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Branding at its origins was a means of identification used on both livestock and humans applied with clothing, tattoos, hot irons and various other means. It served a very simple function as a mark of ownership as well as a mark of shame (fictional works that use marks of shame include The Scarlet Letter and Inglourious Basterds).
Flash-forward to today’s corporate landscape and brand has evolved into something much more engaging and sophisticated, serving as a medium between companies’ and consumers. While it is still a mark of ownership, no longer is it a mark of shame but a mark of distinction.
First and foremost, companies’ thrive on good business practices that support solid products and services. While there are companies’ out there that are very successful without the aid of branding, it very rarely happens. Branding is your frontline in the corporate trenches. For the consumer, it is both their first and last impression of a company, defining values and character among other qualities. It serves as a means of awareness, by interacting with consumers, and developing relationships and familiarity. Over time, the brand, its personality and its great products and/or services become synonymous with each other, ultimately cultivating consumer loyalty.
Here’s one great example of branding’s effect of consumer loyalty:
In October of 2010, Gap tried to refresh it’s company image by rebranding themselves in a more ‘contemporary’ light. This was followed by a public outcry online as their website was the first thing to change. Anyway, they got so much flak from their consumer base that they eventually reverted back the iconic blue box with knocked-out capped serifs. Up until that change, the logo had been in service for almost 25 years. That’s a quarter century of brand equity they were tossing out the window! Although I think no one could’ve anticipated the ensuing revolt as it is quite common these days for a long-standing company to refresh their brand, a survey could’ve been conducted before actually moving forward with the rebrand. This is a good example of a deeply connected and well-cultivated brand relationship with its consumer-base, one based mainly on nostalgia. I myself, felt very disappointed by the change and thankfully the good majority of people shared the same feeling. Pepsi is another well-known company that went through an awful rebrand but unfortunately they decided to stick with it. Like they say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Follow this link to see Pepsi’s branding since 1898:
Branding extends beyond just the logo, stationery and business cards. It is a thoroughly developed system modeled for consistency that defines everything from colours, typefaces, photographic/illustrative treatment, and this can apply to everything from print collateral (both internal and external) to web applications and even environmental design.
Blurring the boundaries even further are people/celebrities supplanting brands. Lebron James is a good example, undisputedly one of the top 2 players in NBA – rumblings occurred when he made his decision to ‘take his talents to south beach,’ arguing that playing alongside another superstar (Wade) and dropping his franchise player status in Cleveland would hurt his personal brand. The same could be said about Chris Bosh (but to much lesser extent) for going from franchise player here in Toronto to 3rd wheel – but I digress. The point is these guys have a brand image and associating their qualities and values relating to athleticism, leadership and talent with products will only help drive consumer activity. The same process applies for a well-developed brand identity, starting with brand image creation to represent the company persona as a means of reinforcing its great products and/or services.
Don Watt’s ‘No Name’ brand for generic grocery and household products also blurs definitions of what a brand really is. In a visually noisy grocery environment filled with too many branded products to count, he devised an approach that would undoubtably distinguish this product line from others, by using a simple colour scheme of yellow and black coupled with minimalist package design. It’s quite ironic that a ‘No Name’ brand would become such a successful brand but that’s simply what makes it so brilliant. You could almost say he was a maverick in his approach.
Its hard to define what constitutes a brand these days but when you boil it down to basics, they all accomplish the same things – interact with consumers, develop relationships, and cultivate consumer familiarity and loyalty. In a world where everyone and every company is screaming out for attention, it’s quite easy to disappear in the crowd. Effective branding systems will bring out what makes a company special and unique. It reaffirms quality of products and services and brings that distinction out into the limelight, letting its personality shine.