Why is Branding Important to Marketing?

Brand Strategy


Why did we create this guide?

At Metric, we strongly believe that every successful business is built on the foundation of a solid brand. Once this is realized, there is no denying the significance of the role that brand plays in marketing.

We want you to think long and hard about your brand. We want you think about your entire customer experience-- everything from your identity, website, social media, and content (think Zappos). We want you to think about the way you answer the phone and the way you train your employees. Everything is brand. When you view it from this lens, you can start to see the significance brand plays not just to your marketing, but to your entire business.

The intent of this guide is to provide readers with a strong understanding of what brand is and why it's important.  It was also created to provide a detailed look at the way we view brand here at Metric.

Who Did We Create This For?

We created this guide for you. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, chief executive, director of marketing, marketing manager, marketing coordinator, or anyone else who is passionate about their “brand” and is interested in some thoughts on the subject, this guide is for you.

Many small organizations and startups neglect spending the necessary time thinking about their brand, and the impact that it has on their business. There are still a significant amount of people who believe that a brand is a color palette and a logo, but brand is so much more than that. If you are one of these people, no need to worry-- this guide is for you.

What exactly does branding mean?

Brand and branding are complex terms that encapsulate many different things.  In short, your brand is the way your customer perceives you. In its most basic form, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells your consumers what they can expect from your products and services. It is the total sum of their experiences and perceptions-- some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot.

To give you further insight into what brand is, we’ve included a few definitions from some of the most well known marketers and thought leaders.

Branding Definitions

  1. "A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name." - American Marketing Association
  2. "[A brand] is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. While companies can’t control this process, they can influence it by communicating the qualities that make this product different from that product. When enough people arrive at the same feeling, a company can be said to have a brand. A brand is not what you say it is-- its what they say it is." - Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
  3. A brand symbol is "anything that leaves a mental picture of the brand's identity". - Leo Burnett
  4. "A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well." - Jeff Bezos
  5. "A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn't pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer." - Seth Godin,  author of Linchpin
  6. A brand is "the intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised." - David Ogilvy, author of On Advertising
  7. "A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect." - Al Ries, author of Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind
  8. "Brand is the promise, the big idea, the expectations that reside in each customer's mind about a product, service or company. Branding is about making an emotional connection." - Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity
  9. "Fundamentally, branding is a profound manifestation of the human condition; belonging to a tribe, to a religion, to a family. Branding demonstrates that sense of belonging."  - Wally Olins, Design Thinker
  10. "A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures." - Michael Eisner
  11. "The most valuable assets of a company are no longer physical. [There] is one asset, an intangible one, that stands head and shoulders above all the others and that cannot be easily outsourced: the brand." - Scott Bedbury, author of A Brand New World
  12. "If you are not a brand, you are a commodity." - Philip Kotler.
  13. "Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business." - Steve Forbes

Note: Do you have another definition of branding to add to this list? If so, please include it in the comment section below.

What a brand isn't

We've covered the basics on what brand is, and in that same spirit, we've prepared a couple of ideas about what a brand isn't.

5 Things a Brand is Not

  1. Brand is not a name - Your name is what identifies your company, product, or service, but it isn't your brand.
  2. Brand is not a logo - A logo is supposed to set the stage for your corporate identity and the graphic standards that will represent your company; it is not your brand but rather a part of your brand’s identity system. Branding will help make your logo synonymous with your company, and will make it easy for consumers to identify your company when they see it.
  3. Business cards, signs, brochures - These are extensions of your identity and are designed to support marketing. Unfortunately, creating a logo and putting it on a business card isn't branding.
  4. Your Website - You created a website, not a brand. Your website is an extension of your corporate identity and is a hub that you push your marketing and advertising to. Marketing and advertising point to the website which receives visitors and expands upon your corporate identity through content such as product/service descriptions, product guides, blog posts, etc.
  5. Your brand is not what you say it is - Your brand isn't about what you say about your company, rather your brand is about what you do, and the impact that has on people. Just because you come up with some warm and fuzzy messages, doesn't mean that those messages accurately represent your brand. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In reality, your brand is "the way people feel about you and your business." It's the perception they have, and the emotions connected, to all of those moving parts - and more.

What is Brand?

Why Should You Care About Branding?

  1. People have too many choices and too little time.
  2. Most offerings have similar quality and features.
  3. We tend to base our buying choices on trust.

As competition creates infinite choices, companies look for ways to connect emotionally with customers, become irreplaceable, and create lifelong relationships. A strong brand stands out in a densely crowded marketplace. People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority. How a brand is perceived affects its success, regardless of whether it’s a start-up, a nonprofit, or a product.

Branding is proving to be one of the most important aspects of any business. Companies that effectively focus on their brand are able to better differentiate themselves from the competition, and have better marketing. As a result, our method of judging products by comparing features and benefits no longer works. The situation is exacerbated by competitors who copy each others’ features as soon as they're introduced, and by advances in manufacturing that make quality issues irrelevant.

Today we base our choices more on symbolic attributes. The degree of trust we feel towards a product, rather than the assessment of its features and benefits, will determine whether or not we will buy this product or that product.

But my business isn't big enough for me to care about branding.

When you think about branding, you probably think about well known brands like Apple, Google, Starbucks, Nike, and Amazon. When thinking of these iconic brands, it’s probably tough and somewhat overwhelming to think of your brand (yes, if you own a business you are a brand) through the same lens.

We speak to a lot of business owners about brand and something we hear frequently from small to medium business owners is:

"My business isn't big enough for me to care about branding."

"We run a business, not a brand."

Although branding is complex by nature and has many facets, for small businesses branding can be fairly simple. If implemented, some simple branding tactics can go a long way in helping your business grow.

Here are a few of the benefits your business may experience by investing in brand work:

  • Increased credibility. Think of all of the brands that you know of. You probably automatically perceive them as credible simply based on the fact that they are big, well known brands. Brand work can help increase your credibility by improving the perception of your business. People buy more from companies they trust.  
  • It can make you appear more established. Brand work can make your small business look like a Fortune 500 company, which in turns increases your credibility, which in turn… ok you get it.
  • A sense of stability for your clients. You may not have been in business for the last 25 years, but brand identity work can improve the perception of your business in the eyes of potential clients. Identity goes a long way toward establishing trust.
  • To comply with expectations and standards. These days, brand work is no longer optional. Brands are so widely used and recognized that good “branding” and brand standards are expected. Companies that aren't properly branding themselves risk losing market share.
  • Increase the value of your business (if you plan to sell). If you present a well-rounded business package, including marketing materials and graphics, your business will look more complete and more attractive to potential buyers. Brands are one of the most valuable assets a company has, as brand equity is one of the factors that can increase the financial value of a business to potential buyers. Many companies put the value of their brand on the balance sheet.

Why you need to care about branding

There are a number of reasons to care about branding, especially from a business perspective, but there are a few reasons why we feel that it's especially important. Brands and the practice of branding is more important today than ever because it digs deep, past all of the fluff, and gets to the “why” of your business.

Consumer choice is now based on so much more than just pricing. In today’s world with endless options and distractions, people need to be sold on their emotions, not on their wallets. Branding should make it clear as to why consumers should care, and why they should choose you over your competition.

Good branding will give your customers a reason to care about your brand, your business, and your products. It should make your customers feel a part of something bigger than themselves and the product or service they are buying.

A Brief History of Branding

The idea of brand isn’t a new one. In fact, the concept has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The concept of branding existed well before the modern era. What it means to brand something has evolved since, however the concept remains the same.

The modern word brand is derived from the word "brandr"from Ancient Norse meaning “to burn”. Around 950 A.D. a "brand" referred to a burning piece of wood.

In the thirteenth century, the Magna Carta, the decline of feudalism, and the trading between east and west (among other things), helped to change lives for the better. There was a revival of crafts with the formation of craft guilds and the emergence of a middle class. During this period, to control trade, guilds made proprietary marks mandatory. Town criers were paid to advertise a merchant's goods.

By the 1500s the meaning had changed to refer to a mark burned on cattle to show ownership. The term "maverick", originally meaning an unbranded calf, comes from Texas rancher Samuel Augustus Maverick whose neglected cattle often got loose and were rounded up by his neighbors. The word spread among cowboys and came to apply to unbranded calves found wandering alone. Tate & Lyle of Lyle's Golden Syrup makes a similar claim, having been recognized by Guinness World Records as Britain's oldest brand, with its green-and-gold packaging having remained almost unchanged since 1885.

The 19th century saw the rise of mass production and the beginning of modern day consumerism.  Products like wine, spirits and ale were among the first to see global distribution, and producers began burning their mark into crates and designing specific bottle and labels to distinguish themselves from competitors. Over time, the brand mark evolved into a representation of quality as opposed to ownership .

Factories established during the Industrial Revolution introduced mass-produced goods and needed to sell their products to a wider market-- customers previously familiar only with locally-produced goods. It quickly became apparent that a generic package of soap had difficulty competing with familiar, local products. The packaged-goods manufacturers needed to convince the market that the public could place just as much trust in the non-local product. Pears Soap, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Juicy Fruit gum, Aunt Jemima, and Quaker Oats were among the first products to be "branded" in an effort to increase the consumer's familiarity with their merits.

With the advent of television and radio, manufacturers were able to use new methods to promote their products and generate demand.

In the 1930s, Edward Bernays (nephew of famous Austrian neurologist) published a book called Propaganda.  Bernays illustrated some compelling ideas for the time, arguing that by associating products with ideas, large numbers of people could be influenced to alter their behaviour.

Advertising agencies and corporations took notice of what Bernays was saying and by the early 1960s marketers were using mass media to associate their brands with emotional benefits rather than functional roles. These companies quickly learned to build their brands' identity and personality such as youthfulness, fun or luxury. This began the practice we know as branding today, where the consumers buy "the brand" rather than the product. This trend continued into the 1980s, and is now quantified in concepts such as brand value and brand equity. Naomi Klein has described this development as "brand equity mania".

In the 1980s Philip Morris purchased Kraft for six times what the company was worth on paper. Were they buying supplies and factories? No, they were buying the Kraft brand.  In 1984 Apple released their now famous "1984" television commercial which introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer. The commercial used an unnamed heroine to represent the coming of the Macintosh computer as a means of saving humanity from "conformity". The commercial was immensely successful and the idea of companies building long term corporate identity rather than creating short term ad campaigns was popularized.

Where is brand going?

We live in the internet era with technology rapidly evolving, and these platforms are driving the next evolutions of branding. Today’s consumers aren’t satisfied being merely consumers-- they want to be a part of something. They want to participate. Where brand goes is somewhat unpredictable, but personally we can’t wait to find out.

When to Start the Branding Process

Eventually, you will come to a point where you realize that you need branding. For some, this realization comes early on, while for others it occurs after many years of operating their business. Below are some reasons why you might engage in brand work:

  • New company, new product. If you are creating a new company, taking a brand first approach can be highly beneficial. Deciding on design, theme, and tone of voice for your business can determine a large part of whether you’ll be successful or not.
  • Name change. Your company name is one of the most powerful parts of your collective brand. A great name can help you stand out from your competition, it can position you as an industry leader, communicate your corporate culture,  and it can even explain exactly what it is your company does. A weak name will be easily forgotten and can limit your brand exposure. Those that don’t consider brand work when naming or renaming their company risk ending up being branded by the market, or even worse, becoming irrelevant. Consumer product companies understand this, and tie their brand names directly to their brand strategies.
  • Revitalize a brand and identity. In order for a brand to be successfully revitalized, all stakeholders must be on the same page. Brand work is critical during a revitalization because everyone must have a strong understanding of the companies purpose, promise, product, people, place, and price.
  • Create an integrated system. A brand will stand out and be remembered if presented in a manner that is clear, credible, and pleasing. Integrated branding helps companies align all their actions and messages of a company with the core values and brand promises that it communicates.
  • When companies merge. When companies merge, there are several choices that leadership has to make about the combined brand portfolio. Brands can be transitioned to the acquiring company’s brand names, or they could retain their original brand names (as happened with AOL and the Huffington Post). Another option is dual-branding, where the two brand names are combined. This dual-branding strategy is often pursued when merging companies combine company names to form a new company name, like PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Difference Between Branding and Marketing

As we touched on earlier, the concepts of brand and branding have been around for a long time. Marketing has also been around forever. There is often quite a bit of confusion around what branding is and what marketing is. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and we're often asked what the difference is.  Before we dive into how branding makes for better marketing, its important that you understand the difference between the two. Marketing unearths and activates buyers. Branding makes loyal customers, advocates, and even evangelists out of those who buy.


A brand is formed through a series of experiences. It’s the sum of all information about a product, service or organization. A brand is formed in the mind and then reinforced at all points of contact.

Branding establishes, reinforces, and enhances experiences with an organization or product. It communicates a promise to your intended audience, and creates a distinct and memorable image in the mind of your customers.


And then there's marketing. Marketing is actively promoting a brand’s product or service. It's a way of reaching and engaging people. Marketing keeps your company top-of-mind among the decision-makers you are trying to do business with.

Here are some of the main differences between the two:

Branding is whyMarketing is how
Branding defines trajectoryMarketing defines tactics
Branding is strategic — vision, strategy, execution and evolutionMarketing is tactical — traditional, digital and unconventional
Branding drives reputationMarketing drives leads and sales
Branding is the reason someone buysMarketing is the reason someone thought of buying
Brading creates valueMarketing extracts value
Branding builds loyaltyMarketing builds familiarity
Branding is the beingMarketing is the doing


The primary difference between branding and marketing is that marketing promotes and branding reinforces. If you have a crappy product or customer service issues, marketing can get you leads and sales, but only branding will help enhance your reputation and strengthen customer loyalty.

At the end of the day, branding provides consumers the knowledge and insight required to determine if they actually like your company, what you stand for, and if they’d like to do business with you.

Why a Better Brand Means Better Marketing

Good branding improves conversions

One of the most important areas of marketing that good brand work can impact is conversions. Good brand work contributes significantly to how a company can persuade potential consumers into purchasing their products or services.

How brand work helps improve conversions:

  • Education. Educating potential customers on the value of your brand, and how your brand can solve their problems, will influence their buying decisions. This is typically done through content marketing campaigns designed to not only reach, but educate customers and move them through the sales funnel.
  • Differentiation. Clearly communicated brand attributes such as mission statement, value proposition, or pricing can influence customers to buy from you over your competitor. Brand work will highlight why your company is unique and what differentiates you from your competitors.
  • Perceived Value. The way potential consumers perceive your brand or how they think about your brand will have a huge impact on whether or not they do business with you. Brand work, especially brand identity work, can help increase the perceived value of your company by making you look larger or “more professional”, which in turn increases trust. People buy from companies they trust.

Good branding creates meaning

We have never been as inundated by marketing as we are right now. Marketing is everywhere and we are constantly exposed to advertisements across multiple channels. What all this marketing and advertising lacks these days is meaning.

"Do you know what makes people say 'wow'?" asks marketing guru Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow-- the best-selling book about how companies can transform themselves by becoming remarkable. "Connection, meaning, humanity, things that change them in some way. No one is impressed by your features or even your price. What we talk about is art, generosity, and products and services that make a difference."

When it comes to marketing to consumers today, it's not enough to win a share of their wallet. You've got to win their hearts and minds too.

Marketing with meaning is the antidote to opting out; it adds value to people's lives independent of purchase, which, as it turns out, is far more likely to win their business. It's marketing that is often more meaningful than the product it aims to sell.

Good brand work can create a messaging platform that clearly communicates value and meaning to your target audience.

Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty

In what would later become the "Campaign for Real Beauty," Dove crashed the stereotypes of beauty product advertising forever, creating a national debate among women about what beauty is and what it means. The initial success of the campaign fueled the brand to go further into the digital realm, creating a website and mobile-enabled billboards, where consumers could continue the discussion with others and download tools to help moms and mentors talk with girls about accepting and celebrating themselves.

Then Dove took the campaign viral. In 2006, its Canadian agency, Ogilvy Toronto, created a time-sped video to dramatize the process that beauty-product advertisers go through to turn a simple woman into a Photoshopped fashion model, ending with: "No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted. Every girl deserves to feel beautiful just the way she is." On October 6, 2006, the agency released the video, called "Evolution," on YouTube with no other support or fanfare. Traffic began to build, and a week later, Good Morning America featured it. Free views and free press coverage continued unabated for months. According to Maria Mandel, executive director for digital innovation at Ogilvy, the video has achieved over 500 million views—and counting. This cost Dove little more than the price of the video’s production, a mere $50,000, in comparison to the $1.3 million to air a single 30- second ad once during the American Idol season finale. Not to mention the fact that a consumer who chooses to engage in meaningful marketing is obviously more open to the message than someone who is likely to use the bathroom, get a snack, or TiVo through a commercial break.

Good branding creates powerful emotional connections

Emotion is a powerful energy that helps to validate and drive most of the decisions we make everyday. Emotion can dictate or influence:

  • How we behave
  • How we decide
  • What we decide
  • What is it worth to us

Sometimes we are conscious of our emotions and their influence on the brands we choose. And sometimes we are not. Regardless of whether or not we are conscious of it, emotions heavily influence what we buy and why we buy it. Our emotions are what we feel when we validate a decision to try, buy, and of course re-buy from a brand.

Brand work can help to identify your target customers, develop detailed personas of what specifically those customers may be looking for, and then craft a brand promise and create content that helps trigger an emotional connection to your brand.

AirBnB: "Belong Anywhere" Campaign

This beautifully animated commercial from Airbnb tells the story of two former Berlin Wall border guards who were reunited by a chance encounter through the lodging website. The ad, launched by Airbnb to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall, describes how Jorg and Kai finally met after Jorg's daughter booked him a trip to East Berlin via Airbnb in 2012, and they ended up at Kai's house. The campaign, by VCCP Berlin, will air on U.S. TV this weekend [December 12, 2014.] Airbnb has also launched a microsite that hosts content about Berlin as well as interviews with those involved.

In using a real-life story to illustrate the power of its brand, Airbnb is following in the footsteps of the likes of Google (see Homeward Bound). Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall said in a statement, "Great content and storytelling are so important now for any brand. As a community-driven company, we don't want to just talk about our product, but instead put our community front and center of any campaign."

Loyalty Beyond Reason

Customer loyalty is the holy grail for us marketing and advertising geeks, and ultimately for our clients. Companies like Coca-Cola and Apple are examples of companies that inspire what we call "loyalty beyond reason".

Heinz is another remarkable example of the power of brand. Heinz is a very well known brand and in the UK, their baked beans are incredibly successful. One of Heinz’s biggest competitors ran blind taste tests to find out why. Through their tests, they discovered that two thirds of people tested actually preferred the taste of their beans to Heinz’s. The participants were asked to try again, this time without a blindfold. The second time, most participants revealed they preferred Heinz beans.

In other words, brand can literally change our minds.

Good brand work, such as defining a customer promise, can inspire brand loyalty. Brand loyalty has very little to do with prices or money, but has everything to do with how your brand is perceived by the consumer -- whether through promotional activities, reputation or their previous experiences with your company.