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Branding is full of lies, myths, misconceptions and fairy tales. Some of them were created on purpose by brand designers, consultants or marketers. Others were created by accident. With time, these lies and myths have spread across the world. Fortunately, there are still some universal, and sometimes ugly, truths about branding that are still valid. In this article, we will take a look at seven truths about branding we all need to know. Let’s see if you can handle it.
No.1: Branding Is Complex
Let’s start with what I think is one of the most important facts about branding. Branding is a very complex and wide discipline. It is not just about creating beautiful logo and catchy slogan and choosing brand colors. These are only few elements of branding, usually those that are the most visible. However, it goes much deeper. Branding is also about creating concrete expectations, perception and experience about the brand in consumer’s mind.
This is one of the reasons businesses and individuals often fail in their brand-building efforts. They focus on the elements that hit the eyes. Unfortunately, they ignore or overlook other elements that are invisible, elements existing primarily in consumers’ minds. The result is brand that is incomplete and business or person who can’t figure out why people are not paying attention. Beautiful logo, nice colors and good slogan are just not enough for creating stable brand.
So, what can we do to avoid falling into this trap? We need to take charge and start designing the whole experience. In other words, we have to start thinking about all factors that can influence our branding efforts. Some of these factors are packaging, messaging, online and offline experience, expectations, position, identity, image and so on. Brand is like a person, with its own personality and characteristics. I believe that thinking about it in this sense will lead to building better brands.
What is some takeaway? We should never believe or listen to people who say that branding is only a set of a few simple steps. These people either don’t know much about branding or success of our brand is not important for them. The best is to stay away from these people. Otherwise, we are risking wasting our money and time.
No.2: Building a Brand Takes Time
Next ugly truth about branding is that building a solid and stable brand takes time. And, the bigger the brand the more time it takes. If we take a look at some of the biggest brands on the market right now, we will see that most of them are at least five years old, or older. In branding, there is no such a thing as over-night success. Well, there might be some exceptions, startups and young companies, that built their brands in less than five years.
So, how is this possible? One of the reasons that could help this happen is the rise of social media. For many people, social media are almost as old as the Internet itself. Sure, many social media networks are older than a decade. However, that doesn’t have to mean anything. More important is the number of people using them. Social network from the early 90’ will not have any impact if it has no users. Social media got significant traction and grew the most in the last few years.
Another possible reason can be spending much more resources and effort on branding activity. This may be necessary due to a larger number of competitors, another consequence of the rise of social media. More and more companies are using social media as a tool for building their brands. And, these companies have to double-down on their branding efforts in order to gain visibility and recognition. In other words, we can build brand faster if we spend more money and effort.
Having said that, building a brand is still not something we can achieve in the terms of a few months. We need to remember that it still takes time. And, everyone who is trying to convince us about the opposite is a liar. Today, we can shorten it by a couple of months, even a year. However, speed is not everything. Building a brand in one or two years means nothing if the resulting brand is a house of cards that will fall at the first blast of wind. In branding, quality always trumps speed.
No.3: Branding Is a Never-Ending Process
Another truth about branding is that it is a journey without any final destination. I should clarify this. What I mean is that building a brand is a process that contains more than one step. Building or creating a brand is the first step, it is only the beginning. The second step is continually working on the brand, maintaining it and keeping it alive. Otherwise, brand will not last for long. In this sense, branding is a process that never ends. What does this mean?
We have to think twice before we decide to start this process. As we discussed, creating and establishing strong and stable brand requires time and resources. Then, we have to invest additional time and resources into brand maintenance and keeping it alive. This brings us to some questions. Do we have these resources? Will our budget handle it? Who will manage this process? Will we hire some consultant or full-time employee? Or, will we do it by ourselves?
It doesn’t make sense to start this process of building a brand without a plan to proceed to the second step. We have to either decide to make both steps or don’t start at all. If we decide to make only the first step, brand will not survive on its own. Sooner or later brand will start to lose traction and fade away. This is inevitable without active maintenance and further development. In other words, we have to be willing to go all-in.
The key takeaway? We shouldn’t trust anyone who claims that building a brand is something we can do and then move on to the next thing. The truth is that branding is a never-ending process. When we stop working on our brand it will start to fade away. If we decide to start building a brand, we must remember that we will do this as long as we will want the brand to exist. So, we should make sure we have enough resources to do it before we start.
No.4: Every Person and Business Has a Brand
Believe it or not, every person and business has a brand. What if we did nothing so far in order to build a brand for ourselves? Then, how is this possible? We have to remember that perception, expectations and experience is a part of a brand. Let me say this differently. Every time we interact with others they perceive us in a specific way. Our interaction with people creates an experience in their mind. And, people then use these factors to create expectations.
People like to say that a brand is like a personality. Well, we can say it in reversed order. Personality is like a brand. Since every individual has some personality, every individual also has a brand. We just usually don’t see it this way. This is what I mean by saying that every person has a brand. Similar thing applies to business. Every experience forms our perception and expectation about the business and, as a result, creates a brand for it.
Many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t think about it this way. Or worse, they don’t even care about building a brand. The problem is that we don’t have to spend anything on branding. We may not even know what it is. However, just because we don’t have a logo doesn’t mean we don’t have a brand. Logo is just one element that we can see. As we previously discussed, perception, expectations and experience are also inseparable parts of a brand.
Think about Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Tesla, Uber, Samsung or Airbnb. Now, forget the logos, brand colors, catchy slogans and mission statements. How do we perceive these companies? What do we expect from them and their products? What experience do we have with them and their products? Or, what experience do we have when we browser their websites? All these subtle intangible factors have an impact on creating what we then call a brand.
This is something everyone needs to understand. We all have a brand. When people say we are trustworthy, meticulous, funny, perfectionists, messy, boring, likable, argumentative, assertive, calm, aggressive, intelligent or stupid, they are talking about our personality traits. However, they are also describing what we can call our brand. So, my question is: If you are not creating your brand, who does it for you? The truth is that you have a brand, whether you know or like it.
No.5: Word of Mouth Is a Double-edged Sword
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools we can use in branding and marketing. However, like fire, it can be also a very dangerous when we use it carelessly. Meaning, there are two types of word of mouth branding, positive and negative. Some people don’t distinguish between those two. They think that anything is good if it creates a buzz and brings attention to their brand. How can negative buzz and attention help anyone build a strong brand?
I think that saying something like that is a nonsense. We don’t even have to go too far in the history for evidence showing that negative word of mouth is not a good thing. Think about Uber and #DeleteUber campaign, United Airlines “dragging” scandal or Essential and customer data leak. Was any of this really helpful for those companies and their brands? I don’t think so. If there was anyone benefiting from this buzz it was the competitors of mentioned companies.
Yes, word of mouth is a powerful tool, but only when it is positive. Positive word of mouth can do wonders and boost our branding activities and efforts. It can help us build strong brands and businesses faster. However, negative word of mouth can do the same in the opposite way. It can do a lot of damage to the brand. In the worst case, it can even destroy it. We must remember that word of mouth is a double-edged sword and use it with caution. Not all buzz and attention is good.
No.6: Branding Is About People
Digital age or not, branding was, is and will be about people. As we discussed, a brand is about much more than a logo or colors. Brand is about the whole experience consumers have, their perception and expectations. We may talk about numbers, metrics, design, psychology, identity, position, market and so on. However, in the end, branding as a tool that allows us to create relationships between us and our consumers. Brands can even help us create communities.
There are at least three examples I like to use to illustrate this. Apple, Harley-Davidson and CrossFit. If I asked you what these three brands have in common, would you find anything? Here is a clue. Take a look at the last word in the last sentence in the previous paragraph. Yes. Community. There are many ways in which we can measure the value or strength of a brand. One way, that is often neglected, is the size and loyalty of the community and its members.
Apple, Harley-Davidson and CrossFit. I chose these three brands because they all have incredibly strong and loyal communities of fans. Fans of Harley-Davidson are known to have their favorite brand tattooed on their body. This is also true about some fans of CrossFit and even Apple. For many people, CrossFit became part of their identity and life. Apple? We all know the queues of people wanting to be the first who will have the latest Apple gadget. This is the power of branding.
Can any person or business encourage such passion, love, loyalty and dedication? I don’t know. What I do know is that we should not take this for granted. Sure, there would be no products all these people could buy, use and even love without those companies and their brands. However, the opposite is true as well. Without these people, there would be no companies and no brands. This is something we have to remember. Branding was, is and always will be about people.
No.7: Branding Is Hard
By now, this is something we already know. However, this is something so important it is worth saying out loud. Branding is not easy. Building and maintaining a strong and healthy brand is very hard. And, it is very easy to make mistakes. Some of these mistakes can take us many steps back. Some can take us even to the very beginning. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why there are only so many successful and widely recognized brands.
Is this bad? I don’t know. I like to think about branding as a way to create and build relationships with people. From this point of view, it doesn’t really matter if branding is hard. Creating and building relationships is hard. Is this bad? I think we are, or at least I am, asking a wrong question. How often do we ask ourselves whether building some relationships with another person is hard? Not so often. So, it may be better to change the question. Is it worth the effort?
I can answer this question immediately with a big “Yes”. However, it is not up to me to make this decision for you or anyone else. Everyone has to answer this question for herself. The truth is that branding can be a game changer for any business or person, if it is done right. This is the catch. It has to be done right. Building a brand that resonates with people is hard and it is easy to make mistakes. Maybe, it is supposed to be hard, just like building relationships. However, it is worth it.
Closing thoughts on branding
These are the seven universal, and sometimes ugly, truths about branding. I believe that these truths will be valid for a very long time, which is also why I chose them for this article. Hopefully, these truths will make the world of branding easier to understand for anyone who wants to learn about it. I also hope that this article will help people avoid those “quick tips”, “hacks”, empty promises and lies some branding “experts” are trying to promote.
Let’s end this article with something we should always keep in mind. There would be no companies and no brands without people. Branding was, is and always will be about people. What if we start thinking about branding as a way to build relationships with people? What if we focus on creating brands people can be proud of using, talking about, promoting and supporting? Sure, it will be hard. However, it will be worth the effort.
Do you have any questions, recommendations, thoughts, advice or tip you would like to share with other readers of this blog, and me? Great! Please share it in a comment. Or, if you want to keep things more "private", feel free to contact me on twitter or send me a mail. I would love to hear from you.
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