What is branding? Collaborate more effectively with your branding agency

Changing our name? But I thought we were just going to do a branding project? When we talk about branding with colleagues or clients, the ideas on this can vary quite a bit, even when everyone knows that you’re working together on a branding project. That’s why we’re attempting to create the ultimate branding guide with practical examples. This way, as clients and agencies, we can be more aligned and hopefully develop stronger brands.

Wat is branding?

You might think that branding is an English term, but it actually originates from the Old Norse word ‘brandr’, which literally means ‘to burn’. In the 16th century, livestock owners used this method to mark the ownership of their animals. It was a literal and figurative stamp that distinguished cattle farms. Simple and recognisable. The precursor to the modern logo.

According to the definition by the American Marketing Association, branding is a means to distinguish products, services, or organisations from one another through the use of a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof. Distinction is still an important aspect of branding, but its meaning has evolved. Today, branding is much more about creating a connection with your customer. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, says: “Your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Branding is present in every form of communication

Branding is much more than just a logo, house style, or a tool for your advertisements. It goes beyond mere visual language. Branding is about how you translate your company’s values into an overarching brand identity that is reflected in your corporate communication.

It showcases the identity of your product or service and is woven into every form of communication with your customer. This includes not only your website but also the conversations you have on social media, the emails you send, the types of products you sell, and the aftercare you provide. Every interaction with customers shapes the perception and experience of the brand.

Branding is more than a logo. It is the visual language you use. An identity that is present in every interaction with your customer.

With branding, you influence your customer's perception

Brand communication is essentially about psychology. With a brand image, you create a distinctive and unique association within your target audience. You consciously influence how customers perceive your brand. It goes beyond simply creating a positive feeling about your product or service. A brand image demonstrates what your brand stands for while simultaneously seeking connections with your audience’s experiences.

Branding is the core of your communication. It’s something you can always rely on. A brand strategy process with a branding agency begins with the questions: who are you, what do you do, and why? The outcome of a branding process can serve as a foundation for briefing designers who will shape your visual identity.

For instance, consider a brand like Apple. Their branding isn’t just about the sleek logo; it’s about the entire experience they create, from the intuitive design of their products to the customer service they provide. This comprehensive approach ensures that every interaction reinforces their brand identity.

By establishing a strong brand image, you communicate the essence of your brand and resonate with the values and expectations of your audience. This holistic approach to branding ensures that every touchpoint, from social media interactions to product packaging, contributes to a consistent and compelling brand story.

What are the benefits of branding?

Recognition & Differentiation

At its core, branding ensures recognition and differentiation. Nowadays, consumers and businesses have far more choices in products, services, brands, locations, and sales channels. Your ability to stand out is thus essential for your company’s success. In times of abundance, customers seek clarity. A strong brand identity helps you be recognizable to customers and differentiate yourself from the rest. For example, Norday created a distinctive visual identity for Solar Monkey by using specific shapes that make it instantly recognizable as Solar Monkey.

Read here about our approach to brand design at Norday.

Quality, professionalism, trust

Beyond recognition, a brand also builds trust. Customers know what quality to expect from your service or product and what they can anticipate. For some customers, quality is more important than price. They appreciate not having to search for alternatives because they know they will get what they want from you.

Emotional connection and personality

The power of branding lies especially in the emotional experience of the customer. What experience do they get with your product or service? What are your company’s values, and how do they fit into the customer’s world? Brand experience can elevate the price of your product or service. This is why consumers readily spend €1000 on fashion brands like Stone Island and The North Face. All choices we make are based on what aligns with our identity and values, from what we eat and the clothes we wear to which energy provider we use.

Therefore, it’s crucial in branding to know your target audience well. A good example is the branding Norday did for The Ocean Cleanup. The goal of The Ocean Cleanup is to develop advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans and rivers of plastic. They aim to reach engineers, donors, and fans alike. Consequently, the website’s design consciously features a technical and epic setup.

Focus in your business

Brand positioning impacts not only externally but also internally, providing focus and direction across all aspects of your business. A brand identity also defines what you are not and what you do not do. A solid branding strategy ensures that everything you do aligns perfectly with what your brand promises. This includes not just your products or services but also, for example, your customer service.

Proud partners and employees

Additionally, a strong brand fosters pride among partners and employees. For instance, we created a distinctive and intuitive design for the Stedelijk Museum’s website. This bold design acts as a statement, enabling quick and attractive landing pages for social campaigns. The result: proud employees who feel encouraged in their creativity. Moreover, a strong identity attracts the interest of financial partners. Thus, from a business perspective, branding is immensely important.

A strong brand identity not only makes you distinctive and recognizable but also fosters an emotional connection with your customers, employees, and financial partners.

What benefits does branding bring to your company?

The big question in branding is always what it concretely delivers in financial terms for a company. Is the investment of time and money worth it? Marketing gurus Les Binet and Peter Field have been researching the effectiveness of marketing for over a decade. In their 2016 publication “Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Age,” they use a series of graphs to explain how branding contributes to business results.

They distinguish between “sales activation” and “brand building.” Both drive sales, but in very different ways. Sales activation is used for short-term results. Think of targeted campaigns that prompt consumers to take action at a specific moment. This creates a quick spike in sales, but the effect fades just as quickly.

Brand building, on the other hand, has a more lasting impact. Brand communication creates a deep emotional connection with your brand. It is a strategy used for long-term impact. One strategy is not better than the other; in fact, they can complement each other.

Brand communication is a crucial part of your long-term strategy, but how exactly does it contribute to your business results? Here are four key outcomes:

Customer loyalty

Branding creates an emotional connection with your customer. It helps build a long-term relationship, ensuring customers keep coming back. Done well, you can even create brand ambassadors—customers who recommend your product or service to others. Branding, therefore, plays a vital role in building customer loyalty.

Revenue growth

When customers consistently return to you, it leads to increased revenue. Not only do you sell more, but you can also command higher prices. This is why brands like Apple and Nike are so successful. There are many providers of computers and sportswear, but customers choose the brand and convenience. Once they make that choice, they are less likely to switch.

Increased financial value of your company

A strong brand reputation makes it easier to attract new customers. Customers of a strong brand are also less price-sensitive, making it easier to launch new products. This increases your company’s financial value, facilitating easier growth.

Enthusiastic employees and new talent

Branding not only generates revenue but also creates a fun and interesting workplace where people work enthusiastically. Employees feel connected to the brand values, their work, and their communication with customers. A good brand strategy also brings structure to internal processes, which employees generally appreciate. In places where it is enjoyable to work, you also easily attract new talent. Therefore, branding significantly influences your human resource management.

What does a branding project cost?

The question every client eventually asks is: what does it cost? The costs of a branding project can vary widely, ranging from €500 to €100,000. Like any other product or service you purchase, the price depends on what you want as a client and what budget you have. So, what do you get when you pay more?

Generally, a higher investment means more quantity, higher quality, more convenience, better service, and so on. When you hire a branding agency, you are paying for the expertise they bring and the convenience of having them handle the work for you. Their extensive experience in creating brand strategies also adds value. The cost also depends on what you specifically need. Do you require a brand strategy, a completely new visual identity, a logo, a website, or a campaign? How much knowledge and resources do you already have in-house, and what do you need to outsource?

A branding project is time-intensive, whether you do it yourself or outsource it. Successful branding requires a dedicated project team with the right expertise.

Can you succeed without branding?

You might wonder if success is possible without branding. Some companies gain many new customers through personal networks and don’t have a prominent website or social media presence. However, even for these businesses, branding plays a crucial role in sales. As we have previously highlighted, branding is more than just your website or logo; it is the identity of your company. It encompasses how you work, communicate, and connect with your customers.

A great example of an alternative branding project is the design Norday developed for the Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) program at HvA. CMD wanted a distinct identity as a creative program, but it had to align with HvA’s existing style and logo. Norday created a set of icons representing creativity, digital tools, geek culture, student life, technology, and the web. These icons were used in various mediums, such as photography, PowerPoints, brochures, and a campaign page. This bespoke visual language for CMD resonates better with their target audience, making the program instantly recognizable.

Therefore, the question might not be whether you should engage in branding, but rather what type of branding suits you best.

Different types of branding strategies

Just as there are various marketing strategies, there are also different types of branding strategies you can employ. Understanding these can help you determine how to implement branding for your business. Here are some of the most common branding strategies:

Corporate Branding
This strategy focuses on building brand awareness for companies. A clear positioning strategy with a strong promise that can be fulfilled ensures customers keep coming back. It is a long-term strategy that allows companies to grow sustainably.

Personal Branding
Bloggers, vloggers, actresses, singers, presidents, and freelancers all use personal branding. We often think of personal branding in terms of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, but it is one of the most common branding strategies alongside corporate branding. Even when applying for a job, you are working on your personal branding. Therefore, everyone benefits from a good branding strategy.

City Branding
Branding isn’t just for businesses. Cities and countries can also benefit from a strong branding strategy to attract investors, students, tourists, and residents. Amsterdam, for instance, does this successfully with the “I Amsterdam” campaign.

Product Branding
For companies that sell products, the branding strategy focuses more on the product than on the company itself. When you think of tissues, you might think of “Kleenex” or “Tempo.” For cleaning windows, “Glassex” comes to mind. These brand names have become almost synonymous with the product itself because they have achieved the pinnacle of success in product branding.

Club Branding
Some sports, like football, have become billion-dollar industries. Branding for clubs is an additional way to finance purchases through merchandising. Think of the additional revenue from merchandise sales, such as children proudly wearing Ajax or FC Barcelona shirts with their favorite player’s name. This is a combination of club branding and personal branding.

Purpose Branding
A newer branding strategy that has emerged in recent years is purpose branding or brand activism. This approach aims to make a positive social impact with your brand. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious and value companies that consider their societal impact. Purpose branding allows you to connect powerfully with your target audience. For example, Dove’s campaign addresses the judgmental beauty standards faced by their audience by showcasing women of various body types in all their communication materials.

Understanding these strategies can help you determine the best approach for your business, ensuring your branding efforts are effective and aligned with your goal.

Effective branding over grand branding

The word “branding” often conjures up images of big brands. However, branding doesn’t mean you have to build a brand as big as Google, Calvé Peanut Butter, or Albert Heijn, nor does it mean you must constantly push your brand identity everywhere. The key in branding is to do it well. Do what suits your brand and avoid being too forceful.

In some cases, prominently displaying a brand might not work, as it can make the brand seem too mainstream, which might not appeal to certain target groups. In such instances, a more subtle brand communication can be more effective. It’s crucial to consider your target audience in your branding strategy and choose an approach that resonates with them.

A great example of this is the rebranding Norday did for Doctors Without Borders. They wanted to highlight the people behind their fantastic work: the doctors, nurses, and other staff. For them, the content is more important than the logo. Therefore, Norday chose not to plaster the logo everywhere but to reflect the brand identity through photography. With a few simple yet strong principles, Norday transformed Doctors Without Borders into a “human brand.”

The branding process: how to start and when to rebrand

A good starting point for developing a brand is to collectively answer some essential questions: who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it? Then, we delve deeper into your brand’s personality, core values, target audience, and competitors. Additionally, we challenge you to consider your brand’s position in the future – five, ten, or even twenty years from now.

For businesses that already have a brand but are seeking a new direction, revitalization, or further development, a rebranding process can be a viable solution. Together, we assess how the brand has evolved, which elements can be retained, what aspects can be refreshed, and translate this into a new strategy and visual identity.

Branding investment for the long term

When you choose to develop a brand strategy, you’re opting for long-term impact. However, achieving this requires effort and financial investment beyond the immediate future. It involves research, reflection, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan to integrate this into your communication and business operations. A branding agency can assist with this process. These agencies specialise in branding and have extensive experience with various types of brands.

A brand strategy isn’t something you develop once in a branding project and consider it set forever. The world is constantly changing. Business strategies evolve, markets shift, and people change. By continuously working on your brand, you ensure that you always resonate with your target audience and maintain a lasting positive impact.

Would you like to discuss branding further with us?

Do you feel your organization is facing a branding challenge? Could you use some assistance with it? You now have a good understanding of the branding processes we specialize in and our approach to branding. We would be happy to talk with you about how we can help you achieve your goals.

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Rolf Coppens

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