What Branding Is and What It Isn’t

What is a Brand? What isn’t a Brand? You might be surprised that branding has very little to do with your design, your product, and even YOU. Is your mind blown yet? We’re going to define exactly what branding is and how to build a powerful branding strategy.

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Read the Full Discussion Below

Glyna: Yeah, it’s showtime.

Sarah: I love this topic, branding, because “branding” can be like a buzzword. It could be misinterpreted. So, it’s that question of: What is a brand? And what isn’t a brand? And one thing I want to make sure … We’re going to make three really good points today, but one thing is that branding is not just about your design. And many people get caught up in that, “my brand”. And they really don’t understand or define what that means to have a brand and a brand strategy. So we’re clearing all that up today. We’re going to help you understand exactly what a brand is, why it’s so, so, so important, and such a great tool for your customers and your business, so let’s get going.

Glyna: All right. Good morning again, everybody. Welcome to Marketing Mix. We are here every Friday, and we bring you all kinds of different topics having to do with digital marketing. And we love to mix it up, that’s where the mix comes in. But first, let’s take a look at where everybody can find us, Sarah.

Sarah: Yes. Every week, we go live on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And you can catch the replay on Instagram and of course, our podcast. This is such a great podcast. We’re really proud of it, Marketing and a Mic. Everything that we do here gets on that podcast, so great to listen to and make sure you subscribe and leave us a review on that podcast. Glyna, you and I, we come across this a lot, this “I want to brand myself”. And it’s like I want my own brand kit, and I think that’s important. That’s really a good start when you’re kind of developing your whole business or brand identity.

Sarah: But they’re kind of focusing on their logo, or their font, or their tagline, or whatever it is. And essentially, they’ve accomplished a design. But they really haven’t accomplished what their brand is, and that’s kind of what we’re going to dig into today.

Glyna: Yes. You’re right, the brand kit, all that kind of stuff, really cool and it gives you a good start. But it’s really more about what others are saying about you versus what you think it is and what you’re really selling. So you’re really creating a brand for your audience, your customers, and really even your team to convey that company culture out there. So it’s more about the intangible things that your company represents versus how pretty it is, really.

Sarah: That is so true. So, the first thing we want to talk about is something that we’ve already said it a few times, but let me tell you again, your brand is not your design. Okay? Your brand is not your design. So design is more of a visual representation or a visual extension of your company, so it’s kind of that vehicle to help move your product or service. It can be your shapes and your colors and your logos and all that kind of stuff. But the design kind of serves the brand, it’s not what is the brand. So you’ve got to think about your design as like the vehicle.

Glyna: Yeah, exactly. The design, like you said, is very important. I mean, we’re not downplaying that part. It’s very important. But it also helps, what moves your brand visually. You do this of course by getting marketing materials, branding your website, T-shirts, company uniforms, those kind of things that people can see. They’re visuals that these promo materials communicate. It’s kind of like a shortcut to conveying your brand so that you keep it in front of people.

Sarah: That’s very true. That’s very true. So the thing that’s important about your design is that it’s going to actually express important features of your brand if well done. And that’s how you need to look at it. So it serves a purpose, so colors, we all know colors kind of evoke emotion. Shapes can have certain cultural or social associations. So you do want to be really intentional when developing your brand colors and your logo. Even your fonts can make your company appear more youthful, or more sophisticated, or whatever it is. So it comes into the fold of your brand and your brand messaging, but your design should really just help build on your brand messaging, not completely define it.

Glyna: Exactly. As we said, design is a very important part, but it’s not everything. And also, you have to think about this. Your brand is not really what your product or service is. You may have heard people say, “Your product is your brand,” but it’s not necessarily 100% true. Let’s take this example. We all know Kmart and Target; they essentially offer the same type of things, same type of products and services, same price points, all of that. But why do people consistently go to Target more than Kmart?


what branding is


Sarah: Yes. That’s a key question we’re going to ask.

Glyna: Well, and what went wrong, really, Kmart has no brand strategy, at least not anything near what Target does.

Sarah: And that’s the whole point here when we say, “Well, your brand isn’t your product or service.” Well, what does that exactly mean? And that’s the perfect example. You have Target and you have Kmart. They had essentially the same products and services, really the same. But Target chose to focus on areas that they wanted to excel at. So Kmart was just sort of running around with their head cut off. They were like, “Well, we’re discounting, so we’re just going to offer everything and that’s it.” So, Target sort of focused on creating a unique value for customers, and that is what distinguished their brand. So, even though they have the same price points and products, they focused on making their stores more aesthetically appealing. They focused on really a seamless customer experience, so that when people went in there, they felt different than if they went into Kmart. And you and I both know that. We would go into both the stores after the same thing, you just had a different sense of how the store was, and you felt a different energy.

Glyna: Yeah. It’s like anything. You can compare businesses all over the place. And it always comes down to the same thing. How does it make you feel?

Sarah: Yes.

Glyna: The feel-good stuff, that’s where you’re going to go. So let’s talk about Kmart and Target. So Target, what they did was really, really smart. They brought in brand names, which was a lot different than what Kmart was doing. They were also design-conscious and price-conscious. So you were able to get that brand name but at a discounted price. Kmart, on the other hand, really had no focus. They just kept doing the same thing, a wide variety of discounted stuff; that’s really what it was. They never ever distinguished their characteristics. They never did set themselves apart like Target.

Sarah: So true. It’s so true. It’s such a good example, but there are so many out there. And the third point is your brand is not about you. And I think that’s where another total misconception comes from is this idea that “I am my brand.” “I’m going to be the advocate for my brand.” And really, when you’re defining your brand, it’s easy to kind of get wrapped up in yourself because you really kind of inherently are having to be self-centered because you’re having to define what your message is, what your values are, what your mission is, what your brand personality is. But remember, all of those things that you’re defining, it’s not about creating this for your own ego. It’s creating it for your customers. It’s creating it for your customers what you want them to perceive you as, not how you perceive you. And that’s a thing that gets missed. It’s what you want the customers to say about you.

Glyna: Yeah, exactly. Branding is not what you say; just like you said, it’s what your customers perceive. Now the design piece is sexy; it’s fun. It’s easy to get caught up in, oh, look at me, look what I’m all about. Look what my branding or my design has done. But we have to talk about what your customer perceives you as. Your customers and the experience they have interacting with your company really defines your brand. What sets you apart? We talk about this all the time. You have to figure out what sets you apart. Also, if you have employees, they are the perfect mouthpiece to go out and convey your brand, just as much as everything else you’re doing. Make sure they’re connected with the company. Make sure they’re connected with the company culture, all of those things. So anyway, they can help you just as much as anything else.

Sarah: You’re right. Your employees and your staff, they have to buy into it so that they are the right mouthpiece. So here’s something, another perfect example, we’re going to talk about Dove Beauty. You want to talk about not making it about them, they developed this branding campaign that targeted sensitive personal emotions. So, they launched a messaging campaign titled You’re More Beautiful Than You Think. They used all-inclusive body types in their messaging, and celebrated women of all walks of life. I love this, when you walk into the store, it’s beautiful or average, and you pick which door. But it was so brilliantly done because they wanted to celebrate women of all walks of life.



Glyna: Exactly right. I love this campaign. When I first saw, it’s kind of like I can remember going, “That is really cool,” so again, Dove knew the deal. It never was about Dove itself. They were never the focal point. They really were just putting out this consistent messaging, making this emotional connection that their customers could really relate to, and made everybody feel included. It was all about being inclusive and celebrating people’s inner beauty, which that’s brilliant.

Sarah: It’s brilliant and it did so well. Again, it was like Dove, they took themselves out of the whole campaign. And by doing that, now we associate Dove with this inner beauty and with celebrating all types of women. And it just was perfect. So we’ve talked about the three things that your brand isn’t. What IS your brand? Your brand identity, if you hear anything, hear this, it is all about your customer, all about your customer. The best brand campaigns are built on a strong understanding of their audience. They know their audience and they deliver it. So, brand identity, it’s sort of based on the truth and the experience and all these things that they want their customers to have and experience. So then they deliver that messaging consistently, so it’s pretty key.

Glyna: All right. So, let’s talk about how to develop your brand correctly to make a difference. Let’s start with number one. You want to develop your brand’s personality.

Sarah: Yes.

Glyna: That may sound silly, but it does need to have a personality and stand out because audiences are so much more trusting of a brand that understands them, or seems like they understand, and aligns with their values and what they’re looking for. So if you think about it, the most memorable brands have really crafted a personality that connects to their audience on an emotional level. So you’ve got to think that emotions come into this, as far as branding and marketing for sure. So giving your brand the right voice makes it more relatable and helps define what represents your customers. And in turn, they’re going to seek you out because you are aligned exactly with what they’re looking for.

Sarah: Yes. Brand’s really all about that association, and that you can make that link very easily. So I’m going to give you a perfect example. All right, Glyna, I’m going to give you two brand names. Then I’m going to give you some adjectives that help describe, or just some descriptive words. And then you’re going to tell me which of those two brands you think it associates with. So we’ve got Harley Davidson and Tiffany and Company, Harley Davidson and Tiffany and Company. Okay, I’m going to give you these adjectives. Rugged, gritty, rebellious, tough, powerful. Based on all that, does that make you think of Tiffany’s or Harley Davidson?

Glyna: Definitely not jewelry.

Sarah: Definitely not jewelry. And that exactly is what it is about really crafting your brand’s personality. It’s because when I say, “Rugged, gritty, rebellious,” that’s what describes Harley Davidson. So people know that they associate with that. Nobody’s ever going to associate that with Tiffany and Company.

Glyna: Let’s hope not. Or they’re doing something very wrong.

Sarah: They’re like, “Honey, I got you this necklace because it seemed so rebellious and gritty.”

Glyna: It’s like, “Yeah, probably not. Hopefully not.” All right. So that example is perfect because it leads us right into number two. Number two, you have to create a client experience. And what do we mean by that? Again, we’re kind of sound like a broken record, but the client’s experience has everything to do with your reputation and your brand’s image, over and over and over. It comes from understanding what your customers want and what they value. Think about how the customer would interact with your company and what makes them purchase. Why do they want to buy from you versus somebody else that seems to have similar things, or do similar things that you do?

Sarah: Yeah. And create a client experience is setting up their expectations, so when they know what they’re going to get. So these experiences leave a lasting impression on them. And it’s going to kind of impact how they associate with their brand, and that’s the whole idea. They go into it knowing exactly what they’re going to get. So this comes from your mission statement. It comes from your messaging. It comes from the clients or the customers’ interaction with your brand. Here’s another example, McDonald’s or Chuck’s Restaurant, and I love Chuck’s. So you’ve got McDonald’s, and sometimes I like McDonald’s too. But here’s the thing, I know what I’m getting. So if I were to think about convenience, speed, and inexpensive, that is what I know when I get with McDonald’s, except for if their ice cream machine is down, then I know I’m not going to get convenience.

Glyna: People that are here from locally around here from where we live in Chelsea, Alabama, man, they will rip up McDonald’s for that ice cream machine.

Sarah: They sure will. They sure will. So, then you’ve got Chuck’s. Chuck’s, it’s elegance, it’s service. It’s the ambiance. So because they’ve set that up, when people know, it’s again your brand is the feeling that you want people to perceive and the experience you want them to receive. So they know when they go in there that, yeah, everything is going to have that elegance, that service, and that ambiance. And you know if you go to McDonald’s, they’re not about the elegance. But that’s not what they’re driving home. They’re driving home speed, convenience, cheap, that kind of stuff.

Glyna: Yeah. It doesn’t really matter, just as long as they’re doing what their customers expect or what’s driving their customers to them. So the next thing, number three, be consistent with your message. Whatever it is, you have to make sure you’re consistent. The idea behind your brand is to build an unspoken familiarity, that’s going to be the word that was going to trip me up, and trust with your customers. So, to make sure that this happens, you need to make sure you’re consistent about what you’re offering, and you want to make sure it’s evoking the right, here we go again with emotions, make sure it’s evoking the right emotions and reactions from your audience. Please keep giving them what they expect. The worst thing you can do is cut that off, or cut something off that’s working, so pay attention to what is working.

Sarah: Right. And that’s the thing, once you’ve got that customer experience, they have that association, you’re right, you have to deliver it. So this is kind of where you start putting your brand in motion through your marketing. And your marketing is sort of that last piece of it, is where you are setting it in motion. And this is so important; you’re using the why are you different tactic. That’s going back to the Target and the Kmart example. Why they were different, it was very clear to that customer. So, I’m going to give you another perfect example. Let’s talk about Planet Fitness. So Planet Fitness was brilliant, and their mission was achieving a non-stereotypical iron heavy gym. So they wanted to target the demographic of gym goers that just want a more relaxed, less pressure type of gym environment. They set out on that mission and they made sure that all of their messaging was consistently wrapped around that. And I love the stuff like “lunk alarm”. I love it… It’s just like Planet Fitness equals no critics, so they captured it perfectly.


what branding is


Glyna: But I love that, Planet Fitness, because it’s intimidating. I mean, it can be intimidating to go to a gym, and you have that thought of a gym that everybody’s in shape. It’s not the reality. So they made it, they coined themselves, which I love, the anti-fitness, fitness club. So it made everybody feel included. And now it’s become one of the most popular fitness clubs in the United States. So they really capitalized, like you said, on that judgment free zone. They don’t care what your demographic is, what your age is, what your fitness level is. It’s for everybody. And they may go over the top a little bit by offering a pizza night once a month.

Sarah: And they have a bagel Tuesday I read too.

Glyna: Yeah, a bagel Tuesday, but still, it’s all about the average person. You can be the average person and still get in shape, so I love their branding. But again, you have to think about what branding is, what it isn’t. Get outside of your mind. Are you going to recap?

Sarah: So, here’s the takeaway from today, what your brand isn’t. Your brand isn’t just about your design. Your brand isn’t just about your product or service. And your brand isn’t about you. So what is your brand? Your brand is all about your customer and what they think about your business, how you develop that, develop your brand’s personality. That’s number one. Number two is create a client experience that is so huge, so huge. And number three is really to make sure that you deliver your message consistently. And if you can do that, you’re off to a really great, great start. Don’t get me wrong, those brand kits and all that stuff are important, but that’s not where you should end when developing your brand.

Glyna: And that’s the fun stuff. You should have fun in creating your beautiful design and all that.

Sarah: It is.

Glyna: It is always, hey, we love to help people with this kind of stuff. So if you don’t quite understand it, or you kind of need somebody to help point you in the right direction, we would love to talk with you. And just send us a message and that would be great. So until next time, we’ll be back next Friday.

Sarah: That’s right.

Glyna: Have a great week.

Sarah: That’s a wrap. See you all.