A Brand by Any Other Name
Branding is one of those concepts that seems to spark a lot of debate. Exactly what is branding? Why is it important (or is it)? How do you develop a brand? Even among marketing professionals, there are often conflicting ideas about what the definition of branding is, and therefore it's impact on businesses.
If you've been involved in marketing in any capacity, it's a good bet you've been heavily exposed to the term and it's many flavors. I won't portend to be the definitive source for clearing it all up, as I think that should be up to each of us to do for ourselves (at least until a recognized higher authority defines it first). What I would proffer is to outline my own take on the subject, and offer some brand adjectives I think would help better frame the topic.
Using the term as a synonym for a logo or brand name may be the most traditional view of what a brand is. If you ask most consumers what branding is, they will likely say it's a company's logo or trade name. When we see the often touted polls stating who the most recognizable global brands are, we get the likes of Coca Cola, McDonalds, Apple, and now Google. These are the companies with a recognizable name or symbol.
Of course, just saying 'logo' isn't as trendy as saying 'brand', so to avoid confusion, let's call it the 'Brand Identity'.
Next up is the concept of branding as marketing or advertising. Be it television, radio, magazine ads, billboard, trade shows or door hangars, many people consider branding as the collective theme of your advertising. Think of the Geico gecko or the Netfilx game show radio spots. Advertising indeed helps to cement a company's image, for better or worse, in the minds of it's consumers. Social media also fits in this category, as another outreach mechanism to gain visibility within your marketplace. But again, advertising is only one aspect of brand building, so I offer the 'Brand Promotion'.
Certainly part of a company's impression among it's consumers are built through it's market differentiation. A company may hinge their competitive advantage through aggressive pricing, superior quality, superior service, or a tangible or intangible 'shopping experience'. Walmart and Nordstrums are certainly at the extreme ends of the spectrum in this category, and illustrate how a company can effectively position itself as better or unique compared to it's rivals. Thus, the 'Brand Position'.
Total Brand Impact
If you add up all of the disciplines described above, and throw in a healthy dose of consumer experiences, social media interactions, return policies, location, ambiance, ad infinitum, what you end up with is the total impact your brand has within your marketplace. In essence, it is the collective reputation you have among your consumers.
Branding as total consumer impact is fast becoming the accepted definition of what 'branding' means today, due primarily to the effect the internet has had on consumer behavior. Certainly for national and international product based companies, a brand was created almost exclusively by one-way communication through advertising. The internet, and social media, has enabled two-way communication affecting brands on a global scale. It's actually possible for a consumer (a very savvy one) to create a massive a negative campaign against a company single handedly. Brand impact has gotten personal!
Of course, for local businessse, two-way brand communication has long been the norm. Reputation by word of mouth, business by referral - these have been the ways local companies have grown and prospered for centuries. Now we call it branding, and word of mouth is now shared between 700 million users on Facebook.