you want messaging to do for your brand?

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 greatly 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 the way they 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.

The spectacular brand messaging of Dove soap on a loop!

We’ve all heard of the Dove Soap “You are more beautiful thank you think!” campaign, where women – 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 the way 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!

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. Under every one of these 8 sub-topics of branding, I have included several tips on how you could implement them after you’ve understood them. It’s a battle-tested plan I have used to grow my own brand and my clients’ brands to make them hit high places quickly.

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.

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