Why Branding Matters
What’s In a Brand?
Companies are the sum of their products and services, but they’re also made up of the tesserae of insights and perspectives of the employees who work for them and the audience who buys from them. Those tesserae, taken together, form the mosaic that is your brand — the reflection of your workplace culture and the totality of your values, a beacon of familiarity for consumers who know you and a handshake extending to consumers who don’t. To put it mildly: Branding matters. Here are just a few reasons why.
Branding Tells Your Story
The word “unique” gets overused a lot in these everyone’s-a-winner days, but each person on the planet really is unique from the other 7.8 billion humans we live among. The same goes for your company. Imagine that you’re a coffee roastery. Even if your dark roast has the same lovely arrangement of smoky-chocolate-marshmallow notes as your competitors’ dark roasts, ask yourself: What is it about your coffee company that’s different from Peet’s or Starbucks or Juan Valdez?
Maybe you had a revelation that you wanted to open your own roastery the moment you took a sip of vintage Colombian coffee in a cobbled plaza in the La Calera hills east of Bogotá. Maybe part of your revenue siphons off into a fund that helps prevent the acidification of coral reefs. Whatever is unique — and true — about your brand will feel likeable to someone who shares your values. That “someone” is your customer base, and one of your first orders of business is to communicate your you-ness to them with a brand design and a number of quick-hitting descriptors that they can absorb in seconds and then somehow work up a hankering for a cup of dark roast.
Branding Establishes Trust
‘Wait a minute,’ you might be thinking. ‘Isn’t branding just a ploy for companies to buddy-buddy up to their consumers, when all those companies really want is to make a buck off us?’ Here’s our answer to that: It can be. But we’d recommend that companies drill into their values and establish trust with their audience rather than regard them as floating dollars to be netted. If a business talks about itself in a way that feels inauthentic, people are going to sniff out its phoniness. So figure out who you are and what you stand for, and hire a brand agency to mold tactics and campaigns that position your brand in a way that people will relate to it.
Let’s say you’re that roastery again. First things first: You’ll get people to trust you if you brew a high-quality cup of coffee every time. But you have to deliver on other articles of faith, as well. If you support Fair Trade to raise the standard of living for coffee farmers in equatorial latitudes, don’t limit your own employees to 29 hours and pay them starvation wages. Live up to your principles in every aspect of your operations and your audience will trust you. Which means you’ve got a shot at establishing brand loyalty with them, so that they’re buying into you as much as they’re buying from you.
Branding Keeps Things Bold
A funny thing often happens on the way to the formation of a brand identity: Companies know they need to say something that’ll help them stand out, so in the final hours before launch, they decide it’s best to say something that’ll help them blend in. Why? Because real is risky.
Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of cautionary tales out there about how taking risks in the ad world can flop. (Burger King’s “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet, which was phrased ironically to attract attention to their support for a scholarship that helps aspiring female chefs — but which people didn’t find all that appetizing — is only a recent example of cringeworthy chutzpah.) By “risky,” though, we mean embarking on a campaign that’s perhaps even edgier than coming up with a head-swiveling statement: Being yourself.
If you did have a cup of coffee in Bogotá that was so rich and deep that it transported you into visions of opening up your own cafe, tell that story. The last thing you want to do when talking about yourself is to adopt the tone of a corporate comms manual, because no one wants to read that stuff, anyway. Be sensitive to others, yes, but be you. Authenticity and honesty will probably always seem bold, and so long as you mix those two fine traits in with empathy, your branding will feel more genuine and enduring than anyone else’s blanding.
Branding Brings Value
Price is perspective. If you’ve ever given your work away for free, you may have noticed — with horror — that your clients tend to undervalue the thing they’re not paying for. We often trick ourselves into assuming that something’s worth more if it’s more expensive, and the same psychological acrobatics are at play with branding.
The world’s most influential brands are pricetagged in the billions, and even a logo can cost hundreds of millions of dollars anymore. All of that valuation imparts legitimacy, legitimacy imparts familiarity, and familiarity is the quintessence of a successful brand, since consumers generally feel more at ease parking their money with people or products they know and trust.
Think about it: If a guy on the street handed you a latte, you might pour it out on the curb. (You don’t know this dude, and the fact that he’s giving away this thing gratis seems suspect.) Whereas if you pass by a Starbucks, the store’s aura of legitimacy assures you that paying five or six dollars for a latte is worth it, because that latte’s been approved through a certain global vetting process. The quality of the latte is important, for sure, but the guy on the street’s latte may be even tastier. What’s the difference? The legitimacy of the branding, which often commands a higher price-point on the market than the quality of the product alone.
Branding Focuses the Company Culture
Books need outlines, buildings need blueprints, and businesses need brands, because they don’t just drum up familiarity in customers — they also help center the employees who uphold those brands. If done right, your brand story and positioning statement should be the end-product of a lot of time spent thinking about your workplace’s vision and why it matters. What does any of this have to do with your employees? Well, if your brand standards faithfully represent your culture, you’re more likely to attract talented folks who thrive in that culture.
Branding that unites people with a purpose boosts morale, which may lead to employee advocacy, the power of which cannot be overstated. Companies that build excellent reputations often enjoy the perks of positive word-of-mouth. (When someone endorses you — which amounts to a free promotion — someone else is more likely to buy from you.) Glowing reviews, from customers and workers alike, can drive business referrals and increase your revenue. And it all starts with committing to a brand that everyone can rally behind.
Branding Provides Clarity
For people running a business, it’s tempting to sprint forward every day — taking meetings, putting out fires, patching cracks in the bottom line. But whenever you can, slow down and reassess your company’s identity. Branding may seem ephemeral, a feel-goody exercise that’ll end up on some poster about values in the lobby. Yet this process of introspection can help you foresee trends, map your growth patterns, pinpoint solutions to recurring problems, and better communicate your expertise to your clients. Stenciling forth the uniqueness of your brand may serve to guide you forward amid the gales of business cycles and market forces for years to come.