What Does Branding Mean Today?

What Does Branding Mean Today? image journal illustration brand 300x238Branding - Wood Street Logo

Originally branding meant marking livestock with a red-hot iron. Today, branding is about much more than just a mark. Merriam-Webster defines branding as…

“The promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand.”

Today we talk about things like Brand Awareness, Brand Building, Brand Advocates and Brand Monitoring. We still associate logos and marketing materials with a company’s brand, but branding encompasses so much more.

Branding begins with the answers to these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. What problem do you solve?
  4. What makes you different?

Notice I didn’t ask what your favorite color or font was? This is about establishing an identity that helps facilitate your growth and sustainability as a business – brand building.

Jon Wuebben, in his book Content is Currency, defines brand building as:

“The notion of establishing a familiar presence, having a standard way of doing things, and establishing a level of confidence in the minds of your customers.”

So, how do you do this? It’s a process of defining and refining:

  1. Who you’re talking to - target audience
  2. What you’re saying and how you’re saying it – content
  3. How it’s received – marketing channels
  4. The outcome – measurement

Target Audience

We’ve discussed target audience quite a bit in this blog. In order to establish your brand you need to identify your Buyer Personas.

Knowing your buyer personas is such a crucial step in the branding process that if you skip it you run the risk of complete failure. Or worse, you’ll trudge along wondering why none of your efforts are producing results.

It’s simple really. You develop a profile of each buyer persona in terms of:

  1. Demographics
  2. Their value in money, reach and return business to you.
  3. Their preferred method of contact – phone, email, website, mobile, social?
  4. Their problems that you can solve.

Paint a picture of the person you’re talking to. Developing personas helps you to keep the client “types” in mind as you work on brand building.

Content

Content is so much more than just marketing copy. Content today, especially when talking about content marketing, is how you build your brand online and through physical marketing channels.

Content consists of:

  1. Web and mobile content
  2. Video and audio
  3. White papers, eBooks
  4. Webinars and podcasts
  5. Infographics, Presentations
  6. Print materials

The list can go on. Considering your buyer personas, map out a content strategy relating to their specific needs. When implemented, this strategy establishes the level of confidence your brand requires to achieve your specific goals.

You do this using content as a tool for building trust in you and your company. Your content informs, educates and inspires a desired action. You aren’t simply creating content for content’s sake. You are creating content to build your brand:

  • Content builds awareness
  • Content builds trust through its usefulness to your audience
  • Content creates fans (brand advocates)
  • Content is the fuel for your marketing efforts

People do business with people they trust. Today they trust people they see on the internet who are experts based on the opinions of others – not on what they say about themselves. Content facilitates this.

Marketing Channels

Content must be consumed or it is useless. It needs to be distributed, promoted and shared. This is done through your marketing channels.

Today we have more channels than we know what to do with. We used to have print, radio and TV – and Don Draper to tell us what to say and where.

To build our brand we need to have a presence in the channels where our target audience spends their time. Most companies have started some semblance of this in various channels.

It helps to start with an evaluation of your reputation or at least your perceived reputation. Where are you? How are you doing there? Do you know?

Consider your presence on these channels:

  • Social
  • Mobile
  • Website
  • Print
  • In Person

Is it consistent? Are you solving problems in these channels or simply promoting your company? Effective branding requires consistency and builds confidence. Are you doing these things?

Do you even have a presence on these channels? When in need, a potential client will actively seek you out. How are you being found? Or not???

  • Search engines
  • Social channels
  • Referrals
  • Printed materials
  • Signs
  • Mobile

Are these “familiar presences?” Do you contribute, monitor, respond and build trust on these channels?

What about Utility Marketing? Are you using content and information in your marketing materials that your target audience can utilize (especially on mobile). This is the stuff that your target audience needs:

  • blog posts
  • video or audio
  • webinars
  • eBooks

If you are not solving problems, you’re creating noise. A noisy, disruptive brand is no longer effective.

Measurement

How do you know if your branding efforts are working? What does success look like?

  • More leads?
  • More fans and followers?
  • More subscribers?

Success is all of these things and more. Unless you map out your desired outcomes, you’ll have no way of knowing if your efforts are working.

There are those tangibles:

  • Increased site traffic and leads
  • Increased fans/followers on social channels
  • Increased subscribers to your email newsletter

These and more are hard numbers you can track. For example, you can set a goal of 1,000 new unique website visitors per month and work toward that goal. You can see what activities increase traffic and which do not through Google Analytics.

But, what about the intangibles? What about things like authority and trust? How do you measure that? You listen.

Pay attention to the leads that come through your door. Ask them how they heard of you and really listen to the answer.

As you build your presence in your marketing channels, things will start to happen that confirm your authority and trust. You will become the go-to expert in your industry.

This might only happen in your neck of the woods and that’s OK. Sometimes your brand needs to stay confined to an area that you can reasonably manage – big fish in a small pond.

Other times you begin to expand and get noticed in areas you’ve never targeted before. This is the beauty of the web.

You can gauge your level of authority in many ways by watching these metrics…

  • number of thoughtful blog comments
  • requests for guest posts and speaking engagements
  • mentions in social channels (use tools like Google Alerts to monitor these)
  • what your clients say and the referrals you get

Popularity and authority, while sometimes over-hyped, are important today, especially online. Building your brand means that you are establishing your company as THE source for what your target audience needs.

What you don’t want to do is count numbers just to watch them grow. Numbers need to tie to specific goals, otherwise they are just numbers.

How do you see branding today? What do you think about reputation and authority? Am I way off base here? Let me know in the comments below.

PS – Personal Branding – this post covers branding as it relates to companies and organizations. If you want read a great discussion on personal branding, check out this post from Gini Dietrich.

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