According to BusinessDictionary.com, branding is the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind. Traditionally, branding has always been about establishing recognition and positive public perception. It’s all about being what Colgate is to toothpaste or what 7-Eleven is to convenience stores. The pinnacle of branding is to make potential customers remember your brand when they think about generic commodities.
These days, the stakes are a lot higher than just recognition and image. The strength of your brand influences not just your sales but your stock prices, your ability to form business connections and even your search engine visibility. Good branding isn’t just about being seen, it’s also about commanding respect. In a lot of cases, what people from the outside looking in think of your business is just as Important as your internal operations.
Whether you’re a startup who wants to launch a strong brand or an established company that wants to enhance its brand equity, there are several things you can do to stand out. I’m listing down six foundational principles of effective branding along with some examples that you can learn from. These are:
1. Come Up with a Name that Sticks
Building a power brand starts with a name that your audience can gravitate to. It seems simple, but a lot of companies and products don’t reach their full marketing potentials due to misguided naming. While there isn’t a single best way to name a brand, there are several approaches that have been proven to work. Choosing one or a combination of the following can set you on the right direction:
- Make it Descriptive – Using a name that inherently gives people a hint on what your product is or what your company does can give your brand a boost right out of the gates. It reduces confusion while strengthening the semantic association of your brand to its industry, creating instant recall value.
A good example would be Microsoft which conjures up mental images of software for microcomputers, Likewise, Ahrefs suggests that the brand is all about backlinks and SanDisk makes it obvious that they’re in the computer storage device industry.
Game development studio BioWare also deserves a pat on the back. Same goes to Floyd “Money” Mayweather who tells you what he’s about with his ring nickname.
- Make it roll off the tongue – Short, snappy and easily pronounceable names usually work better. Think Zappos, Nike, Lego and Rolex. All of them are said with two syllables and their spellings aren’t complicated. The names don’t describe what the brands do, but they sure are easy to burn into people’s minds.
- Make it unique – As much as possible, avoid choosing a name that’s the same or similar-sounding to a more established brand. This can create confusion especially if the two brands are in similar market sectors. This can also make you vulnerable to expensive legal battles or unwanted association with brands that have tainted reputations.
When choosing a name, come up with a list of the top five that you like and do a quick Google search on them. See if any registered businesses are using that brand. Narrow the list down to the ones that are still available.
If an unregistered entity is using the name that you like, check out what it’s about and see if the name has significant web popularity. If the name is obscure and isn’t perceived negatively, you may still be able to secure it for business use.
- Name it after the founder – Another way to go about naming your brand is by naming it after the founder of your business. Big companies like J.P. Morgan, Ford and Emerson Electric use the names of the people who started them. If the name of your founder is easy to pronounce, you can consider making it your brand name.
This was the route I took in naming my blog and my company. I wanted to use my full name, but the last name Dimaandal is too long and relatively uncommon even by Filipino standards. I decided to have a little fun with it and named my blog “GlenDemands.” You see, whenever I’m in the US, people pronounce my last name as Dee-mahn-dul. I thought the first two syllables sounded like the word “demand,” and I just affixed it to my first name. It gave my blog a slick name that’s unique and easy to remember.
The same goes for my company’s name. Legally, the company is called Glen Dimaandal Inc. but it’s not a very brandable name. The easy fix was to use the acronym GDI and that’s the name that has stuck with people ever since.
- Use a completely unrelated word – In some cases, using words that are out of context can work. Apple is the biggest example. Caterpillar (the financial/insurance company), Shell and Blackberry are also prime examples. All of these brands have interesting stories on how they came up with their brand names but there’s no denying that the average person seeing their logos for the first time won’t make the connection between their names and what they do.
- Sensational Spelling – Deliberately misspelling a word is also a popular way to name a brand. Misspells give names uniqueness and edginess. For instance, the game franchise Mortal Kombat uses a K instead of the standard C to give the title a more hardcore vibe. Toys R Us intentionally misspells “are” the word and replaces it with R the letter to give itself a more juvenile feel. Locally, SEO agency Xight Interactive replaces the S in Sight with X, a letter associated with being innovative, new or extreme.
2. Develop a Logo that Speaks for You
A logo is the visual representation of a company or its products. It’s more than just a name inscribed in stylized text, a fancy graphic, or a combination of both. A logo is the symbol that you want your audience to recognize in association with your brand’s offerings. When designed correctly, a logo conveys a message that makes the audience feel what a brand is all about.
As a company grows and its influence takes on a life of its own, a product emblazoned with its logo instantly gains more dollar value. In a lot of cases, the logo ends up affecting buying decisions just as much as the product’s qualities do.
Creating a logo that people will remember takes a lot of thought, inspiration and artistry, If you analyze some of the world’s most recognizable logo, you’ll realize that they have one or more of the following qualities:
- Simplicity – Logos are meant to convey a simple message in one quick glance. These are not interpretative art pieces that are supposed to leave your target customers with profound emotions. When designing your logo, go with something that’s simple enough to be hand-drawn by the average person. Anything more sophisticated than that is probably too complex to easily be remembered.
- Color-independent – Color is important in a logo. It gives you the ability to express abstract ideas like professionalism, excitement, passion, reliability, excitement, and more without words and images. Colors ar the most easily recogbizable visual cues for humans and choosing the right ones can make or break a logo.
As important as colors are, great logos are usually agnostic to them. If your logo is good, it will still carry its recognition value and brand impact even when the colors are changed or taken away. The McDonald’s “M”, Nike’s Swoosh and Microsoft’s Windows logos can all come in different palettes but most of us would still recognize them. That’s a testament to their simplicity, uniqueness and ability to attach themselves to the collective psyche of their respective audiences.
- Unique – One of the big challenges of designing a logo is coming up with something that’s simple but distinctively yours. Creating your own symbol is the first step towards distinguishing your brand. Combining it with your name in the logo will further separate you from the rest of the pack. Add a combination of 2-3 colors and you should have a logo that’s all your own.
- Appropriate – The design of your logo has to fit the implicit message that you want to send to the people who’ll see it. Obviously, squiggly fonts would not work well if you’re an engineering firm. If you’re selling flowers, black and red is a color combination that you’ll want to avoid. A professional, straightforward look usually performs better for technical industries. More exciting, stylish motifs would fit more recreational and feminine niches.
3. Come Up with a Tagline that Represents You
– A tagline is a brief catchphrase that captures the essence of what a brand represents. When written correctly, it becomes a mantra for the brand and the people who patronize it. Nike’s Just Do It, Nokia’s Connecting People, and DeBeers’ A Diamond is Forever are examples of taglines so influential, they’ve become part of popular culture.
As a tagline gains mindshare, it inevitably influences a person’s buying decision. By creating strong recall and product association to a brand, a tagline gives you a “first in mind” edge over competitors.
When trying to come up with a tagline for your brand, consider the following principles for best results:
- Keep it short – Taglines stick easier when they’re short and easy to understand. Creativity in wordplay isn’t easy to cram into a few words, but it can be done. Write the tagline with your brand’s personality in mind. Draft a few versions and trim each one to just the words that absolutely have to be there. Remember that people – especially when they’re online – take just 1-2 seconds to decide whether or not they’ll pay attention to your message. Don’t blow your chance to lure them in by bogging them down with taglines that try to say too much. Great examples of short taglines include Think by IBM and Got Milk? by the California Milk Processor Board.
- State the Benefit – Slick tagline copy is nice, but it’s just a bunch of words if it doesn’t tell the audience what’s in it for them. Your tagline is important, but it’s not for you – it’s for your target customers. If you want a tagline that sticks, it has to convey a message that gives a promise of benefit to the receiver, Nice examples would be It Only Does Everything by Sony for its PS3 game console and Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun by Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum.
- Tell a micro-story – People hate sales pitches but they love hearing interesting stories. Capitalize on human nature by using your tagline not to sell, but to deliver a powerful narrative with just a few words. While that may sound impossible, it’s exactly the kind of thing that seasoned copywriters do every day.
Contrary to popular belief, a story doesn’t have to be long for it to be complete. At the core of each story is a profound message that invokes an emotional response from the reader. A single phrase can make us remember someone, bring back an experience or fire us up. The words trigger the emotional response but our brains tell the rest of the story. When a tagline accomplishes this, it gives your brand tremendous power that can be leveraged to accomplish business goals.
Examples would be AT&T’s Reach Out and Touch Someone, Be All You Can Be by the US Army and Does She or Doesn’t She? by Clairol.
- Avoid generic marketing speak – One of the mistakes that novice copywriters make when writing a tagline is loading it with empty marketing words that try to generate hype. The thing is, people have learned to tune out this type of messaging over the years. In a lot of cases, a tagline is more likely to fail when it’s trying too hard to capture reader attention.
For best results, go for clarity over sensationalism. Keep your words short and familiar to the intended audience. Focus on a singular message and avoid adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. Being direct and to the point never goes out of style.
Nice testaments to this tip would be We Try Harder by Avis, Don’t Leave Home Without It by American Express and It’s Not TV, It’s HBO by HBO.
4. Stand for Something
Good brands are associated with products and services. Great brands represent lifestyles, attitudes and abstract ideas. Good brands are built by focusing on selling something. Great brands are built on advocacies by companies who sell products related to the concepts that they create content for.
A perfect example would be cigarette brand Marlboro. If you observe the way they advertise, they virtually never focus on their product. It’s all about visuals depicting a cowboy, a horse and open country – images that convey feelings of adventure and machismo. At some point in the commercial, you may see the Marlboro Man smoking and he might hold up a pack of the product but that’s pretty much it.
This works because the target audience of the ad is mostly male in their teens or early 20s. It’s a time in most men’s lives when they’re excitable and a little defiant. The imagery of the ads resonate with the attitude of the audience and a connection is established between the spirit of adventure and the cigarette brand.
Nike follows a similar MO in the way it advertises and brands itself. The world’s biggest sports apparel manufacturer invests heavily on hiring the top athletes in their respective sports as their endorsers. They then craft well thought-out ideas that focus on telling simple and often motivational stories that get people’s attention. Like Marlboro, the focus is often not the product itself but an idea, a personality or their brand.
In a sense, you can say that Nike’s marketing makes the brand look like a content creator first and a vendor of apparel second. People like watching their promotional material due to the fact that they’re usually entertaining and/or motivational.
Copyblogger built a strong digital marketing brand in similar fashion. By producing well-written and actionable resources on content marketing, Brian Clark and his crew became digital marketing thought leaders while preaching that “smarter is better.” The site encourages its audience to do intelligent marketing and in return, its audience tends to patronize the products that the company sells. Copyblogger now leverages its powerful brand to generate income via its Rainmaker platform, StudioPress themes and Synthesis hosting solution.
In all three cases, we’ve seen that standing for something is a faster and better vehicle towards mindshare gains than direct, in-your-face promotion.
5. Put a Face on It
Engagement is a synergy to brand equity. The better you are at engaging your audience, the more optimal your brand growth becomes. Blogs, forums, customer support channels and social media are all great platforms for engaging a community. However, most people do it with the traditional text and image approach. That’s well and good, but if you want your engagement strategy to climb another level, you should consider putting a face on it.
By face, I’m referring to a walking, talking person who can be your brand’s champion. This person should use his or her real name and photo when blogging, interacting on social media or responding to forum posts. It gets even better if this same person can appear in your marketing videos or speak in your behalf in trade conferences.
Breaking down the wall of anonymity gives your audience the sense that there’s someone “real” to approach. This adds a layer of personality, attachment and connection that’s just not possible when a brand behaves in a very corporate manner. People tend to care less about faceless companies and they tend to buy more from people whom they perceive to understand their needs.
A great example would be Moz’s Rand Fishkin who has established himself as the face of not just his company but of SEO as an industry. Ubisoft’s Jade Raymond did the same thing for the video game publisher’s Assassin’s Creed franchise. Steve Jobs is probably at the top level of company faces as he led Apple’s meteoric rise behind the scenes while taking center stage in the company’s biggest events.
Brand Your Marketing Collaterals
Smart companies brand their blogs, videos and social media channels. It’s important for the look, feel and personality of your business to permeate all these channels. However, some companies neglect branding in other marketing materials that also count. Proposals, reports, snail mail, PowerPoint/Keynote decks and phone voice prompts are all business properties that can be branded for maximum effect. Think of each one as a chance to make the person seeing or hearing them feel that those materials are yours and they’re representative of what it is that you do.
Be consistent with your brand’s color scheme, fonts and voice across all your marketing collaterals. Make sure your logo is the main visual focus in the covers pages and letterheads. If you can insert it at the bottom right corner of pages and presentation slides, that would be even better. Obviously, contracts and other legal documents are exceptions to this advice.
Hosting your own event can also extend your brand’s reach and grow your mindshare in the community. Small conferences, meet-and-greets, seminars and collaborations are great opportunities not just to network but to introduce your brand to people in your industry. You can take things even further by giving away freebies that carry your brand’s look and feel. J
This is a lesson that I learned from Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi in his book Epic Content Marketing. See below how he uses a template for a deck that bears his brand’s colors, messaging tone and logo all throughout:
Now observe how those same branding touches are applied in video form:
The key here is consistency across everything your brand produces. If it belongs to the brand, it should be apparent from the first glance to finish that the asset is from you. Think of it like having children: you know something’s wrong if your kids look more like your best friend than you or your wife.
In the end, branding is all about getting your business to behave the way that you want people to perceive it. As long as your brand is unique, consistent and a source of true value to your target audience, you should be fine.