The first thing to remember is that branding is a tactic. An important tactic to be sure but just a tactic, and as such decisions about branding should only be attempted after you have your strategy in place.

What is a brand and what it does

In other words you should not try to settle any aspect of your brand until after you know who your customer is and what they value and how you plan to position your offering so it will provide superior value relative to your competitors. Only after you know those things can you hope to make sensible decisions about your brand.

There are a couple of ways to think about a brand one definition is practical, it focuses on branding elements associated with a particular product or line of products. This definition of a brand is from the company’s perspective.

Branding elements include things like the name, logo, slogan or tagline, sometimes a character may be a spokesperson, even things like the font and color scheme packaging design endorsements and sponsorships. It can also include more abstract things like a design aesthetic or guiding philosophy.

Many companies have detailed sets of rules about what can and can’t be done with branding elements including acceptable color schemes and acceptable modifications that may be made to logos. This is a really useful way of defining a brand and every company should know internally what elements are part of its brand, but this internally focused definition of a brand is not sufficient.

Branding from the customer perspective

One must also consider what a brand is from the customer’s perspectives. What are brands to customers is of paramount importance and there are many possible definitions but the one I favor is brands as cognitive structures in memory. According to this view a brand is the network of feelings, information, thoughts, experiences and evaluations associated with a particular product service or company as stored in a customer’s memory.

What you think of and what you feel when I mention Ford or Coke or Whole Foods, those thoughts and feelings are the brand from the customer’s point of view. According to this definition of branding brands have layers and the memory nodes closer to the center of the memory structure are those that are more tightly bound with the brand those farther out on the edges are memories that are less integral more transient and fleeting.

This definition of a brand makes it clear that managing a brand is really about managing the associations customer store in memory related to that brand
this goes beyond just choosing a clever tagline it means being consistent in reinforcing important ideas over and over again forging and reinforcing those links in memory.

Be consistent

The first big lesson of branding. If you are trying to manage a cluster of associations in your custard customers memory that requires consistency discipline.

Some actions that could serve another marketing goal like increasing visibility or increasing sales might be bad from a branding perspective. You should always ask yourself what associations are you encouraging your customers to form with your brand.

Associate your brand with something that clients value

The second big lesson of branding is that when you encourage customers to form an association with your brand make sure that association is in fact something they value. This may seem obvious but sometimes firms just assume they know what creates value for their target customer without really doing sufficient research to make sure.

An example, in the 1950’s Nescafé was successful in creating the mental associations it had set out to create unfortunately those were not the associations that appeal to its target customer.