Branding 101: back to basics.

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Sep 7, 2023 | Branding

Oi! Today I’m going to discuss the core of why I even decided to launch this website: branding.

I don’t care what industry you’re in, whether you’re B2B or B2C, you’ve heard the word “brand” or “branding” being thrown around like an unwanted red-headed middle step-child (too dark too soon?). The reason I jumped into such a harsh simile is that those that speak of the “brand” do not understand the brand.

What I mean by this, we must clear semantic verbiage to understand what it is that we attempt to identify when we speak to any audience. Whether they’re stakeholders, executives, employees, or consumers. This is important people!

Before I dive into what makes a brand, I want to clear up what it isn’t along with other key definitions.

Identity VS Marketing VS Telemarketing VS Public Relations VS Advertising Branding

A brand is not a logo, but a logo is part of the brand.

  • Logo (Logotype) – a trademark made from a custom-lettered word.
  • Trademark – a logo, symbol, emblem, monogram or other graphic devices. It isn’t the brand itself, but a symbol for it.

A brand isn’t the what, but how. Branding isn’t what you tell people, but how you tell it and how they perceive it. It’s their gut feeling when they encounter it.

Let’s use courtship as a fun example:

  • Marketing – you say, “I’m a great lover.”
  • Telemarketing – you say via the telephone, “I’m a great lover.”
  • Public Relations – somebody for you says, “trust me, he’s a great lover.”
  • Advertising – you keep saying over and over, “trust me, I’m a great lover².”
  • Branding – the person of interest tells you, “I understand you’re a great lover.”

Branding is not what you say it is, but what they say it is.

The Brand as a Tangible & Sentiment

A brand isn’t your logo slapped on a business card or the header portion of your website. A brand is a collection of all points of contact a person or organization has with an audience. It is how the audience perceives that contact that shapes a brand. The combination of emotional stimuli with actual benefits or attributes of a product or service is the culmination of a brand experience.

  • Ingredients:
  • Customer Experience
  • Staff
  • Products
  • Services
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Messaging
  • Packaging
  • Signage
  • Website
  • Decor
  • Language

While the recipe varies from brand to brand, key components are who you are, what you do, how you do it, visual language & standards, virtual presence & physical interaction.

Who Creates It?

If you’re a business that exchanges value for revenue, you have a brand. While you’re definitely the creator, you don’t have to be the one to actively define it, because we’ve established that it’s shaped by audience sentiment. That sentiment is expressed by your value & service.

Branding is the voice that speaks about your company, its culture, unique value, and contribution to the greater good. But what makes for great branding?

Consistency in service.

Before I dove into this awesome profession, I worked my ass off in the high-end restaurant & hospitality chain industry to pay my way through college. Jim McVeigh, one of the most amazing GMs I ever had the privilege to work for, always told me “we’re only as good as our last plate.” Let me set the scenario and let you reflect on the following restaurant experiences:

1. Party of two, you walk in and there’s nobody at the host stand. You made reservations ahead of time, but they can’t find you a seat. The hostess forgets to give you the updated daily menu. Initial contact from your server takes over 5 minutes. They bring your guest the wrong order, and when do get it right, it’s cold…
2. Party of two, a friendly smile greets you and your guest. They made notes on your reservation and remembered that you preferred a booth. An amuse bouche is quickly prepared while you and your guest wait for your drink orders within 5 minutes of having been sat. Exquisite recommendations are made that neither of you can make up your mind. The server is timely at several points of contact without being overbearing or barren in availability. Damn good evening, was it not?

The point I want to make is that you can have an amazingly designed logo, but if your service leaves a lot to be desired, it doesn’t matter what that logo really was. That bad taste in your customers’ mouths is what’s imprinted in their emotional archive when they encounter your brand. So while you do create it but can’t define it, you can influence it.

Any brand designer or strategist that promises you to deliver a great brand for your company is full of it. You’re not the one that controls it. You simply get to influence and guide it. And this culture has to be fostered from within a company.


Before anything, you must figure out what your compelling unique value proposition will be. Apple is not a computer company. They don’t compete with Dell. Apple is in the “lifestyle made simple” business. They don’t bombard you with ads about how much RAM & Processing speed their chips contain. Instead, they present their iPod with “20,000 songs, in your pocket.”

How beautiful is that?

Nike isn’t about selling footwear. Their brand is about action, “Just Do It.” It is about persistence in the face of adversity to overcome our own barriers and become the best version of ourselves. To become champions.

Design for the Long-term

Often, we make hasty decisions due to external & time-sensitive factors. Your company may have an upcoming trade show, conference, stakeholder meeting, or focus group session. And if you attempt to design a brand around these parameters alone, you’re setting yourself up for short-term wins at the risk of long-term failure.

Design Around Your Core Values

Say you’re starting a flight booking agency and considering the following names:

– Cheap Flights
– Bargain Flights
– Inexpensive Flights
– Frugal Flights
– Low-Cost Flights
– Half-Priced Flights

You may offer great deals to the price-conscious customer, but what do you do exactly? Who are you really, as a company? Is being the cheapest at the core of your unique value proposition? Maybe you and your team are experienced polyglots that can offer great customer service in many languages and are extremely in tune to the cultural nuances of social interaction with customers of different backgrounds that share the same thrill: travel. But you positioned your company as the cheapest of the pack and that’s the majority of potential customer attention you will attract: cheapskates. Do you now see how not properly investing in your unique core values can and will affect your brand in the long run?

How to Plan for the Long Run

Instead of cheap clients, who are your dream clients? Who are the raving fans that tell others about your product or service? Why you? What about you makes them gloss over your competition? The deeper you’re able to dig into this rewarding rabbit hole, the better you’ll be able to come out with a compelling brand story that will set you up for that monumental pivot point that will enable your brand evangelists to sum you up in three words or less.

What Are You Promising?

Recall earlier when I mentioned consistency.
– Apple – simplicity
– Rolex – timeless luxury
– BMW – German reliability

Consumers of these popular brands know what to expect. That’s what has attributed to their longevity. What is your brand promise? Many companies have generic mission/vision statements, but do they really know what it is that they’re promising, what they will deliver and over-deliver again and again?

Greed and desperation will entice brands to do it all. Price | Value | Speed | Service | Inventory. This is the instance where less, is more. Can you imagine a Used Lamborghini Parts Junkyard? Who would be caught dead shopping around for spare parts?

Don’t be afraid to be categorized. Allow the simplicity of your promise to be a quick identifier in the minds of your ideal audience. We all have to eat, but what restaurants come to mind when you’re:
– on your lunch hour – Subway
– meeting up a close friend for a quick bite – Panera’s
– out on a first date – Ruth’s Chris

All three companies are successful brands, but they’re conscious of the spaces within the food industry that they occupy.

That is why it’s important to know why they buy from you and what it is that they believe about you. So know your promise and keep it.

A Brand’s Triple Threat

Let’s play a game. Connect the brands to their taglines.
Because You’re Worth It
Just Do It
Imagination at Work
General Electric
I’m Lovin’ It
Think Different

Tell me you didn’t smile as you read them. You probably even heard the announcer’s voice in your head. There are three key components that make for award-winning brands.

1 Be Memorable

Think about the immediate emotion you felt when you read the above brands. How catchy were the taglines? Names like Yahoo, Bing, Google, & Yelp have a distinct persona that rolls off the tongue in a playful manner. Think about how succinct and memorable your own brand can be by brainstorming how sticky your brand name can be. In how many different formats can it be used? Successfully sticky brands are the ones that transcend their name and become verbs or substitute that product or service which they represent:
– Mind passing me a Kleenex, please?

– I forgot the meaning of that, can you Google that word for me?
– Our client needs it now. Be sure to FedEx it on your way out.
– Write the grocery list of what we will need on a Post-It.
– I’m starving, should we order Domino’s?
– Hey girl, want to Netflix & chill?

2 Be Duplicatable

Think of franchise brand. When Ray Kroc started, he had an idea bigger than himself. So when he approached the McDonald brothers in 1954, he had a main goal in mind: scalability. Many of his innovations to the food-service franchise model served this focused goal.

He was able to document, scale and repeat his progress to grow one of the most widely recognized brands in the world. He focused and tweaked his “secret sauce” to be able to rinse and repeat. Think about setting a detailed formula that anyone could walk in, review, and repeat it.

Of course, this particular step isn’t truly necessary in the strictest sense if you’re set on creating a personal brand. However, think about other aspects of your operation if you do decide to bring other people on board and build a team. How would you like them to interact with the public? In that sense, this guideline still applies.

3 Be Viral

There is no first rule of Fight Club. If you have an amazing business that sells outstanding services and products; you’re bound to have raving fans. Make it easy for them to spread your message farther than you could. Let them help you build your tribe by being accessible & shareable. Incentivize them with special deals, perks, product discounts, and early release access.

Combine all of these steps to let the brand take a life of its own and build on itself. Allow for that leverage to do the heavy lifting for you.

This isn’t an easy challenge, but it is a simple concept. Establish clarity of how you want to be perceived in your marketplace. You can’t do it all, at least not in the beginning, choose your strengths. Do this, and you’ll have a solid foundation to build your company brand name, tagline, and message.


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