If you own a business of any size, chances are you’ve heard the term “branding”. Having heard the term, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what branding means or how it can benefit your business.

Educating yourself on branding can not only help streamline your company’s mission statement and vision, but it can make everything that you do--from creating advertising materials to showing at trade shows to even providing customer service--more effective. Here are 8 key things you need to know about branding, so that you can make sure you are using it to your company’s greatest advantage. 2

Branding remains mysterious to many people.

While “branding” is frequently tossed around in business conversations, the fact is that few people actually have a strong grasp on what branding is and is not. So, let’s settle that first thing.According to Entrepreneur’s Small Business Encyclopedia, branding is defined as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets.”In a nutshell, branding is the overall manifestation of your business identity, and a culmination of the look, conduct, style, and products you put out into the world. So it’s quite simple in theory, but because of the many ways to approach branding, it can be complex in practice.

Branding adds value to your business.

Your brand is part of your business’s value. Say, for instance, that your company creates athletic sneakers. The fact that you make sneakers is great, but when someone purchases your product, they aren’t merely buying footwear. Importantly, they are also buying into your company’s culture.So how is your sneaker brand positioned? Do you promote yourself as a couture sneaker company, worn by rock stars? Or is sturdy footwear designed for all terrain at the center of your company’s branding? Or are you famous for your unique packaging, including beautifully designed boxes and tissue paper? Defining what your brand is and how you would like your company to be seen helps you market to the most appropriate customers. Picture2

Branding isn’t just about a great logo.

It’s a common misconception that “branding” is synonymous with “cool logo”. While having a logo is an important reflection of your brand, your logo is not in itself your brand.Think of branding as your company from the inside out. Branding is like the soul of your business; your logo is the outfit that your business wears on the outside. So in this way, it’s sort of like how a person’s fashion choices can reflect who they are as an individual, but they do not define the individual.

Branding requires a great look.

No, this is not a contradiction to the last point; it’s a clarification. While it’s true that branding isn’t just about a cool logo, your company’s look should be a reflection of your branding, which means that you will in fact need a cool logo, as well as great-looking business cards, ad materials, and promotional items such as signage.To make sure that your company’s look works in tandem with your branding, many companies choose to hire a graphic designer to create a professional, well thought out look. Since visual items such as a sign or business cards are often people’s first impression of your company, they are important to creating effective and successful branding. 1

Branding helps you define your company.

Branding represents the perfect intersection of who you are as a company, who you want to be, and what you want people to see.Giving thought to your company’s branding provides a unique opportunity to really evaluate your company’s goals and to analyze how you can meet those goals by refining the products you offer, and the way you represent yourself to the world.Like any type of self improvement or soul searching, really taking a long, hard look at your company’s practices and products can prove challenging, but can ultimately give you the opportunity to grow and flourish.

Branding can be aspirational, but it also needs to be true.

Branding can be aspirational; for instance, if you are catering company that wants to serve at wedding parties, it is totally appropriate to include photos on your website that are styled in a way to be appealing to future brides and grooms, because that is the image you want to project and how you’d like your company to grow.But branding should also be true. For instance, if you have a canned tuna company based in Texas, trying to position your company as a purveyor of fine imported European foods would simply be false, and would not be appropriate or truthful branding. 5

Branding requires consistency.

Consistency is key for your company’s branding. Every piece of advertising, every company newsletter--it should all reflect your company’s branding.Being very clear on your company’s mission statement is very helpful in this regard, as it can help you define your company’s goals; having a cohesive look is also vital, because it will impart your branding and company “feel” on everything you put out there, from your business cards to branded items like advertising inflatables.

Branding can (and should) evolve over time.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to do some soul searching and really evaluate if your branding is adequately reflecting your company. Just like people, companies change over time. Your branding should evolve to accommodate these changes.For instance, if you started a custom boot company hoping to attract a couture following but have found that your products are more popular among industrial workers, it might be time to revisit your branding and pursue a look and “feel” more in keeping with the customers who are supporting your business. What worked five years ago might not work now; even successful branding requires some revamping from time to time.

Conclusion: For a business, branding is a combination of nature and nurture. Branding is rooted in the company’s basic mission, but can be used to bring the business to great new heights. By taking the time to educate yourself on various aspects of branding and its effects on your business, you’re doing your company a favor by setting yourself up to be able to make the most educated decisions for how to grow, develop, and succeed.

What does “branding” mean to you?