Branding has an Identity Crisis

Written by | @stickybranding

Branding Definition
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Ask anyone for the definition of “branding,” and you’ll get a different answer. It’s nuts, but true.

In the marketing realm the answers vary widely:

  • Philip Kotler: “Branding is endowing products and services with the power of a brand.”
  • Marty Neumeier: “Any effort or program designed to increase value or avoid commoditization by building a differentiated brand.”
  • David Meerman Scott: “Branding is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy.”

David’s response is priceless! 😂

When it comes to the definition of “brand,” it’s much easier. Jeff Bezos defines it best, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Shouldn’t branding be answering the how? How do you influence what people say about you when you’re not in the room? And that’s where it gets complicated. Answering the how is multifactorial.

There are lots of things that influence customer perception: marketing and promotion; product functionality and design; uniqueness or reputation in the market; customer experience and relationships; customer service; operations; size and scope of your business… and you can go on and on.

There is so much that can influence customer perception, and that means “branding” cannot be contained to some subset of marketing.

For me, branding is strategy. The two topics are completely intertwined, which is why I think Marty Neumeier has the closest definition, “Any effort or program designed to increase value or avoid commoditization by building a differentiated brand.” But what’s missing here is intent.

Branding is your organization’s strategy to engage customers so they like and trust it, so they buy.

“So they buy” is what it’s all about. You are creating business strategies to shape customer attitudes and beliefs so they are more likely to buy your product and services. And if we’re clear on that, then branding becomes really simple: branding is the pursuit of getting people to buy.

Zappos, for instance, uses customer service as its core branding strategy. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, said, “We decided a long time ago that we didn’t want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing. We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience.”

This is realized with a deliberate strategy: free shipping, both ways; free returns; 24/7 support. This strategy makes it really easy for Zappos’ customers to buy. It mitigates risk, because you can try lots of shoes but only keep the ones you want. And it increases customer loyalty, because a great experience with a helpful person brings customers back again and again.

“Branding” isn’t complicated, but people make it complicated because they don’t recognize what they’re trying to do. Which means, maybe we should stop talking about branding, and focus on the objective: how to get customers to buy.

What do you think? What does branding mean for you?