What Is Branding?

Unsure about the meaning of “branding”? Don’t worry! Branding is one of those marketing concepts that is a bit vague and can quickly become confusing, even for people who have studied marketing. Today we are going to take a look at “what is branding” and try to provide a clear answer with simple words and examples!

In order to understand the concept of branding, first we need to know what products and brands are. Let’s go!

Product definition:

“Broadly, a product is anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need, including physical goods, services, experiences, events, persons, places, properties, organizations, information, and ideas” (Kotler & Keller, 2015).

This means that a product can be anything from a hotel stay, a flight, a language course, to clothes, food, a toothbrush etc.

To illustrate the definition of a product and the role it occupies in defining branding, we will use the example of water:

Water is a free resource that every human being needs to live and survive. Yet it became a product the day humans and companies started to commercialize it, for example by selling mineral water in glass and plastic bottles.

water-branding-product

water-bottles-branding-product

But water always looks the same, isn’t it? It is liquid and transparent. So, how can different companies sell the same product but still convince people to purchase their bottled water instead of the one from the competition?

The answer is: by creating a brand.

Brand definition:

“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association).

You can consider a brand as the idea or image people have in mind when thinking about specific products, services and activities of a company, both in a practical (e.g. “the shoe is light-weight”) and emotional way (e.g. “the shoe makes me feel powerful”). It is therefore not just the physical features that create a brand but also the feelings that consumers develop towards the company’s product. This combination of physical and emotional cues is triggered when exposed to the name, the logo, the visual identity, or even the message communicated.

A product can be easily copied by other players in a market, but a brand will always be unique. For example, Pepsi and Coca-Cola taste very similar, however for some reason, some people feel more connected to Coca-Cola, others to Pepsi.

Let’s illustrate this again with our water example. The product sold is water, but in order to convince people to purchase a particular water, companies developed different water brands, such as Evian, Perrier, Fiji or Volvic. And each one of these brands provides a different meaning to the product water:
– Evian makes you feel young
– Perrier is refreshing, bubbling and sexy
– Fiji Water is pure, healthy and natural
…and so on.

water-brands-what-is-branding

In the end, a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a specific product or company. Each person creates his or her own version of it, and some brands increase or decrease in popularity because of how consumers feel about them.

Branding definition:

What is it?

“Branding is endowing products and services with the power of a brand” (Kotler & Keller, 2015)

Branding is the process of giving a meaning to specific products by creating and shaping a brand in consumers’ minds. It is a strategy designed by companies to help people to quickly identify their products and organization, and give them a reason to choose their products over the competition’s, by clarifying what this particular brand is and is not.

The objective is to attract and retain loyal customers by delivering a product that is always aligned with what the brand promises.

Who does it affect?

  1. Consumers: As discussed above, a brand provides consumers with a decision-making-shortcut when feeling indecisive about the same product from different companies.
  2. Employees/shareholders/third-parties: Besides helping consumers to distinguish similar products, successful branding strategies are also adding to a company’s reputation. This asset can affect a range of people, from consumers to employees, investors, shareholders, providers, and distributors. As an example, if you don’t like or don’t feel connected to a brand, you would probably not want to work for it. However, if you feel like the brand understands you and offers products that inspire you, you would probably desire to work for it and be part of its world.

How can it be done?

Companies tend to use different tools to create and shape a brand. For example, branding can be achieved through:

  • advertising and communications
  • product and packaging design
  • in-store experience
  • pricing
  • sponsoring and partnerships
  • the visual identity of the brand (logo, website and colors, are just some examples).

In our example of branding water, packaging design and advertising are perhaps the most powerful tools used by marketers:

Packaging design is the silent salesman that will grab busy consumers’ attention in-store. It informs consumers about the product’s properties and visually differentiates the brand from the competition on-shelf. A successful example in my eyes is Fiji Water, which managed to create a beautiful bottle design that perfectly reflects the brand’s values: purity is reflected through transparency effects and nature is perceived through the image of tropical flower and leaves in the background.

fiji-water-packaging-what-is-brandingAdvertising is a powerful tool to create and shape a brand universe as it is very visual and tells a story about the product/company. Here are some examples of branding water through advertising:

Evian makes you feel young:

Perrier is refreshing, bubbling and sexy:

Fiji Water is pure, healthy and natural:

Conclusion:

In very simple words, a product is what you sell, a brand is the perceived image of the product you sell, and branding is the strategy to create that image.

I hope this article helped you to have a clearer idea of what branding means. If you have any comments or suggestions to improve the article, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Pictures from: Dribbble.com, Washingtonians
Sources: Kotler & Keller: Marketing Management (2015), American Marketing Association (AMA)

Marion is the Founder of The Branding Journal. Her passion for strategic marketing made her create The Branding Journal - with the objective to offer an online platform to branding professionals.

25 Comments

  1. Great article. Good idea to take water as an example.

  2. Simple and well laid out article. Loved reading it! Thanks.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the article Ryan! Hope to see you around soon!

  3. ty so much , helpful !

  4. Great information. Thanks. "GLOBEARTH "

    • I earned my master in Development Journalism. My 10 years experience is about electronic and print journalism. Now I am being interviewed for the role of newly established air line brand Manager. I was not clear about what actually branding is , how to start. After reading the subject article , I am clear now and make my presentation best for the second phase of interview. BUT I feel still many questions I want answers.

    • Hi, I am glad the article helped you. Please do not hesitate to share your questions, we will do our best to answer them!

  5. Very clear and crisp !!

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. It was simplified, easy to read and I definitely learned. The article cleared up my misconceptions.

  7. Hi Marion!!! I love this article, it was very helpful! I tried to find the branding AMA definition you posted, but I couldn't find it on their website... Can you tell me where did you find? I'm writing a project about this subject, and I want to use more of their definitions... Thanks you so much :)

    • Brand definition* (sorry :p)

    • Hi Raissa! Thank you. Here is the source: https://www.ama.org/resources/Pages/Dictionary.aspx?dLetter=B&dLetter=B

  8. thanks for this article
    i love this quote
    " A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.1 Seth Godin"

  9. Wow.outstanding really..
    The way you wrote is unique,user friendly and so much easy.i never ever saw this type of article ...
    Thank you so much...

  10. Dear Marion.

    Great information!, smart way how you explained it. What will you do?.

    You have sales numbers.
    You have the big data of your costumer (General information)
    You have many brands. (form others, you are a reseller).
    You dont have a specially department of marketing. Or any other specially advise or any other specially resource.
    You have many stores.

    What will you do, and how do you do?. To improve the sales. Any Idea?.

    Thinking about a Latin America Market.

    Greetings.

    • Hi Manuel,

      Thanks for your feedback! In you are interested in growing your brand, you could hire a branding agency to support you with this.
      Check our Top Branding Agencies article: http://www.thebrandingjournal.com/2015/04/what-are-the-top-branding-agencies-in-the-world/
      Some are based in Latin America.

  11. Simple and to the point. Very helpful as I am reviewing some of the concepts.

    Thanks for the post!

  12. Thanks for answer.!!!

    But, I was thinking about some fast ideas from your experience , actually there is not any budget for that in my company.
    As you probabily know some stores does not think about the important of a Brand manager or simlilar, then they don´t make efforts to take money for that.
    I have read some real stories in your page about good and bad branding. Thanks for share!!!.

    I apreciate your previous answer.

  13. Extremely useful. Thank you!

  14. Thanks for this helpful article. Very straightforward and easy to understand.

  15. Article was very informational, great example to use water!

  16. Very interesting and useful article :) great idea using an example during the entire article

  17. Great Article!!! You really made me understand what brand and branding are all about. Thank you.

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