What exactly is a brand? And what is branding?
Great questions, both. Sure, the wording might originate from the physical act of branding livestock to know whose cow is whose, but in modern parlance, your brand isn’t about sorting your products from the competition. Nor is it about your logo, company colours, or ads.
In reality, your brand is a more abstract concept that represents all of the above – and more.
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A brand is the summation of a company’s personality, values, identity, and promise, but it’s also a powerful weapon when it comes to generating revenue and ROI.
As Jerry McLaughlin or Forbes rightly puts it: “Your ‘brand’ is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).”
Branding is also an integral part of your overall Brand Experience (BX):
BX: The feelings, reactions, and ideas that result from the direct or indirect exposure to any branded/brand-medicated interaction influencing a future purchase decision.
Why is branding important?
There are several reasons why nailing your branding is a crucial step for your business:
Branding sets you apart
Your branding is what people think of you, so it stands to reason that – when used effectively – it can be used to make customers think more highly of you than your competition. Customers tend to become loyal to brands, rather than products, so building and growing that emotional connection is vital.
Branding can galvanise people
Defining what you stand for and what you believe in is an intrinsic part of any successful branding effort, and doing so can help both staff and customers feel part of something special. Whether your values are centred on sustainability, incredible value for money, or cutting-edge performance, building brand awareness around those ideals can enthuse just about everyone – both internally and externally.
Branding drives value
Think of one world’s biggest brands. Now think about buying them. Does the price you’d have to pay match up with the price of all their physical assets? Probably not, since their market value is much more than just the sum of their parts – it’s also the sum of their brand identity, brand awareness, and overall brand value, as it’s perceived by the general public.
What’s the difference between branding and marketing?
Here’s a super simple way of looking at it:
Branding is your house. Marketing is the hammer you built it with.
Your branding is how you talk about yourself as a company, and it’s the image you nurture. Branding is how you want people to perceive you, and that’s deeply important, so branding as an exercise needs to come before you drum up any marketing plans.
Marketing, on the other hand, is an umbrella term for the tactics that you employ – video, written content, commercials, PPC campaigns, etc. – to help spread the word. That can mean spreading the word about your products, your brand, or both.
So what is brand marketing?
If a brand is a higher-level concept than any one product, service, or facet of a company, then naturally ‘brand marketing’ describes any marketing efforts that are designed to promote that concept.
What that means is that brand marketing differs from product marketing. The latter is all about building awareness of your specific customer offerings, whereas the former is designed to promote more top-level ideas around your values, image, sense of purpose, and ethics.
The purpose of brand marketing is to plant the seed that, regardless of evolving product lineups, your brand is special – it has that ‘X Factor’ that sets it apart and which will make people want to be associated with it. As such, brand marketing requires an always-on, long-term strategy.
What is a brand marketing strategy?
Your brand marketing strategy is how you’re going to tell people about your brand. It’s the long-term program of communication that explains your values, personality, and mission.
Across all touchpoints, your brand marketing strategy should look to give consumers answers to the following core questions:
- What is your brand’s story?
- Why are you different?
- What does your brand make people feel?
Note that these questions are different from more product-specific ones like ‘what can this product do for me?’ – so your brand marketing strategy needs to focus on tactics that think a layer above the nuts and bolts of your product portfolio. Any such marketing materials need to be designed with the purpose of fostering a connection with your target audience.
Goals of brand marketing
Brand marketing works to lock in that vision you have for your company. In practical terms, successful brand marketing strategies can hope to achieve a few headline objectives:
1. Develop your brand identity
Effective brand marketing tactics can implement and repeat the instantly-recognisable building blocks or your brand’s identity through consistent visuals – including logos, videos, audio, and tone of voice.
2. Raise brand awareness
Marketing yourself – not just your products – on an ongoing basis will help cement your company and its values in the greater public consciousness. Raising brand awareness will boost the likelihood that someone will think of your company when they come to make a purchase.
3. Build brand loyalty
While it’s true that quality products alone can foster brand loyalty, it’s often the case that a brand’s personality, story, and values are what people end up feeling most loyal to. Brand marketing can help create that bond, and drive revenue as a result.
Current trends in brand marketing
Some brand marketing trends go in cycles, while others only grow over time. Here are a few current trends to build into your successful brand marketing strategy:
- Putting ethics first
You can’t force a sustainability angle, and customers are wising up to so-called ‘green-washing’ efforts by companies attempting to pull the wool over our eyes. But customers are increasingly making decisions based on the eco-friendliness and ethics of the brands they buy from, so it pays to make any strides in these areas front and centre.
- An emphasis on the people behind the brand
In the age of the ‘Great Resignation’ and a bubbling worker’s rights movement, showing consumers that your employees are well-treated and well-respected human beings isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity.
- We’re all in this together
Empathy is a great leveller, and that’s especially true in the wake of a global pandemic. Customers want brands to acknowledge that things have been tough for everyone – that they get it, and that they care.
Examples of brand marketing strategy tactics
If your brand marketing strategy is your overall plan for what you want to achieve, brand marketing tactics are the methods you’ll use to get there. Here are a few tried and tested ways to boost your brand among your target audience…
- Hone in on your brand purpose
Begin by asking a few simple questions: what is your company trying to achieve? For who, and why? What makes you different? You’ll quickly find that the answers to these questions – even in bullet point form – start to build a picture that you can share with people.
- Celebrate your brand’s story
Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. If your company has a storied history, a family background, a wealth of industry experience, or an overnight success story, start telling people about it.
- Get smart with naming conventions
While branding is about much more than your name, people do always love sharp naming conventions that stick in the mind. Great, consistent naming is the reason that a lot of people will call every smartphone an ‘iPhone’, and every tablet an ‘iPad’. Both of those examples are tactical brand marketing masterstrokes that help build awareness for Apple.
- Attract brand ambassadors
Humans are social animals that love to be recommended things and are easily influenced by people we think are aspirational. So try and build an army of ambassadors – either through paid influencer programs or customer loyalty reward programs – who can publicly fly your flag for you.
- Create brand engagement
Similarly, it’s worth remembering that a customer who simply makes a purchase and moves on is less likely to become brand loyal than one who feels like they’ve properly interacted with your brand. So reach out to people on social media, thank customers, create new channels for discussion – just ensure you’re always maintaining consistency in tone and style across those touchpoints
Steps to develop a brand marketing strategy
Brand marketing strategies come in different shapes and sizes but they all usually start from the same place: answering three important questions about your offering – and what makes it special.
Define your brand positioning by deciding…
- Who – you are targeting
You should be able to pinpoint a specific demographic and type of customer for your products or services. Knowing whom you exist for is how you know how to speak, behave, and act as a company – much like how, in real life, you might speak differently to a friend than to a parent.
- What – is the need you are serving
Think about what your products or services allow people to do. Brand marketing is all about positioning your solutions as more than a quick fix to a problem – you’re offering an enabler for a certain lifestyle.
- Why – your audience should believe you
This is the thing that sets you apart. Defining what it is that makes you special will provide you with a reason for others to believe in your brand as much as you do. It might be an outstanding value, a legacy of reliability, or incredible customer service.
Once you have the answers to those questions, your brand positioning should fall into place, and that, in turn, will form the basis of your brand marketing strategy: letting people know that those things are the case.
The important part is to try and promote this brand marketing throughout your business, from top to bottom, and in everything you do. Consistency is king, here. If the bulk of your brand marketing campaigns are about your incredible customer service, then you’ll need to work to ensure that’s the case in person, online, and across every digital touchpoint.
Things to avoid in brand marketing
Any solid brand marketing strategy needs to feel authentic and earned, but there are some common pitfalls to avoid as you build out your brand’s identity:
We’ve mentioned how consumers are turning more towards brands with sustainable and ethical initiatives. At the same time, however, people are wary of companies pushing green agendas that come across as misleading or dishonest – what’s known as ‘greenwashing’.
Greenwashing can be easy to spot and does more harm than good, so we’d recommend striving to make sustainability part of your brand’s core values, but only if you can do so earnestly.
Forced virtue signalling
There’s a sketch in Bo Burnham’s brilliant Inside Netflix show where he poses as a social media consultant, saying: “The question is no longer, ‘Do you want to buy Wheat Thins?’ for example. The question is now, ‘Will you support Wheat Thins in the fight against Lyme disease?’”
The skit acts as cutting satire on the growing trend of brands attempting to shoehorn lofty purposes into their brand marketing, and a stark reminder not to be too heavy-handed with your idea of purpose.
The secret to effective brand marketing is consistency. It’s a long-term, hard-fought game, but you’ll lose your footing if your brand continually flip-flops to chase new trends. The world’s strongest brands hone in on an ethos or personality that’s naturally right for them and stick with it.
By and large, customers can tell a truly authentic brand from one that changes direction whenever the wind does. And they prefer the former.
How Qualtrics can help you get a pulse of your brand presence
We know that building a brand that stands out can be tough, but arming yourself with the right tools makes designing a strong brand marketing strategy feel more like science and less like the dark arts.
Qualtrics Brand Experience (BX) Software – built on our market-leading Experience Management Platform, XMOS – combines real-time insights, machine learning, A/B testing, and cross-channel trend data to help you push your brand in the right direction.
Qualtrics can help you benchmark your brand against your competitors, quantify brand awareness and provide practical actions that will strengthen your brand marketing efforts.
Used by over 13,000 brands, our platform shows companies how to take data points across customer experience, social channels, and marketing communications, and turn them into brand-strengthening decisions.