During all the years of my practice, by far the best definition of branding I have used is ‘managing perceptions in people’s minds’. It tells us where the effect of branding takes place – in people’s minds – and it tells us what that effect is – managing perceptions.
A good way to understand what branding does is to consider the opposite: what happens if you do not use branding at all? The amazing thing is that branding takes place anyway. But instead of the brand owner or manager intentionally guiding people, people use their imagination to fill the empty space, this vacuum of information, with their own ideas and fantasies.
This is always the case in situations when there is no available information; the empty space is filled with speculations, and the ideas based on them. People start to speculate, and share their speculations with others. Sometimes, outside commentators try to help by producing statements and comments, still without access to precise facts or real insight into the thinking of the decision makers.
I have never met, or heard of, any brand builders who found the right branding by launching their products with no planned branding effort. I have met their opposites, though, who complain that their brand is not perceived the way it should be, or that their brand is not in the forefront of people’s minds as it is supposed to be.
Managing is a key word in explaining what branding is all about. In most companies, there are many different management processes: human resources management, finance management, production management, procurement management, etc. Since branding is one of the most important processes in creating value, both in terms of equity and of the business’s result (profit), it should definitely be considered an important core management process. Unfortunately, in many companies, it is not.
Sometimes this is the result of a traditional point of view. Branding is considered part of the marketing process, and yes, of course, it is an essential part of marketing. But there is much more to branding than just marketing; it is traditionally the basis of the company culture. Branding is usually where the company’s vision, mission and values are stated. It is, simply, a sub-set Branding of management strategy in any kind of enterprise, not just commercial. Favorite alternative phrases for branding include ‘company DNA’, ‘company soul’ or brand essence.
Example: ‘Pirate Branding’ – How To Manage Perception Of Fear In People’s Minds
The marauding pirates of the Caribbean in the iconic pirate era of the 1650s to the 1720s are a very illustrative and dramatic example of effectively managing perception in people’s minds. It begins with the ‘logo’ of the pirates: the classic flag most commonly attributed to Henry Avery, one of the most infamous pirate captains. The white skull in profile, wearing a kerchief, on a red or black background and with the crossed bones below very clearly depicts the fate of the crews who refused to surrender to the pirates.
An important part of managing the perception of a brand is being clear about what drives the brand owners – the why or the purpose and mission of the brand. A widespread myth states that the pirates were only interested in loot, and not in killing. This is why many ships full of merchandise, including gold and other valuables, surrendered relatively easily, with very little fighting. The sailors forced to fight by their ambitious navy officers knew very well that the pirates were outlaws with very little to lose, and that they were therefore extremely dangerous and brutal fighters. Many crews surrendered to pirates only to be recruited into pirate ranks, which not only kept them alive, but also offered monetary rewards. A pirate received one to two shares of the loot instead of the 19 to 24 shillings a month for a sailor offered by, for instance, the merchant navy.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Thomas Gad, excerpted from his book Customer Experience Branding, with permission from Kogan Page publishing.
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