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  • Writer's pictureDominic Cincotta

What is Branding?

You need to understand what it is before thinking about how to build!

David Aaker (2000) presents brand identity as one of four key pillars to creating a successful brand. These pillars are brand architecture, brand-building programs, organizational process and structure, along with brand identity. When describing brand identity, Aaker references the idea of associations with symbols and the importance that the associations of the consumer be well understood and planned by the brand teams. It is at the point of understanding these identity associations that consumers create where successful brands are planned and understood.

Berger points out, “Many corporations use symbols and icons as means of establishing some kind of ‘corporate identity,’ because it is easy to remember a symbol or icon” (2010, p. 11). This idea connects semiotics and brand identity. Berger continues to show how these signs and symbols appear in modern advertising as enterprises use them to create common meanings that represent their brand. These symbols are constructed to represent a brand’s essence or brand identity.

Aaker and others use the term “essence” when describing brand identity. This alludes to a non-verbal understanding and association that these identity traits and representations create. Merriam-Webster (2013) defines essence as, “the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is.” Oderberg (2010) writes about the difference between essence and properties, stating that, “…essence must be given by form and that properties flow from form” (p. 85). Oderberg defines essence as the minimum set of traits an object must have in order to be associated with a context or idea. Essence is that which defines the world of an object and gives it purpose, class, sort, and makes things real and relatable in the real world. Therefore, brand identity is that which places a brand in its class or competitive landscape among its peers through a list set of a minimal core list or taxonomy of traits or elements.

Lueza (2002) asserts, “The definition of corporate identity includes all the ways an organization chooses to create and project its own personality to all its publics. Corporate identity is the totality of the organization’s mission, strengths, values, objectives and all those organizational elements that permit it to define its organizational personality” (p. 1). This brand identity representation is a list or taxonomy of symbols and signs and therefore must be examined through a semiotic frame of reference.

Lueza concludes that

…further analysis of corporate Web sites – about corporate identity and the characteristics that the symmetrical theoretical concept of public relations contains - presents a promising application and challenge for research. Among the possible directions for analyses of corporate Web pages are searches directed at the actual and potential capacities for creating a corporate identity, and for maintaining a corporate dialog. (p. 15)

Aaker (2000) devotes an entire chapter to the relationships between web sites and brand building in order to effectively communicate brand identity. He explains that the medium of a website is one that brands cannot only use to leverage sales, but also personality in terms of brand identity. It is a dynamic medium which can and should be used to display and communicate the aforementioned brand essence to the consumer. The dynamic quality, Aaker claims, makes this one of, if not the most important, consumer interaction point in terms of building brand identity. Aaker claims, “A Web site (or subsite) dedicated to the brand is potentially the most powerful brand-building tool, in part because it can be tailored to the needs of the brand and the customer/brand relationship” (p. 237). The interactive components of websites demand that consumers pay attention and recognize what they are observing in contrast to broadcast media, which can be ignored. Aaker finally summarizes that, “The brand is the one thing that cannot be copied. So, the trick then is to build the brand by creating an experience that people associate with the brand” (2000, p. 258).

Johnson (2008) devotes an entire chapter to the impact of technology on advertising and branding. The reach and importance of technology goes beyond the technology industry as seen in Johnson’s statement, “The presence of technology in advertising for non-technology products shows that technology reaches farther into the cultural landscape than the particular practices that define it” (p. 157). Johnson describes how technology has not only impacted the venues for advertising but how the template of web formats is pervading back into print media through the use of side bars. Advertising in print formats used to occupy blocks and full pages and the web imitated this with banner ads. As the web format developed, the side bar advertising format was adopted. As consumers and developers moved more fluidly from print to web and back, the side bar advertising format of web has become the format for print. Understanding these formats and how consumers read them, through navigation bars, composition, and blending of text and image define technology’s impact on advertising. Do websites have a greater role than just commerce for selling and buying products? Johnson concludes that this is the newest frontier for advertising and therefore critical to study.

A (2009) study by Chou finds that trust in an organization is directly related to the amount of information displayed on their website. It is of the highest importance that SME businesses consider the resources they dedicate to corporate and brand identity communication on their websites if more and more Americans are embracing this domain to discover brands and differentiation is instrumental for the continued growth of SMEs. Opuku, et al. (2006) present a study that finding that proper online portrayal of identity is key for driving emotional ties with a brand is occurring at a much cheaper cost than historically available. The authors state, “A well-established brand personality is thought to heighten emotional ties with the brand, increase preference and patronage, and augment a sense of trust and loyalty but the combination of strategy, creativity and leadership is going to be the key to the success of global brands in the coming decade.” A brand can now display more information, at a cheaper cost, driving more customer loyalty creating a greater competitive edge for SMEs and parity with large enterprises.

Ingenhoff and Furher (2010) suggest

Gaining competitive advantage has become increasingly complex and difficult, because every successful innovation in terms of sales tends to be quickly copied by competitors (Ehrenberg et al., 1997). Rivalry is not a question of price or advantages within the range of physical, financial, and human resources any more. Several authors have come to the conclusion that a company should try to differentiate itself by other competitive resources and thus establish a position of non-price differentiation. (p. 83)

Madill and Neilson (2010) provide a study that, through content analysis, shows that SMEs use their websites as a place for identity conveyance and not e-commerce. Large enterprises focus on sales over brand identity, justifying the study of SMEs and brand identity conveyance through websites. Steenkamp and Kashyap (2010) affirm that it is the intangible assets such as the elements of brand identity that drive SMEs to success. From this, the conclusion can be drawn that a well-defined corporate identity can be this differentiation to drive success over competition, compete with large enterprises, and create a regional brand identity through a taxonomy that takes advantage of the theory of RBV.

In the future, websites and e-marketing resources will be a key consideration for any SME that desires success (Gilmore, et al, 2007). This is echoed by Parrott, Roomi, and Holliman (2010) who find that large industries are at an advantage to SMEs in brand identity development due to available resources. A regional marketing strategy can strengthen disadvantaged markets or industries (Haseki, 2001). In this regional pursuit, it is critical that a region establish a cohesive harmony in the message being disseminated as demonstrated in a study of the competitive advantage of cluster creation (Skritic, et al. 2006).


- This is an excerpt from my 2014 Robert Morris Doctoral Dissertation

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