When it comes down to it, the basic mechanics of building a business are pretty simple.  Offer a product or service that your customers either need or want, at a price they’re willing to pay (and that leaves you with sufficient profit margins).  Use marketing best practices to put your offering in front of your customers and then fulfill orders according to the terms you and your customers agreed upon.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

So why is it that some businesses take off while others languish – even if they’re selling similar products to comparable audiences?  The answer is branding.

Unfortunately, the idea of branding can be difficult to define.  Is a company’s brand its logo?  You could certainly make that case looking at the Coca Cola logo or the Nike swoosh.  Or is a company’s brand its public perception?  Zappos doesn’t have a truly memorable logo, but its exceptional customer service and fast shipping policies seem to constitute a brand in their own right.

The dictionary isn’t much help, defining the word “brand” as meaning, “a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.”  A much better definition for the word comes from marketing extraordinaire Seth Godin, who offers the following explanation:

“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. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

Essentially, a company’s brand is… everything.  Even if it can’t be narrowly defined by a single element – like a logo or tagline – it encompasses everything people consider when determining whether or not to do business with your company.

Why Build a Brand?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by that broad definition, I understand.  Brand building is a complicated combination of art and science, and it’s not something that can be done in a day.  That said, the advantages to investing in brand building are powerful:

  • People pay more for branded products – Most shoppers know that it’s often the same company that produces both a name brand product and its generic equivalent.  And yet, there are still people who say they can tell a difference – and that they have a definite preference for the more expensive option.  Whether or not a difference really exists, these shoppers are willing to pay more for the branded alternative.
  • Brands market themselves – One of the best ways for a company to grow is by word-of-mouth referral, as these recommendations demonstrate customer satisfaction and don’t require additional outbound marketing dollars.  But it’s nearly impossible to grow this way if your brand is so undefined that customers don’t remember you!  When you have a solid brand that clearly demonstrates your company’s value, you’ll find growth much easier overall.
  • Google loves brands – It’s not exactly a secret that Google prefers to prioritize branded results in the natural search rankings.  And if you’re a growing company, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?  Having a solid brand could allow you to jump the line in terms of SERPs displays, leading to even more growth for your business.

Clearly, these are only a few of the advantages of having a well-defined, publicly-recognized brand.  Hopefully, I’ve got your attention now, so rather than bore you with more of the benefits of brand building, let’s jump into how to get started…

Brand Building 101

brand building

First of all, let’s get one thing straight – building a brand is a long-term process.  Coca Cola didn’t become a massive success overnight and, odds are, neither will you.  To get started, brainstorm how you’d like to see your company positioned across the following three categories, and then codify your thoughts into a defined “brand guidelines” document.

  • Graphic elements – Most people think of logos when they think of branding, but this single graphic is only half the battle.  Beyond your business’s defining mark, good brand guidelines take preferred advertising colors, fonts, typography and imagery usage into account as well.
  • Value proposition – Ideally, you should be able to convey your company’s value proposition in a single sentence of ten words or less.  As an example, look at mobile payment processor Square’s tagline which reads, “Sell more with Square.”  It doesn’t get much clearer than that!  If your own business’s value can’t be expressed as concisely, there’s a good chance your brand is too muddy to effectively connect with potential customers.
  • Customer experience – In today’s digital age, how you handle your customers has become a part of your public brand image.  Zappos, as referenced earlier, gets a positive reputation for going the extra mile for its customers.  The Wiener’s Circle hot dog stand in Chicago has built its brand image on being deliberately hostile.  No matter what approach you take, think long and hard about how you want customers to think about your business and how your own actions can contribute to this desired brand perception.

Want to learn even more about how to build a great brand?  Since this isn’t an in-depth article on the subject, add the following recommended resources to your reading list:

7 Examples of Great Brands

Finally, to get your creative juices flowing, I’ve rounded up seven great examples of companies that have done a great job with their branding initiatives.  Study their examples and take what you can to drive your own business’s growth!

  • Adobe – Adobe’s history in the creative industry has given it plenty of time to build up a defined brand image, but one thing in particular I want you to take a look at is the company’s series of element-like icons representing each of its products (its extensive corporate brand guidelines are worth a read as well).  These icons tie the entire suite of products together, creating a sense of unity between a wide product line.adobe icons
  • Square – I referenced Square earlier in terms of its tagline, but now I want you to take a look at the company’s logo.  It’s been designed in such a way that it mimics the product without being too on-the-nose in its comparison, creating brand recognition in a non-intrusive way.square
  • Intel – What’s fascinating about Intel’s brand is that most people can’t actually explain what computer processors do or why an Intel processor is better than its competitors.  But they still want to buy computers with Intel chips – and that can largely be attributed to the company’s marketing and branding campaigns.intel chip
  • Ralph Lauren – When you walk into a Ralph Lauren store, you’re experiencing the results of a consistent, overarching branding campaign.  Essentially, the brand is trying to create a specific persona and frame of mind, and it does so through the use of saddles, ropes and other props.  The company isn’t selling these items and, realistically, they have nothing to do with clothing – they’re just there to create a specific type of branded customer experience.ralph lauren store
  • Warby Parker – Nearly everything online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker does contributes to its brand, from its blue and white eyeglass cases to the consistently clean typography used across its website and marketing materials.  Everything the company does creates a sense of “coolness,” allowing the business to quickly gain traction among hip, younger customers.warby parker
  • Moz – Formerly SEOMoz, this tech company deserves a lot of credit for the powerful robot mascot and defined imagery style it uses across all of its web properties.  To see this example in action, take a look at the company’s Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages – all of which work together to create a sense of visual unity and established community.moz
  • Lyft – Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green’s decision to attach pink fuzzy mustaches to the front of all cars in their ride sharing program was a stroke of branding genius.  Despite competition from services like Uber and Sidecar, the “carstache” branding has made Lyft the most recognizable private service in the transportation industry, resulting in more than 30,000 rides served a week.lyft

Although you all know I’m mostly interested in tech companies, I wanted to pull great branding examples from a variety of industries to show you that, no matter what type of business you run, it’s possible to succeed in creating a memorable image for your company.

With a little time, investment and forethought, you too can create the type of public perception that’ll help you grow faster, make more money and develop deeper relationships with your target customers!

  1. Great post, Sujan. I appreciated your comments about “customer experience” and how it factors into the sum total of a brand.

    In an age where everything is “lean” and “agile”…how appropriate is it for a startup to be fluid with their brand building vs. holding hard and fast to the original brand definitions?

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