What is Branding? [ Branding is a specialized area of expertise that helps consistently distinguish an organization, its property, products, services and communications; enabling instant identification by its stakeholders.] Saldanha

 

E V O L U T I O N 

While positioning branding as some new phenomenon has sold many books and filled many workshops, it has certainly made the topic confusing for clients. Branding is not a revolution—only the evolution (and perhaps renaming) of an existing practice. Brands have existed in some form for hundreds of years, so the process of developing one is hardly new.

 
[ The need to establish ownership/origin has existed ever since humans have traded goods and services. ] 

 

O R I G I N

The word ‘brand’ originates from the old Norse brandr, meaning ‘to burn.’ While branding’s past brings to mind many negative impressions, the most common is the marking of cattle. Less known is the fact that many other occupations utilized brandmarks throughout history: potters, to authenticate their style of bowls, and stonemasons, to distinguish the quality of their work. The need to establish ownership/origin has existed ever since humans have traded goods and services. Brands evolved out of necessity and so did branding. 

The term brand came from the product world and has encompassed the organization (replacing corporate identity.) Branding is no longer for cattle owners or just big corporations. Today, sole proprietors, non-profits and even nations are viewing themselves as brands. 

[ Branding is all about simplicity: getting to the essence of an organization, product or service. ] 

 

D E F I N I T I O N

While many marketing ‘gurus’ have tried to turn branding into a complex science, it is a very basic concept—based primarily on common sense. Branding is all about simplicity: getting to the essence of an organization, product or service. If the most successful brands are straightforward, shouldn’t the brand development process be the same? 

Perhaps the easiest way to define branding is to make it synonymous with brand development with this simple equation: Branding = Brand Development. Just as advertising is defined as ‘the business of producing advertisements,’ the definition of branding could be as simple as ‘the development of brands.’ Imagine if the answer to the most frequently asked question (what is branding anyway?) could be this short. 

[ If the most successful brands are straightforward, shouldn’t the brand development process be the same? ]

 

S H A R I N G

Branding is a holistic, cultural activity. Today, it is less about owning the brand and more about sharing it with the whole organization and the community. Less about ‘targeting consumers’ to create ‘shareholder value’ and more about creating value for all stakeholders of the organization. 

A brand must be realized from the highest levels of management down, because it affects more than just sales, it shapes the internal culture of an organization. A properly defined brand will have a positive impact on every department within an organization. 

This is why a brand can no longer be the domain of the marketing department or external agency. Branding is not a marketing event, but an ongoing management process. 

[ It is less about protecting the brand and more about sharing it with the whole organization and the community. ]

 

C O N S I S T E N C Y

The digital world (and pandemic) have forced even the largest of organizations to rethink their business models. Print isn’t dead (yet), but digital is more alive. Media bias should be a thing of the past. In wired environments, where information can be disseminated in seconds, brand identification and content is more important than ever. 

Unfortunately, too many clients and practitioners are still using an old formula where branding becomes a marketing/advertising campaign or graphic design project. 

The ultimate goal of any organization is to deliver a unified verbal and visual message that is understood and identified by all of its stakeholders, using their brand as a leadership tool. Yet as each creative agency and new hire strives to reinvent the wheel—expressing the brand in their own way and their own favorite medium—cohesiveness is lost, ultimately diluting the message. 

[ In wired environments, where information can be disseminated in seconds, brand identification and content are more important than ever. ]

 

G E N E R A L I S T S

An internet search for ‘branding services’ yields almost every type of business you can imagine: advertising agencies, design firms, marketing consultants, web/UX designers, management consultants, communications consultants and even public-relations firms. Ironically, successful brands focus on what they are good at. For too long, branding has been lost in the communications mix a sub-brand of other areas such as advertising and design. 

Advertising and branding are two very different ventures with very different expiry dates. To really take, brand identity must be consistent over many years, but advertising or marketing campaigns should change regularly, or else their audiences will tune out. Too often clients confuse brand identity with brand campaign. 

Graphic design is a discipline that contributes to the development of a brand, in the same way it contributes to advertising or architecture. However, ‘graphics’ are only part of the equation. Many designers make the mistake of viewing branding as only a ‘look-and-feel’ exercise when it involves many other tasks, such as naming, positioning and legal work, including searching and securing trademarks. 

[ Many designers make the mistake of viewing branding as only a ‘look-and-feel’ exercise when it involves many other tasks, such as naming and positioning. ]

 

S P E C I A L I Z E D

Developing a brand requires skills that a ‘jack-of-all-communications’ just cannot master. Branding may be on the clich√© service list of every full-service agency around, but who can honestly claim that they specialize in marketing, advertising, public relations, user experience design, social media ... and branding? 

Branding is a specialized area of expertise. It takes many years of experience working through various brand scenarios to be a true brand ‘guru.’ Like any discipline, branding requires total dedication and focus to achieve professional status. Brand development is a balance of both strategic and creative ability. Currently, most practices are either strong on the strategic (business) side of branding or the creative (design) side. Too much strategy yields elaborate rationales with no tangible result and too much creative turns brand development into a beauty contest. 

Today’s branding ‘expert’ must combine both skill and talent. Not only must she or he be a strategic thinker, but must also possess the creativity needed to come up with the big idea. No longer can consultants declare themselves brand ‘strategists’ and farm out the creative thinking. On the other hand, ‘artists’ who are looking to express themselves (using someone else’s brand) should find another canvas. A brand and especially a brand consultant must deliver, not just promise. 

[ Branding is a specialized area of expertise. It takes many years of experience working through various brand scenarios to be a true brand ‘guru.’ ] 

 

Excerpts from ‘Brand Branding’ article written by Errol Saldanha and published in Applied Arts Magazine (Volume 21, Number 5)