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So I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking on branding lately. I wrote a couple posts about it, had a few discussions, etc. I think I have finally come up with my theory of branding… for now.

So to me, a brand is a concept that happens in a consumer’s mind. It’s a perception. And branding happens three times. Some of you are probably confused with what I’m trying to say. It’s alright, I was confused too for a while! A company does not create a brand, it merely creates the tools, actions, and processes that enable the formulation of a brand.

Before I move on to what I think is a brand, let’s look at what I think is not a brand. The following is what I think are precursors to branding, but not quite branding yet.

  1. Design

  2. Value proposition

  3. Positioning statement

Design

Companies have logos, colours, slogans, catch-phrases, etc. But that isn’t branding. That’s the creation of a heuristic. A shortcut to allow consumers to distinguish different companies, products or services. Nothing more. It has no value if consumers do not accept it. It is just there as a way for consumers to filter through different logos and colours so they understand that this particular company is not the same as the next one. That’s it.

Value proposition

What is a value proposition? It’s whatever the company wants to offer. A company has a product or service that they claim adds value to the consumer. It’s a bunch of words or ideas or images saying ‘you need this because…’. So is this branding? Not really…

Positioning statement

A positioning statement is how a company wants its products or services to be perceived in the consumers mind. Is this branding? It’s getting very close, but not yet.

So what is branding? It’s a perception that the consumer makes of a company, product, or service, based on the communication they receive from different sources, and the experience they receive from the offer. That’s my definition, or theory, on branding.Now I think branding happens three times in the consumer buying process:

  1. During the information search,

  2. During the evaluation of alternatives, and

  3. During the post-purchase evaluation

Information search

So how does a consumer formulate their first impression of brands? Through the communications model. Communication is extremely important (in my opinion) when it comes to branding, whether it is word of mouth, advertising, social media, PR, etc.

So what happens is the consumer recognizes s/he has a problem. Then starts looking for solutions. This is where information search happens, and where perceptions of brands are formulated. Companies send out messages that include all of their designs and value propositions. The consumer tries to decode the message, and forms an initial perception. That’s branding #1.

Evaluation of alternatives

This is were the second impression on branding happens. So now that consumers are done with their information search, and formulated a first perception of the brands, they will start weighing their alternatives. This is where the personality of the company, product, or service is important. Again, through different means of communication, the company must convince that their offering will ‘fit’ with the consumer.

Here, the consumer starts thinking ‘does this offer reflect my self concept, or my ideal self?‘ Since consumers buy products that reflect their personalities, it is important for companies at this point to not just show their heuristic designs and value proposition, but give the consumer a bit more. Try to create an emotional attachment with the consumer. Shape their perception. At this point, the consumer makes a purchase decision based on what THEY PERCEIVED as being the best brand, whether it is or not. Branding #2.

Post purchase

This is the final stage of branding. This is where the consumer starts thinking ‘did the company actually deliver on its offer?‘. After the purchase, the consumer starts evaluating if they are satisfied or not with what the company was offering. They start thinking if the product or service actually reflects their self, or ideal-self concept. This is where the communication model stops, and the genuineness of the company starts.

If you are a company, ask yourself: ‘Did I promise something I can’t deliver? Am I genuine and authentic? Is my service actually what it’s supposed to be?’. If the customer is satisfied after his/her purchase, they will form another brand impression. They might even develop brand loyalty. Now if the customer is not satisfied, whether the product wasn’t what they perceived it to be, or they had bad interactions with employees, horrible customer service, etc., this will cause another brand impression. However, this time it will change the brand perception, in a negative way. This is branding #3

So to sum up, branding is a concept in the consumers mind. Branding happens 3 times; the first two are influenced by the communications model, and the last impression is formed by the experience. So what do you think about my theory? Do you agree? Why or why not? Do you have your own theory about branding?

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