Is branding oversimplified?
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What is a brand? What is branding? Ask these questions to a room full of marketing experts and you probably won’t find two answers the same. As concepts, ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ can be vague and at times confusing – there is a tendency both within the industry and outside of it to either oversimplify or overcomplicate what they really mean.
Oversimplification of branding leads to the conclusion that, in its entirety, it is little more than the company logo. By this definition then, your brand can reinvent itself at the drop of a hat. New font? Check. New colour scheme? Check. Rebrand complete.
In contrast, an overcomplicated view of branding tends to see it as a mysterious art only understood by a select few. Their expertise and knowledge is accessed only through a branding agency (armed with a dozen consultants) and with a hefty price tag to boot.
In reality, the true definition of branding sits somewhere in the middle of these two. Branding is the overall representation and perception of your company. Jeff Bezos, titan founder of Amazon, once described a brand as “what other people say about you when you leave the room.” Your brand should reflect and embody the way you want your customers to feel about the company and as such it should be respected and invested in. It does not however, need to be overcomplicated or taxing – rather it can be easy for small companies to create a brand, understand and manage it.
Branding for small companies in particular is often oversimplified, with most misinterpreting ‘visual identity’ to mean ‘logo’. The key to de-bugging this myth, comes in unpacking the term ‘brand’ – when you consider yourself, you are not only your appearance (hair colour, eye colour, clothing etc.), but rather a more cohesive understanding of all the qualities which make you, you. Your voice, mannerisms, character, behaviours, achievements etc. The same is true for your brand. A brand doesn’t stop at the colour and font of the logo, but rather it extends to encompass everything from brand values, sales messaging and Corporate Social Responsibility to websites, social media and printed materials.
When we oversimplify what ‘branding’ is, we run the risk of overlooking or discounting crucial elements of the brand. When building a brand, every single part of consumer-facing content should be cohesive – in order for this to happen, it is vital that branding is acknowledged as more than just the logo.
The process of brand creation for start-ups and small businesses doesn’t need to be complicated. Whilst branding consists of much more than just the logo, the management of all of these moving parts should not be seen as out of reach for SMEs in the UK. Successful branding is not something which can only be understood and mastered by a select few, and certainly isn’t something which is only of concern to large, multi-national companies.
Granted, a strong knowledge of branding processes, strategy and design will certainly help – which working with a reputable agency or consultant will provide – however there certainly isn’t any black magic involved. With the likes of the BP rebrand and the cost of the 2012 London Olympics logo being so public, there is certainly a danger that business owners simply assume they need a £200,000 budget to develop their brand.
In its simplest form, branding is how a company is represented and perceived by the consumer, and how that perception is managed internally. Therefore, every brand who has a consumer, should be understanding and overseeing their branding. A brand is its company and a company is its brand.
FINDING A HAPPY MEDIUM
There is risk in both oversimplifying and overcomplicating branding and indeed, in failing to understand how small companies can even create a brand. Believing in either myth can lead to considerable mistakes on the part of the company, these go one of two ways:
- Oversimplify: we’ve sorted the logo, what more is there to do?
- Overcomplicate: there is too much to do/manage, the brand is too expensive and we cannot afford to do it
It is necessary then, for anyone looking to avoid these pitfalls, to find a middle-ground between the two extremes.
BRANDING FOR STARTUPS & SMES
Successful branding requires a long-term vision of the company and its marketing. Anything that the brand does outwardly has the potential to change a consumer’s opinion or view of it. As such, it is vital to take all of the constituting elements of the brand seriously. As listed previously, everything from the advertising messaging to the colour scheme and website layout should be purposefully managed. One key element in all of this is consistency – all brand messaging should be cohesive and considered.
Building a strong brand also depends on continuous monitoring of brand perceptions (of consumers, of stakeholders, of employees) and subsequently updating any outward marketing to ensure it is best optimised. Ultimately this will help the brand to stay relevant and fresh. And, whilst this can require dedicated marketing resource for larger companies, smaller organisations can undertake such review processes once a year over the course of a few days.
New businesses are particularly susceptible to making branding errors. They can struggle to find and cement a place in the existing market. Industry leaders may not view them as a viable competitor until they have a concrete and assured branding process in place. A fully-realised and fully-formed brand, with a clear brand message, is far more formidable to competitors than one which has foregone basic branding.
Ultimately, successful branding for SMEs is both manageable and achievable given the right understanding and guidance. Avoiding classic errors such as oversimplification or over complication will aid in curating and sustaining a successful brand image.
We’ve spoken about our 3 step process to brand development in previous articles but here are some things which fall under the different umbrellas:
- Values & Vision
- Sales & Advertising Messaging
- Colour Palette
- Brand Guidelines
- Digital & Printed Materials
- Social Media