At it's essence, your brand is meant to do two things...
1. Establish a personal connection with consumers, and
2. Maintain that connection.
What this means is that branding is not a replacement for advertising, and advertising alone will not create a sustainable brand. Advertising should, of course, support your brand by building recognition and supporting your brand personality, but it will never replace that personal connection which successful brands rely so heavily on.
I'm sure you've heard this spiel time and time again, but in this difficult economic climate it's more important than ever to understand the value of your brand - your connection with consumers. People are more critical than usual about where and how they spend their money. Maintaining a personal connection builds trust. And trust always outweighs high dollar advertising. Always.
The thing about brands is that every business has one, whether they realize it or not. Starbucks has a very purposeful brand that tells me no matter what city I'm in, I can feel confident about getting a good cappuccino. On the other hand, my local coffee shop does just as good a job at getting me caffeinated, but has an atmosphere like no other - and it achieves this without purposeful corporate intervention. Starbucks relies on meticulous rules to build and maintain it's brand. My local dive benefits from consumer advocates who simply love them for what they are. The end result is that both of these brands have earned the trust of their patrons, albeit by totally different means.
I recall back in the late 1990s the word "brand" became a ridiculously overused buzzword and most of the people buzzing had little understanding of what a brand actually was. The big thing for small businesses to do back then was to pay a brand consultant to develop a new brand for them. As a full-service ad agency, brand development is certainly part of what we do for our clients, but there was something missing in the trend I was seeing. These consultants were going through the normal motions of brand discovery and development, but then handing the client their brand on disc with an implementation handbook. The result I saw time and time again was the business owner becoming obsessed with making sure their logo, typeface, and imagery was always just right according the the guidelines in their new handbook. That's wonderful. It truly is. But that's also corporate identity - not brand building.
You see, your brand is not a simple tangible item that can be put on disc with a handbook. It's your personality - your character. Yes, it must be expressed in every advertisement, every product package, and every web page. But, more importantly, in every action by every member of your company from the CEO right down to the delivery boy. And every prospect or customer must be treated as a potential brand ambassador. The emotional connections you form with consumers will build trust and loyalty, and an ultimately bigger ROI than any media budget.