What is Branding?
How Brands Use Stories and Brand Personality to Position and Differentiate
Listen to the audio version below!
Is it just me, or is the word “brand” thrown around a lot these days? If you own a business, or are in the process of starting one, there is a very good chance you have heard about branding your business. The word is spit out a lot these days, but what exactly are branding and brands all about?
According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
Let’s rewind the clock and think about what a brand was long before it was a marketing term. A brand was a symbol burned into an animal that identified the animal and it’s owner. If the cattle or animal was lost, it would be easily identified and returned to its rightful owner. Also, thieves wouldn’t be able to jack yo’ cattle and say it was theirs. The brand, like the AMA definition says, is the symbol of “Blah D. Blah Ranch” that makes the the cow distinct from other rancher’s cows.
The cattle brand did nothing to prove the actual quality of the product. It was just a (very painful) stamp that said “hey, I belong to Blah D. Blah Ranch.” Sure, it might have been a nice-looking brand. It didn’t mean that the cow was any better or worse.
If you go back to thinking of this as a marketing term, though, a brand is much more than just a symbol of identification these days. Some people might think of a brand as being a logo, or the visual aspects of that product. The logo and visuals are certainly a very important part of the brand.
Back in the day, a logo probably would have been enough to separate, say, Coca-Cola and RC Cola. It might have been enough to help a customer make a quick decision.
That is totally not the reality of selling stuff today, though. There is way too much competition. We can’t just create a good product, put a sticker in it and ball out. Nah son! You gotta create a product that is memorable to people.
In school, one of the most simple definitions of a brand I heard was “an offering from a known source.” That source becomes known through the actions of branding. Branding uses psychology and strategy to help create a place for that brand in your brain.
I like Seth Godin’s definition of a brand the most! He says that “a brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
Positioning and Differentiation
Part of how this is done in marketing is by product positioning and product differentiation, which are big parts of branding strategy. Product positioning is basically how you communicate your product to the market. Product differentiation is making your product recognizable by positioning it against other companies and showing how it differs.
In a supermarket, when you walk down an entire aisle full of 50 different brands of sodas- a brand has to be much more complex than just a symbol on a can. A brand has the job of convincing you, the buyer, to purchase it over ALLLL the other competition. That’s not an easy job in an aisle with 50 sodas. That soda has some work to do! Unless you become the first soda can to dance, you’re gonna have to work on some other aspects in the branding department. That’s where the product positioning and differentiation does a lot of work.
The best brands do this work while making it seem and look effortless to the consumer. People don’t want to feel duped into buying things. They don’t want to feel like they are being sold to. They want these things to feel natural and relatable.
Brand Stories and Brand Personalities
Instead of just sticking a big yellow sticker on it that says “BUY ME. BUY ME!,” companies have to come up with creative ways to get their customers to buy their stuff. Often, brands do this by creating brand stories and brand personalities that help the customer relate to them and help separate them from the crowd.
If we’re sticking to the soda subject- I bet you can think of a few soda brands that do an exceptional job at creating stories with their products, or creating personalities of products.
A great example is Coca-Cola. Coke has a great way of storytelling in their recent campaign; “Share a Coke.” Short. Simple. Sweet. But the coolest part about it is the fact that they put people’s NAMES on the soda bottle instead of the infamous logo. I can think of several times I purchased a Coca-Cola just because it had someone’s name on it and I don’t even really like Coke.
Why? It’s relatable, personalized and part of a story makes sense- it’s about community and sharing. It creates a memorable place in both the buyer and the receiver of the soda. BAM! That’s powerful marketing.
If we’re talking about personalities, I can definitely picture several soda brands as personalities. Coca-Cola would definitely be the Miss Congeniality of sodas. Mountain Dew would totally be that edgy guy with the weird hair. Sprite would be the hip-hop kid that spits fire verses. Dr Pepper- well, I just think of Lil’ Sweet, honestly! When considering what soda I might want to purchase, I might be more prone to pick one over the other just because I feel like I’m relating to that brand’s character that day. I’m guessing I’m not alone here, either!
Or maybe I’m just pairing my soda with my dinner, like a sophisticated Wino. I’m classy like that.
Focus on the Customer
Now, listen here, a brand is a complex creature with different purposes for different companies. And I’ve definitely mentioned a few major purposes for branding a product. One thing I’d like to mention, is that all of these reasons have one major player in mind- the consumer. NOT the company making the product.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have valuable insight in creating a brand- but, ultimately, this is about creating a memorable place in the consumer’s mind. I think too many people focus on creating a brand that they like themselves, rather than focusing on creating something that your buyers will like, understand and relate to. This is a big mistake that could cost you big bucks, in a word where the soda aisle is part of a cardio exercise- ya know, because it’s super long.
No matter what you are selling- whether it is a physical product or a service, always keep your consumer in mind! Thinking from their perspective gives you a great advantage when creating those personalities and stories to differentiate your brand from others.