Branding 101: It’s All Feeling

New Client: “I want to renew my brand.”

Me: “OK, what exactly would you like to do?”

NC: “I need a new logo, and I need a new brochure and business cards. I’m thinking about getting a new website, too.”

Me: “What is your goal in doing this?”

NC: “…to renew my brand!”

I have this conversation a lot. Within the past ten years, this “branding” buzzword has gained steam to the point where there are entire agencies that bill themselves as “branding agencies.”

Still, a lot of business owners (and marketers, for that matter) don’t seem to know what it really means.

Here we go:

Branding is NOT a new logo, a new website, your company name, or any of those other things. Those things are window dressing. They are the clothes your company wears to go out in public.

Branding IS how customers and prospects FEEL about your company. It’s what you stand for and what you promise to them. Yes, this can be communicated partly through visual means. But equally important is what your company does when no one is looking, and the way people feel when they interact with you.

Take, for example, Apple and Microsoft. I use these companies as examples because both brands are high profile in the public consciousness. What is Microsoft? You could say serious, nerdy, safe, conservative. Apple, on the other hand, is almost the opposite: hip, youthful, progressive, sleek.

Why do we feel this way about these brands? Is it simply because of their logos, the way their ads look, their websites, or their business cards? No. We feel this way because of the stories they tell. When we see Bill Gates or hear about the company’s Big Blue days, we get a sense of the company and what it stands for. When we hear about Steve Jobs’ days spent chasing enlightenment in India or the corporate culture at Apple, we similarly get an idea of what Apple means.

You have to develop the story of your business, and it has to be authentic. You cannot make it up — consumers sniff inauthenticity from a mile away. Start with your reason for starting the company, write at length about your passion for what you do, make a list of your company’s values. Then, you’ll have the framework, the building blocks, of your brand.

One more good example for the road: Sam Adam’s beer. Sam Adam’s has taken Jim Koch, the co-founder of Boston Beer Company, and made him an integral part of their brand. Why? Because a living, breathing person exemplifies the brand way better than  a website or logo ever could. Koch started that company, he helped make the beer, and he oozes the history and the passion of the company. He’s the living embodiment of the company.

You don’t have to make yourself the centerpiece if you don’t want to. Absolutely use your website, advertising, and visual collateral to communicate your brand. But the first thing — the VERY FIRST THING you have to do — is develop that story. Figure out what you want your customers to feel about you. The rest follows.

Matthew Chabe

About Matthew Chabe

Matt Chabe is a principal at The Galleon Agency, an integrated marketing agency based in Bangor, Maine that helps businesses around the nation maximize growth. He is the chair of Bangor SCORE, a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and drives way too fast for his own good. Matt graduated from University of Maine with a BA in marketing and a minor in psychology.