My mom recently asked what Balernum does, what I do. My dad’s ears perked up. He wanted to know the answer too. One might think, considering they're my parents and I’m 36 years old, that they should already know.
I can’t fault them for wanting clarification though. Branding and marketing aren’t as straightforward as, say, a coin laundry.
Laundry is a part of most everyone’s day-to-day routine, and paying to use someone else’s stuff—in this case, washing machines and dryers—is a familiar business model.
Coins + Laundry = Coin Laundry. Okay. Got it. But branding?
What the heck is branding?
The concept itself and the many methodologies it encompasses befuddle some people. Even long-time business owners talk about branding like it’s a crystal ball.
You gaze into branding’s murky depths, hoping to glimpse a hidden truth. One sniff of the unicorn’s perfumed mane, one lightning bolt of inspiration from its fey eye, and you’ll be transported to the hallowed halls of brand titans like Apple and Harley Davidson, Casper and Yeti, Enron and xfinity.
Of course I’m exaggerating. No one really thinks branding is unicorn sighting. Most people don’t think about branding at all, and when they do, they confuse their brand with their visual or corporate identity.
Branding is the process of deliberately influencing the way people feel and think about a product, service, or organization. Good branding combines smart strategy with carefully crafted brand identity, brand experiences, storytelling, and, of course, marketing.
And smart brand strategy starts with answering 9 essential questions. If you don't have time to read the full post below, you can get the 9 questions now.
"Wait, I thought my brand was my logo...."
Not exactly. It’s true that many branding projects include visual identity design, but when we say “brand,” we are referring to more than your logo, colors, and fonts.
At Balernum we can design a standalone wordmark for you, or a new logomark and logotype (aka, a logo). We can help you pick new colors, typography, and even photography and illustrations.
We can show you how the various elements of your new visual identity fit together into specific treatments or applications you will use on a regular basis. We can formalize the whole shebang in your identity guidelines.
Those guidelines will bring consistency, and consistency brings power to your visual identity (and to your brand as a whole).
However, a logo is not a brand the same way a front door is not a house.
Let’s clarify what a brand is, shall we?
Your brand is bigger than its front door.
A brand is the complete expression of an organization, both internal and external, and real brands have four key building blocks—Foundation, Strategy, Identity, and Experience.
Your brand is both visual and verbal, communicated and felt, what happens inside the company and the perceptions of people on the outside looking in.
Your brand is a story people carry with them. A dozen different people can tell that story a dozen different ways. No wonder branding strategists and creatives have a hard time defining what a brand is!
You build a brand by showing up the same way again and again.
As I mentioned, branding is deliberately influencing the way people think and feel about your organization.
You try to get everyone telling the same story, and you accomplish that by bringing consistency to your design, strategy, marketing, messaging, customer service, policies, physical spaces, phone scripts, and myriad other experiences and brand touchpoints.
Let me give you an example of a consistent brand experience. When you ask for more lemonade at Chick-fil-A, what will the person behind the counter inevitably say? “My pleasure!”
This phrase and the attitude behind it aren’t accidents. A brand strategist helped leaders at Chick-fil-A articulate how they want customers to feel. Then, they chose the ways they would create that feeling—on purpose.
You build a brand the same way you build a reputation: You keep showing up the same way.
You already have a brand.
Last time I checked, Chick-fil-A was doing okay, and Enron was not.
You see, branding can go both ways. Some companies gain a reputation for integrity and superior customer service. Others are known for unfair policies and unscrupulous executives.
That brings me to the most important point in this short treatise on brand: You have a brand whether you want one or not.
Your brand is fly paper where the dust and detritus of commerce and human interactions accumulate.
You cannot control everything that sticks to your brand. A troll who was never even a customer can leave a scathing review on Google My Business. Or, like Pat Flynn, you and your brand may suffer at the hands of an opportunist who manufactures lies and stirs up controversy simply to drive traffic to his own site.
You cannot exercise perfect control over your brand, but you can proactively observe your fly paper, decide which bits you want to emphasize based on what matters most to your target audience, and tell a more consistent, compelling story.
Intentional branding is worth it.
Done right, branding can add immense value to a company.
Marketing consultant Margaret Mark and Young & Rubicam’s BrandAsset Group wanted to study the connection between brand archetypes and economic performance. The BrandAsset Group evaluated consumer attitudes toward over 13,000 brands: the most extensive study of its kind in the world.
Margaret Mark later analyzed the Market Value Added (MVA) and Economic Value Added (EVA) of brands with a single, recognizable archetype. Those brands’ MVA and EVA rose by 97% more than what she calls “confused brands,” and “over a six-year period under study, the EVA of strongly aligned brands grew at a rate 66% greater than that of the EVA of weakly aligned brands.” (The Hero and the Outlaw, pp. 26-30.)
This quote from Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists offers a neat summary of how branding and profit intersect: "Brands associated with archetypal identities positively and profoundly influence the real asset valuation of their companies."
The Curious Case of Yeti
Look no further than Yeti if you want proof that a powerful brand is more than a logo, typography, and pretty cocktail of colors.
If that weren’t true, then Yeti wouldn’t be able to charge $27.99 for a 30oz insulated tumbler. You can buy an identical Ozark Trail tumbler for $8.74 at Wal-Mart. The Yeti tumbler costs three times as much.
Does it perform three times better? No.
According to people who spend their time testing such things, the Ozark Trail tumbler actually outperforms the Yeti tumbler. (The Ozark Trail tumbler even comes with a Lifetime Warranty!)
So what gives? Why would ANYONE pay 320% more for a product that isn’t better and may even be worse?
If the tumbler test is any indication, Yeti’s Tundra 350 cooler is not significantly better than comparable Igloo or Coleman products. How can Yeti get away with charging $1,299.99 for a cooler?
Yeti does have a solid product. A Yeti cooler can withstand a play date with a 900-pound Grizzly bear.
In an Inc. article entitled "How 2 Brothers Turned a $300 Cooler Into a $450 Million Cult Brand," David Srere, who is Co-CEO and chief strategy officer at Siegel+Gale, expressed a common sentiment: "It's just a f$%&*!@ cooler.”
Does the product alone account for the company’s meteoric growth from $5 million in sales in 2009 to $450 million in 2015?
Yeti’s customers are buying the Yeti brand. Yeti’s success is brilliant. It’s absurd. It’s branding.
You don't grow 90x in 6 years by selling a better cooler. You do it by selling a better brand.
The x-factor is brand.
McDonald’s doesn’t make a better hamburger. Starbucks certainly doesn’t make better coffee. And no one really believes that a MacBook performs that much better than a $300 Walmart-special laptop.
So if you’re focused on proving or quantifying anything about a brand, you’ve already missed the point.
You don’t have to understand gravity fully—no one does—to recognize its importance. The same goes for branding. These days, you can only ignore it at your peril.
People want to associate themselves with certain brands like Yeti. They signal that affinity by putting Yeti stickers on their cars and Yeti hats on their heads. They signal that affinity by paying more.
Why does branding work?
Brands speak to our fundamental need to belong. Branding has risen in prominence while other stories we identify with—creeds, faiths, leaders, traditions, and narratives of all shapes and sizes—have become less attractive, relevant, or socially acceptable.
We don’t want to wave those flags, so to speak. A Yeti hat is less risky, or at least neutral.
As human beings we go through a constant process of deconstruction and reassembly. We constantly curate our own identities and cast out any outmoded or incongruent parts.
Certain brands find a spot in the mosaic of our identities and lives. They shape what we believe about ourselves and what we want others to believe.
Margaret Pott Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen view this an opportunity for business leaders and other brand “owners”:
"In an age in which many people crave a deeper sense of connection to their work and want business to demonstrate greater integrity and accountability, the creative and mindful attention to archetypes can facilitate a more authentic, holistic and human way of being in business."Source: Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists
Your brand is your opportunity.
Because branding matters to customers, it should matter to business owners. As some companies mature, their leaders realize that capturing more market share will be difficult until they gain clarity around why anyone should care.
("People should care because we need to turn a profit" isn't the best starting point. Just sayin'.)
When you build an authentic brand and connect with the right people, you end up with something incredibly valuable—fans. These brand ambassadors will support you because they appreciate who you are and what you stand for.
They will help you spread your message because they resonate with it, not because you are yelling it louder than everybody else.
At Balernum we spend a lot of time thinking about our brand and asking questions like these:
- What positive impact do we want to make in the world?
- What is our transcendent message?
- How will we make your clients’ lives richer with meaning and purpose?
What about you?
Do you want new customers eager to pay 320% more for your products and services? Have you given them an attitude, cause, or belief to rally around?
Once you build an authentic brand, your fans will give you something more valuable than their money. They'll give you their loyalty.
Are you ready to get started?
Building an authentic brand isn't as complicated as it may seem. Better brands begin with better questions.
Start with 9 essential questions.
By answering these 9 essential questions, you can lay a strong brand foundation and gain the insights you need to make deeper, more meaningful connections with customers.