What is branding? A definition for better cooperation with your agency

“Change our name? I thought we would only do a branding project?” 

When branding is discussed with colleagues or clients, situations like these might occur. Even when being aware that you’re in a branding process together. That’s why we came up with this attempt to create the ultimate branding guide with practical examples. 

In order for us to be better aligned as a client and an agency and to be able to develop ingenious brands.

What is branding

You might think branding is an English term, but it actually derives from the Old Norse word “brandr”, which literally means “branding”. In the 16th century, livestock owners used this tool to prove ownership of their animals. It was literally and figuratively a mark with which cattle farms distinguished themselves. Simple and recognizable. The predecessor of today’s logo.

branding definition cows

Branding, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is a means of distinguishing products, services, or organizations from one another by name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof. We should add that recently, more and more scientific proof is emerging that sonic branding is in a lot of ways more effective than its visual counterpart. That annoying jingle you hate so much? Appears to work like a charm when it comes to brand effects on awareness and sales. Discernment is still an important part of branding, but its meaning has changed a bit since then. Branding nowadays is much more about creating a connection with your customer. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com says, “Your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room”.

Branding is present in every form of communication

Branding is much more than just a logo, corporate identity or an advertising medium. It goes beyond pure visual language. Branding is about how you translate your company’s values ​​into an overarching brand identity that is reflected in corporate communication.

It shows the identity of your product or service and is woven into all forms of communication with your customer. So not only your website, but also the conversations you have on social media, the e-mails you send, even the types of products you sell and the aftercare thereof. Every interaction with customers determines the perception and experience of the brand.

Quote: “Branding is more than a logo. It is the visual language you use. An identity that is present in every interaction with your customer. ”

Branding is more than a logo. It is the visual language you use. An identity that is present in every interaction with your customer.

Branding let’s you guide your clients perception

Brand communication is basically about psychology. With a brand image you create a distinctive, unique association with your target group. You consciously influence the perception of customers about your brand. It is more than creating a positive feeling about your product or service. With a brand image you show what your brand stands for and at the same time look for startingpoints in the perception of your target group.

Branding is the heart of your communication. Something you can always fall back on. A brand strategy process with a branding agency therefore starts with the questions: who are you, what do you do and why? The outcome of a branding process can be used as a starting point for a briefing to designers who can shape your visual identity.

What are the benefits of branding

Recognizability & distinction
Basically, branding ensures recognisability and distinction. Consumers and businesses today have many more choices in products, services, brands, locations and sales channels. Your distinctiveness is therefore essential for the success of your company. In abundance, customers look for clarity. A strong brand identity helps to be recognizable to the customer and to distinguish yourself from the rest. For example, GRRR created a distinctive visual identity for Calefax by using specific typography that immediately characterizes Calefax.

branding a band example

Quality, professionalism, trust
In addition to recognisability, a brand also creates trust. Customers know what quality they get with your service or product and what they can expect. Quality is more important than price for some customers. Customers like that they don’t have to look for an alternative, because they know that they will get what they want from you.

Emotional click and personality
The power of branding is mainly in the customer’s emotional perception. What is the experience they get with your product or service, what are the values ​​of your company and how does that fit with the customer’s environment? For example, brand experience can exceed the price of your product or service. This is why consumers easily pay 1000 euros for fashion brands such as Stone Island and The North Face. All choices we make are based on what fits our identity and our values. What you eat, what clothes you wear, which energy supplier you work with, etc.

With branding, it is therefore important that you know your target group well. A good example of this is the branding that GRRR does for The Ocean Cleanup. The Ocean Cleanup’s goal is to develop advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans and rivers of plastic. They want to reach engineers, donors and fans. The appearance of the website has therefore been deliberately layed-out with a technical and epic design.

Focus in your business
Positioning your brand has an external, but also an internal impact. It provides focus and direction in all areas of your business. A brand identity is also about what you are not and what you are not doing. A good branding strategy ensures that everything you do perfectly matches what your brand promises. These are not only your products or services, but also your customer service, for example.

Proud partners and employees
In addition, a strong brand also ensures proud partners and employees. For example, we created an unconventional and intuitive design for the Stedelijk Museum’s website. A contrary design as a statement with which you can quickly and in an attractive way create landing pages for social campaigns. The result is proud employees who feel stimulated in their creativity. A strong identity also piques the interest of financial partners. Branding is therefore extremely important from a business point of view.

example of brutalist brand

A strong brand identity not only ensures that you are distinctive and recognizable. It creates an emotional click with your customer, your employees and financial partners.

What does branding bring you as a company?

The big question in branding is always what it actually delivers to a company in terms of money. Is it worth the investment of time and money? Marketing gurus Les Binet and Peter Field have been researching the effectiveness of marketing for over ten years. In their publication “Media in Focus; Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Age ‘from 2016, they use a number of graphs to explain how branding contributes to your business results.

They distinguish between “sales activation” and “brand building”. Both are driving up sales, but in very different ways. Sales activation puts you in charge of short-term results. Think of targeted campaigns that encourage consumers to do something at a certain time. It causes a quick spike in sales, but the disadvantage is that this effect also fades away just as quickly.

Brand building has a longer-lasting effect. Brand communication creates a deep emotional bond with your brand. It’s a strategy to be used for long-term impact. One strategy is no better than another. They can actually reinforce each other.


De grote vraag bij branding is altijd wat het een bedrijf concreet oplevert in geld. Is het de investering in tijd en geld waard? De marketing goeroes Les Binet en Peter Field doen al meer dan tien jaar onderzoek naar de effectiviteit van marketing. In hun publicatie ‘Media in Focus; Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Age’ uit 2016 leggen ze aan de hand van een aantal grafieken uit hoe branding bijdraagt aan je bedrijfsresultaten.

Ze maken hierbij onderscheid tussen ‘verkoopactivering’ en ‘merkopbouw’. Beiden zorgen voor een stijging van de verkoop, maar op heel verschillende manieren. Verkoopactivering zet je in voor resultaten op de korte termijn. Denk aan gerichte campagnes die consumenten ertoe aanzetten iets op een bepaald moment te doen. Het zorgt voor een snelle piek in de verkoop, maar het nadeel is dat dit effect ook net zo snel weer vervaagt.

Merkopbouw heeft een langduriger effect. Merkcommunicatie creëert een ​​diepe emotionele band met je merk. Het is een strategie die je gebruikt voor impact op de lange termijn. De ene strategie is niet beter dan de ander. Ze kunnen elkaar juist versterken.

les binet peter feeld branding vs sales activation

Brand communication is therefore part of your long-term strategy, but how exactly does this contribute to your business results? We mention four important results:

Customer loyalty
Branding allows you to emotionally connect with your customer. A long-term relationship is built and you ensure that customers return to you. When done right, you even create brand ambassadors. Customers who recommend your product or service to others. Branding therefore helps you build customer loyalty.

Growth of your turnover
If customers return to you, this will generate more sales. Not only because you sell more, but also because you can ask a higher price. This is exactly why brands such as Apple and Nike are so successful. There are several providers of computers and sportswear, but customers prefer the brand and the convenience of the brand. Once they have made that choice, they will not be so quick to switch.

Greater financial value of your company
Once you have a good reputation as a brand, it also becomes easier to attract new customers. In addition, customers of a strong brand are less price sensitive, so launching new products is also easier for a strong brand. This increases the financial value of your company, making it easier to grow.

Enthusiastic employees and new talent
Branding not only generates money, but also lets you create a fun and interesting place for  people to work with enthusiasm. Employees feel connected to the brand values, the way they do their job and how they communicate with customers. A good brand strategy also gives a lot of structure to internal processes and employees generally like that. It is also easy to attract new talent in places where it is fun to work. Branding is therefore guiding for your human resource management.

What does a branding process cost?

The question every customer ultimately asks: “what does it cost?” The costs of a brand process can vary considerably. A branding process can cost between € 500 and € 100,000. Just like with any other products or services you buy, the price depends on what you want as a customer and what kind of budget you have. What do you get if you pay more?

Usually, a higher investment means: higher quantity, higher quality, more convenience, more service, etc. If you hire a branding agency, you pay for the work taken off your hands and for their experience in creating brand strategies. It also depends on what your exact needs are. A brand strategy or a completely new visual identity? A logo, a website, a campaign? How much knowledge and resources do you have in-house and what do you need to buy?

A branding process is a time-consuming project, whether you do it yourself or outsource it. For successful branding you need a dedicated project team with the right knowledge.

Should every company do branding?

You may wonder whether you can also be successful without branding. For example, some companies attract new customers through their personal network and do not have a prominent website or social media accounts. Nevertheless, for these companies branding still plays an important role. As shown before, branding is more than your website or logo. It is the identity of your company. The way you work, communicate and bond with your customers.

A nice example of an outcome of an alternative branding process is the design GRRR developed for the Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) degree at the University of Applied Sciences of Amsterdam. CMD wanted its own identity as a creative study program, but it had to match the university’s overall brand and logo. GRRR designed a set of icons around creativity, digital tools, geek culture, student life, technology and the web. These icons were used in photography, powerpoints, brochures and a campaign page. Your own visual language for CMD that is better connected with the target group and a program that is immediately recognized.

So instead of questioning whether you should do branding, the question is rather which type of branding suits you.

example of brand elements

Types of branding

Just as there are different types of marketing strategies, you also have different types of branding strategies that you can use. This breakdown can help you understand how to use branding for your type of business. These are some of the most common branding strategies:

  • Corporate branding. This branding strategy is about brand awareness of companies. A clear positioning strategy with a strong promise to deliver, ensures that customers keep coming back to a company. A long-term strategy with which companies can grow sustainably.
  • Personal branding. Bloggers, vloggers, actresses, singers, presidents and freelancers. When we think of personal branding we quickly think of the Kim Kardashians in this world, but in fact personal branding is one of the most common branding strategies next to corporate branding. Even when you apply for a job, you work on your personal branding. So everyone benefits from a good branding strategy.
  • City branding. Branding is not just for companies. Cities and countries (country branding) can also benefit from pursuing a strong brand strategy. This allows them to attract financiers, students, tourists and residents. Amsterdam is doing this very successfully with “I Amsterdam”.
  • Product branding. For product selling companies, the brand strategy focuses on the product rather than the company. What comes to mind when hearing the word tissues? “Kleenex” or “Tempo”. What do you need when cleaning windows? “Glassex”. And whom of you has ever ordered a Spa Red when you actually just want sparkling water? (surely applies in Western-Europe). These brand names have become almost synonymous with the word itself. That’s because the product has reached the pinnacle of product branding success.
  • Club branding. Some sports, such as soccer, have now become billion-dollar industries. Branding is an additional means for clubs to finance purchases. Consider the extra revenues from merchandising. Small children who proudly wear an Ajax or FC Barcelona shirt, with the name of their favorite player. A combination of club branding and personal branding.
  • Purpose branding. In recent years, a new type of branding strategy has emerged. Purpose branding or brand activism is a way to make a positive social impact with your brand. Consumers are buying increasingly consciously and find it more and more important that companies think about their social impact. Purpose branding allows you to connect with your target audience in a powerful way. For example, ‘Dove’ with her campaign responded to an important problem that their target group is experiencing: the strongly condemning beauty ideal. That is why women with different types of bodies are shown in all communication materials.

Branding doesn't always have to be great, but it has to be good

The word branding evokes strong associations with major brands. Branding does not mean building a brand as big as Google, Calvé Pindakaas or Albert Heijn. Or having to push your brand identity forward everywhere, anytime. In branding it is especially important to do it right. Do what suits your brand and don’t overdo it.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work to showcase a brand in a big way, because this makes you mainstream and that is precisely not the intention with some target groups. In that case a subtle brand communication can be more effective. It is important in your branding strategy to take into account your target group and which branding suits it.

A good example of this is the rebranding that GRRR provided for Doctors without Borders. They would like to show the people that actually provide emergency medical care in areas no other NGO comes. The people behind the newspapers headings in action: 

the doctors, nurses and other staff. The public finds the content more important than the logo. And rightly so. Still it is important for the organization to claim its successes. That is why GRRR chose not to stick the logo everywhere, but to have the brand identity reflected in the photography itself. With a few simple but strong principles, GRRR has turned MSF-Holland into a “human brand”.

example of how to brand an ngo

The branding process: how do you start it and when should you rebrand?

A good starting point is a branding workshop. In the GRRR branding workshop, we encourage participants to shape a brand in half a day. You start by answering the most important core questions: who are, what do you do and why? After this, we go deeper into the personality of your brand, the most important values, your target group, your competitors and we challenge you to think about where your brand will be in five, ten or twenty years.

For companies that already have a brand, but are looking for a new direction, renewal or further development of the brand, a rebranding process may be a good fit. Together we take a look at how the brand has developed, which parts of the brand can remain, which parts can be renewed and translate this into a new strategy and visual identity.

Branding investment for the long term

When choosing to develop a brand strategy, you choose long-term impact. You also have to work for that. Brand development requires effort and financial investments stretching further than today or tomorrow. It is a process of research, thinking, developing a strategy and setting up a plan to implement this in your communication and business operations. A branding agency can help you with this. These brand agencies are specialized in branding and have a lot of experience with different types of brands.

A brand strategy is not something developed once in a branding process and subsequently fixed forever. The world is constantly changing. A business strategy can change, the market can change and people can change. By continuously working on your brand, you ensure that you always connect with your target group and make a lasting positive impact.

Would you like to talk more about branding with us?

Do you think you have a branding challenge with your organization? And can you use help with that? You now have a good idea of ​​the brand processes in which we specialize and how we think about branding. We are happy to discuss with you what we can do for you. Mail or call Rolf Coppens on 020 – 320 7708.

  • Creatief Directeur

    Rolf Coppens