Chapter 9: Branding & Social Media

A brand is much more than a logo, tagline, and product line.

It’s more than a catchy jingle, the celebrities who endorse the brand, or the storefront where the brand has a physical presence.

An organization’s brand is the visual identity, emotional connection, imagined personification, status, and cultural legacy of that organization, all wrapped up into something an audience can process and understand in less than a second.

A strong brand can be worth billions upon billions of dollars. As of this writing, the total market valuation of the Coca Cola Company is approximately US $260 billion. Now, imagine what the value of the company would be if it sold all of its bottling plants, all of its trucks, its trade secret formula, and transferred all of its customer contracts, personnel, and operations to another company called “Sugar Water Soft Drinks.” In this scenario, the only part of the company that isn’t sold is the name of the company and everything associated with the brand. After this hypothetical sale, what would “Sugar Water Soft Drinks” be worth as a company? What would Coca Cola be worth without anything but its brand? Marketing experts estimate the Coca Cola brand to be worth approximately US $100 billion on its own, separate from all the physical aspects of the company, its contracts, operations, and everything else.

That’s an extremely valuable brand and it needs to be protected from harm. We’ll discuss reputation management in the next chapter.

Brand Elements

As noted earlier, a brand is more than just a logo. However, a logo is definitely part of it. What else is? These are the elements of a brand that need to be defined and redefined as an organization evolves:

  • Brand name
  • Brand identity
  • Brand image
  • Brand personality
  • Brand positioning

Brand Name

A good brand name is unique, unmistakable, short and easy to say. Think of some powerful and popular brands: Pepsi, Samsung, Donald Trump, the Red Cross, NASA, Harvard University.

If you ever watch the film The Founder about Ray Croc’s takeover and expansion of McDonald’s, Croc specifically mentions that he preferred to buy out the original owners of McDonald’s, rather than to simply compete with them, because he valued the brand name.

You know all of those brand names. You have an idea of what each one means to you, how you feel about it, what the brand represents, and how prestigious that brand is in terms of connecting with it, working for it, or owning it.

Brand Identity

For each of the brands noted, you can conjure images in your mind: what the product looks like, the face of the former American president, the logo of the Red Cross, the old buildings of Harvard University.

Brand identity is the logo and set of visual symbols associated with the brand.

There are parts of those organizations you probably don’t know about and don’t connect with the brand. For example, when you think of Samsung, do you think of a military weapons manufacturer? Equally, when you think of Harvard University, you probably don’t think of one of the most powerful investment groups on Wall Street, but with over US $50 billion in their endowment fund, that’s exactly what Harvard University is. These parts of Samsung and Harvard are not part of how you think about the brand and are separate from their brand identity, even though they are important parts of how those organizations generate revenue.

Brand Image

This is the impressions a brand makes on an audience and how that audiences perceive the brand, which means organizations do not have total control over their own brand image. However, much effort is put into managing those perceptions. The brand image is also closely tied to an organization’s reputation.

Brand Personality

Brand personality is the personification of the brand, especially with human traits and emotional associations.

Sometimes these questions are easier to think of on a spectrum or in contrast. Think about tech giants Apple and Microsoft. What are those brands like as people? One is fun and one serious. One is young and one is mature. One is cleaner than the other. One is smarter than the other.

If you said that Apple is a fun, youthful brand with a clean image, I agree with you. In truth Apple and Microsoft are about the same age and their products are equally clean. This isn’t about facts, though; this is about audience perception of the brand. Yes, Microsoft is the more mature, more serious, and smarter brand. The people who work at Apple are plenty smart, too, of course. This isn’t about the people who run the companies, their products, or their operations; it’s about how people perceive the brand on an emotional, relational level.

Brand Positioning

One good way to study brand positioning is to look at where companies advertise: look who advertises in which publications.

Luxury brands advertise in magazines about business, the economy, and luxury products (including golf). Value brands advertise in popular magazines and newspapers. Where in the market does the brand attempt to position itself?

If you think about luxury car brands, you should quickly be able to understand the brand positioning. Consider Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Cadillac, and Audi. You probably have a clear sense of what type of social status comes with each of these vehicles. One you would associate with the ridiculously rich; one you may not even think of as a luxury brand. However, most people will rank the status associated with these vehicles as follows: Rolls Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Audi. This is true, despite that Cadillac is the least expensive of the four brands, so this isn’t only about price.

Another aspect of positioning is about filling certain audience niches. What car brand is the “environmentally friendly” brand? Which car brand is best at safety? If your answers were “Tesla” and “Volvo,” respectively, you’re tuned into their brand positioning, despite that a Toyota Prius is more environmentally friendly and a variety of car manufacturers compete favourably on safety ratings with Volvo. Again, this isn’t about facts; it’s about where organizations are trying to position their brands in the market.

Building a Brand

Building a strong brand is a long-term action that requires consistency in visual identity, but also tone of voice in messaging, brand associations (such as celebrity endorsers), price point, product quality, and customer service.

Organization’s put painstaking effort into building their brand, but as audiences’ wants and needs shift, brands must adapt and change to stay relevant and engaging. Changes to a brand need to be managed carefully, as the high-stakes decisions can have both positive and negative consequences.

Successful brands create long-term emotional connections with audiences and generate a certain amount of loyalty—sometimes even an intense amount of loyalty, as with sports fans, who will spend a fortune on tickets and merchandise for their preferred team, but not a nickel for another team, despite that the product is extremely similar.

Organizations also put a lot of effort into differentiating themselves from competitors—again, even when the products offered are extremely similar, as with sports teams or car manufacturers. Brand managers want their brand to stand out as being unique, trustworthy, and preferable to their target audience.

Brands in Social Media

How a brand presents itself in social media must be consistent with how it presents itself globally, but it also needs to work within the specific social media ecosystem in which it operates.

In social media—as in real life—audiences value authentic communication and connection. Organizations need a social media voice that matches that audience expectation and respects their overall brand.

In some cases, organizations take a social-first approach where their brand is first designed digitally and then projects as such into the global environment based on that. One good example of that is Wendy’s, which has become famous for its glib, edgy humour on social media, which is pushing into its branding elsewhere.

Social media can bring brands into closer conceptual proximity and even amounts to a certain amount of jibing and jockeying between them (again, as can be seen on the Wendy’s Twitter account). How organizations want their brand to interact with other brands is something that requires consideration, as well.


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Social Media & Reputation Management Copyright © 2023 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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