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What Is a Brand?
At its core, your brand is what consumers know about you.
This is established by your image, your products and your reputation.
What does your brand look like? What typefaces and design choices have you made? How do those things make people feel? What story are you telling? Can your customers relate to that or see themselves as being somehow a part of that story?
What products do you offer? Are they high quality? Convenient? Unique? What is different about them?
What do people say about you? If someone is a customer of your brand, what does that say about them?
A mature brand communicates instant understanding. A developing brand helps consumers understand who ‘you’ are in relation to what ‘they’ need. A poorly developed brand feels disconnected from its customers, disjointed, lacking definition.
Branding is mostly intangible. It primarily exists within the philosophical orientation of a company, and within the minds of consumers. However, branding produces real world results:
Good branding helps customers make key buying decisions.
Good branding tells customers what they will get.
Good branding makes people feel safe.
Good branding builds trusting relationships founded on honesty, authenticity and genuine understanding.
A good brand is built on good products, accurate and evocative marketing, and the thoughts and behaviors of customers.
While we generally think of branding as being mostly consumer-facing, there are also internal strategic benefits to thoughtfully articulating your brand.
A well defined brand acts as a set of guardrails for guiding a business toward what it should do and what it shouldn’t do. Thus, good branding is useful not just for differentiating yourself in the market, but for guiding your choices as a business owner.
If your brand is built on a reputation for using quality parts, customers will have a reasonable expectation that you’re not going to cut corners in your supply chain. If your brand is known for innovation, customers will reasonably expect that your products will be relevant in the future.
What is culture?Culture is an aggregate of images, values, beliefs, history and ideas. Every brand fits within a culture. The strongest brands define a facet of the culture they live within.
Patagonia immediately brings to mind the outdoors.
The Wall Street Journal is something smart people read.
Five Guys is different than other burger places.
As it relates to your brand, culture is what people know about the world that your product or service exists within. It is a set of parameters that define the expectations that customers have about who you should be and how your brand will fit into their lives.
Broadly speaking, culture is the world. Your brand’s culture is how you contribute to that world.
Imagine you own a coffee shop. There are plenty of coffee shops that just happen to service commuters in an area that gets a lot of foot traffic. By contrast, the best coffee shops offer those commuters something more than just a cup of coffee or a scone. They have a sense of belonging in the community, they are a place where customers gather to participate in a ritual that makes a big difference in their day. A place to play board games. A welcoming sitting area.
If you do culture right, people will define a small slice of themselves as ‘the type of person who’ goes to your coffee shop.
The easiest way to do this is to embrace and emphasize your natural appeal to a specific subculture. Your brand should have an authentic personality — one that resonates with a certain group of people… most likely, people like you.
Authenticity is the most assured way to attain cultural credibility. If you are approaching culture as an enthusiastic participant, rather than as an opportunistic vendor, you are much more likely to develop positive cultural brand associations with a loyal base of customers. People don't like being sold anything, including an idea and people know when you are not being genuine. Also it is easier to transfer energy to a customer/client when you are genuinely into your brand.
Again I repeat: Authenticity is the most assured way to attain cultural credibility. I know it's hard, but be yourself, do you and your culture will find you.
In order to find a strong cultural footing for your brand, you should identify where your brand exists at an intersection of converging needs and identifying attributes.
Barnes & Noble is a bookstore. But The Strand is a home for people who love books.
What are aesthetics?
The first thing most of us think of when we hear the word ‘aesthetics’ is how something looks. Is it nice looking or ugly? But aesthetics is actually a branch of philosophy that exists to examine the nature of beauty: why things look or feel nice, as opposed to determining whether or not they do look nice.
This is useful for constructing a brand because it will guide you to make the right choices to communicate the meaning of your brand in a way that will feel relevant to customers.
This means everything from the design in your company's logo to the color schemes you are using in your stationary/store decorations/website etc.
What's the difference between consumers and customers?
Customers are not really the people that buy your products, they are the people that use your products. A consumer may buy a product once. A customer will come back. A customer thinks about you before they think about your competition. But in order to think about you in a way that matters, there has to be something more than just your product to think about. That’s your brand.
Up Next: Branding: Part 2 - How to 'Do" Branding Well