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Branding Strategy 101: The History + Future of The Brand

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Your brand is one of the most important aspects of your company, unfortunately it can also be the most enigmatic. How do companies like Coca-Cola and Nike reach such high levels of brand recognition? Big budgets play an enormous role, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few branding strategies from their playbook.

With the rise of digital marketing and ecommerce, the brand has moved up the ranks to the forefront of consumer trust + loyalty. Join us as we learn about the history of the brand, branding strategy and of course, digital brand techniques that will give your business purpose and success.

What Is A Brand?

It’s easy to just copy and paste a definition. Here you go:

Brand: (n) Any name, term, symbol or other element that a company is identified through.

But, it’s always interesting to learn the history behind something that’s risen alongside civilization and still carries so much weight to this day. The history of the brand coincides with significant events throughout society’s march into the modern age.

Don’t have time to read the full article? Don’t worry..

View the short ‘n sweet Brand Strategy 101 SlideShare presentation!

History Of The Brand

The word “brand” derives from the Old Norse word, “brandr”, which means “burning”. This word represents the traditional act of a producer burning a handmade mark onto their piece of property or product.

But there’s much more to the story of branding than a Viking burning the likeness of a horned helmet into the side of a longship. While brands have existed for centuries in the form of civilizations and religion, (privately, from approximately 4th century when the herbal mixture, Chyawanprash was first produced and sold), the idea of a “brand” was never truly given an identity itself. But, the history of “the brand” is fascinating.

The brand has its roots within the development of various identification marks. This starts of course with the transition between ancient history (think Cleopatra) and the Postclassical era (think King Arthur). This brought more global travelers and thereafter the rise of countries, kingdoms, societies and a need to unite under common attitudes and beliefs. Thus, crests, seals and flags were adopted in the name of king and country, waving high above heads of soldiers and donning the homes of civilians.

With the slow development of language and literacy, it took centuries for the brand to come into its own. Seals were used in the ancient world, but not in mass form until the Postclassical era. In the 13th century, Italians created watermarks to let them identify authors of text. From there, the more literally version of branding came into sharp focus when livestock, prisoners and slaves are branded by authority figures with hot irons in the 15th century and beyond. The term Maverick is coined by farmers and cowboys, literally meaning “unbranded calf wandering alone”.

Taking a more positive turn, trademarks were developed through the shipment of products like booze from port to port. The first company to receive a trademark was Bass & Company, British makers of the famous Bass Ale. The Bass Red Triangle represented on their pale ale and the Bass Red Diamond represented on their strong ale are the first two registered trademarks in the world, on January 1st, 1876. There’s some good bar trivia for you the next time you head out with your friends.

Finally, with the rise of industrialization and modern production levels, factories and their mass production capabilities weren’t differentiating enough from local producers. The very first brands normally used the name within their company. Hoover Vacuum, Dupont Oil, Campbell Soup, Folger Coffee; these are just some of the names that most likely still grace the insides of your cupboard, that were around during the ascent of the modern-day brand.

Thanks to media advancements, starting with newspaper and moving on to radio, television, the Internet, it’s easy to see how the need for brand recognition rose to the “mass media” levels of today, and developed into it’s own practice: branding.

dupont brand history
campbells-soup-brand-history
hoover vacuum brand history

What Is Branding?

You now know a lot – even perhaps too much – about the brand and how it was developed. So how does that lead into branding? Well, in order to understand better, let’s dive into another history lesson – it’s quick I promise!

It starts with a man named James Walter Thompson, the father of many well-known marketing techniques, and in 1900, was the first to offer trademark advertising – what we now consider “branding”. Soon enough, recognizable brand elements started popping up in the form of slogans, mascots, taglines, targeted ads and even jingles once the radio gained popularity.

james walter thompson

These tactics adopted by companies worldwide, soon enough transformed into the nuanced form of branding that we know today. By the 1950’s, advertisers and marketers understood that the personality of a brand, including the psychological and sociological messages had enormous effects on the success of products. Creative departments rose on Madison Avenue in New York City and brought about the golden age of advertising. People were more in love with brands than ever.

These days, a brand’s popularity may rise and fall with the un-proofed click of a “Post” button, and thanks to the Internet, differential branding has seemingly never been more difficult. But, if you’re a business owner you should understand that with concepts such as brand value and brand equity, the practice of branding can be quantifiably useful. You shouldn’t get discouraged.

There are certain tactics you need to employ in order to make your brand stand out online. Follow this list to make your branding strategy the best it can be.

Elements Of The Modern Brand

Unlike the Bass Ale days, when all you had to do was stand outside of an office on New Year’s Eve to receive a trademark, the elements of the modern brand are as abundant as they are confusing. Some examples of the modern day brand, include the name, logo, tagline, motto, personality, voice and mission. With a little help, it’s not that hard creating a complete branding strategy around a few of the lesser-known aspects.

Brand Personality

Brand personality. It’s may be weird to think of your brand having a “personality,” but we’re here to tell you that it’s an important aspect of business success. Your brand personality is represented through any form of relatable communication you offer the consumer. Your brand equity depends upon a consistent set of personality traits that consumers can see in themselves or another.

For example, you see a car for sale at the local lot that you really want. You’re a safe person, you have a wife, two small children and take a few family trips throughout the year. Your biggest concern is reassurance that your family will be safe whenever you are transporting them.

What car is it? Volvo.

Here’s another one. You’re at the mall searching for the Dillard’s, when you happen to pass Talbot’s. You notice an advertisement hanging in the window – a glowingly-happy, middle-aged woman playing in the snow with her two small kids, a scarf adorning the collar of her jacket. The woman in the ad oddly reminds you of your wife.

So you head into Talbot’s and purchase the scarf for your wife, hoping to recreate the happiness that you saw on the face of the woman in the ad, for your wife. That is a brand marketer’s dream come true.

Empirical Evidence for a Relatable Brand Personality

Brand personality is important, but I know in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “there’s no way you can prove that some silly brand personality is going to boost my business.” Well, my friend there’s actually empirical proof that a customer is more likely to purchase from a brand if it’s personality is similar to their own.

According to a study done by the Chinese university students, “corporate-brand credibility and product-brand personality have direct positive effects on purchase intention.” Another study provides numerical evidence supporting the idea that when consumers perceive a brand with sincere, competent, exciting, and sophisticated personality characteristics, then they are more likely to be satisfied. In addition, the dimension of sincerity is found to have the largest impact on consumer satisfaction than any other three dimensions.

The way you speak represents your brand voice, which is another huge aspect in creating a cohesive brand message.

Brand Voice + Tone

When you’re providing any form of collateral that communicates with the consumer, you’re speaking (or at least should be) in your “brand voice”. A meaningful and consistent brand voice is important for crafting brand recognition, interaction and loyalty. Your brand voice is an overall statement of how and why you speak to your customers, whereas tone is a subset of brand voice.

brand voice diagram

Tone is used to describe how and in what capacity your company relates to consumers.

If you’re writing an email, do you go with an happy-go-lucky tone or a somber tone? Example below:

“Hey, Kanye!”
or, do you write… “Dear, Mr. West,”

If you’re writing a page for your website, do you go with a quirky tone or a professional tone? Example below:

“We’re a fully-loaded creative agency that will make your cellphone apps more powerful than the Hammer of Thor.”
Or, do you write… “We’re a full-service marketing agency that boosts mobile ROI for each company that we work with.”

How to Find Brand Voice

So, how do you find your brand voice? Well, it’s fairly easy, let’s start with the major components:

Who are you talking to?
– Existing clients
– Prospective clients
– Company partners
– Internal employees
– General public

How are you talking to them?
– Through your website
– On your blog
– In an advertisement
– On social media
– Email
– Newsletter
– Ebook
– Etc.

Answer these questions and draw up scenarios for any foreseeable form of communication you may have with your audiences in the future. Deciding on some adjectives defining your brand voice will give you a firm foundation to start spreading your message. But remember, the most important thing about brand voice is that you remain consistent.

Everything from the specific way you stylize your company name (is it always capitalized?), to which adjectives you decide to use (or not use) within content, and even grammar usage (do you use serial commas or not?). Make sure you’re deciding on an all-encompassing brand voice strategy to communicate with consumers.

Company Mission Statement

The mission statement. I’ve never been a big fan of it. From an agency standpoint, I don’t find a non-branded company with a mission statement any more compelling than a branded company without one.

But, I understand the importance of a company having a mission – it’s paramount to success. It’s just that mission statements are so vague and just plain boring. In fact, while a mission is important to the millennial demographic, it isn’t necessary as the actual carrying out of that mission. If there’s dissonance between your mission statement and your success on that mission, consumers will bolt away from you.

So why not have some fun and de-corporatize it? There’s no reason to be so buttoned up when declaring your mission to the world. Instead of calling it a mission statement, take a page from Snap’s book and call it your “Storyline”. Because what is a mission statement if it isn’t about where we come from and where we’re going? We want to tell our mission like the great story that it is:

Snap exists to build strategic digital marketing plans that let clients achieve long term business goals. Born from a grassroots ecommerce success story, Snap has been on a mission to create the most effective websites on the Internet for more than a decade.

Now that you know the elements of the modern day brand, let’s dive into the branding process and get your company’s branding strategy off the ground.

How To Build A Brand Strategy

You know have branding strategies and ideas floating around in your head, without a cohesive outline to bring them all together. But first, you need to understand why the branding process is important to your business:

Branding Promotes Recognition

Having a consistent brand message will make your company more likely to be recognized should a piece of promotional material cross their paths. When the consumer makes a connection to an earlier piece of information it makes the bond between consumer and brand much stronger.

Branding Differentiates You From Competition

Your competition undoubtedly is branding their company, or “de-branding” yours. Either through developing their own brand to drown out yours, or undercutting your brand by offering better/cheaper products + services than you. Develop a contrasting brand strategy from your competition to maximize the differential.

Branding Gives Employees A Clear Direction + Strategy

If your employees don’t have a clear brand strategy laid out before them, they won’t perform as effectively as possible. Create a brand guidelines booklet to make all brand mandatories easily accessible. This also makes the onboarding process for new employees much more seamless.

Branding Creates Inspiration + A “Gut Feeling”

Your brand logo is most likely the first thing a consumer will associate with your brand. If it’s a greatly designed, attractive and noticeable logo, they will get that gut feeling of trust right away. Unfortunately, if your branding isn’t as attractive, their gut feeling can go the opposite way and they’ll bounce from your site.

Branding Provides Business Value Through Trust

By turning that gut feeling into fully-fledged trust, you create a more loyal customer. With more loyal customers comes more notices, interactions and sales, thus raising your business value.

Above All, Branding Defines (or Refines) Your Cultural Focus

To truly understand what your brand represents, how you will grow with customers and ultimately be more successful than you are today, you need to do some self-evaluation.

Sit down at a white board with your entire team, from the CEO to the interns to decide on your cultural focus. Brainstorm the following questions, writing down as many responses as possible to each:

Who are we?
What adjectives define us?
What makes us different?
Who are we not?
What unique value do we offer?
Why will clients choose us?
What are our Weaknesses?
How will we improve upon them?

With this exercise, your goal is to drill down as far as possible into the culture of your business. Every question from employee effectiveness, to business UVPs, to competitor evaluation needs to be answered. Getting all employee’s input is recommended, as different employees represent different client accounts, demographics, perceptions and so forth.

Once your brainstorm is complete, and you’re okay with the amount of information you’ve gathered, have your team pick out a few of the most important from each section. Return to the above listed modern brand elements and start injecting that new found information into each one.

And just as businesses migrated to the Internet, so did branding. If you’re interested in enacting some digital branding strategies that will quickly get your new found branding strategy off the ground online, then keep reading.

Digital Branding Tactics

To get your brand strategy rolling, you need to use some marketing tactics to communicate your message to consumers. Digital branding and branding in general is a long term process, so unless you’re incredibly savvy, don’t expect to see huge results right away. But be patient, keep picking away and soon enough you’ll see quantifiable results.

Segment Your Audience With SEO

We’ve been stressing the importance of SEO for years now, and it never seems to be enough. SEO has moved past the realm of buzzword into it’s own entity within the marketing mix. How does SEO assist in branding? Several ways.

First, there’s proof that the higher you rank in search engines, the more traffic you drive to your website and ultimately better business comes in. But did you know that you can segment your audiences and create branded SEO content targeted specifically for each demographic?

Landing pages are crucial in winning a top ranking in search engines. Landing pages are web pages that are connected with your website, but only accessible through clicking on a link. They are designed to target a specific keyword and to quickly convert visitors. By crafting a subdued page layout, and offering minimal options, you encourage the user to take an intended action, such as a purchase or newsletter signup.

Create landing pages specifically tailored to each specific segment of your audience. If you want to target women, use more pink within your color scheme. If you’re main target is children, use a lot of fun caricatures. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask, “What will make me excited about this brand?”

Reach Out To Online Networks

In the digital space, there are countless companies, agencies and bloggers for us to reach out to – Moz, KissMetrics, Inbound.org, LinkedIn, Instagram. Even for our clients, many whom offer niche products and services, we scour the depths of the Internet to find the most relevant networks, bloggers, forums, communities and people interested in that topic.

No matter what type of company you run, there are people on the Internet talking about it. If you can find them and you have unique and relevant content, they may just pay attention to you. Spreading your influence means expanding your brand, and finding new customers + opportunities.

To start your search, get on Google and enter “forum: insert industry/product/service here,” or “niche: insert industry/product/service here.” This will provide the best niche communities for your industry, product or service. Create accounts and get active in these communities before blatantly promoting your own content.

Create a Brand Book

To stay consistent and make sure all your employees are on the same page, create and publish a brand book specific to your business. A brand book will detail everything about your brand, from your logo variations, color schemes, mission statement, voice statement, branded terms, banned words list, writing style and audiences.

A brand book is the key reason why a consumer chooses a “brandname” product over just the generic product. Even though the two products are possibly the same, the brand is what pushes the consumer into making the more expensive purchase. They feel a connection, because your company has tailored your message to create a particular feeling every time someone interacts with your brand.

Here’s a great brand book article that lets you see some of the biggest companies’ books, like Nike and Apple, so you can get some inspiration for your own business.

apple iphone branding

Testing Your Brand Strategy

After all is said and done, and your branding strategy has been given some time to make an impact, how will you know the extent (or failure) of your plan?

There a couple ways. First, you can conduct A/B tests. This is possibly the easiest way to test online content. All A/B testing does is compare two variations of the same page against one another to see which is the top performer. Let’s say you want to test a certain brand tone on a call-to-action. Create two pages, split traffic to both, and see which CTA receives more clicks. That’s the page to implement full-time.

Another measuring strategy you can use is analyzing the click-through-rate. CTR measures the percentage of clicks advertisers receive out of total ad impressions. Impressions are the amount of times your ad is viewed. For example, if a banner ad is delivered 100 times (100 impressions) and receives one click, then the click-through rate for the advertisement would be 1%.

To calculate your CTR, use the following equation:

CTR = Clicks / Impressions x 100

Branding Strategy 101 In Conclusion

Hopefully now you have a clearer picture of brand strategy and why it’s one of the most important aspects of customer retention, in that it builds relations + trust. Your brand may never reach the heights of Apple, Pepsi or Adidas, but if you start today, you can work toward stronger brand awareness using digital marketing techniques.

Above all, remain consistent in every message you deliver. Cultivate and strengthen your brand using these strategies and you’ll be well on your way to ripping open your brand for the entire world to see.


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Abby Olson

Abby Olson

Abby is a sparkplug of energy, and a go-getter in leading the SEO department. She helps kick in the energy in the office and keeps us all on our toes.


 

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