What is branding?

Earlier this year, I was called for an interview to discuss my take on branding. A conflict of interest never allowed it to happen but I was asked four questions as a starting point. I’ve been thinking most about the first question, What is branding for (?), and offer the following thoughts….

There is value to be found in the efforts put forward by people who choose to build, nurture and promote the reasons why a company exists. Surprisingly, I still often meet with people running businesses that don’t fully understand how the outcome of these efforts, call it branding or otherwise, will lead to long-term successes.

People that choose to invest in why their companies exist gain the opportunity to carry an honest approach forward—to guide their collective efforts and progress along a path of constant improvement. For what, is branding? I believe it’s meant to offer clarity. And, I always enjoy the point in the process when our clients realize their commitment to branding will help shine light on new areas to focus. It’s also nice to see that this clarity generates excitement and sometimes a renewed commitment to moving business forward.


On Honesty
I’m not suggesting that businesses are trying to follow a dishonest approach, or offer false services. Perhaps part of a future post on “What branding is not.”

I am suggesting that I hear, still too often, about a company mission that sounds generic and empty. I find myself wandering when someone sighs and cans their reply to answer what it is that they “do”.

Next time, ask what someone really believes.

Yes, we’ve been in this scenario. Next time, ask what someone really believes. “Don’t think about it, just answer with what you’re really trying to say.” This answer—the second answer—is always more exciting and often much closer to capturing an accurate brand story.

If someone were to ask you what it is that you do, and for whom, would you have an answer that you believe in? Get to an answer that feels right, feels good, sounds simple. It’s the part of the conversation that both parties will remember, too. Try to leave this impression. If you can’t find this answer, one that feels right, you might have some bigger questions in front of you.


On Guidance
One of my sons recently came to me with the idea to start-up and operate a food truck business focused on making and selling pizzas. I asked, “What kind?” “Three options—cheese, green peppers, or hot peppers”, he declared. I offered that he consider adding pepperoni, at least. He said, “no, I want it to be very simple – all natural ingredients, no extra toppings, no meats.” He had a name, asked for help with an identity, and if I would fund him and take the position as his first driver. He’s eight and doesn’t have a license.

We have since gone on to build his identity, flesh out both his financial and marketing plans, and look at used food trucks for sale from time to time. A great father / son project just for the fun of it until he’s old enough to actually do something.

I share this story because it illustrates the progress by which a brand, early in the idea phase, can be guided quickly when you come up with a simple position and a straightforward offer. (Buzzword enthusiasts like to call this an MVP). Simplicity can guide you in all aspects of a business and help to make focused decisions quickly. Keeping the offer simple, with clear product benefits, will drive operational decisions, company understanding and future planning.

Equally important to many business scenarios is that my son’s food truck model came together very quickly because he was leading with passion. Emotional connections, to the offer and benefit, can move sales efforts from stereotypes to real conversations. I got excited about the possibility simply because of his energy. Of course, he is my son, too.

Guidance, as it relates to offering business clarity, can be established quickly. Define a clear offer and how your customers will benefit. You can then act accordingly to inform operations, hiring and strategic planning. And please remember the fun — it’s okay to have some fun and becoming more important with every new generation. We are seeing our clients benefit in three primary areas:

  • Employee Growth—strengths, gaps and opportunities
  • Operations—focused introduction of new SOPs that support culture and progress
  • New business—understanding the right prospect pool and which markets to target


On Progress
This one is quite simple. As both providers (of service and/or product) and customers in search of the same, we have choices in the world. We choose to live in the now and plan for the next. Along the way, the brands that provide an honest product or service will maintain loyal followers.

For now, it’s important to understand an honest approach and guide it forward. You can use this foundation and build a roadmap to provide opportunities for both development and promotion. I’ll go into detail in a future blog post on the importance of committing to your brand for the long-term, which plays directly into the importance of progress and commitment.