How do you define branding?

When most humans  think of a brand, they think of a logo, like the Nike Swoosh or the Starbucks mermaid. And that assessment isn’t incorrect, “branding” comes from the practice of burning a mark on to an animal with a branding iron to assign ownership. So to associate the act of branding as logo design is pretty common, but very inaccurate.

One of the best definitions of branding I found is from the book, Lean Branding by Laura Busche

“A brand is the unique story that consumers recall when they think of you. A brand associates your product with your customer’s personal stories, a particular personality, your promise to solve any given problem, and your position relative to your competitors. Your brand is represented by your visual symbols and feeds from multiple conversations where you must participate strategically. “

Passion led us here

A visual symbol is just one of many brand core components, and it is informed by a deep understanding of why you exist.

However, problem. The visual aspect of a brand’s identity in the start-up world more often than not occurs after the creation of a minimal viable product and before any type of long term strategy is entertained. As a result, communication is inconsistent and noisy. All the more reason to entertain brand development well before a launch, during the business development stage. Today thanks in part to technology, and cheaper manufacturing practices  much easier to get a product or service to market, the marketplace is crowded. T. So it isn’t enough to “brand” simply with a visual identity. Branding needs an inside approach that forces an organization to dive deep into the core of their existence.

I recently asked a group of business designers, How do YOU define branding? Their responses were incredibly insightful.


One emphasized that branding isn’t just about visuals. Rather it is more about the associations that are delivered consistently (very important!) to reflect the story that we want to tell. The main associations are values.

I wholeheartedly agree. Values are the driving force behind any business, marketing, or product development strategy. The reason is simple, people want to align themselves with other people that have similar values and beliefs. Transparency isn’t a nice to have, it’s a requirement for business today. Values give you the opportunity to communicate, very clearly, what you care about, and how you’ll hold yourself accountable.

Your brand’s core values should clearly communicate “this is what we are about” while simultaneously hinting at the culture and deeply held beliefs that provide the foundation of an organization.

If you’re having trouble determining your organization's values, think of your current customers and prospects. What do they value? How does that sync up with your own values as an individual? Is there a mismatch? Now would be the time to solidify these characteristics to avoid any inconsistencies in communication later down the road.


Additionally, another designer commented about how branding is the assignment of unique characteristics to a product or service. In return, customers begin to recognize your offerings based on these characteristics. As a result, your product/service has a better chance of standing out in a cluttered market.

The fact is that everywhere you look, there is a brand. Brands are everywhere, and we’ve become highly skilled at tuning out most of the noise.  Noise relates to the brands that are not relevant, or meaningful to us. However, what might not be relevant or meaningful to us, will be so to another people. This is why it is critical that you niche down your focus to a target audience. Every human is a unique snowflake, with different  lifestyles, beliefs and values. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will be nothing to no-one. Focus on serving prospects and customers that fit your brand values (as mentioned about). If you cannot demonstrate a difference between your brand and your competitiveness through a Unique Selling Point (otherwise known as a USP) you’ll be seen as just another commodity.


A 3rd designer that I spoke with pointed out that branding is about establishing emotional connections. Yes! The emotional component is so important, yet often the most misunderstood (at least in my experience).

A word of caution, feelings and emotions are often used interchangeably but they do not mean the same thing. In this context, I pulled a good definition.

Essentially emotions are physical and instinctive. They have been programmed into our genes over many, many years of evolution and are hard-wired. While they are complex and involve a variety of physical and cognitive responses (many of which are not well understood), their general purpose is to produce a specific response to a stimulus. For example: You are on your own and on foot in the savanna wilderness, you see a lion, and you instantly get scared. Emotions can be measured objectively by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body stance. Important note: Emotions are carried out by the limbic system, our emotional processing center. This means that they are illogical, irrational, and unreasonable because the limbic system is separate from – sitting literally behind – the neocortex, the part of our brain that deals with conscious thoughts, reasoning and decision making.

When it comes to making a buying decision, humans act on emotion, first. So, as you launch your startups or grow your businesses, how might you incorporate more emotion into your offerings and messaging (via product/service touch-points) to inspire and optimize these connections?

To address your audience at an emotional level is to empathize with your target persona. By creating an Empathy Map, you'll be able to plan for and create content that inspires at every touch point in the buyer's journey.

A brand that can stand out from the noise and seep into the hearts and minds of your ideal customer  is made up of a variety of ingredients that are rooted in a clear foundation. This foundation is constructed of core values, product/service/market differentiation, and emotional elements. By taking the time to work with your team to build this foundation, you will have a head start on developing your brand’s culture, visual identity, story, and marketing strategy.

Kirsten Lindquist Campana design thinking and brand experience design