It’s such a big big world out there! The world of brands. What I love about this is the fact that how beautifully it stitches together human behaviour, emotions, business, design, marketing and much more. Personally for me the human element is the strongest here. I think every decision, every element, every communication is all connected to human behaviour. This is something that has worked for me in all aspects of life, be it business or otherwise. I strongly believe that everything in life has some rules or some obvious ways to do things, but humans are so so subjective that rules don’t always matter. If this is not true, business would be different, we would not be talking about trust, loyalty, irrational buying and so on.

Coming from this thought process, I strongly feel that when it comes to branding, most entrepreneurs and sometimes even bigger companies, totally negate the human element from it and leave it’s understanding just to some visuals, logos, or a quick social media post. I feel that they miss out on the very soul of a brand. A brand is much more than all of this. It is almost like a plant that has to be nurtured and you have to think about the situations that will suit it to bear the right fruits. 

With this thought in mind, I planned out a series of 26 posts across different social media platforms, which I called the A to Z of branding. These cover some basics of branding which I think are essential to understand for anyone investing in branding. I hope the visuals act as a strong reminder of the elements.

  • Who should read/know this?
  • - If you are an entrepreneur at the start if your business journey - whether as a startup or are even thinking about being one, I encourage you to read this. You might not have the investments to make in a brand at this point, but I would really suggest you to first get your mindset right to grow a brand. It’s a long journey but sow the seeds today.

    - If you are a student wanting to understand branding just for your MBA or probably wanting to grow as a professional in this space, go ahead have a read.

    - If you are a practicing brand manager/CEO of a company, have a read. I do not question your knowledge but I feel in the everyday churn, we sometimes miss out on the very basics. So if you feel your brand is falling short at any point, please tighten the screws. I would love to see brands get the best out of their branding exercise.

    - If you are a designer, specially a logo designer or a graphic designer who might put visuals in place for a brand, I encourage you to read this as you should be sensitive of what you are creating and how will it impact the business of your client.
So here is a compilation of the series, where every alphabet is dedicated to a concept of branding which I have learnt in my journey and I feel are critical to the world of branding.
  • A - Asset
  • John Stuart, the former Quaker Oats chairman said "If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar - and I would fare better than you."

    Feeling lost? But it is true! A brand is an asset for a company. A good businessman will understand the benefits a brand can have for a company in the long run and will invest in it to nurture it well. The ones who build good brands look at long-term gains. 
  • B - Brand
  • One of the best understandings I have gained for what is a brand is from Marty Neumeier, the brand guru. He says a brand is not a logo or a product. He says that people start developing a certain perception about a business or product when they constantly comes across it. This is about all touchpoint and all interactions they have had or seen how the business house behaves in different scenarios. This perception builds up to what is known as a 'brand'. Hence, businesses cannot build a brand but can only control building the right perception in the minds of their customers.

    Understanding this can help entrepreneurs go a long way in building their brand.
  • C - Customer
  • Customers are really important! Plan to make them fall in love with your brand. One key suggestion for all entrepreneurs would be don't build your brand completely how you will like it, build it to make your customers like it. Love them. Keep your promises to them. Deliver them value. And always, always, understand them extremely well.
  • D - Desirable 
  • Your brand can said to be desirable when your customer not just loves your brand but wants to keep coming back to your brand for more and more. They wouldn’t mind going the extra mile to have the experience that your brand provides. Desirability gives brands a clear competitive advantage too.

    Some ways for a brand to become desirable for customers would be living up to its promise, having a strong empowering vision, constantly innovating, being transparent in communications, having engaging storytelling and encouraging participation of customers with the brand.Apple, Amazon, Disney could be listed as desirable brands. Think about it, they are delivering more than just ‘products’…
  • E - Experience
  • Experience could be defined as how a brand makes a customer feel across all touch points. It’s important to remember the element of ‘all touch points’ as many a times, experience is considered to be just what a customer goes through in a shop. Experience could be the texture of your product’s packaging, it could be the subject line of your business email, it could be your social media or your leader’s persona. It’s a mix of it all that customers start evaluating and gradually decide whether they like your brand or not.
  • F - Flanker
  • In simple words, a Flanker brand is the baby of a big mumma company, who already has other babies too!

    In fact, the first thing to clarify here is that all brands are not companies! Yes, a company is a separate legal entity and a brand may or may not be a company. However, when a company decides to promote a new brand under its name, which has a distinct identity and positioning of its own, when it already has other brands in the same category, it is a flanker brand. For example, Tide and Ariel are both detergent brands under Procter and Gamble. Hence, Tide would be a flanker brand.
  • G - Guidelines 
  • I feel this is the most under-rated part of branding! It is important for entrepreneurs to understand why are they needed. In due course of business, a brand is put to use in different ways. It passes through multiple hands, as collaterals and used on different applications. Unless, a consistency is maintained on its use, in terms of not just look and feel but also it's personality, the brand will get diluted. These rules are defined in a brand guideline and must be followed by anyone who uses a brand. Yes, have a brand guideline for your brand, always.
  • H - Heritage
  • I got the idea from Fabian Geyrhalter's book Bigger than This to think of this one. (By the way, the H has been put up in 'Hindi' just to add to the essence of this one and keep it connected to the idea of heritage). I feel heritage could be a great idea to knit a story around a brand. Especially if there is something about a brand that makes it really connected to the place of its origin. I feel a lot of brands that play around the food habits, arts and crafts, history of specific regions could really use the strong element of heritage to make their brand distinct. That itself could become a differentiating factor.
  • I - Investment
  • A brand is an investment that gives results over a period of time and keeps building up. The more consistently and strategically it is done, the better will be the results.
  • J - Judgement
  • This almost reminds me of the song,
    ’Every breath you take
    And every move you make
    Every bond you break
    Every step you take
    I'll be watching you!’
    by the group called The Police.
    Yes, this is what it means in simple words. What ever you do as a brand, the imagery, the conversations and performance that you put up is taken in by consumers. Then they develop perceptions and think about things like, does this feel like the right quality, do I like it, can I trust it and so on.If a brand falls in the positive light of their judgement then you can expect to have some loyal customers!
  • K - Knowledge
  • This is about how well your customers know your brand, can understand it and remember it. A brand should not confuse its audience and be consistent. It should always strike the right balance between giving them enough information, yet not make it overwhelming for them.
  • L - Logo
  • Don't finish until you read the full interpretation of this! I say this because the biggest mistake many entrepreneurs make is taking their logo to be their brand.

    No no no. Your logo is not your brand! It is purely a visual identity or a symbol that helps people identify your product. That's it. A brand is the perception that your customers have of you. If planned strategically, a logo can enhance this perception and add to the story of your brand. But just putting a logo on your product doesn't make it a brand. It just gives it an identity. Brand is more intangible. It is a feeling and a positive one will go a long way for your business growth.

  • M - Marketing
  • This one required a little detailed explanation and perhaps I thought of capturing it in the video below!
  • N - Name
  • I believe just like for individuals, a name is a very important trait for a brand too. It is a reflection of a brand's personality and should be chosen wisely. Some key characteristics of a good name are that it should be unique, easy to remember, easy to pronounce, have an easy spelling and suitable for your brand. Short names are also a better choice than long confusing names. A good name should also tell some story of your brand. It should be powerful enough to get your audience keen to hear your story.
  • O - Originality
  • I always believe that every brand carries a hint of the personality of the entrepreneurs who starts the brand. I really encourage all entrepreneurs to incorporate this aspect in their brand. This is what will make it unique and will add the human touch. Don't shy away from being original. In fact, as they say, if you try to fit in too much when you build your brand initially, you will have to put in double the effort to stand out.
  • P - Promise
  • When it comes to a brand, promises should never be broken. Having a brand is a clear sign of immense faith that your customers have shown in you. They believe in you, your products and they resonate and respect your values. A brand should always stand to give back and never take their customers for granted.
  • Q - Quality
  • The right quality of goods, services, experiences, communications, everything matters. Period.
  • R - Relevance
  • Relevance is considered as a matrix to understand the influence of a brand on the buying decision of the customers. It is developed if a product or service is offered by a brand and the customer feels a need for the same. Further, because of the differentiating factors, the values and the purpose of the brand, the customer is able to relate to the brand even more and doesn't even mind paying extra to get the product/service from a particular brand only.
  • S - Segmentation
  • Although a common concept in business, this is many a time not evaluated well before branding. Segmentation basically means dividing the customers on the basis of characteristics they share. This could be demographic like their income, age, gender or personality related, like what are their belief systems, how do they make their buying decisions and so on. When these segments are well defined, it can help analyse the more promising segments out of all the available options. Good knowledge about the target segment can help brand strategists develop brands that are more suitable and impactful.

    For example, it is critical for a brand strategist to know if a product is meant for a specific geographic location that share some common cultural traits. Lot of branding cues might be hidden in the same.
  • T - Tone
  • The tone of your brand is also a strong indicator of how does your brand make the customers 'feel.' This is not just about the choice of words but also about the mannerisms of expression and the personality reflected by the tone.

    For example, an insurance brand would want to adopt an assuring tone. A brand for kids might have a joyful or motherly tone. It is also important to ensure that the tone is strategically thought of and consistently implemented across all platforms of communication by the brand.
  • U - Us
  • This one is more about the fact that when a brand is born, all those working on it, including the entrepreneurs, the brand strategists, designers and all key decision makers should really work on it as a united bunch. They have to feel invested and feel like it is their own. I feel it is then that the right energy is developed to design a brand that can truly connect with the audience and achieve the required results for its owners. It shouldn't be done just for the heck of it. True stories can then be surfaced.
  • V - Vision
  • I find this amazingly fascinating. There is such a strong dependence of a vision and a brand on each other. Because of the insights that surface during brand building, many a times, entrepreneurs end up getting much more clarity of their own vision during this process. I have experienced this while building my own brand too! At the same time, a strong vision gives birth to brands that live to tell stories of success….
  • W - Why
  • With this I want to emphasis on opening your pandora box to talk about the 'Why' of all you do. What is the purpose? What are you really trying to achieve. What's the personal connect, what is the business goal? When you go deep into thinking about all this, your brand will reflect a story which will be truly powerful and connect with your audience to create an impact.
  • The X - factor
  • As the title goes, think of what makes your brand unique. Don't try to fit in and behave totally like your competitors. Look at your strengths. Is there something unique about the product, the culture, the start story, the big promise? Whatever it is, use it for your advantage and let your brand shine out!
  • Y - Yin-Yang 
  • As the concept signifies, there is a need to play the balancing act while growing your brand too. The most important thing here would be to strike the right balance between how you would want your brand to be and how your customers would like it. Going too much as per only the customers viewpoint will make your brand miss out on your own story and doing it just how you want it with little regard to the customers is surely no good either! Hence play the yin-yang card for maximum impact!
  • Z - Zeal
  • Perhaps the most important factor as we close this series! Have lots of zeal and zest for your brand. Embrace it. Love it. Talk about it. Play with it. Your heart and soul will reflect in it and your energy will make it grow. Always!
    I hope this sets the context right for you to bring an amazing brand to life. Keep going and shine bright!
  • I hope this sets the context right for you to bring an amazing brand to life. Keep going and shine bright!

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