Branding? Something About Cattle? by Rich

Have you heard? You should do branding! Everyone needs branding! Branding is great! You’ll get more business with good branding!

And that is True. But what even IS branding? Too many people just use it as a buzz word to try and sell you something they don’t even understand themselves.

So let’s explain what it is, actually, and why it is so valuable.  And also how it is something ANYONE can do.  Not something limited to a select few who have been admitted into the inner circle of Those In the Know.

Knowledge is for Everyone.


Everyone knows about branding cattle, using a hot iron with a distinct mark to identify the owner. As in every Western movie ever made. Necessary, in fact, because out in the Old West, cattle weren’t fenced in. So you needed a clear way to tell who livestock belonged to.

That’s actually where the word and concept of branding come from, originally a word that meant “to burn.”

Truth is, we haven’t strayed too far from the original concept, in the marketing use of the word. It is still an indelible mark on something to tell you who owns it. Like the Nike “swoosh” that tells you who made that athletic shoe.

But the concept has grown to mean a LOT more than that. There are in fact TWO different but related definitions in marketing. We will define, then we will explain.

  1. Its most important sense is, “the identity of an organization, or a division of an organization, or the identity of a product, service, or product or service line.” Example: Motel 6’s brand is, a clean and comfortable room for the lowest price of any national chain.”
  2. The second definition, which includes the original concept of a mark of ownership, but goes beyond it, is “all the things that tell a consumer, that is the brand of that company, product, etc.” Example, the McDonald’s Golden Arches. Let’s explain these further, give you more examples.


Let’s take up the first of these two definitions. It is important to understand when we say “identity” we mean in the eyes of the consumer or potential purchaser of the product. It doesn’t matter a lick what the manufacturer thinks it means.  It doesn’t matter what the Democrat Party thinks the Democrats are. What do the potential voting public think it means to be a Democrat? If you have a winning concept of that identity, and you can get the potential consumers to agree with it, you’ve got a winner.

Why are people willing to spend much more for a Mac computer than a similar Windows product? People know that Mac computers are superior, easier to use, and so on. That’s an identity – what a Mac is, so far as the buying public are concerned.

These concepts have been carefully nurtured by Apple over several decades. They have become the Conventional Wisdom. In short, this is Reality to many people.

So Identity is all the things a name represents in people’s minds. McDonald’s represents inexpensive, tasty breakfasts and hamburgers, delivered fast in a clean restaurant. I know many of you disagree with the idea that McDonald’s burgers are tasty. The point is, probably a billion people world-wide would agree with my statement.


Sometimes brands just happen. Doc Martens weren’t the result of an advertising campaign. Most of the time, a brand identity is the result of a consistent, smart, ongoing campaign. Motel 6 has been using the same promotion for some 50 years. Ringling Bros Circus was “The Greatest Show on Earth” for well over 100 years.

You decide what you want your brand to represent, and then set about getting the world to agree with you, by repeating over and over your message in a way people will agree with you.


Let’s call our second definition “brand communication.”

McDonald’s has a brand. What are the things that communicate to a prospective consumer, that this is the brand we are talking about?

The name of course, The Golden Arches. Ronald McDonald.  Happy Meals. Any of these things will instantly result in recognition by literally billions of people, what they are going to find inside that restaurant.

A logo is a part of the brand. So is a slogan. Many other things can be as well. Most of these are visual. A certain shade of brown on the side of a truck is a vital part of the UPS brand – so much so they’ve managed to trademark that color. Harley Davidson tried to trademark their engine sound. Certainly if you hear a big Harley idling at a stoplight, you know what that is. Unfortunately it apparently failed the U.S. Trademark rules.

There are really only three rules to brand communication:

  1. It must be consistent with the brand identity. Primary colors are not going to work for a nursing home, because primary colors say “kids”.
  2. It must be distinguishable from competitor, or even non-competitor’s brand communications. Can you imagine another package delivery company deciding to communicate their brand with a brown color – just a different shade of brown than UPS? I don’t think so.
  3. You have to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it and use it in EVERYTHING that is seen or heard by your potential buyers (these are called “touch points”). And repeat it. See last week’s newsletter for why. You repeat it until those communication elements mean what you say they mean – your brand identity.

Then, one day, people see your logo and they know it is yours and they know what that means.

You’ve made your marketing job immeasurably easier.

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