What Is Branding: A Comprehensive Guide
Have you ever listened to one of those catchy radio jingles and then caught yourself humming it hours later? Known as ‘stuck song syndrome’, or an earworm (not a great name, we know), this is a psychological phenomenon that can spontaneously trigger emotions, memories, or associations—simply by hearing a tune.
While these often pesky little melodies are actually considered a marketing tactic, they are also the perfect analogy to understand the importance of branding. Despite what many people believe, branding goes way beyond your logo, your color palette or the way you choose to create a website. Like those radio jingles, branding is mnemonic—meaning it is based on the lasting feeling, experience and emotion that consumers associate with your brand. It provides an intangible quality that customers connect with and relate to in their daily lives.
So how can you harness this power and build a brand that leaves a lasting impression on your audience? In this guide we will explore what is branding, and which branding elements will help you create an impactful, authentic and memorable brand.
What is branding?
Branding refers to the deliberate actions you take to influence people’s perception of your product or service—so they will choose your brand time and again. Essentially, it is the way your product or service lives in the hearts and minds of your customer.
While it may seem like a simple idea to comprehend, branding is an ever elusive, hotly debated topic that is not easy to define. Why? Because, as we mentioned above, branding is emotive, and subjective and not something that can necessarily be measured or quantified.
In order to fully conceptualize branding, let’s go back a step and understand what is a brand. To quote author and entrepreneur, 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”. Meaning branding is everything you do to actively influence those decisions.
Think about it, when consumers need to make a choice, how will they make their decisions? Whatever motivates them, branding is what shapes the perception of your business in their minds and ultimately what converts new customers into loyal buyers.
Why is branding important?
In the saturated world of marketing, there is a lot of noise. If it only takes about 7 seconds to make an impression, then your branding has got to be strong and well-designed right off the bat. Effective branding is the mechanism that can make your business stand out and get your prospective customer’s attention. When done right, branding has the power to influence, to inspire and to create change.
Look at some of the biggest and most well-established brands out there like Google, Apple, Nike and Coke— it is no coincidence that they are successful. These companies understand the importance of branding and leverage it from every aspect of their business and marketing. Furthermore, they continue to strategize, learn and grow through their branding efforts to maintain customer loyalty.
Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the importance of branding and the impact it has on your business.
Set you apart from the competition
Regardless of what industry you’re in, competition is always fierce. Whether you’re opening a bike repair shop, selling CBD infused products or becoming a social media consultant—branding allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, by highlighting and distinguishing what you have to offer, and why it is a better choice.
Develop brand awareness
Brand awareness refers specifically to the ways in which your business is perceived, both in market position and in consumers’ minds. Ideally, you want customers to have a positive impression of your brand with the service or product that you offer. Strong brand awareness is one of the main motivators to encourage your target audience to select your brand explicitly, even if cheaper or alternative options are available.
Establish brand recognition
A key component of brand awareness, brand recognition applies more pointedly to the ways in which consumers remember your product or service, also known as brand recall. This can be prompted by visual branding assets like brand colors, a logo or a catchy slogan. For example, imagine you’re on a road trip, and on the highway in the distance, you see golden arches—without even thinking about it, you already identified McDonald's.
Build brand trust
Brand trust is important both for the impression your business gives to potential customers, and within your industry. According to Intelligence Node, “over 60% of online adults in Canada, the US, and Europe want the companies they buy from to be transparent about their business practices.”
A company with a strong brand not only presents itself as more professional and polished, but also evokes trust through transparency and authenticity. Beyond this, outlining your brand values upfront and keeping your brand promise is what encourages prospective and current customers to believe in, and support your brand.
Give your business an identity
Just as each person has their own unique identity, so does your brand. Imagine you’re setting up two friends on a blind date, and you need to describe each person to the other. How might you identify or characterize them? Try to think of your brand as a person rather than a commodity or an object. Known formally as “brand anthropomorphism”, this idea challenges you to visualize your brand like a human to better define how the brand acts, speaks, dresses, communicates or impacts the world.
Establish employee pride
Employees who stand behind their brand and take pride in their work are not only good for business, they also play a key role in shaping public perception of your brand. This has positive implications across the board. It can influence the ways customers identify your brand, but it can also encourage prospective employees to seek out your company. A well-branded company should make workers feel a sense of belonging, overall satisfaction and pride. This will encourage them to authentically promote the brand across all types of channels and platforms.
Enhance your business value
Whether you’re a small business owner or an established corporation, branding plays an important role in validating your financial value and building your brand equity. The growth of your company can depend on successful branding when attracting new customers, generating business or breaking into new markets. Even more, in regard to expanding your venture, an expertly-branded business is a more attractive investment for potential investors.
Essential branding elements
Branding is a strategic and critical process, but also requires creativity and consistency across all brand touchstones. As there are many branding elements to consider, it is wise to create a strong and cohesive brand style guide that acts as a manual, or catalog to accompany both visual and non-visual elements.
Let’s look at the most important branding elements:
Visual branding elements
Now more than ever, having a professional online presence is an essential branding asset and a critical part of your digital marketing strategy. Regardless of your industry and company size, or if you have an eCommerce business or a brick and mortar shop, a website serves as the hub of your company.
The type of website you create will depend on your industry, but nonetheless it is the place to attract new visitors, generate leads, promote and sell products, educate and inform customers and most of all—communicate.
When you build a Wix website, you can customize it to suit your business needs with a range of free templates and advanced free tools. You can be sure that your customers will instantly have an idea of what your brand is all about, and all that it has to offer. From your homepage to your blog posts to your email marketing campaigns, your website is an opportunity to showcase your brand in the best possible light.
Oftentimes the ideas of logo and branding are used in tandem, or thought of synonymously when in fact they are two different entities. A logo, arguably one of the most important branding assets, is still just a piece of the bigger branding puzzle. Your logo serves as a symbol, a visual representation of your company that should be easily recognizable and memorable. Everything from the color palette to the typography you use when you create your own logo speaks a visual language and plays a vital role in branding.
What's in a name? In relation to branding—a lot. However, coming up with a brand name is no easy task. Your brand name must embody who you are, but also represent what you do, while simultaneously making a good impression. No pressure.
Some brand names are so effective that they are used interchangeably for the product itself, even when they’re manufactured by a different company. Take Q-tips, Kleenex or Jell-O for example, all brand names that have become a part of our daily lexicon.
There are a few things to consider before choosing your brand name. For starters, you’ll need to check whether the name you like is available, if it has any unusual linguistic connotations and ensure that the name is representative of your brand values. You can brainstorm and test out different ideas or use a brand name generator to pick your perfect one.
While business cards might seem a little old-fashioned in our digital world, they are still very relevant, and an important part of your branding assets. When choosing how to design a business card, keep in mind that it is not only an opportunity to share your contact information and logo, but a chance to build connections and make an impression. As you expand your network and grow your company, business cards are a professional and friendly reminder of your brand.
You can create business cards in all types of shapes and sizes, however, keep in mind that they should be cohesive to your other branding assets, and express your brand identity.
When selecting your brand colors, there is more than meets the eye. The color palette you choose will shape your brand identity and appear across all marketing channels. It is important to consider the impact of color psychology and the influence it has on your consumers buying decisions. While it is often subliminal, color conveys messages, triggers emotions and ultimately affects your brand perception in the minds (and eyes) of consumers.
For example, red is an attention-grabbing hue associated with passion, energy, excitement and danger, while blue is a much calmer color, linked to trust, peace and stability. Once you understand what message your branding is trying to communicate, selecting your brand colors will help build consistency and cultivate your brand personality.
Typography refers to the specific letter forms including their design and layout that are used in various branding features. Similar to your brand colors, the typography you choose shapes your brand and helps get your message across.
In general, when it comes to typography, it is recommended that you stick to three or less font styles. Whether you are using it in your logo design, when drafting content for your website or preparing product packaging, it’s essential to keep everything aligned and cohesive in order to develop consistency of your brand. For a great branding typography example you can check out Madefor, the custom digital-first typeface by Wix.
Although your brand slogan is not ‘technically’ a visual element, it is very closely intertwined with visuals like your logo, and for our purposes, we will include it here. Coming up with a catchy slogan is not always an essential part of your branding, but when done well it can be a very powerful marketing tool.
Nike’s “Just Do It”, or Gilette’s “The Best a Man Can Get”, are perfect examples of slogans that embody a brand and instantly make you think of a product upon hearing them. As you can see, when they are well executed, slogans serve as an integral part of the brand.
Non- visual branding elements
A mission statement is a vital part of your branding efforts and should serve to express your brand purpose and brand values (we’ll go into those in more detail below). In no more than a few sentences, this branding element should let anyone who encounters your brand (from your customers to your investors and competitors) clearly understand what you’re all about. Think of your brand mission statement as a ‘why’ explanation that guides not only what your business offers but the purpose behind it.
Like your mission statement, your vision statement is a clear and concise articulation outlining your strategic business goals. It serves as a roadmap to guide the initial stages of your company and the future of your brand. Your brand vision can evolve over time and grow with your business, but should always remain consistent with your core brand values.
In a world where transparency and authenticity are more relevant than ever, consumers crave realness and want to connect with brands that uphold similar values. Your brand values are the foundation of your business, and trickle into each aspect of your branding.
Imagine these values as a compass directing and supporting your brand purpose and story as well as your decisions and actions. When it comes to defining your brand values, think of the bigger picture and the influence and impact of your business.
With so many nuanced pieces of the branding puzzle, defining your brand identity from the get-go epitomizes both the personality of your company, but also the commitment you make to your audience. Taking into consideration your brand values, mission and brand persona, your brand identity amalgamates all of these ideals together in one definitive place. It supports how your brand communicates your service or product, and the ways in which it is experienced by others.
Storytelling is an important part not only of branding, but also our everyday lives. Stories are captivating, engaging, intriguing and help us build connections. With regard to your brand story, this is a chance to use your narrative to foster meaningful relationships with your audience and help them better understand what your business is all about.
Your brand story should set the tone for all forms of content and branding assets, from your social media posts to your marketing campaigns and everything in between. This means keeping consistency and authenticity throughout.
For example, a brand story can introduce company founders and the origin of the business, or highlight a tale of passion and purpose behind why a brand exists. Whatever the approach, your brand story offers an opportunity to create connections and highlight the qualities of your brand with your audience.
Just as you, or Morgan Freeman, or Beyoncé all have your own unique voice, so does your brand. Freeman’s distinct and recognizable voice is deep, comforting and authoritative while Queen Bey’s is empowering and vibrant. Articulating what defines your brand voice is just the same.
Brand voice shapes all of your communications, develops consistency and builds trust. Once you define a brand voice, you’ll use it proudly across all your marketing assets and communication channels. This is true both internally with employees and externally with customers.
As your brand grows and expands, you will find new ways to stretch your offering through brand extension. You know how Dyson now makes hair dryers or Hyundai Motors makes electronics? This is a perfect example of how businesses with established brands can extend their offering into new markets.
Sometimes brand stretching can backfire when companies try their hand in a new economy or industry, like if Heinz ketchup suddenly tried to make red lipstick. However, when it is done right it can be an excellent branding strategy for increasing both brand awareness and revenue.
Types of branding
In the same way that brands are different, so are the types of branding that shape them. There isn’t a universal branding strategy that works for everyone because each brand has its own unique identity, purpose, reputation and goals. Whether you’re branding a person, a place, a product or a service there are distinctive approaches to branding.
Although there are many more, let’s take a look at three different types of branding to highlight their particular nuances, including real-life brand examples:
When it comes to self-promotion, this is not the time to be shy. Personal branding is all about your outward appearance, reputation and the image you portray both personally and professionally. Personal branding refers to the 'whole package' including your CV, social media posts and website design.
Take a look at Kylie Jenner. Known as the one of the youngest billionaires in the world, Jenner is a prime example of personal branding done right. Having started her career on the successful reality TV series Keeping up with the Kardashians, Jenner has leveraged herself on social media and with her lucrative makeup business, Kylie Cosmetics.
Beyond her companies, Jenner has iconically branded herself by using her own personal life to promote her products. For example, when she first launched her famous lip kits, she shared videos of herself using them on social media and as a result they sold out within hours. She also models all her own products on her website and in her ad campaigns.
Furthermore, Jenner’s personal branding approach is strategic, and constantly evolving by paying attention to trends (and setting them), and understanding her loyal followers. Jenner lives and breathes her products with authenticity, focus and shares her real experiences (even when they fail).
Product branding refers to the persona or identity given to a specific product using branding elements such a logo, colors, packaging, voice and overall design. The goal of product branding is to make an item stand out in the marketplace, become easily identifiable and be a preferred choice to others. Think of heavyweight brands like Apple, Google, Disney, Target or Starbucks, and even as you read their names you can visualize their logo, products and customer experience.
For an example of excellent product branding, look at Oatly, the plant-based dairy alternative dominating the ever-growing market. Manufactured in Sweden, Oatly’s combination of lighthearted, playful copy paired with their handwritten typography style and sustainable practices, perfectly captures the essence of the brand while effectively communicating with their target market.
Oatly paved the way for the alternative milk trend, breaking the mold of previous competitors by speaking directly to their core customers right from the start. Rather than marketing their beverage to mimic traditional milk branding, Oatly decided to go on their own path using humor, honesty and compassion to put their brand message at the forefront of their product.
Beyond their thoughtful and relevant product branding, Oatly is successful because they focus on their customers, the environment and truly differentiate themselves in the market. Their unmistakable visual design and witty banter is easily recognizable whether on billboards, Instagram posts even in their Super Bowl ad. They’ve got an unshakable brand loyalty, which enabled them to fully extend their product line into spreads and ice cream, while remaining consistent, dependable and trustworthy. Precisely why their customers keep coming back.
Geographic and cultural branding
Geographic branding, sometimes called regional branding, refers to the ways in which specific locations (cities, countries, regions, etc.) draw in visitors and attract people. This type of branding is particularly popular in the hotel and tourism industry, although it can be used in other businesses and in multiple ways.
Think of those iconic “I ❤️ NYC” t-shirts or the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” saying, these are perfect examples of ways that these two cities have used geographic branding to encourage tourism, boost local business and create lasting memories.
Companies may also use this branding style to gain clout for their products or services. For example, truffle mushrooms can be specifically found in France, Italy and the Pacific Northwest. Having exclusive access to this rare fungi, truffle companies leverage geographic branding to sell the mushrooms at a premium cost within the global market.
Similar but different, cultural branding maximizes the influence of a destination and the lifestyle of its people. When we mention the Eiffel Tower, what instantly comes to mind? Are you now thinking about baguettes and berets? Then you already understand the power of cultural branding.
If you were opening a French bakery, you might consider using a symbol of the Eiffel Tower in your logo or packaging to portray a more Parisian identity. Beyond this, you’d infuse French culture into your café experience through music, outdoor café seating and a certain je ne sais quoi.
How to build a brand
Ok, so you’ve got a better grasp on branding, it’s importance and the key elements—now it’s time to build a brand. There are a few things to keep in mind when starting out and creating your brand like researching your competition, understanding your target audience and connecting with your customers.
You can read our full guide on how to build a brand for more in-depth steps, but let’s get started with a glance at what some of these steps are about:
Identify your brand purpose
Before you can dive into color palettes, taglines or building trust, you must first identify your core purpose—the ‘why’ behind your brand. In order to conceive a successful and recognizable brand, you should establish your core brand purpose right from the start.
You can think of your brand purpose like a single thread that weaves between each fabric of your brand from your mission statement to your logo, and affects each section of your business from investors to employees and of course, your valued customers.
Create a logo When it comes time to decide how to design a logo for your brand, keep in mind that, while small, this branding element carries significant importance. And with power, comes great responsibility, since this small symbol is a visual representation of your company. Your logo can evoke emotion, persuade or inspire your customers just from a single glance. Take the time to craft a design that is authentic and represents your brand identity.
Build a strong brand strategy
In order to develop a strong brand, you need to strategize each step along the way. Your brand strategy serves as a roadmap to guide each aspect of your branding efforts, from your design to your customer service. Through research, analysis, planning and preparation, you can outline long-term goals and achieve great branding results.
Tips for managing your brand
Branding is an ongoing process that requires thought, awareness and conscientious brand management. Even the most successful brands are always evolving in order to grow in an authentic way.
When it comes to successfully managing your brand, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Consistency is key: In the pursuit of recognition, trust and brand loyalty consistency is a vital aspect of branding. Dependable companies that maintain a unified and consistent brand across all their platforms are the ones that customers return to time and again.
Reputation is everything: Cancel culture is powerful. We all know a person or a place that has a bad reputation, and we avoid it at all costs. We even avoid things based on what others say, without even experiencing it firsthand. Sometimes companies can go through a rebranding process to overcome potential challenges, but it’s better to strive for a positive brand reputation right from the start.
Stick to your promise: An essential aspect of brand management is to keep your word and deliver on your promises. This includes the brand promise you make to your customers, employees and stakeholders, as well as the actions you take to uphold it.
Keep the conversation going: It’s important to develop and open a continuous dialogue between your brand and your consumers, both on and offline. However, you must take it one step further to not only engage with your audience but also ask questions and actively listen to criticism. This way you can implement changes based on feedback that is genuine and credible.
Build meaningful relationships: The best customers are loyal customers—the ones who not only love your brand but keep coming back. Whether they are your brand ambassadors or life-long customers, it all boils down to differentiation, engagement and loyalty so make sure you take good care of these vital relationships. Because after all, isn’t that what is all about?
By Kylie Goldstein
Branding Expert and Marketing Blogger