Ask a business owner what their brand is, and they might point you in the direction of their newly-designed logo. Ask their customers about the same brand and you’ll hear all kinds of feelings and opinions about the business.

That’s because a logo and a brand are two separate things, and should be treated as such.

The origins of branding stretch back over 5,000 years, to the ancient Egyptian era, during which time the owners of livestock would mark their animals to show ownership. This same marker-of-ownership idea followed through into more recent times, when cattle at farmers’ markets could be pre-judged on its quality based on the reputation of the owners’ brand.

Branding as we know it today was born in the 1800’s, when companies such as Coca Cola started the process of creating visually compelling and easily identifiable logos and stand-out packaging.These brands put visuals at the forefront, creating an instantly recognisable product for consumers to grow an affinity for.

But the process of Coca Cola building one of the most successful brands in the world didn’t start until long after that first branded bottle rolled off of the production line – and it has been evolving every day since in Coke’s 125-year history.

Brand is about so much more than just a logo. It’s a measure of the way your customers feel about your company, what they say about you behind closed doors and how likely they are to do business with you.

This article explores what brands really is, just how much control you have over your brand and how to react when things go wrong.

What is a brand?

The term brand is used to describe the overall set of values a business holds and its subsequent perception in the eyes of customers. This means that branding is split into two halves; controllable factors and uncontrollable factors.

Your brand exists only in the minds of your customers. The way they think, feel and interact with your business is all defined by the perception they have of your brand. This brand perception is a total sum of every encounter a customer has ever had with your business; from their first impression of your logo and packaging, through to the quality of your product, the perceived value, and their experience with after-sales support.

Your logo simply acts as a visual prompt that brings these thoughts and feelings to the forefront of a customer’s mind.

It’s for this reason that attention should be paid throughout your entire business, to make sure that your brand is protected and allowed to prosper to its full extent.

What plays into brand perception?

Brand perception is the way in which customers think about feel about your business in the moments after your brand name is mentioned. We all have an intrinsic gut feeling about every business and person we encounter. But this instant reaction is built up in the minds of your customers over a long period of time.

From the first time a customer sees your product on a shelf or learns about you online, during the entire purchasing process, throughout the lifetime of the product and into after-sales support, everything your business does influences brand perception.

With that in mind, it’s important to ensure that every employee your customers encounter, every product that leaves your business and every piece of content you produce speaks to the same brand message.

When the perception of a brand sticks, it’s hard to alter for better or worse. That’s why some brands enjoy a cult-like following, while producing products that are nearly identical to their competitors (think Apple).

Controlling your brand

The best way to guide and control the direction of your brand is to define a clear set of brand values.

This list of values – however long or short – should be considered in everything your business does; from customer-service training through to the creative design of marketing.

Think of every encounter your customers have with your business as a signpost. Regardless of the size of the encounter or the monetary value of the customer, every signpost should point in the same direction; towards your brand values.

As previously mentioned, your brand only truly exists inside the heads of your customers. There is no single way to magically change or improve your overall brand. This means that the only way to really be in control of your brand is to make sure that you’re in control of every aspect of your business, with an ethos that matches your brand values.

To create a trustworthy brand, your actions need to be trustworthy. To create a brand that excites your customers, your products, people and marketing needs to create excitement. Your brand is a purified version of your actions.

When things go wrong

When Coca Cola first started selling carbonated drinks, news travelled slowly. Should a customer have been unhappy with their purchase, it’d have been a difficult task to tell more than five people about their negative experience with the brand.

But that couldn’t be further from the reality of branding in 2017.

With an average of 338 Facebook friends and 208 Twitter followers, today’s consumer is more connected than ever. And that means that their negative opinions of your brand can do more damage than ever.

Should a customer have the misfortune to experience an issue when dealing with your business, they’re fully within their rights to share news of this encounter online. But a brand problem is an opportunity in disguise.

Responding to online reviews and publicly putting things right is one of the best ways for a brand to demonstrate its values, as well as to show a willingness to put things right for dissatisfied customers. Brand perception is tested when customers are left unhappy, but taking action to resolve a matter will pay long-term and far-reaching dividends.

Things to remember

  • Brand is about more than just a logo
  • Your brand exists only in the minds of your customers
  • Brand perception is the total sum of every encounter your customers have with your business
  • A set of brand values should guide every decision your business makes
  • Your brand is a purified version of your actions
  • Controlling the dialogue when things go wrong can protect and strengthen your brand