Brand means "fire." Never forget that. Something "brand new" originally meant that it was fresh from the fiery forge of the smith who made it. We see it now with the branding of cattle using red-hot iron designs to permanently mark their bodies.
There are two lessons we can glean from the fiery origins of branding: It can be dangerous, and it can be permanent.
This is why it pains me to hear the word "branding" thrown around so nonchalantly in marketing circles. Advertising mistakes can be corrected. PR mistakes can, with time be corrected. But branding mistakes can destroy massive companies, or give them crippling setbacks that do irrevocable harm.
Branding, summed up, is like word association. If I say "Volvo" you likely think of words like "Safety, Swedish, Elegant." That's branding. If tomorrow, Volvo decided to go after an untapped demographic of daredevils by making their cars seem "Exciting, Youthful, American" then it would take years and millions of advertising dollars to change their brand.
Thankfully, they made a good choice from the get-go and so should your business. It's never too early to really analyze what you stand for, what associations you want to make with your business, and what people will remember, LONG TERM, about you.
Being wishy-washy about branding is even more dangerous than a bad image....at least bad can be consistent and cater to someone out there. Having a protean, inconsistent image means there is no association and as such people don't think of you at all in terms of branding. It's like having a reputation for being forgettable, it's almost an oxymoron. An expensive oxymoron.
Unlike every other form of advertising, branding deserves the most thought, the most skill, and the most energy from day one. Like a cattle brand, it can be permanent, so make sure you know what kind of associations you want your name to conjure.