I'm trying to move away from using the terms brand, and branding. These terms are confusing and mean different things to different people. It seems I spend more time trying to explain what I mean by "branding" than actually doing it. That said, I am going to continue using these terms for the purposes of this discussion as I haven't discovered a better way to talk about the subject yet.
One end of the "branding" industry is full of con men and self proclaimed experts that really don't have the education, skills, and understanding to bring the value they promise. They are more like used car sales men than brand experts. They often claim to be social networking guru's and will help you build your brand. What they mean is that they can give you some tips on how to use twitter and maybe set you up with a Wordpress website and call it a success.
On the other end of the spectrum are the large ad agencies and branding firms that have 100's of employees all over the world and can throw more resources at your business than you can imagine. These are smart and educated people that have made a lot of money doing what they do and you'll most likely get better results from their efforts. At the end of the day they can't brand anything either, and you'll wondering where all your money went.
That is because branding is a load of crap! No one can do it, in the way it is typically defined, no matter who or what resources they have. From my very first conversations with a client I make it clear that I'm not a magician. I can't create your brand. I can't manage your brand and anyone that tells you they can is blowing smoke up your ass. This is not a popular stance in the "branding" arena but it is the truth and that's what I offer.
Brands aren't created, they simply exist. Brand is a collection of ideas, feelings, experiences, and understandings associated with absolutely anything and everything. My feelings and experiences in regards to Crest toothpaste are going to be different than yours. There is not a single thing Proctor & Gamble can do to control that. The key word being control. Notice I did not say they couldn't attempt to influence my experience. Developing a strategy for how people experience a brand is important but is a far cry from actually having any control over where the brand goes or what it is.
Don't waste your money on social media magicians and branding "experts." Invest that time and money on digging deep within yourself, and your organization and truly discovering the authentic truth about who you are, and what you add to this world. Often it is helpful to hire someone to help you ask and answer the tough questions, and not be timid about telling you when it doesn't ring true. You'll get farther focusing on authenticity than any other endeavor. You can't control other people but the best chance you have of influencing them is through unswerving consistent authenticity. This take no prisoners consistency will only be achieved if it's foundation is in the core of who you are.
These fundamental truths about yourself, your business or product can and should be communicated through a effectively Designed identity system, marketing and promotion. If you don't communicate about yourself how will people know? This is where you spend your hard earned money. I can't reiterate enough that if there is any appearance of dishonesty or your communication doesn't ring true, people will lose confidence and your "brand" will suffer.