The other day at the coffee shop I overheard a conversation between two business owners. They were talking about having a new “brand” designed. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that they were really talking about their logo. They discussed the fact that their “brand” looked tired and out of date. As they conversed I got a mental image of an old, faded, dusty something-or-other.

I reflected on the way my own understanding of the term “brand” has evolved over the years.  Like those guys at the next table, I also thought of logos as being “brands.” At some point I was introduced to the idea that “your brand is your promise.” Intrigued, my understanding was expanded. Fast forward a few years, and I now have more to add to the stew.

What’s in a Brand

The American Marketing Association defines “brand” in a couple different ways. One definition relates more to the visual side of things. The other definition relates more to the conceptual side. I like to break down branding into three different components. Frankly, I’m not sure that the terminology or breakdown is important. Marketing professionals are welcome to slice the onion in different ways.

What seems important to me is that companies have an organized way of understanding these different elements and use that understanding to identify areas for improvement and problem solving. The three aspects of branding I think about are the LOGIC or INTENTION of your brand, the VISUAL REPRESENTATION of your brand and the REALITY of your brand.

The LOGIC of Your Brand

Logic, intention and vision all relate to your brand as you envision it. What it stands for, its place in the market compared to competitors, the way you are meant to be viewed by your customers and so on. It’s the product of deliberate thought. The degree of time and effort you put into it depends on your resources, sophistication and stage of business growth.

This doesn’t have to be rocket science, but it often requires an objective third party who has a process to deliberate and document this aspect of your brand. And it’s not set in stone. Companies go through rebranding processes when they believe that their current brand does not serve them well.

Having said all that, the logic of your brand is simply what you intend it to be.

The VISUAL REPRESENTATION of Your Brand

This component is pretty much self-explanatory. I’ll add a little twist. It’s most easily said that the visual representation of your brand is your logo and colors.

Another piece of the puzzle relates to style guides. Style guides are meant to provide visual continuity related to colors, fonts and other aspects of how a company’s presence appears in print and other media. That continuity makes a much better impression than the several fonts and colors that various printers have used in your materials.

A style guide can be a very simple, affordable document, useful for any small business.  I remember a conversation I had with a designer who talked about work she was doing for a company that had grown into a global concern over a period of two decades. As their company grew, so did their need to specify the way they appeared in different media and in various parts of the world. She described the evolution of their style guide from “We don’t have one” to a big, thick handbook.

The basic idea of this component of branding is very simply how it “looks.”

The REALITY of Your Brand

The reality of your brand is the most important component. It rarely gets the attention it deserves. A more academic term would be brand image. I like to use the term reality,  because it seems like it does more to convey the idea that this is where the rubber meets the road.

I like to define the reality of brand as the entire collection of thoughts, impressions and experiences that live in peoples’ minds. For some reason I have a homing pigeon on this topic. I often think, write and speak about it in different ways, like when I talk about Touch Points.

One reason I stress its importance is that this aspect of your brand, more than any other, influences buying decisions. I know of companies who have terrible looking logos, but enjoy great success. I have also encountered companies with a sophisticated, well-design presence, but they leave a lot to be desired operationally. Maybe their service is poor or I have to endure certain inconveniences. They generally lose my business.

The bottom line related to the three aspects of branding is this; Brand strategy is important, as are well-designed marketing materials. But it’s how you perform, day in and out, that builds the most powerful impressions in the minds of customers.

Parting Thought To Go

I’ll leave you with this thought. Next time you visit your favorite coffee shop, think about the different aspects of their brand. Ask some basic questions. What are they intending to communicate about their company? What do the visuals tell you? Most importantly, ask yourself this question, “What is my experience with this company and how is it shaping my opinion and buying habits?

Article written by

Steve Smart / Brand Strategist / Undefeated Boggle Player