Branding is the marketing practice of actively shaping your brand. That’s the basic definition, but there is so much more that goes into it.

Branding is what your business needs to break through the clutter and grab your ideal customer’s attention. It’s what transforms first-time buyers into lifetime customers and turns an indifferent audience into brand evangelists. It’s what you need to stand out, make an impact and take your business to the next level.

Illustration on the elements of branding
Illustration by Orange Crush

In other words, if you want your business to succeed, branding is non-negotiable.

But why, exactly, is branding so important? What does it entail? And how do you brand your business in a way that’s going to have a real impact on your audience? In this article, we’re going to explore what branding is and how your business can reap its benefits in the most effective way.

What does branding mean?

An sketch-style illustration of clay pottery making
Branding is the actions you take to mold your brand. Illustration by petiteplume.

Branding has been around since 350 A.D and is derived from the word “Brandr”, meaning “to burn” in Ancient Norse language. By the 1500s, it had come to mean the mark that ranchers burned on cattle to signify ownership—a precursor of the modern logo.

Yet branding today is so much more than just a look or a logo. It has come to signify the emotional “gut feeling” reaction a company can elicit from its customers.

Your brand is the set of perceptions people have about your company. But branding is the set of actions you take to cultivate that brand.

In other words, your brand is a noun, but branding is a verb. When you design a logo, that’s branding. When you develop your brand voice, that’s branding. When you get together with your marketing team to brainstorm an ad campaign, that’s branding.

Any action you take to shape your brand is, in a nutshell, branding.

Why is branding so important?

Branding is important because it:

  • Helps you stand out from the competition. It doesn’t matter what kind of company you have, what industry you’re in, or what type of customer you’re after—if you’re in business, you’ve got some serious competition. Branding helps you establish the ways in which you’re different, special, and unique. And it shows your customers why they should work with you instead of your competitors.
An illustration of two best friends tandem biking
Branding is about making connections. Illustration by Ulfvidh.
  • Builds brand recognition. If you want to build a successful brand, you need to be recognizable. The right branding (including designing an impactful logo, website, and other brand assets) helps you carve out a distinct style, and it increases your brand recognition in the market.
  • Creates a consistent brand experience for your customers. In order for your business to succeed, you need to provide a consistent experience for your customers however they interact with your brand—whether that’s through your website, at an in-person event or by following your social media accounts. Branding allows you to control how people perceive and experience your brand—and you can ensure that perception and experience stays consistent across all your brand touchstones.
  • Sparks a connection with your audience and turns that audience into loyal customers. The most successful businesses are the ones that foster an emotional connection with their audience. That emotional connection is what transforms a prospect into a customer and a customer into a brand enthusiast. And how do you create and build that connection? Branding. Different branding strategies (like packing an emotional punch with your brand voice or leveraging color psychology when designing your logo) can help you connect with your audience on a deeper level and create a sense of loyalty to your brand.
A funky zebra character illustration
You branding should make you stand out while staying consistent. Mascot by fuad77.

What are the elements of branding?

These are the elements of branding that you’ll need to create in order to cultivate how your business is perceived by customers:

  • Mission statement and brand values. Your mission statement and brand values are the foundation for your branding. Think of your mission as the brains of the operation—a short and succinct statement that defines the present state and purpose of your organization. Meanwhile, your company’s vision is its heart, providing an inspirational and motivational snapshot of what you seek to achieve in the long term.
Social Leaf Branding
Branding design by sheva™
  • Brand guidelines. With the mission and vision statement set as the pillars of your organization, your brand strategy comes to encompass everything in between. This will take the form of brand guidelines (also known as your “brand bible”). These guidelines are comprised into a tangible document that will reflect and support your business goals, differentiate you from competitors, resonate with customers, provide a template for decision-making and precipitate ideas for future marketing campaigns. It will also include all the stylistic elements of your branding, including your color palette, fonts, and an outline of your brand voice.
  • Logo. Your logo is the face of your company and designing your logo is arguably the single most important branding you’ll do for your business. During the design process, think about who you are as a brand and how you want to be perceived by your customers. Use that to drive your design strategy.
  • Website. Designing your website is also a key branding step. Your website is your brand’s digital real estate and when your customers visit, it should be visually engaging, easy to use, and most important of all a reflection of who you are as a brand. Similar to your logo, refer to your brand guide to choose your web design elements (like layout and fonts).
  • Additional assets. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to branding. Depending on your business and industry, you might need additional assets like business cards, product packaging or event flyers. Assess your business and your unique needs, and then develop additional branding assets accordingly.

Want to learn more? Here’s how to create a solid brand identity for your business.

A better brand means better marketing

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As a general rule, products have limited life cycles, but brands—if managed well—last forever. And once you’ve nailed down exactly who you are as a brand, it becomes much easier to market it.

Your brand guidelines, coupled with ongoing market research and analysis, should give you a tactical advantage in determining the best way to market your products. Do you focus on traditional marketing like radio and billboard, or is your potential customer more swayed by viral Youtube videos and Snapchat filters? Marketing can be a mix and match of tactics, but be careful of spreading yourself too thin. By continually consulting your brand guide, you should be able to focus your efforts on the tactics that really matter.

At the end of the day, marketing is the process that brings you the leads and sales, but branding is the foundation upon which you build your reputation and customer loyalty.

Empower your business with branding

The one thing you’ll want to remember is that branding is a verb. It is an action. So while it might seem daunting at first—considering all of the planning, assets and personnel that go into cultivating an unforgettable brand—it is also empowering. Rather than letting others tell your story, you are speaking up with branding.

If you ever feel lost in the process, remember that support is always at hand. Once you have established your branding vision, get in touch with a professional designer help to bring your branding to life.

Check out our ultimate guide to branding for more branding tips.

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We've just sent you your first lesson.
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This article was originally published in 2016 and written by Ashanya Indralingam. It has been updated with new information and examples.