Branding has become an increasingly important practice in the new economy. As the global marketplace becomes increasingly crowded and competitive, it becomes necessary for a business to distinguish itself and develop a lasting consumer following. Because of the importance of developing a good brand, branding itself has become a highly involved science.

Today, the process of building a brand involves coming up with an appropriate name, color scheme, a possible symbol, slogan, and then marketing all of this not only to consumers but to the company’s employees themselves. Today’s successful brand is not just a name with some pleasant imagery; it is a culture, a way of life.

Sounds pretty involved, right? It sure is. Businesses spend big bucks on consumer research, figuring out what demographics to target and what makes those demographics tick. They then spend big bucks building brands that will connect with their desired demographics. After that they spend some more big bucks marketing their brands and nurturing and sculpting their brands into something distinct.  So is it all worth it?

Well, for starters, today’s most successful companies have built distinct brand names. Think of giants like Starbucks, McDonalds, or Nike. They have universally identifiable brands that can perpetuate their own cultures. Think of Apple’s products. Apple hardware has its own aesthetics that are immediately recognizable and completely different from everything else. A huge body of consumers identify with Apple’s products because of their slick appearance and air of elegance. Consumers identify with Apple on an ideological level. Owning an Apple product becomes part of that consumer’s identity. The consumer will defend that brand if they are taken care of. If a consumer identifies with a brand that deeply, that consumer is going to be loyal for life, as long as the company is still around and doesn’t do anything stupid or terrible. That is a powerful notion and essential in a competitive economy.

Now earlier I talked about how rapidly today’s marketplace landscape is changing. A brand will serve as a sort of anchorpoint for a changing company. A company’s product can change visually, or different features can come out or phase out of existence. A company could put out a completely different product altogether, or change the way it does business, but with that established brand, the consumer will continue to be loyal to the company, no matter what changes it goes through (as long as the company has been keeping up its side of the bargain and remaining true to its fundamental ideals of course!). With a brand, a company doesn’t have to start all over in marketing every time they change up their products.

Am I suggesting it is necessary to get as involved in building a brand as today’s business giants to survive in today’s economy? No of course not. However, it is important to understand the power of brands and why the big guys pay so much attention to them. Engaging in branding (whether committing to the full blown science or just creating a brand name to slap on a product) is one of the major tools a company can employ in adapting to and surviving in today’s economy. A brand is a way for a company to stand out in the crowded marketplace and gain loyal consumers.

In the last post of this series, I will go over the last two ways a company can survive in the new economy: innovate and slim down.