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CircleUp November.24.2014 5 min read

Branding is Simple


Each week we share learnings and insights from experts in the consumer product and retail space. This guest editorial comes to us from Maura Mitchell. In 1999, Maura founded Brandology in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, she has become a trusted advisor, providing practical guidance that drives results for clients including Clif BarSafewayPeet’s Coffee and Blue Diamond.

If you tell people you want to create a compelling brand, you’ll probably find yourself in conversations filled with terms like brand essence, DNA, values, promise, and manifesto. Someone will even draw a brand pyramid or ladder, and talk passionately about the different parts of your brand architecture.

The truth is that building a brand for a small company is not that complex.

It is actually quite simple. You only need to craft four elements to create a strong brand: a target market, point of difference, reasons to believe, and visual identity. That’s it. Just four things.

  • Target market The very well defined group of consumers who are most likely to buy your brand in the short term.
  • Point of difference The single, focused benefit your product delivers that is compelling to your target market and clearly superior to your competition.
  • Reasons to believe The key facts that prove your point of difference is true.
  • Visual identity Your logo and visual theme that clearly, consistently communicate your brand.

You can build a compelling, powerful brand with just these four elements.

The foundation for a great brand is simple. But, there are almost irresistible forces—including your own thinking—that work hard to make it complex. If you let those pressures take control, you will end up with a poorly defined brand that will not help you grow your business.

How do brands become too complex and undermine their own success? Here are the most common ways.

  • The target market is darn close to everyone. You give into the temptation to target every customer who has ever purchased your product. Plus all the people who you think should buy it. Then throw in everyone who has even the vaguest possibility of considering your brand in the next decade. When your target market is too broad, you cannot find a message that appeals to everyone, and your marketing becomes bland and fragmented.
  • Your point of difference becomes a run on sentence filled with “ands.” You want to share everything that makes your product special so you create a point of difference that is a laundry list of features and benefits. You convince yourself that each attribute is so important that consumers are dying to hear about it. In reality, potential buyers are overwhelmed by too much information, and ignore your brand.
  • You use best practices for a big brand when you are building a small brand. It’s tempting to study your favorite brand and copy their brand building approach. (If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “We want to build a brand just like Apple”…) If you apply a big company approach to a fledgling brand, you end up with an over-engineered mess. You create brands, sub-brands and endorser brands, manifestos and ladders. A small company can’t possible execute all of it, so marketers usually give up and go back to what they were doing before they started the whole “branding thing.”

A small company’s brand should be simple, simple, simple. And, branding can be simple if you make the hard choices.

But, as the famous quote says, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.”

Building a great brand is all about keeping it simple. But, it takes lots of very hard, very smart work.


Maura Mitchell is the managing partner of Brandology, a marketing and management consulting firm that grows consumer product companies’ sales and profits with practical, effective advice. In 1999, Maura founded Brandology in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, she has become a trusted advisor, providing practical guidance that drives results for clients including Clif Bar, Safeway, Peet’s Coffee and Blue Diamond. Our expertise includes branding and positioning, marketing strategy, growth plans, and digital marketing plans. You can learn more about Brandology at, subscribe to Brandology’s newsletter at or follow Maura on Twitter at @MauraBrandology.