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Branding 101: A Chat with a Branding Consultant
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Branding 101: A Chat with a Branding Consultant

Branding. It’s a word firmly fixed with the lexicon of the modern world. It’s also a word that is intricately intertwined with the business that we are are involved in. But what is branding? What is brand identity? Or brand development? And how does one actually build a brand? And how do we approach this charged word so that we understand the weight it holds?

We sat down with Ivan Permana of Pathfinders to get a better understanding of branding, be it its traditional role in advertising as well as its current state and future projections.

So Irvan, in your own words, please tell us about what branding is. What are the common pitfalls in people misunderstanding the word?

Put simply, branding is the intricate game played between identity and image. Or in other words, perception vs impression.

While identity signifies the way others (the outside world) sees our brand, image refers to the way we would like our brand to be perceived.

Perception is managed by the public, while impressions are managed by the owner of a brand. And usually, there’s a significant gap between those two.
And that’s where branding comes in.

It’s important not to conflate these two but to understand the significant differences between them. More significantly, it’s about getting the right balance between the two. That’s the only way we’ll get to fully maximise its potential.

Does the size of your brand have an impact on this ‘gap’ you speak of?

No.
The size of the brand/company usually has no correlation with this gap between image and identity.

For instance, a clothing line with a household name might suddenly face issues of child labor in the production of its goods.

Whether these facts are true or not, this negative sentiment has a huge impact on the image of the brand towards its target audience or otherwise. And the company will have to projects its identity to combat this unfavourable image.

Because there’s one important thing to remember. Branding doesn’t just speak ‘externally’, it also speaks ‘internally’. And both are as important as each other.

It’s an integrated process.

A process of how you want to build, develop and commit to your brand.

Tell me more about this schism between internal and external branding.

Well, internal branding refers to the process of identifying the brand and how to implement it, through the correct communication channels.

A branding consultant used to only be concerned with logo, graphic design and tagline development as well as the brand concept and the applications surrounding it. While today, despite logo development and brand concept still being a must as it’s part of the internal process, how one wishes to communicate this defies the external process. Brand development has grown rapidly in a short space of time.

So as a branding consultant, what is the most important thing for a brand owner to understand?

Brand owners need to understand the process of building a brand and brand development.

With the basic process we already discussed, comes the branding jargons we are familiar with: brand awareness, brand loyalty, brand positioning, brand development etc.

It’s that process that will shape the future of their brand. And brand owners need to understand that it is a slow and arduous process. The initial shaping is usually done through workshops, a process that lets the owner and the consultant to see how the brand speaks internally. This is a particularly important step as it’s vital for the employees to ‘understand’ the brand, as they’re the ones who are going to be the ‘brand ambassadors’.

It’s from there that we can decide where the brand will go as well as the way of achieving it.

Another thing that brand owners miss is that branding strategy is very much related to business strategy. A brand’s main purpose is to adapt and support the business mission. For instance, if the existing brand is a premium brand and the owner wishes to branch out towards other market segments, the mistake they tend to make is using the exact same brand. This doesn’t work. Each new brand needs to be targeted towards its specific customer segment with its own styles and way of approaching.

But why is that? Is it because of the changes in the nature of branding that these owners seem to miss these important elements? Or is there some other factor that I’m missing?

Well, yes and no.

Branding as we know it today only really took-off in this country for the last 15-20 years. Ever since the late 90s and the early-to-mid 2000s, I was involved in the middle of this branding-boom.

So before that era, the know-how of branding, including brand message, brand development strategy and content marketing was very minimal amongst business owners. At least for that generation.

But gradually, business owners got wise to the importance of branding as opposed to simply selling products and services. And as mentioned before, this was a slow and gradual process. It took years of effort from branding consultants such as myself to drill in the importance of branding towards these business owners.

The rest is reflected in what you see now.

Brands have become as important as, if not more important than the product itself.