Good branding identifies the customer. Great branding ultimately causes the customer to identify with the brand.

When you ask, “What is branding,” the quick answer is giving your product or service a moniker, a logo and a slogan that identifies it in the commercial world. But the much broader answer is, how can you communicate the key aspects of your product? When you do it right, branding gets your customers to agree with, identify with, and buy your product – and soon they are using the word “love” to talk about it..

To get to that place, consider the following:

  1. Branding, at its simplest, is the act of labeling or naming your product or service. This should include the design and execution of the logo, name, and slogan. In branding Barefoot Wine, we chose a footprint for our logo. It represented the original way that wine grapes were crushed, but it’s also the universal sign of mankind. The visual graphic of the Barefoot logo is also the same as the name Barefoot Wine, in much the same way that the logo for Shell Oil and its name are synonymous.
  1. Branding should also consider all of the product’s attributes. Successful branding communicates the chief attributes of your brand. In my experience, authenticity and reliability top the list of attributes companies want to communicate to customers in any branding effort.
  1. Branding wants to distinguish the brand from the competition. The branding process should incorporate all of the ways in which your product is different from competing products. Barefoot Wine communicated relaxation and fun, which, in 1986, was rarely spoken of in the then stuffy wine industry.
  1. Branding should state what the product stands for. What does the product and the company represent? In branding Barefoot Wine, we communicated what the brand was about by supporting nonprofit causes that cleaned up beaches and trails. You don’t want to walk barefoot where there’s broken glass or garbage.
  1. Branding should identify the specific niche the product is intended to fill. When branding a product or service, you want to first identify the market or the constituency you want the brand to appeal to. You have to think: Who is your audience? Branding is the process by which you identify your customer.
  1. Branding includes packaging. The act of branding should also include designing packaging that is appropriate for the particular niche or sub-niche you have identified. Gold foil or a velvet box say “high end” to a consumer, for example.
  1. Branding should include the best way to communicate with your sub-niche. You can communicate via advertising on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet. United Airlines knew the best way to reach their customer was via TV ads, so its branding effort included selecting theme music that would appeal to its niche. Now, when people exposed to their ads hear “Rhapsody in Blue.” They think of air travel on United.

Successful branding considers all of these avenues to identify and reach your customer. It identifies with your customers, and your customers ultimately identify with your brand.

What’s been your experience? Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, the largest wine brand in the nation, invites you to lend your voice to this discussion on What is Branding? with your comments, thoughts, and opinions below.