The Plain Truth About Branding for Newsletter Publishers and Web Designers

Branding, or brand marketing as some now call it, is one of the buzzwords of public relations and marketing.

I searched several dictionaries in vain for a precise definition of this high profile concept as it is applied in the business world. The closest I got was the one that explained the verb "to brand" as "to impress firmly."

On the other hand, perhaps I wasn't so unlucky after all. Not the whole story, maybe, but this is, after all, the very essence of what branding in business is.

When you brand something - be it a company, an individual, a product, a service, a concept or a process - you impress strongly on people's minds whatever is special and distinctive about it. You make some kind of lasting impact that leaves them in no doubt that your special something stands apart from everything else in the same category.

It sounds simple enough. The problem is that even some marketing professionals, if they know this at all, have not yet internalized it. They think of brands in terms of trademarks. They apparently believe that branding is just a matter of well designed logos and striking, unforgettable visual images.

Not that they're necessarily so far off the mark. We all know that the right visual symbols do help to create an impression of distinctiveness. The Coca-Cola people have exploited this principle to absolute perfection. Smash one of their familiar bottles, and you can still recognize that the fragments were once part of a Coca-Cola bottle.

Nor does it have to be confined to the sense of sight.

Occasionally, you just have to hear a few strains of some melody to immediately associate it with a certain company or product. And then there's the famous Singapore Airlines smell. A few years ago, the flight attendant of that airline began distributing, before and after takeoff, hot towels that gave off a very distinctive aroma. Once experienced, it's not easily forgotten.

The truth is, though, that characteristic symbols and images, whether visual, aural or olfactory, important though they are, simply not enough. Even mighty Coca-Cola could not have captured the lion's share of the soft drink market with the design of its bottles alone.

And if you're just a small guy, well, it's a different ball game altogether.

The easiest way to understand this concept is to think of it like this: if you run a website, what would happen if you removed your logo and your company name?

Would I still be able to recognize your brand? Or, let's say you're the owner of a brick-and-mortar outfit.

One day you move to a new location but you haven't had a chance to put up your signs yet. Were I to stumble into your store by chance, would I be able to tell it apart from those of your competitors?

Now, what if you publish and email newsletter, and you remove your masthead, your name and your subscribe instructions?

I pose this question because I often read different newsletters published by different members of the same profession or trade.

It's clear that all these people are keenly aware of the pivotal role their newsletters should be playing in marketing their talents, enhancing client relationships, or in furthering other personal or business objectives.

I'm saddened, however, whenever I see so little to distinguish one from the other - and I'm not only referring to visual appearance and actual content, which are important enough.

On the one hand, these publishers are trying very hard to market themselves as experts or purveyors of services in fields in which they have quite a lot of competition on the Internet.

But on the other, they're doing very little to show me what makes them stand out from the pack, or even why they're different from any of their competitors.

Even their publications are undistinguished, very run-of-the-mill; why should things be different when I use their professional services?

Practical tips

Here are just a few short tips to help you brand yourself and your newsletter.

  • Study your competitors! Read and research as many other lists as you can and in particular those on the same topic or published by other businesses or practitioners in your field. Look for gaps - see what YOU can offer that they can't, or just don't!

  • Your personality is unique (which means there's nobody else in the world quite like you!) Don't be afraid to use that truism to your advantage. The best newsletters on the Net revolve around their publishers' personalities.

  • See how you can "personalize" the physical appearance of your newsletter, so that your readers will recognize it as soon as they open it even before they read the words - from the layout, masthead design, and other visual clues. This, to be sure, will be easier with HTML newsletters, but even with plain text there are many possibilities.

Branding yourself may be hard work, but once you achieve your goal, you'll have a valuable intangible asset that no-one can easily steal or plagiarize. Good luck!

Azriel Winnett is creator of - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.

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