What is branding?

I had an interesting conversation recently with an image consultant. In spite of her apparent savvy ways, she didn’t grasp the true definition of branding. I think this word is tossed about so frequently these days that many people are confused, misled, or just oblivious to both the meaning of the word and its impact on a business.

So here is my quick insight into the four stages of branding.

1. Awareness. We’re all branded by the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the restaurants we frequent, the laptop and smartphone of choice, and every other consumer purchase that is part of our unique blend. You make that conscious (or perhaps subconscious) decision based on your awareness of a brand. Some have become so ingrained in our culture that the brand itself is synonymous with the product. Kleenex = tissue. Xerox = photocopy. iPod = mp3 player. Google = Web search. Let’s say for example, I ask you to name a brand of motorcycle. You might respond, Harley Davidson because it has top-of-the-mind brand awareness.

2. Recognition. This stage takes awareness a step further. You don’t just know that Harley is a motorcycle. You associate it with the thundering roar of the powerful engines. It’s the music made in Milwaukee. Unlike the Japanese imports, you probably know the Harley Davidson brand to be an American-made icon for free-wheelers: American by birth. Rebel by choice. It’s not the #1 seller, but the brand recognition is tops!

3. Insistence. You’re convinced that a particular brand will serve your needs. Nothing else will do!

4. Loyalty. The brand has proven its worth to you. You continue to return to the same automobile manufacturer because you know the brand is reliable. You fly the same airline, even if the rate is a bit higher, because you are confident you will travel in comfort, hassle-free, and arrive on schedule. You pass by three other coffee shops on your way to get your grande mild with room at Starbucks. And you are so loyal to your Harley that you tattoo it on your body. How many Yamaha riders can say the same for their brand?

Your brand is much more than the name on your business card. When done properly, branding conveys a comprehensive picture of the product, service, integrity, and ownership. Don’t be short-sighted. Invest in your brand to the fullest. Understand your brand essence and be sure that you communicate its core value to everyone in your organization. Rev it up!

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