The Brand Equation

Yes everyone we have another article centered around defining brand and branding for both business owners and designers. Why do we have so many articles on branding? Before I write about defining branding, I have a two theories on the answer to that question: 

  1. Branding is soooooo HOT right now. Because of social media everyone has a brand. I’ve even seen pets have a brand. Branding has, of course been around for a long time. You can argue it’s been around since the birth of cave paintings, but never has western pop culture been more aware of it. Social media is the obvious first answer but also mass marketing and media is declining. More people have access to the internet and not so fond memories of an economic crash built around mass marketing that built messaging around lying to consumers to convince them to buy things they don’t want or need. Branding is replacing marketing because it’s controlled by the consumer. Not the business. Not the marketing… but you. The value of marketing is starting to go down and the value of branding is starting to go up. Branding is the(not so)new way to connect to the consumer.

Just replace Hansel with branding

2. It’s not easy to quantify branding, it’s not easy to measure. It’s success cannot be observed overnight, you can’t build it overnight either. It takes time, culture building, and consistent relationship fostering with users and consumers to discover if a brand is working or not. 

On that note and to get back on point, let’s go over what a brand isn’t first: 

Branding isn’t

  1. A logo
  2. Seriously it’s not your logo, bad news logo designers(I get to say this because I’m one of them.) but the logo isn’t that important to say that it is THE brand. Not to say that it isn’t important either, it’s just as important as the cog is to a machine. It needs to be there and be effective, but a good brand can survive a bad logo and a good logo is meaningless without the brand and business to support it. I know a lot of designers that loved the Pan Am logo, but did the business or brand last? No.
  3. Marketing, we get hung up on this almost as much as logos. I wrote above how I feel about where marketing is going, but same as logos, marketing still holds a lot of value, it’s just not branding. Marketing attempts to tell people what you think your brand is, but don’t forget that consumers have a say in that today. The best modern marketing today is experiential and inclusive, that isn’t a coincidence, it’s business trying to integrate branding and design thinking into it’s marketing.
  4. Messaging/copywriting. We are getting closer here and this copywriting is on the right track, it’s clarifying and describing a brand which puts it in the ball park of branding and I believe it’s the most important “not branding” element listed here. What makes it not branding is that a few other things have to come first which will be listed next. 

Branding is

  1. A relationship between your user and consumer, remember you aren’t in charge anymore, the consumer is. The internet provides them infinite choice, an infinite amount of tribes to choose from, and an infinite amount of information(fake or real). Because of all this infiniteness, consumers get to define their reality, that includes the brands they interact with. Don’t fight your consumer, don’t try to convince your consumer, instead try to have a conversation with your consumer, be a part of the story and reality they are looking to build for themselves. 
  2. A feeling. Marty Neumeier said it best, but branding really is an emotional response to a product or service. This is a big one, this is why Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, and Disney get to charge more for their service or product. These businesses have created, through branding, enough of a positive and consistent emotional response inside enough people to create a tribe, a tribe that feels for that business, not thinks for that business. 
  3. Culture. There is a lot of truth to that whole start with why thing that Simon Sinek made famous. People resonate with that idea because it’s the foundation for culture building, which is the foundation for branding. Your values and the culture that comes with it is really the heart of your brand and discovering those values and culture pillars is a big part of what branding is. 
  4. People. Whether you have a company of 1 or 100,000 your culture and values is translated by the people that work for the company. Going back to logos, the logo of the bitten apple is nowhere near as valuable as the people behind the genius bar. Going back to airlines, the symbol on the plane is not as important as the people working with the passengers on a daily basis. 

The people above is more important than the symbol below.

People + Culture + Feelings + Relationships = Branding

To reiterate what I danced around earlier, all the things I listed as what isn’t branding is still important. The logo, messaging, marketing etc. needs to communicate what the culture is and what the feelings are and what the people stand for. The logo is a quick yet important culmination of the above brand equation, the messaging defines the brand equation, and the marketing attempts to build the bridge to communicate the brand equation to the consumer you are trying to build a relationship with.