The Subtle Power of Branding

Branding is one of the more advanced forms of business voodoo. There are many approaches to it -- emotional, analytical, strategic, aesthetic. All of them matter, and a powerful brand combines these approaches and others in a compelling and memorable manner. Ignoring branding means ignoring a potentially high-ROI business element. Embracing branding doesn't mean success, but improves the odds of long-term success.

Strategic brand initiatives can occur in a couple of ways, either to express a set strategy or to help facilitate the discovery of a latent strategy. All organizations have a strategy working at some level, but often haven't made it explicit. In these unexamined cases, an effective set of strategies can blend with less effective tactics, making it hard to know which is which. A strategic branding approach can help leaders differentiate between strategic and non-strategic activities, and then consolidate success into a powerful new brand expression. Of course, when strategies are already settled and clear, branding moves along more quickly into aesthetic and emotional spaces.

Emotional branding generates some of the most fascinating work in the area. There are a number of approaches, and those invoking archetypes are pretty convincing. One favorite example is how GE, representing the "creator" archetype, had the slogan, "We bring good things to life." This slogan captures the "creator" in spades. When GE recently changed their slogan to, "Imagination at work," the "creator" archetype remained in play, but the creator in question moved from life-giving to idea-creating. A subtle restatement that remains true to the company's archetype, it gives the organization a less religious or patronizing feel, and leans toward personal achievement and creative thinking.

Aesthetics matter, as well. Verizon's recent shift away from its well-established italic logotype with huge, looming checkmark like an angry eyebrow to a simpler wordmark with a simple checkmark "ding" at the end is well-analyzed in a post written soon after the new logo appeared. What's interesting is how simple the new logo is, especially when viewed in the midst of the other major carriers' logos, giving the Verizon logo a strength and confidence it didn't possess before. Aesthetics are contextual, after all. In the competitive landscape, what is your brand saying compared to others your customers encounter all the time?

Some branding approaches are more analytical/structural -- a "branded house" approach often requires structured branding, with an umbrella brand and subsidiary brands. The strategy is clear in this case -- support the structure of the business, and make the brand extensible.

Publishers live in a different branding space. Journal publishers see their brands mostly resolved into specific products with their own value elements -- unique audiences, impact factors, and editorial approaches. In the books world, the branding of authorship or series continuations can be extremely powerful, and publisher branding is usually small and regal. Company branding is usually more on the b2b side, not the b2c side.

Branding can cut through the clutter, prepare the path to sales, attract and reassure partners and customers, and create a consistency that's vital for long-term success. Is your brand well-managed? Does it reflect your strategy?