At a conference in Dallas not long ago, a graphic designer from Kentucky and I sat down at a table where people were exchanging business cards. I looked at his logo, and he studied the name on my card.
“I know that logo. We’ve been in touch in the past,” I said.
“That’s right. I know your name,” he said.
Although we weren’t able to pinpoint when or why we’d exchanged mail previously, we guessed it had been at least five years back. Neither one of us has an extraordinary memory. Rather, he had created a distinctive visual identity for his design services, and I had devoted effort to linking my name with creative marketing.
For at least five years his look and my reputation had lurked in the other’s memory banks, while thousands or hundreds of thousands of other business identities had come and gone without leaving a significant trace. Why? Memorability. It illustrates a key element of successful branding.
What is Branding?
Branding is the process of creating distinctive and durable perceptions in the minds of consumers. A brand is a persistent, unique business identity intertwined with associations of personality, quality, origin, liking and more.
Although most people associate brands with big companies, the smallest of enterprises can use branding techniques with great rewards. When a home-based craftsperson ties a nicely designed tag on all her products telling the story of who she is and where her creations come from, she’s branding her work. When the local market bundles groceries in bags bearing its logo instead of generic “Thank you!” or plain bags, it’s branding.
While we associate brands with national names like Crest, Huggies or Healthy Choice, branding doesn’t necessarily require the budgetary resources of Procter & Gamble. Branding doesn’t even require a product or a tangible delivery mechanism. When humorist Dave Barry declares in almost every column, “I am not making this up,” and refers to “alert reader” so-and-so having sent in some news clipping, he is branding.
Techniques of branding include association of a company with logos, distinctive colors, slogans, musical sounds or songs, unusual qualities, mascots, packaging, a memorable name, behavioral hallmarks and much more.
Why Branding Pays Off
Time, money and effort spent on branding comes back many times over when the process plays out intelligently. Here’s why:
1. Memorability. It’s easier to remember the branded company than the “what’s its name?” one.
2. Loyalty. When people have a positive experience with a memorable brand, they’re more likely to buy that product or service again than competing brands.
3. Familiarity. Psychologists have shown that familiarity induces liking, and this makes even non-customers more likely to recommend a brand they know.
4. Premium image, premium price. Branding can lift what you sell out of the realm of a commodity, with customers willing to pay more for the well-branded product or service.
5. Extensions. With a well-established brand, you can spread the respect you’ve earned to a related new product, service or location more easily
6. Greater company equity. Making your company into a brand usually means that you can get more money for the company when you decide to sell it.
7. Lower marketing expenses. Although you must invest money to create a brand, once it’s created you get a bigger bang for every marketing buck using it.
8. For consumers, less risk. People tend to choose the brand-name supplier over the no-name one when afraid of the consequences of a messup.
For those reasons and more, branding fattens your bottom line.