Fancy a career in the branding industry? We have all the knowledge and tips to help you become a branding pro.
- What is branding?
- How does branding work?
- Branding examples
- Jobs in branding
- Branding companies
- Recommended branding books
- Useful branding links
What is branding?
"Creating a name, symbol, design, and a personality that aims to identify and differentiate a product or company from others."
Branding is used to differentiate companies, products and services from each other, this can be through a name, symbol, design or personality. A branding agency supports a company to create names, symbols and identities as well as their language and personality.
Beyond companies, products and services. People, political parties and countries can all be brands. In the same way that your hair, clothes, language, beliefs and friends build an identity for you, great brands focus on every part of them that represents them to customers and potential customers.
Nearly every company in the world has to consider itself a brand and that has given rise to a huge number of branding consultants and branding agencies, which means there are lots of opportunities for young people interested in the power of branding and with fresh ideas for how brands can have a greater impact when and where they want to.
Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestle, P&G, Pepsico, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg's, Mars, Unilever and General Mills are 10 corporations who own a huge number of brands that come under the FMCG bracket. These are Fast Moving Consumer Goods, stuff we buy every day or every week. Check out the image below to see why your decision between choosing a Mars, Twix, Bounty or Maltesers doesn't really affect Mars as they own all of them. Or if you've ever chosen KFC over Pizza Hut not realising that Pepsico will be getting your hard earn pounds either way.
There are so many products competing in the same markets that branding becomes the thing that makes them stand out. Whilst we make decisions based on what we like, the art of branding is to make us like something new or continue to like something more than the alternatives.
A way to do this is by making sure a brand reflects the values of the people who they want to attract. Nearly every brand will have a set of values, often generic but occasionally absolutely spot on. Either way, the values of a brand provide a filter for everything they do, how they look, their marketing campaigns, product development and even the way they speak.
These values should be based on the ambition and goals of the business. If a the way a company is represented through it's brand goes against it's goals as business, it will make both fail. The job of many branding consultants is to ensure that the brand and business are connected, the values are reflected through anything visual or verbal and that ruthless consistency is maintained at all times.
Consistency doesn't mean boring, it just means that your brand has a stronger personality and leaves a longer lasting impression.
Working in branding can be seen as a job that requires lots of experience but there are several ways into the industry that you could take. We'll go into more detail later on this guide but you could start at a junior level or on a grad scheme for a branding agency or you could work within the branding department of a company. Also consider that you have grown up with brands, you already know how they work on you and what makes them appeal to you so why couldn't you advise a company who wants to appeal to young people?
How branding works
Like advertising, brands are based in trust, but quite a few steps are taken before that trust has been earned between a brand and a customer. We like to refer to the BrandZ pyramid to explain these steps, it was created by Millward Brown and interestingly they were on the FutureRising council when we formed in 2011.
Step one for a brand is to establish a presence with it's customer. For example, get your shampoo on supermarket shelves, open a shop in an area where your customers shop, build social media profiles.
By doing this it means that the brand has found it's way into your decision process. There's a chance you might buy it, use it, try it.
To help you in your decision process, the brand has to prove it's relevance to you. Based on the earlier examples, this means it will use marketing and advertising to prove it can reduce frizzy hair, provide the items you need, when you need it or communicate stuff that is of interest to you.
So now you've seen it, you've discovered why it might be right for you and if you feel it is, there's a good chance you will give it a go. This is great news for the brand, all their investment so far has been rewarded by your decision to engage with the brand.
However, not many companies would survive if everyone tried them once, so the next step is all about performance. Does it deliver on the promises? Is it better the previous place you went, the previous product you tried or the last place you went for information?
Performance is where many brands struggle due to the customer having a series of strong previous experiences to compare it to. If the brand does perform then you start shooting up the pyramid, firstly, it has now gained an advantage, you like it so when you can choose it you will, over time this becomes a bond. If you like Coke, McDonalds, Apple, Google it's because they found you, you experienced them, you liked the experience and now you probably don't choose Pepsi, Burger King, Dell or Microsoft unless the others aren't an option.
We couldn't possible cover the full picture, this obviously a focus on big brands and there are some very successful smaller brands, but hopefully that gives you a flavour of the structure to how branding works on consumers.
But how does all that come together?
Wether you work in the branding department of a company or you are in an agency that has various brands as clients. We've outlined a typical workflow that takes an idea into a brand that can be marketed, sold and developed.
Using the example of a client approaching an agency, they ay be doing so for a number of reasons. They might be a new company with no discernible brand at all and without the expertise to build one themselves. They might be an established company who are launching a new product that will require its own brand. Another client might simply want a new logo for an established brand.
The output can range from idea development, an audit of an existing brand or competitors, an audit of what customers and employees think, a new visual identity and or a new verbal identity. There are also a lot of projects that continue after the first stage to ensure the employees and customers get further engaged with a brand over time, this can be through internal campaigns, external marketing strategies, brand architecture work and much more.
Similar to other areas of the creative industries, when a brief arrives from a client, work goes into understanding what the client is hoping to achieve and how well the brand is going to need to perform. This research phase will lead to a response from the branding agency to the client with initial questions and thoughts on what could be done.
Where there is time and money to do so, an audit can be carried out, this is essentially a review of all brand activity, competitors, employees thoughts, existing customers thoughts and future customers research. The brand audit provides recommendations to the client and informs the creative output of the agency.
The first parts start to come together at the same time, these are the brand purpose, values and ambition. They are the guiding principles for everything else from this point forward and are closely aligned with the strategy of the business.
The fun part starts once the above have been defined, now it's all about how the brand communicates both verbally and visually. A job could be to brand a new cake shop in a village or to refresh a brand across 140 countries, numerous languages and do so online, offline both internally within the companies and it's employees as well as externally with customers.
Identity work, visual communication systems, tone of voice, photography, sound, video, the list of ways a brand is represented is a very long one. All of the elements that brand needs to have a consistent approach on are covered in a brand guidelines document that is produced once final decisions on the visual and verbal identity have been made.
From here, a branding agency may help with the rollout of the new brand, there is likely to be a lot of collaboration with marketing companies, advertising agencies, technology companies as well as the quirky ones, such as signage companies and translators.
We briefly mentioned engagement in the above copy and it is an area that some brand agencies specialise in. When a brand has all the above in place, it is important to get both employees and customers aware of the brand, what it means, what it provides etc until, as with the BrandZ pyramid, that individual has bonded with the brand.
Statistically, employees who understand and believe in the brand they are working for not only work harder but also provide the best form of advertising by talking positively about their brand.
Jobs in branding
Branding is the perfect industry no matter what your background is, mainly because you will have experience in brands from your own perspective and with brands in your area of study. The most exciting part about working with a brand is watching it grow. If you are working in an agency you'll get to see all sorts of brands in different industries and sectors.
We’ve outlined the key departments inside a typical branding agency. Find out what happens, the skills you'll need and what you can expect as a starting salary. If you see a job title you like, pop it in your profile so we can match you with employers.
An account is another name for a client. If you are working in the accounts team, you will primarily look after the client, making sure you understand their needs, listen to their feedback and make sure they are aware of project process throughout.
The second half of the job is to communicate what the client wants to the rest of the team working on the project, this means briefing the creatives, organising time for the strategists to meet and pulling together things like the audit report and any client presentations.
Being sociable is vital as you respond to client requests. At the same time you’ll need to be self-motivated, well organised and adaptable to different situations.
- Understanding of different industries
- Basic marketing and brand principles
- English and maths
- Account Executive
£18k to £25k
- Project Executive
£18k to £25k
Tracking down and selling your agency to prospective clients is the main goal in business development. You’ll need to be know the structure of the companies and industries you are targeting, be able to make contact and present ideas as well as a keen networking.
This role is often for more experienced people so you may consider it after a few years in accounts. However, it is a great place to start in the creative industries if you can find a role whereby you are supporting a New Business Director.
- Phone calling
- English and maths
- Understanding of industry culture
- New Business Executive
£18k to £25k
An incredibly interesting and exciting area, imagine working on a global rebrand then seeing the brand on billboards, TV screens and buildings around the world.
Great brand strategists rarely come without years of experience, but the hard work that goes into identifying the insights that form a strategy can be done in a starting role. It will require a curious mind with attention to detail and a methodical mindset when it comes to analysing data. You’ll need to help drive the other teams with the insights you’ve discovered.
It is possible to start in the accounts department and take a strategic role in some projects in order to get some experience under your belt.
- Understanding data
- Identifying trends
- Long term planning
- Junior Brand Strategist
£18k to £25k
- Creative Strategist
£18k to £25k
- Brand consultant
£18k to £25k
The creative output of a branding agency is often visual and therefore large design teams or studios can be found in branding agencies or even as separate companies.
Your role will revolve around a mixture of concepting and art working ideas for pitches and live projects. In all honestly, there will be times when you have to make a PowerPoint look beautiful but then there will also be times when you are designing a logo for a global brand or identifying a colour palette and fonts for a product soon to be launched.
- Junior Designer
£18k to £25k
£20k to £25k
- Art worker
£20k to £25k
- Web Designer
£18k to £25k
- Graphic Designer
£18k to £25k
Branding agencies come in all shapes and sizes with various cultures and working environments. We’ve brought together a bunch of them here to give you an idea of where to start. There’s a lot of cross-over between branding and design agencies so you may also want to take a look at our list of design studios.
Small (0-50 people)
- The Team
- Design Bridge
- The Clearing
- Studio Output
Medium (50-250 people)
- The Brand Union
- True North
- Rufus Leonard
- The One Off
- The Chase
- Holmes and Marchant
Large (250+ people)
- Wolff Olins
- Radley Yeldar
- Parker Williams
Recommended branding books
- Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler
- Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman
- How Brands Become Icons by Douglas Holt
- Design, Form and Chaos by Paul Rand