What is Branding?

Some of the biggest business decisions you make will concern your brand. You’ll be making them all the time.

It’s not logos

It’s useful first to dispel a popular thought and definition. Branding isn’t all about logos and colour schemes that go across your promotional work. ‘A logo = A brand’ is thinking from simpler times (cowboys marking their cows had it easy). A logo and colour scheme identify your business and are one of the physical forms of your brand, but it’s not what your brand is in totality.

Think bigger

Branding is more complex nowadays, and you’ll be able to find complicated theories if you Google it. I’m not going to complicate it here. A simple way of thinking about a brand is around perceptions. It’s what customers think about your brand. And, it’s a collectively held view. And if that collectively held view is positive then you’re winning – your brand is talked about and known for certain positive traits that people want to buy into!

People buy into brands that have a commonly held set of positive perceptions

Inevitably therefore it’s as much about what you say and do, not just your logo, with your brand being made up of lots of different parts. The critical thing to grasp is that you can own and set the direction for how your brand is perceived.


Branding is the process of setting out what you would ideally like those perceptions to be amongst your customers. Then acting on that thinking. Remember it’s how to act, do, innovate, deliver, service, design, promote and package what you do.

Branding is about steering and creating perceptions

Anything that your customers see, experience, hear and even taste or smell can and should be thought about in the context of your brand direction.

Okay… gimme an example?!

Let’s leave the theory and show you what I mean. It even includes use of smell: Hollister.
On a basic level Hollister is a clothing brand, but the brand it creates achieves more value than ‘just a clothes brand’. They get volume. They can charge a premium. They have a brand people buy into. Ask someone about Hollister and they’ll think dark stores, good-looking staff dressed for summer, screens showing waves crashing on sun drenched beaches, happy and uplifting spring-break music and a signature summery smell wafting from the door to illicit that ‘Hollister feeling’ (before you get within 20 meters of the store).

Of course there’s the clothes – hoodies and t-shirts with big logos and branding, and paying too much for the privilege. Which is also why the big logos are featuring less and there’s more focus on value. The brand is trying to steer its clothes towards a youthful, preppy, fit feel with less of the in-your-face corporate logos.

Hollister = cool, youthful, California surf and sun

That brand direction is set consciously: youthful, summer, joyful, relaxed. You’re buying a piece of cool California woven into the fabric. Hollister may not be your kind of clothing or brand, but it definitely is for some and the brand direction sets critical decisions for the business:

  • Clothes design, t-shirt slogans and imagery
  • The staff ‘look’, how they greet you
  • Promotion, web site imagery and product shots heavily featuring sand and the beach
  • The shop fit, in-store videos, the sound system and yes, even keeping that ‘Hollister smell’ diffuser above the front door working

It’s all working to the California sun brand story. And it’s a story and direction relentlessly followed throughout the business. Is branding important, or only something global mega brands should worry about? We will break that down in the next article!

John Hayward runs his own consultancy, Hayward Brands, providing brand and marketing consultancy for businesses in the UK. Never complicated, just cleverly done.