People think they know what branding is, because it’s a word they hear all the time. But branding, while indeed ubiquitous in the modern world, is, for modern humans, kind of like water, to fish; that is, fish don’t know they’re swimming in water, they think water is the entire world (until they find themselves outside of it… but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post).

So WTF is Branding?

The term “branding” in marketing is when a company creates a symbol or design that people can identify with and associate with the company or the product. We as people in the world see branding all the time, every day, everywhere we go. You truly have to go off the grid to escape branding. Even if you go for a hike in the woods, you’re wearing Teva’s (brand) and probably have your iPhone (brand) or Android (brand) in the pocket of your Levis (brand), in which you check you gmail (brand), post a cute photo on Insta (brand), and consult Apple Maps (brand) for where you parked your Tesla (brand). The park itself is probably branded, too: Yosemite, Grand Tetons, San Francisco Park Service.

Is Starbucks A Brand?


But let’s dive deeper. The brand word “Starbucks” represents not only the Starbucks corporation, but also all its products. It is a trademark, and it is in some dictionaries. “Google” is a brand, a trademark, and a word so ubiquitous that it has become a verb meaning “to search for specific information online” (see our post here on other brands that became words, such as Zipper, or Kleenex). But when people think of Starbucks, they don’t merely think of a hot cup of joe, but also of the coffee shop, the baristas, the mugs, the coffee you brew at home, the instant Via coffee, and Frappuccinos. Some people may also think of the political stances Starbucks has taken in recent years (and whether they agree or not). But no matter what you think of Starbucks, it’s clear that there is much more to word “Starbucks” these days than there used to be. And whether this is a good or bad thing–diluting the brand or strengthening it–is a debate for a different day.

Branding As A Differentiator

Branding allows consumers to distinguish one product or company from the morass of competitors quickly and easily. Thus, in order to do branding well, It’s important for you (as a business owner, creative director, copywriter, or marketer) to provide a memorable experience for the potential customer, as well as to set expectations for what the product or company will do for them. For example, Nike’s brand has always been “aspirational;” that is, it’s makes the promise that if you buy Nike gear or engage with the Nike brand, you’ll reach the goals you aspire to. Is this true? I don’t know, but I do know that their branding is effective in making consumers believe so. And it’s not just sneakers; I have on my phone the Nike+ Running Club app, in which a little pre-recorded “running coach” gives me a message about how great I am every time I finish jogging. Thanks, Kevin Hart!

Now, wtf does Kevin Hart have to do with my jogging? I don’t even know the guy.

Branding, that’s what.

The Umbrella To Cover Your Footprint

Thus, branding goes beyond, much further beyond, a logo, a font, and/or a color scheme. We talk about how important these things are in different posts–and they are important–they’re crucial to your business, in fact. But branding is a much bigger, more encompassing umbrella.

So treat branding as a powerful tool for differentiating your company and product from the competition and clarifying what you have to offer – particularly when it comes to what sets you apart. Your brand should be a true reflection of who you are as a company and how you want your customers to see you. Various approaches, such as a logo, reputation, promotional items, customer service, business cards, and advertising, can be used to build your brand. In reality, this principle should be used to every aspect of your product, down to the label you slap on your product or the way your customer service representatives answer the phone, which should be branded to match the rest. Ever call a company and they say, “It’s a great day at XYZ company, how can I help you?” It’s slightly nauseating, but it’s on brand.

So if you think of branding as an umbrella, then make sure you get one that covers your entire footprint–otherwise you’re pants will get wet when you walk in the rain.