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Branding definition for modern business models

Author's avatar By Rhian Harris 16 Nov, 2021
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How has the definition of branding evolved to reflect the modern business context?

If you type ‘what is branding’ into a search engine, you’ll be presented with two choices:

  • “making a mark with a branding iron”
  • Or, “creating a distinctive design to promote a product or service”

Branding in today’s world is not just about standing out, but about creating a truly consistent omnichannel experience across all customer touchpoints.

To achieve this, it means fully integrating brand strategy across every customer interaction, not just about creating aesthetically stable collateral. To outpace competitors in the current business climate, branding requires a data-driven, customer-focused approach to marketing.

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Traditional branding definition

Brand identity is often misunderstood as simply picking a color palette and a logo. In reality, this is just one element of brand development strategy.

Branding definition:

“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.”
Seth Godin

"A strong brand positioning is vital for a brand to differentiate from its competitors to explain its benefits. It’s best to think of it from the audience's perspective."
Dave Chaffey

The concept of branding (and marketing) was born with the arrival of industry and mass production in the 18th and 19th centuries as companies realised the need to stand out from the crowd.

Prior to the ‘Mad Men’ era, all a company needed to be successful was a good product. Today, creating a digital brand requires a more scientific and structured approach to selling the product or service, overall experience and lifestyle that it can bring. It’s about creating recognition both visually and intrinsically as part of the entire digital experience. After all, 71% of customers purchase from companies they recognize.

Brand authenticity

Every digital interaction comes into focus when creating an online brand identity today. Brand recognition acknowledges creative elements such as phrases, symbols and colours used across multi-channel, but it’s more strategic than aesthetics. Data-driven brand discovery encompasses the entire process of developing a strong digital brand identity.

The RACE customer journey is a framework to streamline and plan marketing activities around your customers' omnichannel journey. Recognition is created through consistency in branding across all stages.

We've got marketing solutions to support your brand in doing just that.

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Branding definition in digital and retail convergence 

Branding is not a fixed concept. It adapts and changes to reflect the market, consumer habits, and wider environmental factors. 

 The convergence of retail and digital has forced businesses to rethink and remodel how it perceives branding. Digital retail convergence enables a brand to establish a relationship with customers, and influence a conversion by creating engaging experiences. In an omnichannel world, this customer journey is no longer linear. Targeting separate layers of the marketing funnel in a way that traditional branding set out to do is no longer effective.

The modern shopper can progress through awareness, consideration, and conversion phases across multiple devices, platforms. Big data analytics have an important role to play in how brand strategy translates into customer experience, efficiency, and ROI. 

With vast data available across the entire omnichannel journey, branding can be defined by how a business uses insight. Deriving trends that reinforce the strategy at every touchpoint can demonstrate how a business differentiates from its competitors to explain its benefits.

The OSA model helps marketers, managers, and business owners to identify challenges and opportunities in their current situation. Using the framework, the steps can inform brand strategy and take action. At all stages of brand development, it can be useful to refer back to these 3 stages of OSA strategic planning.

OSA opportunity strategy action

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Branding definition across D2C and online marketplaces

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) models and online marketplaces add complexity to the branding definition.

D2C is where a brand manufactures, markets, and distributes its own products. With D2C, the brand also owns the first-party data and can use it to feedback into the branding. Naturally, D2C creates a direct relationship with the customers, and so, brand interactions can be consistent and aligned to the strategy.

Marketplaces e.g. Amazon and social commerce shopping platforms, however, legally own the customer data and are beyond the brand’s influence on LTV. At this point, consumer brand recognition is critical where there may be a larger selection of competing products or services.

With marketplace platforms, the narrative may be diluted, as the overall experience is with the third party. Some control is lost but savvy brands that value the contribution of these channels invest in marketplace strategy to optimize conversion and brand-building on the platform.

Referring back to Dave Chaffey’s definition of brand, “It’s best to think of it from the audience's perspective."

Customers will switch between branded channels, D2C businesses, and marketplaces. Increasingly, each of these routes plays a significant role in the online branding identity and needs investment to create a customer-centered digital experience as part of a broader strategy.

If a brand is concerned about losing control through marketplace channels, it should reinvest in direct channels to provide a compelling and distinctive digital experience.

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Branding definition in programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising is defined by the Digital Marketing Institute as, “the use of software to buy digital advertising".

It utilizes automated technology, data insights and algorithms to tailor ads to the right person, time, context and price. Programmatic is not just for conversions however, it can play a valuable part in brand awareness.

Historically, brand awareness strategies have been above-the-line advertising, such as TV, radio and print. These have a wide reach and are great for the upper-funnel stages, but as we have already discussed, the omnichannel strategy does not treat the customer journey as linear.

With programmatic media, advertisers can use customer insight to create highly focused targeting, informed by previous interactions with the brand. Visual elements of the branding can be controlled to ensure its consistency, and real-time data is used to optimize campaigns with the potential for engagement and conversion.

In this context, the branding definition focuses on:

  • Organizing audience insights so that the brand targets the right customer
  • Designing compelling creative that is consistent with brand strategy
  • Executing and integrating the right technology
  • Reaching the right audiences across different devices
  • Measuring the impact to feedback and optimise campaign performance

Programmatic advertising is a more budget-friendly option that crosses brand strategy and direct response marketing effective at reach, engagement and conversion phases.

L’Oréal Canada leveraged audience data to drive almost 2X the anticipated revenue through programmatic advertising as part of the branded customer journey.

Brand programmatic advertising


Branding definition in live streaming

Live streaming is transforming the way brands interact with their audiences.

As a tool, real-time engagement and interactions with the audience can help a brand to build trust and authenticity. This is the very definition of branding, as it can ultimately influence a consumer to choose one over another.

Naturally, the nature of ‘going live’ can make brands feel nervous, but it is a channel that should not be overlooked. In fact, the video streaming market is projected to hit 184.3 billion by 2027.

When a target audience attends a live stream, established branding plays an important role in how they engage. The live streams must adhere to the same expectations as the brand promise to ensure that it is consistent with the wider experience.

Live stream marketing

When integrating live streaming into your brand strategy:

  • Select a platform that is relevant to the audience (and brand)
  • Use data insight to identify the role that it plays in the omnichannel journey
  • Create content that is valuable and consistent with the brand goals
  • Be clear about what the audience can expect e.g. frequency, topic, guests, exclusives etc.
  • Ensure that the equipment gives the most optimum experience
  • Promote the stream ahead of going live, and if possible capture data to remind the audience

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Author's avatar

By Rhian Harris

Rhian Harris is a copywriter and blogger helping businesses with content for their marketing collateral. Starting out in the shiny new digital world in 2004, Rhian gained experience in all areas of digital media and e-commerce, working in utilities, travel, charity and retail sectors. IDM qualified, Rhian is an online marketing all-rounder with a passion for words. She is a regular expert commentator for Smart Insights as well as other expert sites, as well as her own business Sparkly Content and her online community, Warwickshire Kids. You can follow Rhian on LinkedIn.

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