Branding is the marketing strategy used by firms to differentiate their products from similar offerings. It is especially important for small marketers who lack the promotional resources of big competitors. When a product has a unique name, appearance, and image, it is easier for shoppers to find in a crowded marketplace, A strong brand identity can also affect consumer behavior by building emotional connections and reinforcing buying habits.
In most consumer goods categories, buyers must choose among a large number of products offering similar attributes and benefits. Especially for low-involvement, low-priced items like toiletries and snack foods, few people are motivated to spend time and effort researching and comparing alternatives. Branding simplifies shopping for these products, enabling buyers to quickly and efficiently pinpoint what they want. Conversely, it reduces the likelihood of being disappointed by or wasting money on an unfamiliar product.
The goal of a branding strategy is to create brand equity, the value that marketers add to their product’s basic features and functionality. Often this value takes the form of a brand personality and image to which consumers feel an emotional connection. For example, the Disney brand imbues all of its products with a wholesome, child-oriented personality that sets them apart from other entertainment alternatives. Similarly, Hallmark sells more than greeting cards; its brand image conveys family love and togetherness.
In a wide range of product categories, consumers make their purchase decisions based largely on habit. For example, when buying a staple like American cheese or a convenience good like takeout coffee, most people simply choose whatever they bought last time. By making products easily identifiable, branding helps to reinforce habitual buying behavior. Of particular importance to marketers: it is hard for competitors to break a well-established habit, even with pricy discounts or other promotions.
Marketers have different options when choosing a branding strategy. One approach is to link brand identity to the manufacturer of the product. Called manufacturer branding, this is most common when the company is generally known and well regarded in the marketplace. Small businesses often choose the alternative option of private-label branding. This usually involves associating the brand with the store that sells it. A private label brand might also take advantage of another distinctive element, like the region where it is produced.