Discover the meaning behind the many technical jargons for branding and understand why each of these terms matter for brands.

WTF IS BRANDING?


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You think you know…

What is branding?
Ask around, and the answers (or lack thereof) may surprise you bore you to tears. Sure, everyone knows what branding is for — it’s one of the many tools we use for boosting sales, grabbing eyeballs, getting your product/image/message out there. But hardly anyone can agree on a definition.

The layman understanding can be summed up as:
“Branding = Marketing + Design + PR”

So if you’re wondering why we’re drowning in lookalike brands with cookie-cutter messaging, look no further than this hodgepodge departmental salad. Branding today is a hasty collage of KPIs. Parodies of intention; dismal execution.

Instead of unique entities with distinct looks, voices, and actions, we’ve got a bunch of clones who will say anything to get our attention. It’s a sad state of affairs, but let’s try to unpack what branding is today, and where it’s headed.



How did we arrive at this point?
Branding used to be a one-way flow of information from seller to consumer.

From basic declarations of ownership — “This cow is mine.”
To differentiation from competitors — “This bottle of cocaine cough syrup was made by me, but not the next bottle on the shelf.”
Even creating and managing perceptions — “This fried chicken is not just good, it’s FINGER LICKIN’ GOOD.”

In short, branding shaped how people thought about products. For the most part, it’s been effective. Companies got better and better at discovering what makes us tick, and fed it back to us. But today, this one-sided conversation won’t cut it. People have changed. Culture has changed. While many brands are still vying for your dollars by telling you what they think you want to hear, what we call “branding” needs to evolve with the times.


What’s changed?
1) People have more information.
Volume of information, and access to information. People today are more well-informed about what they’re buying. This includes everything from product labels to customer reviews and manufacturing practices. With all the data available to us, we’re able to form our own picture of what a brand really means. You might capture clicks with popular claims, but the truth is only a couple more clicks away. Why wouldn’t we fact-check your catchy slogan?


2)
People have more choices
Shouts of “I am the best” are now immediately drowned out by a thousand identical shouts. There will always be room to compete on quality, price, convenience, tastiness, etc. But to play this game, you’re committed to always looking over your shoulder. False claims are immediately unmasked. Top spot is nearly impossible to maintain. If the only thing special about your brand is that you are Number One, you’re only a couple steps away from irrelevance. 

3) People are looking for meaning
Of course, the “value for money” option will always be popular. But what’s different is the consumer definition of “value”. On top of quality, craftsmanship, utility… we now assign value to environmental impact, social responsibility, and lifestyle alignment. The idea of “voting with your dollars” has never been stronger — we put our money where we see ourselves. Brands are now expected to act as signifiers of identity, values, and tribal affiliation—so you’d better represent well, or not at all.

What does this all mean? Simply put, branding is no longer “logo + catchphrase + celebrity endorsement”. It’s not even the creation of a “brand identity”.


“Branding today is an exercise in authenticity.”


How do we do “authentic branding”?
The irony in trying to codify authenticity is not lost on us. But we cannot simply settle for the current state of clone brands spouting buzzwords for clicks and dollars. Unfortunately, many well-meaning brands end up in this vat of vapidity, because a lot of the “branding advice” out there is still stuck in the past— be who they want you to be.

The end goal of authentic branding is to help a business align:  WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU SAY, WHAT YOU DO. This means that any meaningful change begins at the foundations of the business, not the facade.


Authentic branding can be thought of in terms of 3 pillars:

1)What are you 100% committed to?
What are you trying to accomplish with your business?
It’s okay to be honest. Crucial, even. There are no wrong answers here.

Dreaming of a restaurant with cheese on everything? Amazing!
On a mission to deliver durable furniture to a lower income bracket? Great!
Mostly in it for the money? $ay no more!

Even if you just inherited the business by accident, and now you’re obligated to keep it alive… that’s a worthy start.

So many catastrophes begin at this stage, simply because business owners feel pressured to cave to current trends, or capitalise on popular sentiment. Don’t. If you aren’t 100% truthful about your commitment, you will struggle to back it up with actions at every level of the business, and your audience will see through you in an instant.


2)What is your role in society?
What does your audience/community expect of you?
Every business holds some degree of responsibility, just like how individuals have a responsibility to their communities. For businesses, the amount of responsibility varies according to things like size, reach, economic significance... the greater your capacity for impact, the greater your responsibility.

Today, we’re witnessing how people hold businesses accountable — not just for their actions and words, but also lack thereof. Beyond providing goods and services — businesses are active participants in society, and are judged accordingly.


3)How can you grow your impact?
By distilling your business into a core idea (internal commitment x external role), that idea can multiply across different channels and markets, without losing steam or getting diluted. After all, the main purpose of branding your business, is to allow it to gain momentum and grow.



What else is in it for me?
You mean, other than remaining relevant? Plenty!

 
1) An authentic brand attracts talent
Skilled employees today want to feel good about their work. As the boundaries between work and life blur, simply showing up for a paycheck just doesn’t seem like the best use of time. A business that walks the talk has a better chance of attracting loyal, passionate, like-minded employees who will help the business grow.


2) An authentic brand runs smoothly
When your business has a clear goal, and a solid history of practicing what they preach, there’s significantly less chance that anyone on the team is confused about what they’re supposed to be doing. Compared to a business that’s constantly shifting gears, changing tacks and bending to market whims, an authentic brand is aligned internally and externally.



3) An authentic brand earns loyalty
Just like you can smell a phony a mile away, people can tell when brands are simply following a tired old branding formula. And just like how you wouldn’t nurture a lasting friendship with someone fake, people won’t stick with a “bandwagon” brand for long. Instead, build trust with your audience by meaning what you say, saying what you mean, and backing it up with action at every level. You’ll gain a following that supports your business because they support your purpose.

If you’re a business owner today, you’re up against increased access to information, variety of competition, and evolving consumer demands. Maybe you feel the pressure to capitalise on trends and hop on bandwagons — shaping your business in response to these changes. These tactics may work in the short term; they aren’t strategies to sustain you in the long run. The good news is, you don’t have to jump through hoops to succeed. You just have to be yourself.



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