Go to Amazon and count how many books there are on branding. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Alright, done? I counted about 14 million. You would think that with 14 million books on the subject, we would have branding down to a science. Many of these books even claim some sort of science, but let’s be honest here. How many times have you felt the painful ansk of real world branding? How many times have you experienced the disconnect between what these books say and what you experience with branding?

I’m dedicating this article to exploring the source of this disconnect, and what we can do about it. Most books, as well as most people, ignore a crucial component to the whole process: your audience. A brand is just a concept if your audience doesn’t share a mutual understanding of that brand.

Think of it this way. Would Apple have ever become a modern, contemporary brand if Steve Jobs simply shouted from the rooftops, “We are modern and contemporary!” Of course not. Apple became the brand that it is through innovation, communication, and market response. People became “Macs” instead of “PCs” because they accepted and expanded Apple’s simple message that a computer was more than just a device.

Most “branding” experts are a couple decades out of date with their ideas on branding. The stereotypical idea of a brand is that it’s something you create and deliver to others through communication (i.e. marketing). I say they’re out of date because communication scholars – the people who scientifically study how we create and share ideas through language – mostly abandoned the notion that ideas are simply exchanged through words. In other words, the real world doesn’t allow a brand to simply be delivered like an email.

Communication, which in business means marketing and market response, creates and shapes ideas, or in this case a brand. As a business owner, you share your concept of your brand through marketing. Once it is caught in the market discourse, that concept will evolve and change depending on what others think and say about your business. A brand like Apple only solidifies when all that market discourse comes into agreement.

So what can you do? Simple:

  1. Realize that anything you do in regards to “branding” is only half of the equation. Your audience will do their part without your help.

  2. Be clear on the concept of the brand you want others to understand and accept.

  3. Monitor the market response to this concept and adapt accordingly.

Thankfully, most of these 14 million books do agree on being clear with your brand. You have to have a concrete concept of the brand you want to communicate, and the means of sharing this concept must be clear. Promotional materials, presentations, business plans, and more must promote this concept.

Beyond this, you have to listen to how others are engaging with this concept. Do they understand it? Do they accept it? How do they interpret your it? Answers to questions like these are crucial because they indicate market response. In the end, market response shapes your business’s brand just as much as you do. Be prepared to gauge this response and act accordingly. You may find that your audience shares the same concept of your brand as you have, or may need further communication before that concept solidifies.