strawberry cupcakes on a pink tray with a gold-coloured fork next to them

What is the strawberry on the cupcake, if the cupcake is not there?

What branding means – a guest blog by Rebecca Fountain, a qualified, experienced strategic marketer, and founder and owner of The Marketing Fountain

Ask most non-marketing people what branding means, and the majority will tell you that it’s a logo. Even the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of branding as ‘the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design’ is a watered-down version of what it actually is. 

As a marketer of some years standing, I frequently have clients who ask me for a rebrand and what they actually want is a new logo. Well, I am here to tell you that branding is so much more than just the logo. And when I explain branding to my clients, I like to use the analogy of a cake….bear with me, please.

Consider the cake in the image – what good would the strawberry be if there was no cupcake and no icing to put it on? It would not be an entirely indulgent cupcake experience. 

If the strawberry is your logo, what is the icing on the cake?

Effectively, in this analogy, the strawberry is your logo. It is the bit that you can only put on after the initial idea has been formed. After the ingredients have been bought and the cake has been baked, cooled and iced. Only then can you put your strawberry on the top. I love this analogy – not least because I love cake – but also because it helps explain branding. 

Branding is everything that you do to represent your company and your product service offering. So to get it right, branding needs to start at a strategic level.

lady wearing glasses leaning against a brown wooden door. She has her hand to her chin as if she is thinking what branding means

Do you have a strategy?

Many small business owners have great business ideas yet often find taking them to market difficult. Others launch into their market with some level of success despite not having done the groundwork for the business strategy – beginners luck

However, once the business is up and running and looking to grow, the lack of an articulated strategy will inevitably begin to slow the business down. 

Your strategy needs to be built from the ground up: identifying what your vision is for your business; who your target audience is; your strategic business objectives – revenue, share of market, what the products and services are that you offer to this market. 

Think carefully about your competitors

Do they offer similar products/services? Are there organisations that you are competing with for a share of the purse?

For instance, your target audience may be choosing between spending money on a gym membership or a new bike – your ideal client has limited surplus revenue and therefore needs to choose one over the other. What makes your offer better than buying from your competitors?

Once you know who your audience is, you can start to think about how you will engage with them: what tone of voice will you use in your communications – formal or informal; where will you engage with them – in physical places, virtually etc.? And which social media platforms do they prefer?

As you document all of your answers to these questions, you will start to create the flavour for your brand. And I’m not talking about cakes this time.

Create a portrait of your ideal client

One reliable method that I always recommend is to have my clients create pen portraits or “personas”. These are detailed descriptions of who their potential, ideal clients might be. Try to include as much detail as possible in your pen portraits – this will help you create your brand and the targeting of your communications. You can be very creative and have lots of fun with these. 

Here’s an example of a pen portrait that I created for a healthy meal kit delivery company: 

“Jon is 32 and lives alone. He works in the city with a full-on job and earns €100k+ per year. Jon prides himself on having a gym membership with an exclusive club and working out every morning. At the weekends, he likes to go hiking and off-road mountain biking with his friends. On an average day, Jon starts work at 8.30 am and is rarely finished by 8 pm. By which time he always feels too tired to cook and ends up grabbing a takeaway. He then feels guilty for most of the evening for having undone the good work of his morning routine and for his part in creating unnecessary packaging waste. His parents are both living, and he has a steady girlfriend whom he is planning to marry within the next two years.”

What does your brand say about you? 

Can you see how creating the pen portraits might help you? Each time you make a business decision, create a new product or improve your services, you can test them on your pen portrait people. So, how about you have a go for your own business?

If you haven’t done so already, write three individual pen portraits for who you think is your ideal customer. This works equally well for business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) transactions. So let’s give it a go. 

Respond to these three questions by imagining that you are the actual person behind each of your pen portraits.

  1. What is the promise that you are making that your pen portrait wants from you?
  2. What are your core values? – do these resonate with the pen portrait values?
  3. What tone of voice would your pen portraits respond to – fun and playful, scientific and concise, or something else?  

Each company has a voice that forms part of its brand personality. Therefore, consistency is paramount if you are to positively engage with your target audience.

Once you have all this in the bag, fill your boots with getting to the sexy, creative part of logo design! And for small business owners, there are some great free online tools available – making it easier than ever for everyone to create their own. 

Adding the strawberry 

But how does this impact professional designers? As more and more free online tools become available, graphic designers (and website designers too!) have to work harder than ever to earn a crust and compete with people doing their own graphic work. 

Having a stethoscope and a scalpel doesn’t make you a surgeon

What you need to remember is that graphic designers are trained professionals who understand the science of design. Whether it is the psychology of colour, understanding the latest trends, photo-editing skills and so on. A good experienced graphic designer will often do a quicker and better job than someone who isn’t trained. So always try to use an expert to create the strawberry for the top of your cake (are you still with me?).

I hope you have found the article informative. If you want to learn more about how I can help you with your business, check out my LinkedIn profile and my website

PS. As I’m not a graphic designer, so my plea to use one is genuine.

Author: Rebecca Fountain is a qualified and experienced strategic marketer. She is the founder and owner of The Marketing Fountain, a business designed to provide marketing and virtual assistant support services to start-ups and SMEs.

Many thanks to Rebecca for providing this article and sharing her thoughts on what branding means, along with some deliciously tempting images of strawberry cupcakes. If you’d like to contribute to my website, please contact me by email.



Shirley Atkinson

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