A brand is a strategic business asset which can make up 50% and more of your firm’s overall value, if you stop selling products or features and start selling a purpose.
Throughout my 10+ years of working with companies on their brand and business strategy, I’ve come across various areas in which they struggle with strategic brand building. But no matter the industry that companies operate in or their business models, there are certain universal things that are fundamental to the success of building strong brands.
As follows, six things beyond visual branding which I think are the most important ones. You can apply some of them already today, while it might take a bit longer to apply the others.
1. Your brand translates your business
Brands are your powerful translation tool and shortcut to help people understand what your business is about, how they can interact with you and whether you provide value to them. They represent your offers, your customers, your values, your culture, your markets, your legal structures, your business partners etc.
Your brand is literally integral and omnipresent in everything you do. It’s wired into your business, it’s the sum of everything of your business.
What’s furthermore great about a brand is that it guides your business activities, such as marketing, product, sales or operations. Simultaneously your brand holds the freedom and legitimation for you to change business direction when needed and to continuously innovate.
So make sure your have the operational infrastructure behind your brand right! That is understand the interplay between brand, business and operations so you’ll be enabled to set the foundations right in order to perform the best possible way and to achieve your goals. I remember a situation when a CEO told me he wants a redesign of his company logo. As I was trying to find out his motivation for doing so, it turned out that it wasn’t a redesigned logo he needed, but instead a redesign of his organizational structure. And that in return would require the formation of a new subsidiary, hence the design of a new logo for the subsidiary.
The more products, brands and subsidiaries your company is comprised of, the more complex and strategic the brand-business-operations relations become. The rebranding of the Google enterprise to the holding company Alphabet in 2015 is a good example here. So try to always check your current business activities against what they might be in the future in order to adjust your operational infrastructure behind your brand quickly when needed. On a smaller operational scale you should also make sure that your teams are empowered to do their job. That means, make efforts to streamline departments, teams, processes and tasks the best possible way. Here’s an example why the CEO of Zappos organizes his company like a city.
2. Employees are your most valuable brand partners in crime
Today’s business paradigm is „customer first“ if you want to run a successful business. That is definitely true and very important. But your brand can only live up to „customer first“ if your employees understand and share your vision, and if they are committed because they know they contribute actively towards the realization of that vision.
Employees are your most valuable asset, brand ambassadors and talent referrers. Make sure you hire people who are part of your tribe and who perform as a team. Lead with empathy and respect! Have a proper onboarding process at hand, give them time and meaning and help them to love their jobs.
I once had a one-on-one meeting with a C-level manager of a big corporation in which he told me with tears in his eyes: „Mrs. Bruder, I’m the only person in my department, probably in the whole company, who wants to tackle the challenges in order to change the company for the better, but my team does not.“ That said, in addition to a strong vision that is shared by your employees, you should strongly avoid internal structures that create a culture of indifferent mindsets, silo-thinking, unhealthy competition and status-driven behavior. If not, your employees sabotage a lot. And in the end your customers will notice and their love for your brand will decrease.
3. Your brand sells your product through purpose and values
Stop selling products or features, start living values and a purpose! A few companies that exist for quite some time already lived up to this attitude early on, like Apple that put user-centered product design at the core of their business or Dove which mission it is to help woman develop more self confidence. But one must acknowledge that over the last decade things have significantly changed and that in our transparent and reciprocative technology world consumers actually have a voice and tend to exchange one brand for another way faster than they did in the past.
That’s why today it’s more important than ever for brands to have a purpose, a“raison d’être“ that justifies their existence and which is their foundation to develop relationships with people upon. Put your customers, users, employees, people in general or even the environment first and serve them with everything you do. If a brand only takes and not gives back, how shall it win the hearts, trust and loyalty of people?
As a business owner start asking yourself: „Why are we doing what we are doing?“
Make sure your brand contributes to something bigger than selling products and making profit from people. Make sure that people understand, trust and buy into your purpose-led vision and can participate in your vision and stories. Then you will notice that you attract the right people who will form your community that helps you to grow a strong brand.
4. Your brand is like a person that connects with communities
Your brand contains the magic that creates intangible bonds between a person and your company. It’s like as if someone has fallen in love with another one, then he/she can definitely name things he/she likes about the other person. But he/she has a hard time explaining why he/she fell in love with that person, because it is that mysterious magic derived from the sum of everything he/she experiences from and with that other person.
Given that, building and managing a brand pretty much resembles the appearance, traits and personal development of individuals. Just as creating user personas that describe the ideal users of your product or service, you should also visualize and treat your brand like a human person.
To me perceiving a brand like that is quite powerful because it stems from our human DNA and psychological motives to naturally bond with other people. In my client work this concept helps me to e.g. achieve the repositioning of a brand by, amongst other things, visualizing that brand and its competitors as human beings. And it works just because human empathy rules here.
So make sure your brand persona is really well defined and acts as guiding force for your business. Make sure it provides a clear vision, strong attitude and leads with meaning. That it expresses its passions, is authentic and cares for others. People shall be able to trust your brand persona because what is says and does is consistent. And people shall also be able to identify your brand persona easily from the crowd, meaning you should have a consistent visual and experience-related system at hand (logo, color, transitions etc.) that you apply across different channels and media.
5. Compare to competing brands, but learn from your community and other industries
Comparing with competitors is important as they act as a mirror that reflects your business and situation you’re in. They possibly might also inspire you to do things differently. If you embrace the value of having competitors, you learn waltzing with and developing further alongside them.
But referring to your competition only doesn’t take you that far as your perspective is limited to their and your status quo. By examining what companies in other areas or industries are doing and how, you learn even more. You will recognize things that trigger your mind to change perspectives and to try out new things. Additionally, you literally gain foresight as you will develop creative thinking skills and follow your informed intuition more often.
„What really matters is, companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, prevail.” — Jeff Bezos
6. Your brand is an investment that drives your business – start early
Brands get their value from the business they are in and how customers perceive them. That said, every interaction with your brand counts, and the first interaction is one of the most powerful and most memorable one. The first impression we have of a brand pretty much determines our relationship that might follow. And as we act upon emotions much more than upon facts, it’s quite hard to turn a bad first impression into a good relationship over the course of time.
It’s true that as long as you don’t have a proper product-market-fit – which is the case for a lot of technology startups – spending lots of time and money on creating a well thought through brand persona and brand framework wouldn’t be a good investment of your limited resources. But even under those conditions it’s possible to create a set of strong assets and a vision that can be built upon once you come closer to refining your product.
Like software development building a strong brand is an ongoing process – you constantly listen, improve, develop further. But the difference is you can’t fix your brand reputation like you would fix a bug and ship a software update shortly after. Gaining reputation and brand loyalty requires time for people to experience your brand’s commitment for consumers and the relationships with them.
So start investing in your brand as early as possible.
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