Just like there are many different types of brands, there are lots of different types of branding out there. Branding isn’t one-size-fits-all; the most effective strategies are highly personalized to the companies, groups and creators using them. That’s because it’s all about personality.
A brand is basically a company’s personality; branding is the steps a company takes to express that personality. But, developing a unique persona does more than make a company feel like a character. When it’s done effectively, branding positions an organization (or an individual, or a movement, or even a specific product) as a leader in their field and communicates to consumers that it’s the ideal choice for them and their lifestyle.
As a new entrepreneur, content creator or simply an individual undergoing personal growth, understanding branding and how to do it well is one of the key ingredients for success.
Branding vs. brand identity vs. brand
Before we can get into the 8 different types of branding, it’s important to break down the differences between branding, brand identity and brand.
Let’s start with brand. A brand is a personality crafted to connect with audiences in a specific way. Often, it’s used to discuss private companies, but anything can have a brand: a school, a governmental entity, a social club, a content channel etc. A brand is a collection of values and perceptions the world has about an entity. Although you carefully communicate your brand to the world, you don’t have the final say on your brand; how the world perceives your branding and the values they assign to you play into the equation as well.
Consider Taco Bell. Their food is cheap and delicious and they’re an ideal choice when you’re a whole lot more interested in eating quickly than eating healthily; some of that perception comes from Taco Bell’s branding, some of it comes from consumers’ experiences with Taco Bell. Whenever you hear the phrase,”Taco Bell”, it’s this perception that springs to mind.
Now let’s compare brand to branding. Unlike your brand, which is the personality consumers perceive your company to have, branding is the series of deliberate choices you make to communicate your brand to the world. If your brand is people’s perception of you, branding is how you direct that perception.
Going back to our Taco Bell example, their branding features quirky commercials, bold color palettes on their food packaging and website and the cool, modern interiors of their restaurants (the renovated and newer ones, at least…though let’s take a minute to appreciate the retro version).
And then there’s brand identity. Your brand identity is the set of design choices you make when branding something. If your branding includes warm pastel colors, your brand identity clarifies the specific hues into a color palette so every designer you work with knows which colors to stick to for a consistent look.
Brand identity includes things like your font choices, your color palette, the types of graphics you use, your logo (and its variations) and your copy voice. Your brand identity provides the building blocks you use in your branding strategy.
Where does branding happen?
Anywhere a brand is visible, branding happens. As you develop your branding strategy, think about the places where your brand will take up space and be seen—online and offline. Ultimately, the goal of branding is to build a trustworthy, unique identity that differentiates you from competitors and communicates to your target audience that you’re exactly what they want.
Personal branding tends to happen in places where people—public figures or not—interact as individuals, like on social media platforms or at professional events. Product and corporate branding tends to happen in places where products and companies need to stand out, like in stores and ads, as well as on social media. Service branding happens in these spaces as well, and often, you’ll see retail branding happening alongside corporate and product branding.
Geographic and cultural branding happen on larger scales… but they also happen on social media, in public spaces and within retail environments.
Think about Starbucks’ line of city mugs—you can only get their New York City mug at a New York Starbucks and the mug itself has a unique design featuring the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building and an iconic yellow taxi. No matter where in the world you bring that mug home to, you’ve got a piece of product that’s branded culturally and geographically to remind you of your trip to the Big Apple.
The 8 types of branding
So, which kinds of branding should you be doing? There are several types of branding that are worth exploring in depth. Here are the 8 types of branding you need to know:
- Personal branding
- Product branding
- Service branding
- Retail branding
- Cultural and geographic branding
- Corporate branding
- Online branding
- Offline branding
We’ll break them down below so you can see how they work, how they can work together and how they could work for your unique brand.
1. Personal branding
At first, it can feel kind of strange to think of a person as having a brand. After all, we’re not products, we’re people. And we have inborn personalities, not cultivated brands.
That’s true. But when we talk about personal branding, we’re not talking about creating a personality for yourself. We’re talking about building a public persona that accurately communicates your unique personality. Personal branding happens on social media and in face-to-face environments where others’ perception of you can have a massive impact on your professional and social reputation—in a good or disastrous way.
So how do you “do” personal branding? By cultivating a public persona that directs the people who see you to assign certain traits and values to your character. Think about Cardi B. Love her or not, you can’t deny she has a very clear, carefully built personal brand. Her candidness about her past, her focus on constantly hustling and expanding her empire, her crass humor and her tongue sticking out are all components of her personal brand that make her instantly recognizable and successful.
Although you might not necessarily want to brand yourself like Cardi B, you can learn a lot from how she’s cultivated her personal brand. How you style yourself for headshots, the kinds of images and quotes you share to social media, the platforms where you choose to spend your time and the way you interact with others are the pieces of personal branding that come together to show the world who you are as an individual.
2. Product branding
Product branding is the action of branding a specific product. Just like personal branding involves cultivating a public vocabulary and aesthetic for yourself, product branding shapes how the world perceives your product through deliberate aesthetic choices.
With product branding, the goal is to connect the right audience to your product. For example, you might be a luxury furniture designer. There’s a specific type of buyer—also known as a customer avatar—who’s responsible for most of your sales. Through thoughtful product branding, you can make sure people who fit this customer avatar:
- Hear about your brand
- Visit your website
- Like, follow and subscribe to your various social media channels…
…and ultimately, buy your furniture.
So, how can you tell the world you’re offering high-end pieces aimed at buyers who have the means and desire for luxury furniture? Through branding that communicates these values—like a serif font, a muted, neutral color palette for your logo, website and marketing materials and opting to retail the furniture in the shops your target buyer tends to visit, like upscale department stores and independent boutiques. Your branding can also extend to how you reach customers, like sending current and prospective buyers well-constructed lookbooks that use quality paper and binding.
Interested in learning more about product branding? Read our blog posts on product branding and merchandise branding; any brand that manufactures tangible products should make product branding part of their marketing strategy.
3. Service branding
Unlike products, which are easy to brand in visible and tangible ways, services are a little more challenging to brand. But that doesn’t mean brands can’t do it effectively—they just have to be willing to think outside the box.
Often, service branding comes in the form of “extras”, like an insurance company sending all their customers rebate checks at the end of the year or a hotel offering free cookies at the concierge desk. Service branding can also come in the form of meeting specific expectations that set a company apart from their competitors, like a cable company connecting customers with human customer service reps rather than automated prompts, when they call.
The point is that by providing these extras, you’re teaching consumers to associate your brand with a certain user experience and driving them to keep coming back to have that experience again.
People want quick, efficient, friendly service and in some industries, simply providing this kind of service consistently is enough. In others, a brand has to actively go above and beyond by providing unexpected perks to stand out from the crowd. Any company that provides a service, whether the service is their sole offering or something provided alongside tangible products, needs to create trust with their consumer, especially as not all services have immediate outcomes. The way that they can do this is by connecting to their consumers on a deeper, emotional level.
Take Air New Zealand, for instance. The airline brand has carved out a reputation as an airline with a sense of humor, primarily through their reimagining of stuffy, traditionalist airline safety videos as funny, unorthodox marketing opportunities. During the heights of The Lord of the Rings’ and The Hobbit’s cinematic success, when there was a huge increase in tourism in New Zealand, Air NZ partnered with the films’ makers to become “the official airline of Middle Earth”.
This elaborate collaboration spawned an A-list air-safety video, featuring the most-loved stars of the films. In 2014, as the country celebrated the Sports Illustrated Swimwear Issue’s 50th anniversary, the airline again created a novelty safety-video, this time featuring major international supermodels such as Chrissy Teigen. The latter example may have caused some controversy for the airline brand but both campaigns distinguished Air NZ from competitor airlines: these well-timed marketing collaborations connected to potential customers through their sense of humour and ultimately promoted Air NZ as a quality, contemporary airline offering such an enjoyable customer experience that it excels expectations of any “standard” airline.
4. Retail branding
When you walk into a brick and mortar store, its physical appearance has a look and feel specific to that brand. That’s retail branding in action. Deliberate design choices like its layout, the light fixtures, the decor, the music played, the display fixtures and even the type of flooring are all carefully selected to build a living brand experience for every shopper who enters the store.
Retail branding is a must-do for any business operating in a physical location. Ecommerce has seen immense growth in the past few years and that trend isn’t changing any time soon. So, to keep shoppers coming through the doors, retailers need to up their branding game and turn their stores into experiences that shoppers want to come back and relive.
Trader Joe’s is one example of a store doing retail branding really well. Based in the US, the average Trader Joe’s is smaller than other supermarkets, creating a more insulated, intimate feel. The location-specific decor displays bring a part of the city’s unique culture into the store and the coffee and food samples make each trip a delicious adventure. These are the things ecommerce simply can’t replicate; they’re the foundations of successful retail branding.
5. Cultural and geographic branding
Cultural and geographic branding are actually two separate, but similar, types of branding. Both are popular in the tourism industry.
Geographic branding is branding for cities, states, regions and even countries. Think of “I Love New York” to represent New York City and the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of Paris. Cultural branding is similar, but focuses on the cultural aspects of a region over the geographic ones. Think “a sidewalk cafe” versus the Eiffel Tower to represent Paris or “the Japanese tea ceremony” versus Mount Fuji to represent Japan.
So what kind of businesses can benefit from cultural and geographic branding? Tourism and tourism-adjacent businesses, like hotels and airport taxis for sure, but also any kind of business that makes its region of origin a focal point in its branding.
A tea company that ships teas from India all over the world might tap into some cultural branding by using the Indian flag’s colors in their logo, or an up-and-coming watch brand might exploit the clout associated with Swiss watches by incorporating illustrations of the Alps into their website design.
6. Corporate branding
If a company is a person, their corporate branding is how they express their personality. Corporate branding, just like other kinds of branding, is the series of design choices and actions that communicate key points about the brand, like its:
- Price point
- Ideal consumer
Corporate branding goes beyond website design and ads. It includes how the company conducts themselves socially and professionally, like partnering with specific charities or responding to current events. Corporate branding also often extends to the company’s recruiting efforts and company culture, which ultimately shapes how the public perceives the brand.
One famous example of a company with strong corporate branding internally and externally is Google, which famously provides employees with everything they could possibly need—free lunch, on-site medical care, free shuttles to and from work and a generous amount of paid parental leave, just to name a few—while being one of the most widely recognized brands in the world. To any prospective employees, the very idea of working at Google sounds more like an opportunity than a job, an opportunity to be part of one of the most dynamic, creative corporations on the planet.
7. Online branding
Online branding, as the name implies, is branding that happens online. Unlike specific types of branding, like personal or product branding, online branding is a broad category that refers to all types of branding that happens on the internet. It’s how an individual positions themselves on social media, it’s the kind of online ads a service provider runs, it’s all the design choices that go into email newsletters, landing pages, responsive web design and automatic message replies.
Incorporate online branding into your brand strategy to better establish customer trust and increase your reach to a wider audience
For brands that have both a brick-and-mortar and digital presence, effective online branding often feels like an extension of the company’s offline branding. Digital customer service guidelines, for instance, often include using the same vocabulary as the brand’s in-store associates would. Otherwise, you may notice the digital design choices of a certain brand may mimic those of the physical store, bringing its offline ambience online.
If online branding is part of your branding strategy (in this day and age, it needs to be) the key to getting it right is making sure it fits into your wider brand identity like a glove. Going from a soft, minimalist ecommerce website to a brash, overloaded packaging design can be jarring for customers when receiving products and so undermines your attempt to build a meaningful relationship between them and your brand.
When you design your branding, think about all the places it will appear. You’ll need to think about how you’ll express the brand on and offline and, more specifically, where it will appear in both of those arenas. Your website and social media profiles are a given, but what about print ads? What about merchandise your target audience would love? Think about your favorite brands and all the places you interact with them. How does their branding differ from place-to-place while still staying consistent? Walking into an Apple store isn’t the same experience as swiping through your iPhone, but the two feel like they’re connected somehow—that’s branding.
8. Offline branding
In case it isn’t obvious from the name, offline branding is branding that happens offline. Much like online branding can encompass types of branding like personal branding, product branding, corporate branding and cultural and geographic branding, offline branding can encompass these as well.
Merchandise and print products are offline branding. Retail branding is offline branding. So is the personal branding you might bring to a client meeting or an industry conference. It can include your wardrobe, your choice of venue for sit-down meetings with clients, the make and model you choose for your company cars and even the brands of equipment you and your team use.
It’s not uncommon to endorse your choice of brands in your own branding strategy—one notable example is McDonald’s offering Coca-Cola products. Compare that with Taco Bell offering Pepsi products. One partnership is between two family-friendly, fun, red brands that fit into our perception of classic Americana. The other is slightly more niche, somewhat more edgy and not at all concerned about not being #1.
Pick the right types of branding for your business
As you can see, there are lots of different types of branding that companies and other entities use to show the world who they are—and visualising it like a Venn diagram, most companies use more than one kind of branding. Think back to our Starbucks example: Starbucks doesn’t just work their locations into their branding, they’ve created a consistent experience in every store and have made a name for themselves as a great place to work.
Think about how you can express your brand through two or more types of branding. Maybe eye-catching vehicle wraps for your company cars and packaging that looks like mini versions of those cars is the best way to drive your brand home, or maybe an app that replicates the feeling of walking through one of your brick and mortar stores is how you can create an unforgettable experience. Play around with it and have fun, because when you’re having fun, you’re being authentic… and authenticity is at the heart of all great branding.