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Back to basics – What is a ‘Brand’? Why is ‘Branding’ important?

In this month’s blog we are going back to basics. We are taking a look at what a brand is and why branding is important. A quick search on Google yields endless definitions. We asked some business leaders and mentors from our network to give us some clarity, before making our own assumptions. Let’s dive right in with a the debate.

How as the term ‘Brand’ conceived in the first place?

The term ‘Brand’ has been around for centuries, actually originating from the word ‘Brandr’ meaning ‘to burn’ in the ancient Norse language. Over time the phrase to ‘Brand’ was born, and understood quite simply as the act of burning (hence branding) a mark (such as a rancher’s initials) onto cattle, as a sign of ownership. It became the distinguishing feature or a shorthand visual system to identify one animal from another. Good quality from bad quality. Good value for money from bad value for money. A good feeling from a bad feeling. A good experience from a bad experience.

A consistently good experience is known a good reputation. This is what creates a company’s goodwill and a brand’s intangible value. A brand’s reputation creates feelings of trust, pleasure and satisfaction. The more frequent and the positive experience, the deeper rooted the connection between a customer and the brand. The foundation of brand therefore is trust.

Customers trust a company’s brand when the experience consistently meet or beat their expectations. As customers band together with shared experiences of a brand, they form a community with a stronger voice.

How do our business leaders and mentors define a ‘Brand’?

“Your brand is everything you do, think, say touch and make.” Natasha Lytton at Seedcamp

“It’s the ideas you stand for in the minds of your customers and employees.” Robert Jones at WolffOlins

“It’s a short-cut to meaning, both rational and emotional.” Peter Schmidt-Hansen at Norwich Business School, UEA

“It’s a set of beliefs, attitude, tone, values, mission etc wrapped up and into a service, product, interaction model, and visible design language. I wear simple black long socks with three lines on them and a logo. They look cool because I believe them to be cool, and I believe them to be cool because the brand emits that through the messages it propagates.” Matt ‘Mills’ Miller at UsTwo

So why is ‘Branding’ important?

“Your brand is what drives the product you build; the people you hire; the messages you put out into the world; the customers who buy from you and ultimately the legacy you leave. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, branding is fundamental to help frame and shape the all-important questions around who you are, what you do, why, how and who for.” Natasha Lytton at Seedcamp

“It nurtures the best set of ideas in people’s minds, which wins their long-term commitment. In other words, your brand is your future.” Robert Jones at WolffOlins

“It’s important because it is a process through which people with an idea, product, service, company (and many other things) can discuss, share, develop, build meaning which allows them to use the brand in a meaningful way. Without branding the meaning could easily become unclear.” Peter Schmidt-Hansen at Norwich Business School, UEA

“You need to convey a set of principles and messages without having to explain it every time. I do think good brand, or brand that works is not simply about the logo, or the visible design, but about the way the business or service or product behaves in real life.” Matt ‘Mills’ Miller at UsTwo

Our definitions

A ‘brand’ is the set of perceptions people have about a company. It is a carefully crafted emotional and rational expression of a value that lives in people’s hearts and minds. A brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.

‘Branding’ is the set of actions a company takes to cultivate those perceptions as brands in the minds of customers. When it is done right, branding comes to life as a beautiful symphony of design, language and experience – all combining to cultivate a unique rationale and feeling. It creates a set of expectations, memories and impressions on customers, a bond that is hard to break.

Concluding thoughts

Simply put, a brand is a promise of an experience to a customer by a company. It is the creation of an expectation and the delivery of this, time and time again.

Branding is the act of designing and building (quite deliberately) those promises and expectations then using marketing to embed them in the minds of customers. The more brand reference points companies can create, the easier and more profoundly brands can unlock embedded emotions (of being or belonging) and behaviours (normally of the buying kind) in the minds of its consumers.

When customers begin doing the hard work for the brands by converting other people (normally friends or followers) to buy into a brand that is referred to as brand advocacy. This is the promised land for any brand. But… that’s a conversation to be had another day.

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