In its simplest form, branding is the sum total of all the touchpoints your company provides to customers and other stakeholders. It starts with the promise you make — your brand positioning — and it answers:
- Why should customers purchase your brand over any competitive alternative?
- What is your primary point of difference?
- How do you take that point of difference and reflect it in every touchpoint throughout the customer experience?
Branding is all about being very purposeful and intentional — identifying the central idea you want your brand to stand for and communicating that very consistently over time so that it is eventually seeded in customers' minds.
As the saying goes, you never get a second chance at a first impression. If you don't establish these basics from the start, it's far more difficult to convince a customer who's turned away to give you a second chance.
Every Brand Has a Positioning
Whether it's a local mom and pop or a multi-billion dollar global consumer brand, every brand has a positioning. The question is, to what extent is it intentional and deliberate on your part, or are you leaving it to chance and letting others define it for you based on their own perceptions?
Positioning is the perception of your brand in the minds of customers and stakeholders. It is not the perception of the brand owner; instead, it's the perception of the consumers who use your products and services. It is a key point of differentiation.
Many larger well-known brands lose sight of the fact that it's the customer that determines what your brand stands for and your brand's true value. However, that doesn't mean there aren't things you can do consistently over time to influence those perceptions in a favorable way — it is the essence of branding.
Digital Technology and Multi-Media Platforms
In today’s digitally connected world, branding is much harder than 40 or 50 years ago when brand management was in its infancy. There weren’t the communication channels that exist today. Big companies simply produced a 30-second commercial, ran it on the three or four major television network networks, and their brand was essentially positioned.
With the birth of cable television, satellite TV, the internet, and social media, we no longer live in a world of three television networks and one-way communication. Increasingly, we no longer have the control we once had over positioning our brands. However, it is still imperative for brand owners to influence that and direct consumers to perceive our brands the way we would like them to.
The Rise of Purpose Branding
Historically, mainstream brands tended to talk at us about their features and benefits. Conversely, today’s younger, more disruptive brands have a different relationship with their core customer — it’s more about making a positive contribution to society, giving back, and doing something more than just being a product on a store shelf selling for a particular price. Brand owners are no longer in charge and can no longer dictate the terms of the brand relationship. Therefore, it is incumbent that we begin developing our brand values by immersing ourselves in consumers' values, vocabulary, and lives.
Over the last decade, there’s been a huge rise in the prominence of purpose branding —defining your brand around something bigger and more meaningful than the product or service it provides. It's one thing to launch a corporate social responsibility campaign (CSR), but it's a very different thing to essentially define your brand's very essence around a purpose.
Understanding your target customer at a level much broader than your product category is powerful. Millennials, in particular, have led the so-called transparency era. Therefore, if you are trying to court Generation Y, it’s critically important to make your purpose genuine and well known and communicate it to them in a consistent manner.
Be intentional with your branding. Control your customers’ perceptions — no assumptions, no unclear messaging. Being intentional means not being passive in how consumers perceive you. It means actively educating your audience about who you are while gaining feedback on who they believe you are. Being intentional about how you communicate your brand lets you focus on the most critical element necessary to maintain a healthy business and brand: providing a great customer experience.