Definitions of the word range from livestock markings to ancient swords, from charred wood to business identities. And even within that last context, ‘brand’ can mean different things to different companies.

Logos are an important part of every company’s image, but they represent only one small component of branding.

“Branding includes the logos, fonts, colors and other visual elements associated with a company, as well as key language like their name, slogan and tagline,” said Robert Sprague, chief executive of PCI Communications in Alexandria. “But it’s also much broader than that. We like to think of it as an experience for the consumer, something that happens to people every time they encounter the firm’s product or service.”

Sprague, who has helped create that experience for names like Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Fannie Mae and the Solar Energy Industries Association, said owners of businesses big and small often overlook a few critical components when shaping their own consumer experience. Ultimately, while logo colors and tagline phrases are important, the following are the overarching themes he stresses when building a new brand.

Don’t try to invent something: “When our firm is charged with building a brand, what we really have to do is anthropology,” he said. “We have to go in and find what defines that company.”

Business owners often select a brand they think will be popular brand and mistakenly try to make it fit their business, according to Sprague. For instance, during the John Scully era at Apple, he says Apple stumbled by trying to compete on price and straying from its image of superiority — as a result, customers wavered and stocks plunged.

“A brand has to grow out of something that is there naturally and authentically,” he said. “You can’t just go into the ether, pick out a brand that looks nice and stick it somewhere it doesn’t belong.”

Emphasize what’s different: Sprague tells his clients that every brand must “tell people what’s true about you and not true about everyone else.” He added that many business owners make the mistake of aiming for a brand that appeals to all consumers all the time, when they should instead try to tell a particular group why to pick them over the competition.

“A brand should really be about what’s different between your company and your customers’ other options,” he said. “Some of the most powerful brands in the world, for example, make you feel like you’re part of a unique club. All companies need something like that, something that gives people a reason to choose you.”

Emotion, emotion, emotion: “Brands are really about emotion, and the feelings you evoke when consumers interact with your company,” Sprague said, noting that research has repeatedly shown that consumers often make purchasing decisions based on gut feelings toward various products.

“People feel better about themselves when they take a Coca-Cola off the shelf than when they take a generic grocery-store soda, even though they are both just brown water and sugar,” he said. “Emotion must be evoked for a brand to really stick.”

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