At the outset of any business, at some point, there is probably a conversation about how the founders want that business to appear to the public. The result of that conversation becomes the ideal brand image for that company.
Because what is a brand, after all? It is how a company appears to the public. Not necessarily how it actually is, but how they want to appear.
For example, Apple Computers has built a cult following off of the idea that their products are “cool.” Their brand is the “cool” technology brand, making all those associated with it, also “cool.” But as we’ve seen inrecent years, Apple is just as flawed and “uncool” as every other tech company in the world.
Perception is not the same as reality
But reality doesn’t matter as much as perception does when it comes to companies. And because every company builds a public image automatically – just through advertisements and interactions with customers – it makes sense to take control of your image and translate that into the creation of a recognizable, likeable, brand.
Branding is important because it gives customers an image, a mental and emotional response with which they associate a company. What should customers think and feel when they hear a company’s name? Building that kind of connection, beyond simply need and wish fulfillment, is what makes a company valuable to a particular target market.
For a tangible example, look at the dollar. In its truest form, it is just green ink on paper. In and of itself, it does not have value. The branding of this piece of paper, the value it is given by perception is what makes it a vitally important part of the economy. This is not an extreme example, it is an example of the most effective branding campaign in the world: paper money. Especially now that, at least in the United States, money is no longer backed with precious metal, it really is a piece of paper, printed with ink. But in its essence, it is legal tender. It has all the hallmarks of branding: testimonial (from the treasurer and the President), a user’s guide, and even an emotional connection (“In God We Trust”).
Branding is important because branding creates value. Without a brand, products are just nameless, faceless products, and consumers have no desire to buy something that doesn’t provide a public image.
How do companies brand?
In order to brand their products or services, companies take a long look at what their target market needs and how their product fulfills those needs. For example, look at Swiffer. Sure, the commercials talk about all of the great features of the product but what is the overarching theme of Swiffer’s dusters and sweepers? That they save time. And why do they save time? Because the company cares about your desire to have more time to relax and be with your family. They create a clear connection between the consumer’s desire to spend less time cleaning and their product’s ability to fulfill that desire. The Swiffer brand, whether they truly do or not, appears to care about your desires, about your personal well-being, and your family time. This is all subliminal; it is embedded into their advertising, which in turn, embeds it in your subconscious.
It sounds like paranoia, but Marketing 101 will teach you that the most effective branding is subliminal, it is creating connections between positive feelings in the consumer and a specific company. Making this connection effectively is why companies invest so much money in their branding efforts. The creation of a positive brand image is essential to building a loyal customer base.
What’s the difference between a branded product and an unbranded one?
A branded product has loads of information. Consumers can tell what it is and what company is selling it just by looking at the advertisement and the packaging. Branded products show their immediate value, by combining the necessary information with an emotional response. Remember, emotional responses are what lead consumers to buy products, not necessarily the specifics of the products themselves.
An unbranded product will evoke no emotions and, while it may have information on an advertisement, it will make no connection with the mind or heart of the viewer.
The simplest way to explain the difference between a branded and an unbranded product is to say that branded products sell. Unbranded products do not. In the end, this is why branding and creating value is so vitally important for companies that want to see success.