When starting a business, you must decide how you will brand it, and that decision hinges on your big vision and business model.
When building a brand, there are a few different approaches you can take. You can brand a business, brand a person, brand a thing, or use a combination of options. For example, Apple is a branded business that sells branded things like the iPhone, iMac, and iPad. Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, as the spokesperson for the brand, also built a personal brand around himself.
But which branding approach is right for you and your business?
Branding A Business
Branding a business — also called corporate branding or company branding — happens when a brand is built around core values, a mission, a goal, or a purpose and is bigger than any one person. Relationships, connections, and associations formed are with the brand itself and the values it stands for rather than an individual person. While the company may have multiple products, services, or programs, they all exist under the main brand umbrella.
- Examples of business brands include Starbucks, Disney, Red Cross, Target, McDonald’s, Nexcess, John Deere, Ford, and Chipotle.
When you read each of the brand names listed above, you instantly recognize the brand and the emotions you feel are tied to the interactions and experiences with and perceptions of the company. If you remove superfans from the picture, most people know of these brands but not the people that work there, the CEOs that run them, or the full product lines they offer.
Corporate brands require a broad approach to messaging and marketing because they encompass everything the company does and stands for. Corporate brands need to be relevant to an audience that spans executives and stakeholders, employees, customers, partners, and potential customers.
Branding A Thing
Branding a thing — also called product branding or merchandise branding — happens when a brand is built around a single item, like a service, a product, a program, a course, or a membership. With this approach, everything from the underlying strategy and identity design to the message and the marketing revolves around the branded item.
Product brands focus on building an audience and community of customers that use, love, and recommend the product. This is done through ongoing, deliberate investment in understanding how people interact with and use the item, why it is needed, and how it helps people; listening to feedback and commentary; and actively marketing the product to shape perception.
- Examples of product-centered brands include Kleenex, Tylenol, Subway, Tesla, GoPro, Coca-Cola, WP101, Zippo, Ferrari, and Nutella.
When you read each of the brand names listed above, you instantly think of a specific product or a specific item. In some cases, as with Kleenex, the brand name is so well-known that it becomes synonymous with its general product category. How you feel about any of these product brands is directly tied to your direct experience with it.
Product brands use a much narrower niche approach to messaging and marketing because they are centered around a specific thing. From its differentiation and position in the market to its features and benefits, everything about a product brand revolves around the product and the people who need it or already use it.
Branding A Person
Branding a person — also called personal branding and celebrity branding — happens when an entire brand is built around the charisma, talent, personality, experience, and expertise of a single person. The person is the brand. They are the celebrity face of the brand. Their voice is the brand voice. Their goals drive the marketing and messaging and their photo and name are incorporated into the visual design.
Personal brands can be driven by one person — the brand owner — or they can be driven by teams of people all dedicated to building up the personal brand of the person they work for.
- Examples of personal brands include Oprah Winfrey, Gary Vaynerchuck, Ann Handley, Chris Lema, Serena Williams, Lisa Vanderpump, and Tim Ferris.
When you read the names listed above, you most likely know who each person is and have an opinion or feeling about them. You’ve seen ads for their services, products, courses, memberships, and programs. You may have clicked a link on social media and visited their websites, signed up for their email newsletters, registered for a webinar, or signed up to get something free. Your interactions often are or feel like they are had direct with the “celebrity.”
Personal brands have a bit of a different approach to their marketing and messaging because the business is both the person behind it and what they’re selling. While all promotional efforts, marketing campaigns, and lead generation initiatives are done to make sales, they also need to enhance and continue building the spokesperson’s brand to make future marketing efforts easier.
Which Branding Approach Is Right For Your Business?
How you brand a business depends on the type of business, the structure of the business, and the long-term goals of the business.
- If you are a solopreneur, freelancer, or service-based entrepreneur, a personal brand is the best choice because you are the brand. You are who the clients will hire, buy from, and learn from. You are the person behind the marketing and sales and social media accounts. And, you are the voice and face of the brand.
- If clients and customers will be interacting with a team of people, a personal brand may not be the best choice. For example, my friend Steve Zenghut branded his web development agency as Zeek Interactive because he has a team of folks, from project managers and account reps to designers and developers, that all may interact with a client. The Zeek Interactive brand isn’t about one person. It’s about the impact the company as a whole has on its clients’ businesses.
- If you plan on franchising or selling your business one day, it’s best to go with a product brand or a corporate brand. You never want to worry about selling your name and a company buying your brand doesn’t want to worry about rebranding if you take an exit.
- If you are developing a product that you hope to sell one day, but you want to keep the business and build other things, individual product branding will be critical. This way you can sell one product and its associated brand without giving up your entire business.
In many cases, entrepreneurs start with one main brand and over time, grow that brand with multiple subbrands. Consider Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay: He built up his name as a restauranteur, then expanded to cookbooks, television shows, products, podcasts, and other ventures — each with their own brands under his name.
The key is to pick one primary brand, decide whether you are building a corporate brand, product brand, or personal brand, and get started! Building a strong brand is about building a reputation and you can’t do that if you haven’t launched yet!
- Don’t hold back because you don’t have a jaw-dropping logo design, an expensive website, or perfectly written content. None of that is set in stone and all of it can be improved and enhanced later on.
- Don’t make simple mistakes that can damage your brand, especially easily avoidable mistakes that can hurt your ability to attract new clients. Think through every decision you make and always put your brand first.
No matter what type of brand you’re building, get out there, start talking to people, sharing what you have to offer, and selling. Gather real-world feedback from real people and use it to shape your messaging, content, design, and market positioning so it better resonates with future clients and customers.