What Is Branding: Definitions and Why It’s Important

Are you just getting started with your online business? Here’s what you need to know about branding, plus some helpful resources!

Are you just getting started with your online business and building your brand? We know how difficult it can be to navigate learning the mountain of information in front of you. All the new terms and information thrown around can quickly become overwhelming! 

If you’re trying to learn the basics of branding, you probably have a ton of questions buzzing around your head. Like, what is branding, exactly? Why does it matter? What does the branding process look like? And so on.

But don’t worry, in this article we’re going to cut straight through the noise with all the need-to-knows about branding, and we’ll provide you with some added resources to boot. 

Sound good? Let’s get going then!

Contents

What Is a Brand?

Product definition

Before we can understand what a brand is, we’re first going to need to establish what products are.

Simply put, a product is anything offered to a market—a good, service, property, etc.—to satisfy that market’s wants and needs. 

To state the obvious: there are a ton of products out there. But have you noticed that many different companies sell the same, or very similar, products? 

So, what differentiates them? Why are some more likely to buy a Starbucks cup of black coffee over some other company’s coffee?

The difference is in the brand. 

Brand definition

So, what is a brand, anyway? 

Frankly, the definition for “brand” is pretty conceptual; a brand refers both to the unique identity of a company and the overall perception—or gut feeling—consumers associate with that company.

Sounds pretty abstract, right? Let’s break this down a little further. 

Basically, the concept of a brand is created through a series of elements, altogether serving to distinguish a company and its products from its competitors.

So, a brand isn’t just a company’s name, logo, and tagline. More so, it’s the sum of these (and many more) strategically-constructed features that come together to create a unique experience for consumers. 

And when done correctly, the concept of a brand is magnetic and enduring. A good brand is an asset that provides a competitive edge over other similar providers in a market. 

So, how do you put together a brand that consumers prefer to shop from? 

You’ll need good branding. 

What Is Branding? Everything You Need To Know

Branding definition

Now that we’ve established the definition for “brand,” what does branding mean exactly? 

To put it simply: branding is the strategic action that goes into shaping a brand. 

But let’s expand on that definition a little bit; branding refers to the process of creating a distinct reputation for your company, service, or products that will live in your consumers’ heads. 

This process involves the research and creation of consistent elements, like your brand name, mission, recognizable visual aspects (logo, design, symbols, etc.), tone and voice, copywriting, and more. 

These elements need to be carefully developed based on extensive market research to create a strong brand presence that positively speaks to target consumers. 

Extensive and frequent research—both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (feedback, interviews, etc.)—is crucial for the branding process. It’s important to intimately know and understand the people you’re trying to reach.

Only with this foundation of research can you begin to develop the branding elements that will create a powerful reputation—evoke that positive gut feeling—for your brand. I’ll touch more on this down below.

The elements of branding

The process of branding involves building a cohesive identity for your brand: that’s who your brand is, what you offer, and who your product is for. 

Brand identities are composed of many different elements. It’s essential to understand what these elements are and how they’re used to shape perceptions in order to create an effective brand. 

The elements of your brand need to be clearly defined, too, to create an authentic and dependable experience for your customers. Altogether, each element will work together to create your identity—and further, your reputation. 

So, what are the elements of branding? Here’s a look for you:

There they are. But how do these look in practice? Let’s go over the branding process, covering each of these elements in depth, one by one. 

An overview of the branding process

Brand targeting

The first step to branding is defining who your target audience is. Basically, before you can attempt to communicate and build a lasting impression with your customers, you’ll need to figure out who you’re even trying to reach and who will benefit from your product.

So, do a lot of digging and determine what your ideal customer looks like; what are their demographics (age, gender, location, income, and more), what do they like/dislike, and so on.

This step is crucial to shaping your brand. 

It’s necessary to understand your target audience thoroughly in order to create a brand they’ll love to shop from. If your brand identity doesn’t resonate with your audience, it won’t reach their head, heart, or wallet. Simple as that. 

Brand mission and values

Now, with your target audience in mind, it’s time to do some reflection on your brand’s purpose. 

Your brand mission and values are the bedrock of the brand’s unique identity. These will affect every other element of your branding, allowing you to build a cohesive identity that sets your business apart from its competition. 

Establishing a mission is important to provide clarity and direction for your business. The mission is your overarching goal and commitment to that goal; what purpose are you seeking to fill in your market? Your market research will come directly in hand here. 

Similarly, your brand values will be a compass for your brand’s decisions. These are the principles that will shape your brand’s behavior and overall messaging. Determine how your product benefits your audience over your competitors’—what sets it apart?

It’s worth noting that as many as 89% of consumers reportedly stay loyal to brands that share their values. With a stat like this, it’s apparent that defining clear values in line with your audience research is crucial to your brand’s lasting success. 

Brand persona and communication 

Next, it’s time to create a persona for your brand. This will include its personality traits, voice, language, and more. Your brand persona will be directly inspired by your intended audience and will frame how you communicate with them.

To form your brand persona, ask questions like, what language does my audience use? And what tone of voice will attract them? Part of making your brand persona involves treating your brand as an actual person; basically, what would your brand sound like if you talked to them?

It’s important to establish these elements thoroughly to ensure consistent and authentic communication with your audience. 

Let’s go over some of the key types of brand communication:

Think about the brands with names so powerful, we now collectively refer to the general product by that brand’s name: Band-Aid, Google, Kleenex, and so on.

Your brand name needs to be easily memorable. 

Think: “Just do it” by Nike or “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.” 

Effective taglines can set you apart from the competition and stick like glue inside consumers’ heads. As such, the tagline is a crucial part of your brand’s identity and brand advertising. 

This is where customers can get a feel for your brand’s voice, which reinforces your overall brand personality. 

Some companies, like Chick-fil-A, even provide branded interactions as a part of their customer service experience. Thank a Chick-fil-A employee, and they’ll respond with “my pleasure” every time. 

Throughout your brand communication, consistency is key to building a familiar relationship that comes across as authentic to your customers. Take note that 86% of shoppers stated that authenticity is a deciding factor for whether they’ll support a brand or not. 

Make sure you have a brand communication strategy so that your communication efforts align fully with your brand’s identity. Good brand communication helps you engage with your customers effectively, creating loyalty and making sure you win out over your competitors. 

Brand visual elements

Your brand’s visual elements remain a crucial part of your brand’s identity. As visual creatures, we rely on visual aspects to help form our perceptions of brands; it plays a key role in defining how we interact with and feel about them. 

A brand’s visual elements are so important, in fact, that many see them as synonymous with the term “brand” itself. 

What are the visual elements of a brand you need to know? Here they are:

The visual identity of a brand remains the most widely-recognized part of branding, making it an incredibly influential tool when done right. 

It’s important for brands to create a style guide to ensure consistent visuals that their audiences can immediately recognize and seek out time and time again. 

Brand presence 

Last but not least, your brand presence represents the space your brand occupies in the physical and digital worlds. Your newly established brand strategy and identity will be reflected in these spaces, providing a cohesive experience for consumers across the web, their phones, and in real life. 

Let’s take a look at some key places where you can optimize your brand’s presence:

As consumers are increasingly shopping online, your website will often serve as the first and main interaction point for consumers with your brand. Because of this, your website needs to be well-designed both functionally and visually. 

You’ll also want to use your brand voice in your web copy, with compelling calls-to-action to drive sales. At the end of the day, what good is great branding if you’re not pulling in revenue?

Your social channels should look and sound like your brand. When used right, social media is a great place to boost your brand’s awareness and grow its presence. 

Provide a unique experience that aligns with your brand, both through your store design, layout, and your in-store customer service. 

What is brand marketing?

Brand marketing refers to the tactical process of promoting your product in line with your brand’s established identity. Your brand’s marketing strategy should constantly be evolving to raise your brand’s awareness, encourage loyalty, create engagement, and, of course, bring in sales. 

You may have noticed that branding and marketing tend to get grouped together; but, even though branding is often referred to as a marketing practice, they’re still two distinct processes. 

Below are a couple of ways that marketing and branding differ.

Branding vs marketing

Though the goals of marketing and branding often overlap—both working together to create and grow your business—it’s important to understand their differences to wield them effectively.

Naturally, you can’t exactly market a brand that doesn’t exist yet. So, branding comes first. 

And after you’ve established your branding, learning to market your brand online and off will be the next step to gain recognition and start making sales. 

Plus, thanks to your branding research and determined guidelines, you’ll already have a strong sense of direction for your marketing plan. 

It remains apparent that strategic branding, coupled with strong brand marketing, has the power to make brands withstand the test of time. 

Learn more about the differences between branding and marketing in our in-depth post here!

Understanding the Importance of Branding

Let’s dive into why branding matters so much and go over what good branding looks like. 

Why business branding matters

Branding isn’t just important for businesses; it’s necessary. It plays a critical role in how your business is perceived and its long-term success. 

When you think of a major brand, such as Amazon or Apple, you quickly begin to see the importance of branding in terms of being readily and easily recognized, uniqueness from competitors, overall value, and more. They’ve achieved their high degrees of success largely thanks to their branding. 

Here are some of the top reasons branding matters.

Branding provides value

Brands are incredibly valuable for companies and individuals. In fact, even more so than the product or service they sell. 

Let me illustrate what I mean. Take Coca-Cola, for example. There are many cola products on the market that are very similar, but consumers still pick Coca-Cola over them because of the warm and fuzzy, deep-rooted feelings the brand brings them. 

Another example of the value of brands falls in the “brand name product” vs “generic product” phenomenon. 

Often a brand name and generic product will be precisely the same or with negligible differences, but consumers prefer the brand name. Well-established brands provide a feeling of status for buyers, even for something as basic as ketchup. 

On an additional note, as a business owner, your goal is to provide value to the market and to be profitable for doing so. It’ll be beneficial for you to view branding as an asset for your company. Depending on your exit strategy and whether you plan to sell your company in the future, your branding will be a big part of how your company is valued.  

Branding increases recognition and distinguishes you from competition

One of the most important factors of branding is the recognition it can bring your business. Building the right branding elements creates a lasting, positive impression in consumers’ minds. 

In fact, our brains can register the elements of popular brands in an instant due to past experiences and frequent exposure to their carefully-planned branding. If I were to ask you right now what the Starbucks logo is, chances are you could instantly tell me. 

In a market of fast things that go faster, you want to be able to stand out and have instant recognizability so that your target customers can find you quickly and easily. 

Your branding also highlights how you’re unique in the marketplace. This gives your products their own distinct identity by connection, too. With branding in place, none of your competitors will be exactly like you, even if they sell a very similar product.

Branding helps bring and keep customers

Plus, as we’ve established, marketing your business is so much easier when you have good branding in place. Solid branding research and development is not only the first step of the two; it also causes your marketing to take shape. 

Not to mention, effective marketing brings in more customers, and with your strong, established branding at its side, you’ll be able to win their loyalty. 

A common mistake that businesses make is to over-promote and over-sell, especially through social media. But having strong branding makes these unnecessary. You can let your customers know the value of what you provide without always having your sales hat on. 

When you give your customers value on a regular basis, they can easily see what your company is about through the authentic personality that your brand conveys. 

Branding establishes trust and credibility 

Good branding also tells your audience that you’re a company with credibility. 

One way it does this is by bringing clarity to your messaging. It’s pretty easy to share exactly how you serve the marketplace when you’ve got your branding in place. 

There’s a saying that a confused mind doesn’t buy. When consumers frequently see your branding, along with your clear and consistent messaging, it establishes trust, making them feel safe to purchase what you’re offering. 

Once you wrap your mind around the importance of branding and understand that your brand tells people who and what you are, you can get creative in sharing your company’s established personality to bring your value to the marketplace. And the cool thing is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

Now, let’s take a look behind the curtain at some great brands! 

Examples of good branding

When we take a look at what’s working in the world of branding, many brands might come to your mind (further reiterating the power of their branding)—Apple, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Netflix, etc.; yep, there are a ton of brands doing it right.  

This is awesome news for us because it provides a lot of inspiration. What better place to get some branding tips than from the world’s most successful brands? You can see what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, which can help you model your own brand for success. 

I’ll go over each of these iconic brands and discuss some of the ways that their branding works. 

Apple

Apple is certainly one of the most powerful modern brands around. Their branding is clean, simple, and memorable. 

Perhaps most importantly, their elements have stayed consistent and cohesive, establishing an insane brand presence, authority, and consumer loyalty worldwide. 

Their brand name, “Apple,” was a strategic move right from the start. Steve Jobs came up with the name because “Apple” would sit ahead of their competitor, “Atari,” in the phone book

The logo, an apple, is already a universally familiar image, too, requiring no extra brainpower to recreate their logo image in your mind. 

Starbucks

Starbucks has a great story surrounding the name. And that story is now part of their branding

They’re an awesome example of how effective intentional branding is; they saw a need in the marketplace for a relaxed atmosphere where people could work, converse, have a coffee and have a strong community experience and reflected this throughout their branding.

By thoroughly understanding and filling this market need, they were able to shape an incredibly effective brand from the start. And by staying consistent with their brand mission, values, visuals, and messaging from there, their brand took off.

McDonald’s 

Of course, McDonald’s branding is iconic. Everyone knows their logo—even across 100 countries. And as they evolved to modernize their architecture and menus, they’ve stayed globally uniform, with their golden double arches remaining ever-present. 

Even if you’ve never heard of Ronald McDonald, chances are you can spot those double arches from a mile away. And thanks to their consistent, iconic branding across their stores and product branding, your brain might just “smell” their hot, salty french fries, simply in association with seeing the double arches. 

Netflix 

Netflix is a good example of a brand that has outpaced its competitors by being willing to change. When their competitors (RIP Blockbuster) weren’t adapting to the needs of the marketplace, Netflix conducted effective market research and paid attention to what consumers were saying. But, more importantly, they made this value a part of their branding. 

“Netflix and chill.” 

I’m sure you’ve heard it. With Netflix’s online streaming, people no longer needed to leave their homes to pick up a DVD rental. Their brand is convenient, modern, and comfortable. They also know their target audience extremely well and aren’t afraid to banter with them over social media, keeping customer engagement alive and well on a massive scale.

Altogether, the sum of their effective branding elements has made Netflix a cultural powerhouse. 

There you go, these represent some of the best company branding around. 

Let’s recap a bit: some things that these great brands have in common are consistent branding elements, memorable imagery, strong values reflected throughout their branding, and their own unique identities.

Each of these companies put in place strong branding strategies in response to what the marketplace wants and needs, continuing to evolve with the world while staying committed to their brand’s core positive traits.

Taking note from these great brands, it’s worth mentioning that while getting branding right from the start is incredibly important, you don’t need to feel stuck in stone with it; your branding can and should evolve over time. You just don’t want to make too many changes too fast. 

The fact is, the more effort you put into laying an excellent foundation for your brand, it’ll actually make it easier to change and grow effectively over time.

Branding Resources for Beginners

Ever since the world started opening up again this spring, we’ve been hearing from a ton of folks who are excited—and nervous—to start building a business now that they’re seeing light on the horizon.

In fact, Pat’s told us that his inbox has been flooded recently with emails that go something like this:

“Pat, I want to finally get going on my idea and get a website up online, but I have no idea where to start. Can you help?”

We can definitely help.

In fact, we’ve had an amazing resource just for this purpose for a while—our Build Your Own Brand (BYOB) course!

In the rest of this post, I wanted to share a few resources from the SPI archives to help you get started branding and building your new online business. Check them out, then sign up for BYOB

Below are a few goodies from the archives of the SPI blog and AskPat and SPI podcasts that’ll help you get started branding and building an amazing business.

SPI 286: How to Build a Brand that Stands Out from the Crowd

In this episode of the SPI Podcast, Pat goes over how to start building a brand from the ground up, how to understand your audience better so that you can better serve them, and some ways that you can follow through and build a great community. 

AP 0035: When Starting Out, How Broad or Specific Should Your Niche Be?

It should come as no surprise that, here at SPI, we’re biiiig fans of niching down. But we get that the idea of picking a smaller audience can seem scary and counterintuitive. Pat goes over the rationale for targeting a more focused market.

Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon: SPI Book Club Issue 60 | April 2019

Patrick Hanlon’s Primal Branding is an exploration of why some brands work and thrive while others don’t. Hanlon delves into human nature to describe why brands outperform others, including our need to belong to something, our love for creation stories, and our fascination with memorable icons like logos and jingles, and the importance of having a creed.

AP 1156: How Do I Best Describe and Position My Business and Work to Others? What Do I Say?

In this episode of AskPat 2.0, Jay wonders how he can best describe and position his business and work to others. How do you fine-tune your messaging? How do you know when you’ve nailed it? Pat and Jay cover this in their coaching call.

How to Launch a Brand New Website (With a Bang!) – The Ultimate Guide

For many (most?) brands today, a website is a crucial piece of how you present yourself to and interact with your audience and customers. Our ultimate guide walks you through each step in launching your brand new website with a bang, from creating your viral content to creating launch-day buzz.

AP 1020: How Do I Stop the FOMO and Start Making Money?

Pretty much all of us have experienced fear of missing out (FOMO) in some form or another—and it happens when it comes to starting a business, too! 

Anand has had an amazing weight transformation in his life—losing 125 pounds and maintaining his weight loss over six years—and wants to share it with the world, but his FOMO is distracting him. He needs a little help finding focus and direction and monetizing his business.

AP 0270: Should My Brand Be Me or My Company?

To create a personal brand or not? This question can stop some solopreneurs in their tracks when they’re just starting out. Is it disingenuous to create an impersonal brand if you’re the only person in your business? Or are you actually doing yourself a disservice by thinking that way? Pat shares some guidance with Bill, who’s trying to reboot a brand that used to include employees but now is a solo project. 

Branding and Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Branding… marketing… they’re pretty much the same thing, right? Not so fast. Before you start your own online business, you need to understand how branding and marketing differ and how they work together. Here’s our primer.

That should do it for now!

Final thoughts

At this point, you should have a clear picture of what branding is and why it’s so important. 

Brands are so much more than just your business’s name and logo (though those are important, too!); it’s that gut feeling customers get when seeing and interacting with your brand. Learning the ropes of good branding is key for your business’s success; it’ll help you to create a lasting positive perception for your business and its products. It may sound like a lot, but I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can achieve this, and you’re not alone in the process! There are tons more resources for getting started in the content archives on smartpassiveincome.com, including our Beginner’s Guide to Branding. And don’t forget to sign up below for BYOB!



  • Ray Sylvester

    Ray is a writer, editor, movement specialist, and SPI’s former senior writer.

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