Do you know the difference between a noun and a verb? Of course you do. A noun is a thing, and a verb is an action.

So… if you think your company’s branding is something you can point to and declare: “that’s our branding”––therefore, you think branding is a noun––then, guess what? You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Sure, your company’s brand is a noun; but you could never point to it. Because a brand can only exist in people’s minds. A brand is the collective emotions that people feel when they think about your company, or you. When they all think and feel roughly the same thing, then that’s a brand.

If that brand––whatever that common sense is––has the effect of making your company’s goods or services appear more desirable, then that’s a commercially valuable brand.

Branding is any of the actions you take to develop and shape the brand in the minds of many people. Branding is a verb. It’s something you do.

Actions you take may have either a positive, negative or simply no effect on your brand.

Getting the language right

I understand English to be a dynamic system of communication. If it wasn’t, we’d still all be talking in something more Shakespearean, or worse Chaucerian.

For example, consider the word irony, which has (at least, had) one specific definition; but through widespread and persistent misuse, irony is now officially (though begrudgingly) defined by both the classical meaning and the modern misused meaning.

So, perhaps I should stop being a pedant and simply concede that when people say branding they probably mean packaging and forget about it.

The problem then is that there is no term left to describe the actions a company must take to develop its brand; therefore robbing businesses of understanding what branding actually is.

There are times that I suspect that the confusing of the meanings of brands and branding to be deliberate.

Branding has a bad brand

With so many books on branding out there; with so many brand agencies; and so many brand consultants, you’d think the subject would have been well and truly baked to perfection by now. However, all the numerous brand experts seem to have done is made the topic even more bewildering.

Whenever marketing fads bloom, you can find any number of cowboys who rush into the field to make a quick buck. And this happened in spades with brands and branding.

By necessity, these snake oil hucksters have turned what is an outrageously easy, simple and fundamental business process into a major source of disappointment for companies; typically stemming from the failure of so-called ‘brand campaigns’.

Here’s how it goes down: The brand/ad agency convinces a business to spend a very, very large amount of money on some kind of artistic, touchy-feely series of ads that aim to convince viewers the product stands for something. Even with a low media spend, the ads are promised to “go viral” and magically change the hearts and minds of the audience and propel the business into mega-profitability.

Yes, there are spectacular failures and sometime, successes… but mostly brand campaigns usually end up doing absolutely nothing; other than alienating the audience, further distancing them from the company. Oh, and maybe winning the agency an award.

The aftermath of a failed brand campaign can last for years, if not decades; making it impossible in the future to even mention “the B word.”

At worst you get this response:
“Branding? We tried that. It didn’t work.”

At best:
“Let’s get the basics in place, and we’ll get around to branding later.”

It’s all about decision making

Modern neuroscience is confirming all the things that contemplatives have known for centuries: all human decisions are made unconsciously. The feeling of making a ‘conscious decision’ is merely an illusion; your conscious brain trying to catch up and make sense of something that has happened beyond its control or influence.

A commercially valuable brand kicks into action at the point in time when a customer is ready to make a purchasing decision. Consider a product like jeans, which are fairly identical in terms of specifications. Now imagine you have to make a choice from one of the leading brand of jeans shown here. Which one would you choose; and why?

Whatever is driving your choice is formed by branding at work in your unconscious mind. You can make post-hoc rationalisations ’til the cows come home; but, brain scans of people making decisions show activity in the unconscious part of the brain well before there’s any activity in the conscious part of the brain.

There are products and services that people tend to think about a lot before they purchase, like cars and houses… but even then, the final choice is made unconsciously.

Branding, real branding, is more than just ads.

All the things branding isn’t

Your brand, therefore, is not the elements with which your company identifies and differentiates itself.

  • Your brand is not your logo.
  • Branding is not the action of slapping your logo everywhere.
  • Your brand is not your design elements, colour scheme, font, or anything that appears in a style guide. In other words, your brand is not your packaging.
    Branding and Packaging are not interchangeable synonyms.
  • Branding is not making claims about yourself. It is definitely not your tagline.
  • A Branding Campaign is not just an ultra expensive advertising blitz.

All the things that branding is

  • Your brand is your identity… it’s what people think and feel you are.
    It happens because of (or in spite of) your efforts to define it.
  • Every thing/person has a brand.
    They might like it, they may not like it.
  • Every company has a brand.
    It may be commercially useful.
    It may be commercially detrimental.
  • You mostly always inherit a brand,
    you rarely get to start from scratch.
  • A brand is the result of branding,
    the process of defining/changing the perception of your identity.
  • It takes a lot of soul-searching and preparation.
  • It takes action for that to happen.
    It’s what you DO that matters, not what you say.
  • A business not interested in branding
    might as well be a business not interested in products or customers.
    People are simply not going to buy from a company they don’t like.
    Your image is crucial.

But don’t take my word for it

By making something as simple as branding so outrageously complicated; and by using it as a ploy to separate companies from their annual marketing budgets; branding has been relegated to the dustbin of management history, alongside other fads like mission statements and six sigma.

However, it would be a great shame to not go through the real process of branding; simply because your company misunderstands it, or had a bad experience with it.

Real branding is about defining who you are; and how you will get your customers to believe that.
It’s that simple.

Not only do you not need a consultant; you have to do it yourself. The process needs to be owned by everyone from the CEO down to the receptionist; if it isn’t, it just aint branding.

Or, take my word for it

Let me outline for you the seven things a brand should be, and the seven things that kill brands dead, all in one entertaining and enlightening branding workshop.

I can also work with you to develop a commercially viable brand for your company;

To find out more, contact me!

Posted by Charley Holland

Charley Holland is a copywriter, creative, communicator type.

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