Branding. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot in the business world. But so many seem to be unaware of what it’s really all about. People think of it as simply creating a new logo and color scheme and slapping it up on their business window, website, or the top of a piece of stationary and leaving it at that. Branding goes far beyond just a logo, even though logos are a key part of a branding effort. Throughout the course of creating the new brand for Grafton, I’ve learned plenty about putting branding into action and why it’s important for all businesses and organizations. Small businesses might have the most to benefit from creating an effective brand. Creating a solid identity that people will be able to think of when they think of the business will make the organization stand out in the consumer’s mind.
What Makes A Brand?
So what is a brand? The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." It also notes that these “… may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality." What does all of that mean? Essentially, branding means cultivating your business’s attributes to communicate a clear idea and personality. Your brand should tell your audience your story. But it’s easy to refer to this in abstract. Some concrete examples will help cement how these concepts work in the real world.
Branding With Energy
Let’s take a look at Red Bull. What do you think of when you think of Red Bull? Your first thoughts are probably a rush. A blur of motion. Adrenaline. Red Bull has created a personality of being extreme and wild. This is a smart and successful brand for an energy drink. Energy drinks are supposed to give you that extra jolt of energy. But these products are also far from healthy. So how does an energy drink company become to be associated with extreme sports? It was no accident.
Red Bull has a made a priority of owning events and teams to showcase who they are. They own a professional soccer team, have dominant ownership of racing teams, as well as sponsor motocross, cliff diving, and other extreme sports events. They made their biggest mark when they became the primary sponsor on the record-setting event of the highest jump from the sky in world history. These efforts have gone toward Red Bull showcasing themselves as a brand dedicated to pushing limits.
Branding For The Little Guy
Although most small businesses don’t have the resources to sponsor sporting events, the takeaways from Red Bull’s branding are clear. Using your resources to position your business’s personality through its logo, advertising, and social media use (see Mary Kenderdine’s blog on why this is a must for small business as well). All of these tools work in tandem to create the brand and corresponding personality. By designing a logo, utilizing social media to interact with consumers and create a voice for your business, and effectively using advertising to position your company, your brand will come alive and people will associate your business with this brand personality.
It’s important to note that there are several types of brands as well. In the course of identifying Grafton's brand, the R F Branding Group examined multiple brand categories that communities can utilize. Some examples for community (or place-based) brands include: overarching place, community, thematic, and destination. A destination brand would be promoting the community as an attractive tourist destination, such as what we see with Las Vegas or Nashville. These cities have clear community assets that bring in visitors to these places (e.g., Caesar’s Palace or the Grand Ol' Opry). Another brand type is a thematic brand. These brands promote the cultural themes at play in the community. A rural Kentucky town could be promoted as center of Appalachian culture. All of these are categories of community brands that hone in on an identity while still having key differences that separate them from other branding plans.
Branding for businesses rather than places or communities has some key differences, but there are still different types of brands that even one type of business can utilize. Let’s take the obvious example for Grafton: arts and crafts stores. Even if each business sells many items that are essentially the same (or serve the same function for consumers), each business is able to develop a separate brand that distinguishes itself from its competitors. One way of branding an arts store would be to showcase it as niche craft store. The store could be aimed toward highly artistic people who are looking to craft a personal statement for their home, perhaps "artistic country sophistication." Another type of brand would be a more down-home country style store. This store would have a simple and homey voice and position itself as "a place to complete your style for southern living."
A small business owner may see all of this and think it’s a great idea but remain skeptical. Branding is definitely something my business could use. But I don’t have the money to do this. It’s not something that’s feasible. However, branding is a primary way for businesses with little funding to establish themselves without having to spend a bunch of hard advertising dollars. A great deal of branding is done through what’s called “earned media”. This is a strategic communications term to refer to platforms where money isn’t spent. Public relations is a primary example of this. No dollars are spent to place an ad, but instead a relationship is built between the business and media or business and, ultimately, consumer.
A business can build such relationships through social media, which is of little cost to a business. Social and digital media platforms allow the business to establish its voice through the content posted. Creating posts costs no money to a business aside from the time to create them, but it still provides the ability to put a business directly into the eye of the consumer - and craft your brand personality. You can also do this via a company website. While this can be more expensive than social media platforms, it is still a cost-effective way of promoting your business. Likewise, creating a logo and color palette can be a very low-cost way for a business to continue to create a brand identity. None of these methods require money to be spent by purchasing an ad in the newspaper or on the radio, but they still get your business into the conversation.
Putting It Into Action
So branding. You probably understand what it's all about by now. It’s more than words or visuals. It’s a coordinated effort among all of these to tell the story of your business. What are you about? Who do you cater to? Who is your business? What do you want in your consumer’s head when they think of your business? The answers to all of these questions is your brand.
The importance of branding cannot be overstated. The brand of your business will directly steer customers to come in or stay away. If customers have a strong image and feeling associated with your business that resonates with them, it will be distinctive in their mind and draw them into your doors. Traditional advertising is important as well, but branding is a less expensive way of communicating the same ideas. So if you’re a small business owner and asking yourself whether you should bother, remember this. To brand or not to brand? It’s not a question.
Connor Adamson is the Internal Executive of the R F Branding Group. He will graduate with a B.S.J. in strategic communications with an advertising emphasis in May. From there, he will attend Villanova Law School in the Fall to continue his education. His major passion is following and participating in politics, as well as doing missions work, as he believes that becoming actively involved in the community is the best solution to fixing the problems of society. Connor is also an avid fan of cinema and has watched nearly 1000 films thus far in this life. His favorite films include Double Indemnity, Casablanca, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.