Branding: Much has changed since the concept originated thousands of years ago when ranchers marked their cattle via hot iron brands in the shape of a unique symbol to show ownership. Throughout the years, it has evolved beyond the logo symbol that graphically represents a product or service. Current branding is about “the communication of features, benefits, lifestyle fit and the emotional connections it sparks with its audiences”, says Andrew McCrae, digital director of the Irish brand agency Mammoth.
Since branding has grown to represent even more company attributes, the tactics that worked five years ago (or even last year!) might not be as effective now. Buyer expectations continue to change at an ever-accelerated pace. Your brand story must align with your target audience’s needs and wants so that you can create the experience that will have them returning to you over and over again. To meet these expectations, don’t fall prey to these five branding myths:
Myth 1. Branding, Advertising & Marketing Are All The Same Things
You may hear the terms “branding,” “advertising” and “marketing” used interchangeably. But they are, in fact, quite different.
“Branding is the identity you carefully create; advertising is how you show that identity to the world,” says Michelle Polizzi in the Brandfolder article “The Surprising Truths Behind 5 Common Branding Myths.” “The two rely on one another: Without a brand, you have nothing to advertise, and without advertising, your brand remains unknown to the world.”
Think of it like this: Advertising and marketing are push tactics that promote a product or service by pushing out a message to obtain sales. Branding, on the other hand, is a pull tactic that communicates your values, attributes and characteristics to explain what your brand is…and is not. (Read more about the differences here.)
Myth 2. If Your Have A Logo, You Have A Brand
While logos represent brands, they are not brands in and of themselves. “Logos are just a single part of the total brand cosmology that includes icons (not only logos but also packaging, product design and other senses including taste, touch, sound and smell), rituals, creation story, creed, a special lexicon, nonbelievers and leaders,” says Patrick Hanlon in the Forbes article “Common Myths About Branding Dispelled.”
“Combining each of these pieces into a holistic brand narrative and then distributing those pieces through content is the challenge for everyone who wants to create a brand community.”
He also notes that branding extends into how you act. “It is how people feel about you once they have identified you,” he explains. “This feeling relates directly to your belief system and values that you have created around your brand. The emotional touch points that attract people who feel the same way that you do and believe what you believe.”
So while many branding campaigns begin with logo and website development, this corporate identity is merely the beginning. Your brand story encompasses everything you do when creating the customer experience.
Myth 3. Word-Of-Mouth & Referrals Are All You Need
For many small businesses or startups, budgets are usually tight. Thus, many owners don’t spend anything on advertising or other branding methods because they think word-of-mouth will to kick in and build their brand. This may have been possible in the past with a small industry that had little competition. But not today.
“With a different customer attitude and the many options available to the consumer, waiting for word-of-mouth to build their brands leads many businesses to shuttered doors,” says Starr Hall in the Entrepreneur article “5 Branding Myths Debunked.” “It’s a great way to increase business over time, but it isn’t something to base your business plan and success on. It isn’t proactive, and it simply doesn’t work in today’s competitive climate. It’s wishful thinking, not a realistic business plan.”
A better approach is to look at ways to create buzz—from social media to earned media to promotional products. A balanced approach that incorporates a number of ways to reach your target audience has a much greater chance of success.
Myth 4. Branding Is Expensive And Only For Big Firms
Sure, you can spend a fortune on branding, marketing and advertising. Just look at Apple, Coca-Cola and Geiko. But huge ad spends aren’t a necessity, as brands such as Costco, Spanx, Kiehl’s and Lululemon have proved.
“Traditionally, big companies have had an edge over smaller ones,” says Hanlon. “But the new school reality is that digital media and technology have flattened the playing field.”
Social media and blogging have very little hard costs associated with them other than time. The same can be said with earned media.
When looking at more traditional means of advertising, TV, radio and print may still be out of reach. But promotional products are one of the most influential, enduring and cost-effective advertising mediums available today. At less than a penny per impression, promotional products have a lower cost-per-impression than prime-time television ads, national magazine ads and newspaper ads, and a similar CPI to radio and internet advertising. (To read more about how any budget can incorporate swag, click here.)
Myth 5. There Is Only One Right Way To Build Your Brand
Every company is unique with its own distinct products and service offerings, geographic area and target audience. “Building a brand is all about context,” says Polizzi. “There is no one right way to build a brand; in fact, there are infinite ways to build a winning brand. More importantly, your brand should be a reflection of your unique products, values and mission statement.”
Much thought must go into creating a brand that resonates with your audience. What works for one company may or may not work for you. Make decisions based on the specific needs of your target audience. Only then will you find success with your strategy.
Bringing Your Brand To Life
Seth Godin says, “A brand is a stand-in, a euphemism, a shortcut for a whole bunch of expectations, worldview connections, experiences and promises that a product or service makes, and these allow us to work our way through a world that has thirty thousand brands that we have to make decisions about every day.”
Making smart decisions about how you present your brand to the world will help you make the right first impression and create a relatable identity so that prospective buyers recognize your brand above the competition. Then you can do what you do best: Provide a product or service that delights buyers into becoming long-time customers.
Want to incorporate some SMART Swag into your branding strategy? Let’s chat. Book an appointment by clicking here or call us now at 248-538-4700. We’ll even send you a free gift for mentioning the blog!