If you're having rouble figuring out what your brand means to someone, try answering this question from a customers perspective:
"Three years from now, they are sitting down enjoying coffee, really happy with the progress they've got from doing business with you. What has made them so happy?"
If you can answer this, or get answers to this question, you will have a leg up on any alternative in your path.
Branding and marketing appear inextricable. At least that's what thousands of handshakes and responses to "I build rebellious brands," has let me know. So let's set the record straight.
Branding expert Marty Neumeier phrases it, "marketing is any effort to get customers, branding is any effort to keep them." Or, branding is the emotional glue that makes someone prefer your business after you've shown that you can meet their needs.
It's kinda like this, any guy can draw the attention of a woman by showing that he is, in fact, a man (assuming she's looking for one). However, it's not the size of his muscles, the amount of money in his wallet, or the car he drives that creates a lasting impression. It's his character and the fact that his character doesn't waver. He markets his features, but wins the heart by triggering emotions. Without them, he's a commodity.
Here is when marketing and branding enter into conflict:
When marketing efforts get pushy/spammy without emotionally priming the customer.
Good marketing doesn't feel like marketing. An example of this is when you get an email from a company you love and happily open it. Without a doubt, the opposite happens too. you know, those emails you get that let you know this company is looking to get into your wallet. At that point, it's clear that the brand has been tarnished. Good luck getting your reputation back.
When the brand is not placed in front of the right people.
It's no surprise that the creative side has trouble putting things out there. The most well-thought-out and cohesive brand is worth nothing if no one sees it. Good marketing puts the brand out in the open to the right people, at the right time, and with the right message. Remember, good marketing doesn't feel like marketing.
You need both and they need to work together.
When doing design work, it's important to get feedback. However, the kind of feedback you get will make all the difference. Without beating around the bush, getting feedback that is entirely subjective is gonna end poorly, especially if you're trying to be different. The key is to be objective.
For example, when designing logos for clients, a client will often ask someone close to them: "which one do you like?"
Chances are, the respondent won't like any of them (for irrelevant reasons) or they mask the truth out of fear for hurting someone else's feelings. Either way, the feedback to this question is shit. Always.
Instead you have to think about the goals you are looking to achieve, such as aligning something like a logo to your brand. The best way to do this is what I like to call the binary method. If you know what you want someone to feel when they look at your company, then you can also define the opposite. If you want someone to feel edgy, modern, and sleek (you should define these in your own words, mind you) then the opposite of your goal would be to have them feel safe, nostalgic, and rough.
At this point you can ask, "does this feel more modern or nostalgic?"
Following up with "what makes you feel that way?" since the reasons might be extremely personal. Granted, a logo needs to be contextualized with other branded elements to get feedback on something like its alignment to the brand.
This goes far with getting valuable feedback that you can actual improve from and makes subjectivity less prevalent. Regardless of what design project you're working on, knowing what your goal is and the ability to articulate the opposite gives you framework for getting concrete answers.