brandThe billions of dollars spent each year on advertising, marketing and PR prove that when it comes to branding, appearance IS everything.

People expect perfection from the products they buy. When consumers spend their hard-earned money, they want a product they can rely on, so they purchase from a well-known brand to ensure they will get the value they deserve.

A brand was traditionally regarded as the logo, name, colors or an image that consumers associate with a company. Although great visual design can help consumers choose between brands at one level, it can’t create a loyalty that comes from a great brand.

Organizations still continue to approach creative agencies asking for ‘new branding,’ but typically they are looking for a new color palette or logo — something they can add to a website or business card — not a new brand.

In this digital age, a brand is accepted as a completely immersive experience in the ethos and personality of a company: the way an organization goes about their business, how others perceive them and the way they speak to consumers. This is something created by countless individuals across the company from the CEOs to the shop workers or call center staff.

Branding is physical, and it is held in the hearts and minds of consumers. It is their experiences, judgments and attitude from a company. It delves into retail environments, staff, websites, haulage vehicles, interactivity and online presence. But branding is also a mental appearance; the tone of voice, attitude and personality of a brand are key to creating something that people can associate with.

These associations can, however, be unintentional. No matter how fiercely the design, corporate culture and advertising argue otherwise, if consumers view a brand negatively, more than a new advertising campaign is required.

A strong and well-defined brand will increase consumer loyalty, increase sales and add value to your products. Consumers will be drawn to a product based on the promise created by the brand itself.

The famous Coke/Pepsi blind taste test proves brand perceptions can outsell a better product. When blindfolded, consumers regularly choose Pepsi over Coke. However, once the blindfold is removed, Coke almost always comes out on top.

To ensure a brand is reinforced correctly, each and every contact with consumers needs to be consistent and appropriate. A high-end Cordon Bleu restaurant may have beautifully designed menus and signage, great food and celebrity endorsements, but if a consumer calls to make a reservation and the staff is impolite or unprofessional, that’s the impression the consumer will be left with — that will be its brand. If your website isn’t user friendly, it says you don’t care about your consumers, regardless of your work elsewhere. Furthermore, if a company’s product is an easy-to-use kitchen gadget but it takes half an hour to get through to the right person on the phone to activate the warranty, your brand based on simplicity is going to be compromised.

Social media has made this overall ethos of a brand even more important with communication. There’s no use spending money on a Facebook strategy — or hours crafting status updates or beautiful imagery in the hope that people will share and like them — if you don’t respond to questions or comments from fans (or worse, delete negative comments from users).

All brand strategies should contain guidelines on how to deal with difficult situations — the crossover between branding and PR. If a cheeky, student-centric beer brand is derided on Twitter, a professional “please contact our customer services” reply is not going to cut it. This is a great opportunity to reinforce the brand’s bold attitude and respond in an unexpected, adventurous manner.

Brands, of course, are not limited to products. People, services and even cities carry a strong set of associations by consumers. Of course, in these different industries, the services, competitors and consumers will differ, but the basic requirement of clarity throughout all areas of appearance will always remain.

A true, solid and lasting brand is one of consistent tone of voice, design, strategy, people, retail environments, calls to action and customer service. The brand should be something consumers can rely on.

Although you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression, branding allows companies to evolve as they need to. Even if you’re self employed with a small website and self-created logo, you have a brand – you just need to decide if this is the brand you want.

Originally published Mar 22, 2013 1:00:07 AM, updated July 28 2017