The practice of branding is a rich and powerful area to strengthen not just marketing but business performance overall. But it requires that you apply a few core principles to your approach. Branding is such a broad concept, encompassing not just the output of marketing but the operations of a business and the activities of its employees (and every stakeholder group with which the business or institution interacts). Branding as a marketing practice usually relies on communications tools to deliver its content. There are principles that apply to its success, irrespective of industry category or type of institution.
DO: Base it in Functional Reality
Although brands are the invention of marketers, the concepts must be grounded in the actual realities of business function and customer need/use. That’s not to say that you can’t attach emotional or other qualities to tangible things — after all, we’ve seen it throughout the history of marketing — but the brand is always first (and forever) defined by the actuality of its function. Consider what it is your product or service does, and how it does it, before you start to ponder what attributes your branding can credibly include.
DO: Prove instead of Declaring
There was a time during the 20th century when consumers were far more trusting of commercial speech, and took on face-value many of the attributes and benefits claimed by brands. This is no longer true, as the social web has empowered them to vet claims through their own experience, and to otherwise rate brand content almost instantaneously. So it’s very important that you inform your branding with as much objective proof and third-party affirmation as possible; since a conversation will decide the truth of your claims, incorporate as much of it into your branding.
DO: Remember, it’s all About People
Your branding literally comes alive when people encounter it, and it stays alive when people use it, so you want to make sure that your content is conceived and delivered so it is relevant to them. Consumers are your obvious ultimate target, but often the benefits of branding are best delivered by your employees, vendors, and other groups who have an interest in your success. The concept of “word of mouth” marketing, or “WOM,” is credited to technology platforms that make sharing easier and faster, but referrals and recommendations between family and friends have always been key drivers of branding successes and failures. Focus on giving people the information they need.
DON’T: Assume it has Inherent Value
It doesn’t. There’s little reason to try to measure or value brands in a vacuum since their value is dependent on what they accomplish for a business or institution. “Great” brands that are widely recognized and win awards for their creativity can often fail to produce any tangible benefits in return for their cost. Conversely, branding that might not meet established expectations can prove very successful. You never execute branding for the sake of branding; it’s always intended to influence other activities. Be sure to identify those influences, and how you’ll measure their efficacy.
DON’T: Think that People Care
Even the most entertaining branded content that generates high volumes of views and forwards (online) do not necessarily equate with people actually caring about it. “Engagement” is another broad term that’s not synonymous with “meaning.” So, while it might seem like the challenge for your brand is to get or keep attention, and being entertaining is a proven way to accomplish both, you need to be careful that you don’t substitute that entertainment for the real outcomes you should expect from your branding. The challenge is to get consumers (and your other stakeholder groups) to care about your brand, which requires you to give them convincing reasons why. Then it’s OK to be entertaining, too.
DON’T: Let it Get Stale
The 24/7 nature of online communications means that content is old the moment it’s shared, and a day later it’s all but ancient history. Even the most brilliant and memorable branding is only as good as how many people are using it right now, or it risks becoming stale and irrelevant. That means that your strategy must include provisions to keep it updated and new; consider ways to restate what you’ve shared, recast it in different ways, and involve different stakeholder groups in its delivery and further development.
Branding can and should make a significant contribution to your business or institution, but only if you follow some proven techniques for its development and delivery.