Brand is everything… or is it?

Having had the chance to work in branding for almost a decade now, I admit I do look at the word through a ‘brand lens’ (I wish this expression was my invention but it is in fact borrowed from Kevin Walker). So much so that I pride myself of creating marketing strategies for my clients that always start from developing a powerful brand before moving on to actual marketing tactics.

I am a firm believer that a strong brand impacts every business decision, from the employment of new members of staff (are they the right fit to learn and deliver your brand?), to a merger/ acquisition (is the new brand aligned with the original brand? What effect will the M&A have on customers and employees alike? What brand architecture should be put in place?), to – of course – the next marketing campaign, the next sales pitch, the purchase of the latest client service technology, and so on…

Basically, this is how I see branding:

Branding vs marketing

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/HD6n_axObGg

However, the more I speak with clients and colleagues alike, the more I realise that the concept of branding is not as straight forward as it seems to me. Clients are often puzzled by my ‘brand-first’ approach to marketing, after all they only wanted a marketing strategy, why do I start with their brand? And what do I mean by brand? They already have a logo, is that what I’m referring to? And what has this got to do with marketing? Colleagues in related fields, like communication or HR, appreciate my method but they often look at branding in a different way, closer to marketing than to business strategy.

That’s why I often find myself explaining the ‘real meaning’ of branding, trying to move people from the idea of brand as nothing more than a logo or brand guidelines, to the understanding of branding as a strategic cornerstone that makes a business unique.

I often use the definition attributed to Jeff Bezos “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Still, that alone not always works.

In my quest for the right definition of branding, one that can be applicable to all sort of businesses and departments, I reached out to the LinkedIn brand community. The result has been an invaluable collection of quotes, explanations, and input.

The main definition that has come through has been that of brand as the soul of a company:

Justin Powell says that a brand is “the total sum of a company’s imagery, culture, and client experience”, while Fabian Geyrhalter defines brand as “a service, product, company, or person with soul (brand platform), that is attractive (design, tone/voice) and smart (user experience/data). No soul = no brand”.

Michelle Tan moves from soul to brand as personality: “Brand is the personification of the company. Logos and design guidelines gives it the consistent appearance that makes it a singularity but the language and customers’ experience gives it the personality. In good branding, the appearance and intended + perceived personality all converge to the same line”.

Many talked about the central role of the customer in defining a company’s brand; Derrick Daye, Stephen Murphy, adenike Adigwe talk about brand as the experience that consumers have with a business. “A brand is the sum of perceptions customers carry from their accumulated experiences with that brand”, says Mike Sanchez. As Michael LaRocca explains “[companies] don’t determine what their brand is. Their customers do. But the better companies can help steer the conversation”.

While many seem to share the views above, one quite different definition has been given by Maria Little, who defines “brand as strategy and design aligned“.

My personal favourite though has to be Richard Williamson’s definition: “brand is wherever you, your employees, logo, products, or services make contact with the public. I think people tend to look at the trees when they think “branding,” but they probably need to look at the whole forest”.

The reason why I relate so much to this last definition is double: in first instance Richard talks directly about employees. As many mentioned, the experience that customers have with a company and their perception of the company contribute to the definition of the company’s brand itself. So it’s imperative to remember that employees are critical in the relationship between companies and customers. As I mentioned in a previous article, I believe that Internal branding is as important as external branding, because if your employees don’t believe in your soul, in your personality, they will never deliver the experience that you would like your customers to have. The other reason why I like Richard’s definition, is the fact that it looks as branding holistically.

I hope this piece has helped you find a definition of branding that works for you, and I would like to thank all the brand experts that helped me in writing it. Apologies if I couldn’t include you all.

Giulia Iannucci is a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant with 14 years of experience gained across the EU, Australia, Asia and the UK. Founder of her own business, KnowThyBrand, Giulia helps her clients position their brand as the cornerstone of their company, and guide them in creating professional and compelling digital marketing campaigns.

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