Have you ever been asked the all-important question, “what is branding?” We’ve been asked that question more than we’ve been asked “how are you?” If you are a branding agency in India, you must have been posed with this question. While you may have answered from an academic perspective or in layman terms, the question still remains as one of the most asked questions when people encounter branding agencies and brand experts.
So, What Is Branding?
Most academic journals state branding to be a series of activities – of marketing and advertising nature – that are conceived and executed with one common goal: to define the way a consumer sees a brand. While that may sound simple, there also happens to be an elephant in the room. There are in fact, several companies have emerged offering the same product or service. Cars, healthcare, chocolates, insurance, mineral water… as you read the products and services we’ve mentioned, you can imagine at least 10-15 brands offering the same service. It’s no longer just an elephant in the room, there are now several elephants cramped in a room that serves as a metaphor for your mind.
When you think of cars, you think of Audi, Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Volvo, Honda, Rolls-Royce, to name a few. So, when there are several other brands offering the same product or service, how does branding as an idea survive?
The Evolution of Branding
Evolution always happens. Be it dinosaurs, cavemen or, we all adopt evolution. When there are many brands offering the same product, the messaging evolves and with that, one’s perception of a brand also evolves. Volkswagen isn’t selling just cars anymore; they are selling smaller, cheaper and tougher cars. Volvo isn’t just cars anymore; they are selling safety. BMW isn’t selling just cars anymore; they are selling speed, technology and a dreamy lifestyle.
Branding doesn’t just involve creating names, logos or designs that can be identified from afar. It is the individual identity that separates one carmaker or one tampon manufacturer or one fast food franchise from another.
Renowned brand guru, Philip Kotler, writes that “All cars will promise to get you from A to B. There is no differentiation in that claim. However, if Volvo’s promise is the get you from A to B with maximum safety, their car has established a category and an identity in that category.”
The same applies to the iPhone or the LG Smart TV or even the IFB microwaves. Their competitors make the same product but, through branding they are different from one another. Months ago, we wrote a blog on the differences between an advertising agency, branding studio and a design company. We used a fictional coffee brand to explain the differences in the operations of one agency from another. In the blog, we explain “we do all of it but we are not alike”.
If you look at the different pizza parlours that are available in your region, you can see that too. Domino’s promotes happiness and fast pizza; Pizza Hut promotes great tasting pizzas and togetherness; a non-franchise pizzeria like Shiv’s Pizza Place would promote an original and authentic pizza experience. The communication is different and this communication is arrived upon when two brands think differently.
Father of evolution, Charles Darwin wrote “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
When there are two or more brands offering the same solution, you must evolve your views and your brand to fit a better personality – one that can attract better and more customers.
What Is Branding According To Us
We, a branding and design studio in Bangalore, have been asked that question hundreds of times. Locked down and working out of our homes, we began to ponder if we’ve ever had the best answer to that question. So, we asked one another, “What is branding?” We found answers from the scholarly to downright absurd. Here are some of the answers.
Shreesh, our fearless Creative Head and Founder, adds a personal touch to his answer: “A brand is a gut feeling that a person has about a product or company whereas branding is about creating a personality and memorability for the brand.” Shreesh states some examples of branding. “To me, Sachin Tendulkar spells class, Rajnikanth is all about style and, Apple is innovation.”
“I also believe truly that while branding/brand personality can be built over a period of time, the core of it comes from the heart. It comes from true belief and honesty.” He added.
Pooja, Designer and Illustrator, looks at branding from an academic point of view: “[Branding is] giving a product or service, a voice; defining its vocabulary and personality much like building an avatar for a video game. Visual representation of the ‘who am I’ element for the service/product.”
Aamir, Client Services, feels that branding is how you want others to see you. He imparts that “Branding is the name you have, the clothes you wear, is your haircut and the image you exude about yourself to the world.”
Pranjal, Designer, raised some important points as he feels that companies look at the branding to be the ideologies that they align with, instead of who their customers are: “Patanjali products exploit the Hindutva angle and it doesn’t align with my philosophy. Same goes for products like Zara, H&M, Levi’s that have historically abused child labour laws. I don’t have a Facebook account nor do i believe Elon Musk is changing the world with his Tesla cars.”
Pranjal also shared what he felt brands must do not just to sustain business but to achieve a greater global personality: “Brands have a higher purpose than just offloading modes of production to a third world country and focus grouping their creatives to instil FOMO into their customers. In times like this brands have to be more than just products. They’ve to have a positive impact on the social, climate, political and economics. The current models that brands have are not sustainable and haven’t been for decades.”
Sharan, Copywriter, brought absurdity to the conversation by looking at pop culture and branding: “Remember James Bond and Han Solo? That’s branding. It’s something that enables people to remember your brand’s name or certain aesthetics of it. Branding to me is knowing what every company stands for. If you know what your brand should be and work towards creating it, your customers will know it too. Absolut is known for its fantastic bottle design. Volvo cars are known for safety. James Bond is known never to drink Absolut or drive a Volvo.”
Wait, What About Your Weekly Inspiration?
Why did we indulge ourselves in this little exercise? It’s because we came across a branding campaign for The Cereal School, a health-forward cereal company, designed by Matthew Wong. The retro-inspired designs create a bright and fun identity that riffs on vintage packaging, nostalgic school days and healthy eating, and took us down a rollercoaster of questions, answers and retorts on what branding is and what it could do.
Here it is, our weekly inspiration: