Anyone that has ever dabbled in marketing, or starting a business for that matter, knows about the importance of branding. It’s one of the strongest tools any company has in its arsenal to make its presence known. It gives your enterprise character, a purpose — a soul, if you don’t mind the metaphor.
People resonate with a strong brand, making them more likely to interact with it. And that isn’t just speculation: continuous and consistent branding across platforms boosts revenue by an approximated 23%. That’s far from a small amount, you have to agree.
But as it turns out, branding is just as difficult as it is lucrative. Why is that? What makes a brand so frustrating to create and nurture?
What Is Branding, Anyway?
As soon as we even start talking about this subject, we seem to hit a brick wall. You see, everyone talks up a storm about branding — and for good reason too, if we’re to trust the numbers. But when you ask people what it actually means, you’ll often get wishy-washy replies and convoluted or simplistic definitions.
The reason for this is that branding means a lot of things that are difficult to pin down. Sure, you can cram it all into a neat little definition and get the gist of it. The American Marketing Association has a pretty handy definition for it, actually:
It is a name, a term, a design, a symbol; any feature that determines a particular seller’s goods or services from that of another seller.
But that still fails to tell you more than what’s on the surface. It’s like defining a car as a fancy-looking metal shell that goes real fast by the sheer power of will. Meanwhile, there’s a whole mess of pistons and gears going on under the hood.
Names, designs, and so on, don’t really create that feeling of being unique. They just make you easier to identify in a catalog or on a website. At the end of the day, a pretty font on a soda can doesn’t say much about what you want to accomplish as a business.
The core reason for this ambiguity boils down to one fact: branding is done mostly in the minds of the customers. Every person thinks differently, and they will perceive your products and company in their own way. While you’re the one projecting messages about yourself, the listeners are the ones that transform them into meaning. It’s almost like they’re the pistons and gears under the hood, while you’re the outside of the aforementioned car.
Nailing Down Your Goals Is Harder Than You Might Think
As soon as you start thinking about your organization’s brand, you’ll see that it’s not that easy to zero in on. To be sure, you can say “I want to sell paper clips,” but that’s hardly an identity anyone can relate to, is it?
Rather, serious branding calls for plenty of introspection.
For one, you have to realize what it is that you actually want to change in the world as a brand. Not only that, but you also need to see how your competitors are trying to do the same thing. From there, you need to distinguish your identity from the crowd in a meaningful way. And that’s not all of it, either. You also need to take into account what your customers want and how they want it delivered to them.
As you might’ve guessed, figuring out how to navigate your brand through all of that can be fairly difficult. To make things worse, these obstacles aren’t static: quite the contrary. They’re a dynamic environment, wherein opinions and practices shift all the time. For example, around 42% of Americans trust brands less than they did 20 years ago. As a result, trust is slowly migrating to more relatable influencer types and personal brands.
The point is that before you even start rolling out your branding efforts, you need to be adamant that you’ve taken the right first step. And shaky grounds make it easy for you to fumble.
Branding Is Annoyingly Slow to Solidify
Another big hurdle for anyone aspiring to build a strong brand is its slow progression. In general, branding entails a lot of hitting and missing. Finding your place in the market and in your customers’ lives is difficult, especially in today’s oversaturated public conscience.
To coalesce the shapeless mass that is your previous attempts to forge a coherent company identity, you have to be patient. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of years before your brand captures its essence.
But not everyone involved in your business has that kind of patience. Shareholders and investors will rarely pay attention to these abstract notions if they’re more interested in upping annual sales by the next quarter. Or if you’re leaking funds, branding will likely not be your first idea for rebalancing your budget. Alternatively, there may simply be internal pressures for growth that outweigh the need to invest in brand building.
Whatever the reason, short-term, practical issues will usually trump branding on the priorities list.
And it needn’t even be a matter of redistributing funds. The slow crafting of your brand voice might lead you to think that you’ve done something wrong along the way. There may be times when you feel like rebranding is inevitable. In these moments, it pays off to take a step back and see how the world has been responding to your message and mission. While bad branding is indeed a real thing, the slow buildup is often mistaken for a misfire.
Branding Is Vital in Spite of the Challenges
The problems laid out for you here may have discouraged you. Branding is ultimately an intuitive process, not something you can easily quantify. That’s what makes it so risky, for a lack of a better word. Or, at least, so time-consuming.
But the truth is that branding is the only way for your company to stay relevant for years to come. It’s how industry giants have kept their status for so long — and how they will continue to do so in the future.
The crawl there might be an ordeal, but once you squeeze yourself into your customers’ lives, you’ll be staying there for a long time.