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Building your brand from the ground up

By Darlin Gray

What is branding, really? It is not your logo, packaging, or product, nor is it a physically tangible item that can be held in your hand. Further, while you do have the power to influence your brand, it is not something that actually belongs to you.

At its essence, branding is really a concept that exists in your customers’ minds. In short, it is what they think about you. Their belief in your brand moves them to either embrace and do business with you, or walk away and choose to work with your competitor instead.

The bottom line is a brand is a promise you make to your customers. It is also defined by what they think about your ability to follow through on that promise. So what’s the difference between a brand that is effective and one that isn’t? Great branding is all about an emotional connection—that is, establishing, building, and maintaining a positive relationship with the people who are or could be your customers.

A logo’s role in branding

A logo is the most tangible part of your brand. It is your company’s public face and one of your most valuable assets, symbolizing the brand promise you make to customers. You own it and have the great responsibility of controlling and shepherding the way it interacts with the world at large. Your customer will associate all things good and bad about your company with this visual symbol.

Logos elicit an emotional response from the people with whom you do business and wish to do business. The logo of a company with a well-received brand evokes positive feelings. The opposite is true of a company that has built a brand with a bad reputation or has a track record of mediocre interactions with customers. These emotional reactions have a magnetic impact on your bottom line—they either draw your customers in or repel them into the waiting arms of the competition.

Need a visual? Close your eyes and think about Tiffany & Co. The elegantly simple typographic treatment of three little words has drawn customers like moths to a flame since 1837. The emotion infused into the Tiffany logo buoys the brand, keeps sales strong, and maintains the company’s position as a major player in the jewellery industry to this day.

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Everything is either ‘on brand’ or ‘off brand’

Maintaining a clear and concise brand is both incredibly important and a major undertaking. As we’ve established, you are developing a relationship with your audience each and every time they interact with your company, creating opportunities to elevate your brand.

Your brand is enforced by its design, your store, and how staff engage with clients. Each of those components is a part of the overall experience customers have with your company; combining them can help improve your reputation and drive home your brand’s value.

To determine whether each area is working in tandem with the others, ask yourself, “Is it ‘on brand’ or ‘off brand?’” Anything consistent with your core messaging that ‘feels’ inherently like your company is ‘on brand.’ Anything that sounds or looks slightly (or spectacularly) out of sync with your message is ‘off brand.’

Craft your message to be clear and simple—the easier you are to remember, the easier it will be to stay top of mind with your customer.
Craft your message to be clear and simple—the easier you are to remember, the easier it will be to stay top of mind with your customer.

Companies that consistently and ruthlessly enforce their brands, as well as rigorously maintaining their core brand identities, are the definition of successful. Examining what others are doing well and discerning how they achieve success can be very informative in the branding arena. On the international level, there are any number of companies that successfully promote their brands. Some well-known examples include Rolex, Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and Cartier.

What do these companies have in common? They have all established themselves as peerless in their chosen fields. They have thoughtfully considered who they are, who their customer is, and what he or she is expecting from them, and have crafted their messaging and visuals to speak directly to their core clients.

These are also companies that have very simple messaging, hold a consistent presence in the marketplace, incorporate incredibly strong visual components into their brand, and evoke an emotional response in their customers. All are great examples of the power of strong branding and the importance of working hard to integrate brand, messaging, and visuals.

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What do you want your brand to be?

Establishing your brand begins from the inside. It is an external representation of everything you do and stand for as a company. Answering these basic questions will help you understand your market share more fully.

  1. Who are we?

The internal answer to who you are as a company will form a large part of your corporate culture, in addition to informing how you do business and interact with the world at large.

  1. What are our goals?

As a business and as individuals, you will be making an impact on your community. What kind of impact would you like that to be? You will also have business goals you need and want to meet. Establishing those will help you decide how to get there and how your brand can help you reach those goals.

  1. Who is our customer?

This is also referred to as your ‘target market.’ Who are the people buying your product? Who are you talking to? When you understand your target market, your aim becomes much more focused and successful.

Establishing a brand

Becoming more than a generic jewellery store can help you achieve the optimal position of standing tall above the competition. Consider the following questions to maintain your course and establish rock-solid relationships with your customers.

  1. Are we being consistent?

Every interaction should look and feel like your core messaging sounds. Are you conveying your brand promise in all you are saying and doing?

  1. Are we being authentic?

By communicating truthfully, thoughtfully, and from your core values, you automatically demonstrate your points of difference in a positive way. Remember, there is no one else like you! Be your authentic self and you will have no competition.

  1. Are we being clear?

Clear and simple messaging leads to a concise brand. Craft your message carefully—the easier you are to remember, the easier it will be to stay top of mind with your customer.

  1. Are we being sincere?

Demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness in each interaction. Be honest and transparent in your dealings so customers know you are on their side and have their interests at heart.

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Adjusting your brand

So what happens if you find yourself wandering into off-brand territory? Course corrections are sometimes necessary. It’s helpful to formulate check-in points at regular intervals to determine where you are and whether it matches where you want to be. Mark your calendar in advance to review your messaging and usage of your logo and other visual materials.

If you discover things aren’t as consistent as they should be, make careful and well-considered adjustments. You can seriously damage your brand by making sudden changes and alarm customers by being inconsistent. Instead of hastily making wholesale changes, slowly bring things back in alignment and then shift upcoming check-in points closer together. You will need to be more vigilant for a time following the adjustment to ensure you’ve regained your course.

Does your brand match your market?

This is a simple concept, but one that is often overlooked. To put it bluntly, are you selling your product to the people who actually buy it? A freshman in college is not likely to need a five-carat diamond ring, any more than a well-established and successful businessman would want to put a generic 0.25-carat promise ring on his fiancée’s finger.

Syncing branding to your target market enables you to hone your message and visuals more precisely. Once you understand with whom you want to connect, you can begin to explore the expectations they have of you, your product, and your brand. This understanding dramatically increases your ability to meet and exceed those expectations, thereby creating a predictable emotional experience for your customer and solidifying your reputation. This, in the end, is the best way to create a long-lasting and profitable relationship.

Darlin Gray is the owner and creative director of Darlin Gray World Wide and blogs about all things delicious and beautiful at She has developed branding and content for international software, fancy food, retail, and luxury brands, and helps companies large and small to positively present themselves in the marketplace. Gray can be contacted via e-mail at

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