The Basics of Branding

Learn what a brand is and how it can help your business.

Why is it worth thinking about your business as a brand? Isn’t branding just for big, global companies who have the money to spend on it? What does the word “brand” really mean, anyway? This article will answer these questions, help demystify the branding process, and show you that a brand is much more than a logo.

What does “brand” mean?

A brand is how a business is perceived in the mind of someone who has experienced it in some way. Someone can form this perception by hearing a friend make a comment about the business, spotting a logo on a delivery van, reading a review online, listening to an interview with the founder, or through a personal experience as a customer.

Think of all the ways your business could leave an impression on someone—a customer, supplier, employee, journalist, or anyone else who may come into contact with it. These are your brand touchpoints, and the special place it occupies in someone’s mind is called a brand positioning.

Your business can consider and control some of these brand touchpoints, such as the design and wording on your website or email newsletter. Many other brand touchpoints will be outside of your control, such as an online customer review. The goal of branding is to create a clear, positive impression of your business across as many touchpoints as you can control. These are described as brand associations, and you can vastly improve your business by influencing them.

How can it help my business?

Let’s start with the clear benefits a brand can bring to your business. A brand is valuable because it helps you connect more easily with your customers, stand out from your competitors, and increase the value of your offer. Articulating what your business is about can also help you define your own identity and give you more confidence in promoting it personally.

1. Connecting with your audience

The moment when a potential customer connects with your business at a brand touchpoint is crucial. The goal is to draw customers to your business because it feels like the right fit for them.

2. Communicating difference

Branding is a way of highlighting what makes your business different from your competitors. Customers have both rational and emotional reasons for choosing products and services, and branding can help connect with an audience on an emotional level.

3. Creating additional value

Because branding influences perception, customers may be willing to pay more for a product or service that is well-branded. The perception of the brand must match up to the actual experience or there will be no repeat business. This is often described as keeping the brand promise.

Where do I start? Your brand idea

Think of all the experiences you have had to date with your business and why customers have chosen you in the past. This is where you will find the clues which will help you form the basis of your brand. Many people don’t believe there is anything particularly distinctive about what they do, but there is something unique about each business. It helps to go back to the beginning of the business and identify the original motivation.

If you’re a new business without previous experience to draw on, imagine what you would like your future customers to say about you. For example, a plumber may like to be known for being particularly considerate and tidy in people’s homes. A furniture maker may have a focus on using sustainable materials. A restaurant might want to be known for a warm and homey atmosphere. All these factors have the potential to be the basis of a brand.

The test

The ultimate test of a brand idea is to apply it to as many of your touchpoints as possible. For a restaurant that wants to be known for a warm and friendly atmosphere, what does the signage look like? How does the staff greet customers? How do the menus look? Each of these touchpoints should reinforce warmth and friendliness for the customers—who can then tell their friends about their experience—as well as employees. The brand idea should feel consistent inside and out.

Brand values

The brand-building process can be as surface level as the design of your logo and as deep as delving into your personal identity—and thinking about your legacy. When it comes to the deeper side of brand building, defining brand values will help you clearly articulate what your business stands for to your customers.

The culture and values of a small business tend to reflect those of the founders, so it’s always a fruitful exercise to clarify these by writing them down. Try to move away from generic words like “honest” and “passionate.” Instead, identify values which are especially true to you and that are shaped by your personal experiences.

Brand personality

As with values, the personality of the brand can often reflect the personality of the business owner. Establishing a consistent brand personality is important, because if there is a disconnect between the brand personality and the actual experience, customers can be left confused.

The personality of the brand can be communicated through the tone of writing at the brand touchpoints: You could choose a funny and chatty tone, for example, or one that is more expert and authoritative.The design of the brand touchpoints can also convey a wide range of messages to attract a particular audience. A style-conscious customer will be attracted to businesses that have paid attention to creating a particular look to their branding. A well-thought-out brand will do some heavy lifting to engage your desired audience.

Get outside opinions

Identifying and being able to articulate the brand idea, personality, and values are the foundations of creating a strong brand. It’s a challenging task to do by yourself, so reach out to a trusted friend, colleague, or consultant to get the perspective of someone with distance.

Written by Mo Saha for Mailchimp. Mo is a branding expert for small businesses.