What branding is NOT
Imagine you wanted to make soup for dinner.
If you throw some potatoes in a pot and turn the burner on, you will just end up with your smoke detector going off.
If you add water and the potatoes, the result will be watery potatoes.
Well then, what is soup?
Soup is a number of things put together in a particular way to create a meal that is packed with associations and feelings. Soup isn’t any one ingredient. It’s also not just liquid and a vegetable or meat. It is a combination of ingredients that result in making you feel warm and cozy. It’s comfort food. It’s a remedy. And it’s a category for a lot of different types.
Before you make a soup, you need to decide what kind of soup you want.
Branding is often thought to be its ingredients.
A cohesive brand is one of the most important things you will do for your business, but so often people misunderstand what it is. Sometimes when trying to understand a topic, it’s helpful to know what it is not.
Here are six things that branding is NOT:
1. Branding is not a logo
This is probably one of the most common misconceptions I see about branding. People often use the terms brand and logo interchangeably.
Periodically, I have businesses come to me looking for a standalone logo. Yes, a logo is an asset a business should have. But a logo without a brand is like a car without the engine. It looks nice, but it won’t take you anywhere.
I steer away from doing standalone logos. The reason is because without doing the foundational work first, you often end up with something that isn’t quite right or isn’t effective.
The best mechanic in the world can’t fix a car with no engine without building that engine first.
A logo is a symbol that reflects your brand. But it is not your brand itself.
2. Branding is not a product
Often when product-based businesses start up, one of the first things they start with is their label.
Labels are incredibly important for a product. Can you imagine walking around a grocery store full of products in blank glass and plastic containers?
First, you would have no idea what anything is. But also, you wouldn’t know what message the manufacturer is trying to send.
Is this a healthy product? Is the business earth conscious? Is it junk food? Is it gourmet?
The thing is, a brand should steer what that label looks like, not the other way around. So while you might need a label, you need a brand first so you can make that label can accomplish what you want it to.
3. Branding is not design
I once worked for a nonprofit, and when I started with them, they had every variation of brochure and pamphlet possible. They all had different colors, different fonts, different looks and styles.
The reason for this was they had never gone through a branding process, so no one knew what those design materials were supposed to look like. There was no road map.
A brand will provide that road map for you as you design your materials, whether that is a brochure, business card, social media, website, etc. It will help you make certain decisions about what design for your business looks like.
Without the map first, you may end up a little lost. So build the map first.
4. Branding is not name or a trademark
Who would have thought one of the biggest brands in the world would be named after a piece of fruit? Yet Apple has a very strong brand it has worked to cultivate over decades. It’s success didn’t come from it’s name. Nor does its name have anything to do with computers and phone technology.
Sure, a catchy or meaningful name is a great thing. But it isn’t your brand.
5. Branding is not a tagline
Summing your business up in a few words is helpful for people to understand who you are and what you do. But it isn’t the entirety of your brand.
If you only heard the tagline, “Just do it” without knowing about Nike, you would have no idea who they are.
Again, the branding process will help you better define a tagline.
6. Branding is not a website
A website is an important tool for a business in this day and age. It serves as a salesperson when you can’t be there to explain your business
But it’s not enough to throw a website onto the internet and expect people to come and buy. There needs to be a strategy in place. That strategy starts with a solid brand.
Too often, businesses come to me wanting a website, but they haven’t done the branding process yet. It’s a little bit like building a house without blueprints. You have nothing to guide you. There are some key decisions left to make. So you end up with something that won’t take you long term so you may need to redo down the road.
So what is branding?
Branding is bigger than any one of those things listed above.
Your brand is the voice, message, values and style of your business. It is a promise to a potential customer of what they will get when they buy from you. It is what separates you from other businesses in your industry. It tells your potential customer what you are and what you are not. It is what provides people the mental associations to understand who you are.
To create this, you need to make some key decisions about who you want to serve, what your mission is and what your goals are. Once you have the foundational work set, then you can move onto making better decisions about other ingredients in your brand, such as your logo, your design, the words that you use, and your tagline.
If you don’t do the work, other people will decide your brand for you. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the one deciding what my business’s brand is.
If you own a business, you should create the recipe first, then go on to make it.
Are you unsure if your brand has the right ingredients to make it effective? Take my quiz.