What is branding?

What is branding?


It’s one of the most important concepts for businesses to understand—and it’s often one of the most misunderstood. 


What exactly is branding?


Website colors? Your logo? Advertising materials? Something else? 


Branding might be confusing, but it’s vital that companies understand exactly what it is and why it’s important. 


Branding, at its core, encompasses (i) strategy and (ii) visuals. Those components, when done right, form a company’s core identity and the basis for long-term growth. 


Strategy


Product features ≠ brand strategy


Brand strategy doesn’t mean just talking about your product or service. 


Ultimately, brand strategy should get your audience to answer one core question: “Why should I care?”


Imagine you’re running a company that’s launching a new product—say, a car. 


This car gets 10% more miles per gallon (MPG) than any other sedan on the market, hands-down. 


You’ve accomplished an impressive engineering feat...but now what? 


This is where brand strategy is so important—you have to identify how you should present this groundbreaking new sedan to consumers. 


You have a what. You need a how.


Arriving at that “how” means you need to understand (A) who the customer is, and (B) why they should care about your sedan. 


Who’s your customer?


You need to identify how the features of your sedan correspond with the needs of specific groups who will actually use the product. 


Is the higher MPG appealing because you’re targeting young, environmentally-conscious millennials? Or is it appealing because you’re going after budget-savvy consumers tired of paying high gas prices? Is it for consumers who live in the suburbs or the city? Married or single? Kids or no kids? 


Each of these target market groups contains its own nuances. 


For instance, say your brand is geared towards young, environmentally-conscious millennials; you’ll need to think about this group both from a demographic and psychological perspective: What does this young millennial do for a living? What other brands outside of the auto industry are they drawn to? What do these insights reveal to us about how we should present our sedan?


These thought exercises don’t just apply to consumer companies—B2B companies can and should think through these things too, because possessing a deeper understanding of your customer can act as a linear multiplier on your existing growth strategy. 


Why should they care?


After you identify and understand that consumer group, you need to think about why this group would care about purchasing your higher MPG sedan.


Is it because of the environmentally-friendly aspect of the car? Is it because your car allows them to avoid frequent stops for gas? Is avoiding gas important to them because of the time wasted or the money saved? 


Maybe your sedan embodies an aspirational or “premium” factor (like Tesla)—or maybe it’s for  more budget-conscious folks? 


These questions matter because they get at the heart of why your target audience wants your sedan.


In many ways, a product with a fixed set of features can give you an infinite solution set of ways to position that product + features. 


Thus, a good brand strategist will help you find that optimal positioning—the positioning that not only resonates with the consumer (i.e. why they should care), but that also aligns with your company’s internal business goals. 


Bottom line: successful companies never rely solely on the assumption that customers will automatically understand their product is “better.” Instead, they intentionally develop a brand strategy that cultivates an emotional connection with their customers and that conveys, visually and verbally, their product’s core value props. 


Brand strategy informs everything


Brand strategy makes your sedan mean something to your audience. 


In reality, people don’t just care about how your car saves them 10% MPG—they care about why it’s different, how it’ll fit into their workflow, and what real, tangible value it adds to their life. 


Developing a brand strategy provides a framework for your company to convey those ideas. It helps you distill your business into specific value props that go beyond simply saying “we’re faster, we’re better, and we save you more gas.”


Brand strategy ultimately informs all aspects of your business—onboarding, sales, copywriting, marketing, new initiatives—because it cuts to the why of your product.


Visuals


Strategy → Visuals


The visual choices you make when conveying your brand flow directly from your foundational brand strategy. 


You need to translate your brand strategy into specific visual entities that show your audience the essence of your brand. If your brand identity doesn’t visually communicate your company’s strategy, your message won’t resonate with your customers.


Practically, this means that you must make sure that your brand’s logo, typography, color palettes, and visual patterns all align with your brand strategy.


Let’s say our brand strategy dictates that we want our sedan to feel “premium,” while remaining millennial-friendly.


From a typography perspective, we’d explore serif fonts—which generally convey a luxurious feel—but we’d lean towards more modern interpretations of traditional serifs to ensure the brand doesn’t feel “dated.” 


Overall, we’d think critically about every element of our sedan brand; more importantly, we’d create a cohesive system that consistently resonates with our customer from a strategy perspective.


The sum is greater than the parts


When it comes to visuals, every decision matters—from the color palette to the logo, the typography, visual patterns, etc. 


Why? 


Because all these elements are intimately connected; taken together, they create one visual system that should work seamlessly to generate your unique brand “feel." 


Crafting these visuals requires design expertise—that’s part of what we do at Slope. 


Rely on your brand guidelines


At Slope, we approach branding with these two key components in mind: strategies and visuals.

One of the most important things we give our clients is a brand guideline stack. It’s an all-in-one branding resource that covers strategy + visual identity. 


Long after they finish working with us, our clients refer back to this deck as they scale their company to ensure their new content, initiatives, etc. align with the initial principles of their brand strategy and visuals.  


When crafted intentionally, brand guidelines become an indispensable roadmap—a unifying thread through which you can communicate your brand's narrative to the world.

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