Branding 101: Three Magic Words You Need to Know

"So...what exactly is branding, anyway? I mean, practically speaking?"

Great question! So glad you asked.

Most business owners I come across know that branding is important, but they don't know quite how to approach it, or where the boundary lines get drawn. To be fair, the definition of branding has certainly expanded over the years (the original "brands" were used only on cattle), and today the term can mean a number of different things, depending on which industry you're in and who you're talking to.

But, good news! Branding doesn't have to be confusing or complicated. I'm going to give you a simple way to look at the foundational pieces that make up the branding puzzle, and illustrate how it actually works — including what you need to understand in order to make it work for your business. It all starts with three magic words:

Identity,

Brand,

and Branding.

(Yep, they're different.) Let's kick things off with some clear definitions:

• your IDENTITY is your personality and distinctiveness as a business. It's the unvarnished truth about who you are, what you believe, and what you value.

• a BRAND is the emotional connection you build with your audience, customers and community. It's how you're perceived by people based on their experiences. (Note that you cannot "make" your brand, and neither can a designer — only the collective audience can truly make a brand.)

BRANDING, then, is how you shape the perception of your audience. Branding is about putting the essence of your unique, authentic identity and story out into the world. It's crafting the representation of you as a business, both visually and verbally, that people can connect with and respond to. 

And, let's add one more bonus word to the mix:

• a LOGO is the simplest visual identifier of a business. Your logo is the cornerstone of your branding: it's essentially the brand and identity of your business, all wrapped up in one representative mark or icon. 

Each of these elements is distinct, but highly interconnected. And each contributes a piece to the overall branding picture.

Now, let's break it down even more. This is how I would explain these three powerful words using language that a five-year-old would understand:

IDENTITY = Who you are

BRANDING = Who you say you are

BRAND = Who people think you are

Okay, great: now how can you make these work for you?

Here's a little graphic I made to help illustrate the wide world of branding (featuring the three magic words, and the keys to activating them!):

Take a look at the bottom of each circle (well, oval), and you'll see a KEY. This is what, in each area, has the potential to make it or break it for your brand (and business!). 

The key to unlocking the power in your brand is, first and foremost, being clear about your identity: discovering and honing in on what makes you uniquely YOU, the core beliefs that drive you, and what makes your business different from everything else that's out there. 

Once you have clarity in who you are and what you offer, you're able to forge authentic connections with your audience through branding. The better you get to know your ideal customers, the better you'll be able to authentically reach them in the place where your unique business identity meets their greatest needs and desires.

Great brands emotionally connect with people. How can you reach people and make them feel truly understood? How can you treat them with such respect and over-the-top service that they don't just say, "thank you," as they pay and leave; they say "WOW!" and feel compelled to share the experience with their friends? 

I'll be digging deeper into each of these elements in future posts, so stay tuned!

Was this summary helpful for you? I'd love to hear how it fits with your own experience. What's the area that YOU most need to work on in your own brand connection? Getting clear on your identity? Creating authentic branding? Or, forging deeper emotional connections? Post your feedback (and of course, any questions) in the comments below!