Does Branding Really Matter?

Do you think branding is important? Do you feel confident spending money on branding? Often times we get branding confused with visual identity — logo, website, product packaging — which pushes us in the wrong direction.

You probably think a brand is a visual identity because of “big brands” like Kellogs and Pepsi. We identify those companies by their logos, by their packaging, by the unique visual style of their products and websites. But… a visual style is not a brand.

Imagine you’ve won a trip. Yay, a free trip! You get to choose between two identical tropical vacations. Same location, same star rating. The only difference between them, you are told, is that one is a Sandals resort and one is a Marriott resort.

Which do you choose?

If you have the funds, you choose the Sandals resort, I bet. Because visual identity is irrelevant — but Sandals is the king of luxurious tropical vacations.

In other words, brand can literally change what we like. This is the power of branding.

A strong visual identity supports consumer preference and can be a differentiator for a smaller company. But, and this is a big but, consumers must recognize your products to buy them.

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If your company is not a Kellogs or Pepsi, then big spend advertising is probably the wrong choice for your company.

Mr. Marketing, Seth Godin defines a brand as a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that account for a customer’s decision to choose your product or service over another. That’s basically right, but overly complicated.

Your brand is simply how prospects perceive you.

People perceive Toyota a certain way. For example, a manufacturer of cheap, reliable cars that hold their value. But, no one is going to pay $100,000 for one.

However, when you see the Lexus logo, you’re able to justify the big spend. It may be built by Toyota, but the brand is different.

You can’t make people perceive you the way you think they should. Their perception will always be at least a little different to how you perceive yourself — and what your brand is to you. But you can influence how customers perceive you, as long as what you deliver is consistent with how you brand it.

For instance, establishing a reputation for quality has a lot more to do with delivering quality than merely saying you do.

Often I see companies with huge problems talking about rebranding. As if “reinventing” or “refreshing” a brand is the magical solution to any problem. But that’s only true if the new brand is consistent with the source of the problem. 

Two Key Elements for Effective Branding

The first element is a common buzzword: positioning.

There are two major elements that contribute to successful positioning, and thus successful branding. They seem obvious when you know them, but many companies do miss them:

1. Values

It can be very difficult to set yourself apart in a market, even if you’re focused. Sometimes, even if your products or services have something going for them that others don’t, the sheer momentum of your competitors, or the sheer volume of the market, means that focus is only a weak differentiating factor. So values become very important.

If you position yourself as standing for something different to your competitors, you can begin gaining traction. By advertising yourself as standing for certain values, as well as having a certain focus, your positioning becomes exponentially more effective.

2. Focus

You might think that appealing to as many people as possible would logically equal more customers and more profits. This is especially so in the markets which have the most customers, the most profits to be made — and hence the most competition.

An “overcrowded” market is a good sign. It means there are plenty of customers to go around between lots of businesses. But that’s only good news if you position yourself correctly.

The more specialized and targeted you are in a specific industry, the more success you will have.

Sadly, many businesses don’t reach their potential because they don’t believe this. They’re afraid of missing opportunities by being too narrowly focused, so they try to appeal to everyone.

Does your branding matter?