Everybody’s Talking About Branding, What Exactly Is A Brand Anyway?

One of the first function I attended upon returning from the Chinese New Year long holidays was a networking session. It was a newly established group, called the “Branding Mastermind”. So what did we discuss there?… Would you believe… “brand”?

A Rose By Any Other Name Smells Just As Sweet

This networking group was set up by a branding practitioner. The objectives were to brainstorm all about brand design, strategy and consulting. But right from the word go, the discussion never really wandered too far away from the definition of the word “brand”.

Why?… Well, different people have very different opinions about what exactly constitutes of the word “brand”. This word has been thrown about so nonchalantly by almost everybody. As a result, everybody has their own interpretation of what the word actually means. What’s interesting is that are actually two very distinct groups of people :-

(1) Branding Practitioners

This group of people consists mainly of branding consultants, advertising professionals, graphic designers, copywriters, and others in the creative industry.

(2) Branding Consumers

This group, as the name suggests, are there to seek out branding expertise and knowledge. They consist mainly of business owners, intending to brand their businesses, and hopefully make them successful.

Common Interpretations Of The Word “Brand”

Branding practitioners share a pretty similar interpretation, calling it a “promise”, a “trust”, an “identity”, etc. But the apples start to fall further away from the tree when it comes to the branding consumers. Branding practitioners reported that many of their clients believed that a brand is a tangible asset. And what that means range from having a corporate website to having their products advertised in the local media. Some even believed that if they have an active social media presence, then they’re already sufficiently branded.

It’s both fascinating and frustrating if you really think about it. Mention just a simple word “brand”, and it conjures up a whole range of very different meanings. If all you’re doing is having a verbal debate with your friend over a cup of coffee, then it’s pretty benign. But when it comes to branding professionals trying to understand exactly what their clients want done, it’s a whole different animal altogether.

Personally, I’ve come across clients who insist that they want a “pretty looking corporate website”. And nothing will sway their opinion, regardless how much I explain to them that “pretty looking” won’t channel traffic to their website. It’s just like if they have a beautifully decorated retail outlet right in the middle of the desert. If nobody knows that they exist, then nobody will go all the way across the desert just visit them.

What’s My Take On The Meaning Of The Word “Brand”?

Everybody has three different identities. The first one is who you really are. The second one is who you want others to know you as. And the last one is what others actually see you as.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that you’re a plumber, and a very good one at that. You know that you’re a good plumber, and you want others to know that too. However, others may not even know that you’re a plumber at all. Perhaps it’s what you wear, or maybe your mannerism doesn’t make you “look” plumber enough to the others around you.

Branding is the effort that you make to “window dress” your image into something that says “Hey, I’m a plumber”. It could be something as simple as dressing up in denim dungarees and a heavy-duty tool-belt. Or as extensive as attending business networkings, start passing out business cards and sharing about your business to the people there.

In a nutshell, this “window dressing” action is what branding is all about. You create, and hone your image into something that shouts out “I’m a very good plumber”. When people start to identify you as a plumber, and your reputation reaches people whom you’ve never even met before, then you’ve got a successful brand.

But Do I Really Need A Brand?

We’ve always been taught to never judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it, we do exactly that… and we do it all the time… Prehistoric humans have developed the ability to “size up” an opponent, and decide if he or she is a threat to you or not. And this prehistoric survival instinct has evolved into the modern human’s ability to guesstimate a person, and decide who and what they are capable of. In essence, this is literary judging a book by its cover.

To bring this into perspective, this “image” that you project, is your brand…

You can choose to allow it to develop organically. Or you can take the bull by its horns, and shape it into something that you’d want your audience to see you as.

You cannot control the fact that others will judge you based on the image that you’re projecting. But you can control the image that you’re projecting to them. And by doing this, you’re indirectly affecting how others perceive you, based on your curated image projection. This effort of curating the image that you’re projecting is called the branding exercise.

So do you really need a brand?… Regardless whether you need it or not, you already have one. A better question would be whether or not you need to actively take control of your brand identity. And taking control of your projected image, that’s called a branding exercise.

So… do you need to engage in a branding exercise?…

What’s In Store For The Future?

Well, it’s still too early to know for sure. After all, this is only the inaugural networking session, and only a handful of people actually attended. The organiser promised more sessions in the future. And many more participants have pledged to attend future sessions. One thing’s for sure, I’m certainly looking forward to meeting new people. And of course, exploring how I can exchange ideas with fellow participants.

The future is indeed bright for the branding initiative. And I certainly can’t wait to put all the newly acquired knowledge into action.

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