Branding is more than just a fancy logo or a catchy tagline; it’s what people talk about when you have your back turned, it’s what people see you as, whether they’re client, customer, partner, or employee. It’s your company’s voice, look, language, aesthetic, approach to business. Basically, it’s everything that represents your company and your products or services.
The best branding strategies are the ones that can meld visual aesthetics with great copy, and be able to integrate that and execute it across all communication channels, while remaining flexible to change. In the digital age, trends come and go every day, so a branding strategy that is able to go with the flow while retaining the essential qualities of a brand will be the one that stays with customers.
Because of a world shift in how people do business with companies, more and more consumers are choosing businesses based on shared principles and values. In fact, 64% of customers from around the world prefer to exclusively do business with companies that they perceive to be morally “good”.
To leverage this, your company needs to be clear about its values, its principles, and its goals on how it can fulfill the needs of its clients.
Branding 101: Start with a Brand Strategy
The start of any good brand is a good branding strategy. A branding strategy is your game plan to figure out how your products and services will stand out from the competition and give your brand a unique and memorable identity.
But a branding strategy isn’t just something you plan and execute once; it’s an ongoing, long-term process that grows and evolves with both the times and the tastes and needs of your consumers. Basically, your brand strategy is your long-term company persona, the voice that communicates with clients, that listens to partners, and deals directly to consumers.
Because it’s representative of your company’s personality, it needs to fit with your company’s values: do you want to be perceived as casual? Witty? Stern? Luxurious? Professional?
But your brand strategy isn’t just a collection of things that represent you; it also has to reflect how your customers see you. It needs to enforce positive perceptions of your company and at the same time alter perceptions to further your business goals.
Why Some Brand Strategies Fail
Now that we know how brand strategies succeed, let’s take a look at a few reasons why some brand strategies fail:
- Their branding strategy was built to address a temporary situation
- Their message house didn’t have a unified theme
- The content they put out was inconsistent in tone/visual appeal
- Targeted the wrong demographic
- Products offered was not marketed to target the pain point they were supposed to address
So we know what some companies do wrong, let’s see how you can avoid the same pitfalls.
The Essentials of a Good Brand Strategy
It’s no secret that a good brand leads to customer loyalty. When a consumer is made to feel like they’re talking directly with a company, or if they feel like the company they’re doing business with shares their inherent values, or if they feel like they share personality traits with your brand’s persona, it puts them at ease and increases the amount of trust they put into your company.
In our ever-connected world, customers are replacing monetary figures and profit with emotion and experience as key considerations for doing business. A company that focuses on creating a brand that is easily accessible, friendly, and most importantly, relatable, can go a very long way to differentiating yourself in the market.
Successful brand strategies from various companies have different approaches, but they all highlight some common elements, such as:
Listen, people aren’t stupid, they know that your business is out here to make money. And for the most part, people are okay with that because it’s a given: businesses are supposed to make money. However, and this is especially true in the 21st century, customers want more than just a company that’s profit-driven. Companies of the future need a purpose. It’s not just for PR; purpose is what separates you from your competitors. In some cases, it can even elevate you above the competition.
The best companies do it: Apple wants to provide its customers with unique products that fit their unique personalities, Tesla wants to push the boundaries of technology itself to save the planet, and so on and so forth.
Define your company’s drive, its ambition, and its vision for being. Every employee and executive in your company has a reason to get up and go to work, so put that into ideation. From there, create purpose and base your branding strategy on communicating that purpose to your customers. Having a clear and solid purpose allows you to connect with customers on a human level; to them, you’re out there fulfilling a mission, not just bamboozling people out of their hard-earned cash.
Now that you’ve outlined your overarching purpose, you need to remain consistent with the ideas you communicate and the emotions you evoke. Consistency is key to creating and maintaining a familiar, friendly identity. In fact, researchers found that brands with a consistent brand and marketing strategy were four times more likely to enjoy brand visibility and name recall.
It’s not as hard as you think; consistency is all about communicating the same ideas and vision, underlining the same purpose, and doing so in a way that fits the kind of image or perception you want to have every single time, regardless of which channel you communicate to. If your brand identity is sophisticated and luxurious, posting a Spongebob meme might not be in your best interests.
The best way to remain consistent with your identity is creating a brand bible: a set of copywriting rules, visual palettes, and aesthetic guidelines that your marketing team can refer to whenever launching any kind of campaign. This could be a simple set of rules on how to respond to PR’s, to providing complex visual pegs for all your communication points.
Brand identity consistency doesn’t just affect your customers; it will also help reinforce company values and core ideas to your employees.
Marketers have long known that appealing to your buyer’s emotions is more effective than bombarding then with facts and figures. This was true then and true now: researchers found that even B2B companies enjoyed higher conversions when appealing to the emotions of their clients rather than appealing to their logical side.
An emotional connection is what separates good branding strategies from groundbreaking branding strategies. A brand that can find a way to genuinely connect with its target audience in a deep and meaningful manner will not only be able to engage with their clients more often, they’ll also develop a strong, sustainable relationship with their clients.
But to do this, your branding strategy needs to be intuitive. Yes, data and emotions are all extremely useful in positing your next move, but intuitive strategies need to be one step ahead of the competition, trends, and possible emotional reactions to certain situations. The best way to keep your branding strategy intuitive is to see your strategy not as a series of marketing materials, but as a story.
Study after study shows that branding strategies that were built as ongoing narratives that aimed to both entertain and engage their audience saw better conversion results as well as enjoying a more positive perception from people.
If there’s one thing great branding strategies and great stories have in common is that it’s an experience rather than just a simple story with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s an entire multi-sensory journey that takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster that leads to a satisfying ending; for stories, it’s usually the resolution of a conflict, for branding strategies, it’s convincing your customers that your products and services add value to their lives.
Tension drives great stories. In branding strategies, tension comes in the form of your customer’s pain points, the problems they have that are somehow taking away from their quality of life. In a great story, that tension is resolved through a series of solutions; in branding strategies, that “solution” is your product or service, something that can fully resolve your customer’s pain points and restore (if not improve) their quality of life.
A narrative can drive a customer down the sales funnel, but it’s that genuine connection they make with you that seals the deal.
The past decade saw numerous advances in digital technology that drastically improved the way the internet works and made it even more available to pretty much everyone on the planet. Because of this, the transmission of data and information became near-instantaneous, with online trends coming and going on a daily basis.
The speed in which consumer tastes change in the 21st century means that a successful branding strategy needs to be flexible, able to adapt quickly to changing winds. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you change your identity altogether; rather, a flexible branding strategy will be able to maintain the core values and persona of its brand while integrating it into the latest trending topics. Think of it like real life: you don’t change your attitude completely, but you might try on those shoes that everyone seems to be getting into these days!
But it’s not just about going with the flow; if you want to connect with people, you need to remain relevant, and by choosing to be flexible with your branding strategy, you’re able to address unique customer pain points in your own particular way.
The Most Important Part of Branding Strategies
Put all these elements together –company purpose, consistency, an emotional connection, flexibility –and you get a great branding strategy that can positively influence your positive market and create a lasting impression.
But what if you want to take it even further?
There is one overlooked group of people in any kind of branding strategy that could make or break your company’s marketing efforts. We’ve mentioned them in passing throughout this article, but can you guess who it is without back reading?
That’s right: your employees.
Multiple studies and real-life examples show that branding strategies that fully integrate and promote employee advocacy reach up to 561% more people than strategies that don’t do it. Employee advocacy is one of the most powerful, if not one of the most important, tools in your branding arsenal. Yes, people in the 21st century are a little less trusting of corporate affiliates, but the rise of the internet has also allowed the rank-and-file employee to be more visible, more heard, and more human.
Employee advocacy is extremely effective because it allows your company to project real-life examples of your values in action. Whether it’s employees sharing their work-life on social media or actively campaigning (with their own voice or online persona) for your brand, having the people that work for you work with you sends a powerful message to your target market.
Engaging Your Employees: Make Them Work With You
If branding strategies are all about communicating a unique identity, then engaging employees, i.e. the people who work with you day in and day out, should be the most honest way to go about it. If your workforce is inspired, taken care of, and made to feel like their contributions are valuable (which they are), then fostering advocacy should be easy.
According to a 2016 study by the Edelman Trust Barometer, customers find employees to be three-times more trustworthy than CEO’s or other company executives. This is because rank-and-file employees are perceived to be more accessible, in short, more human, than high-ranking company officers or executives. This is why employee engagement can greatly affect how customers see your brand and how much trust they put into your company.
To leverage one of the most powerful tools in brand strategizing, follow a few steps:
Always Keep Your Employees in the Loop
As mentioned before, consistency is one of the keys to a successful branding strategy. This means that your employees need to be informed about any and all things regarding your brand –persona, color palettes, tone of voice, etc. –so that everyone from the CEO to the managers and down to the interns are all on the same page regarding your company’s brand. This is especially true if your branding strategy includes employee-generated content (which it should).
Employee-generated content is a great way for your customers to perceive your company from the inside, so all employees should be kept in the loop of branding: hold workshops, focus groups, and other training sessions to keep employees up to date with branding guidelines. This is when a brand bible becomes essential.
Treat your employee engagement program the same way you treat your brand strategy: it’s an ongoing process, not just a one-time thing. Constantly involving your employees, making them feel heard, and treating them the best and fairest way possible go a long way to making your target market feel like you’re a company that they’d like to do business with.
Provide Your Staff with the Right Resources
Educating your employees and providing them with guidelines is one thing, but they need to have the right resources for the job as well. Employee engagement requires your staff to do small tasks that might be outside their JD, and while most engagement campaigns like social media posting is easy enough to do, not all employees might be trained in creating content.
Provide your employees with the right training and the right platform to create and share personally-created content. Some employees might not be gifted at copywriting or graphic design, so make sure that you have either a team that can collate all employee-generated content and edit them, or have an app or program that employees can use themselves.
But remember: the reason employee advocacies are so effective is because they’re perceived to be honest-to-goodness reviews by people on the ground, i.e. your employees. If their content starts looking and sounding the same, it runs the risk of being perceived as a paid advertisement rather than as an honest post about the company. This is where flexibility of strategy and trust comes into play: make sure your employees stay on brand, but allow them to speak with their own voice.
Show Your Appreciation! Reward Employee Advocacy
It’s a simple concept, and one that you should be following in the first place: reward a job well done appropriately. You’d be surprised at how drastic of an improvement it is on employees when they’re made to feel appreciated and when their hard work (that isn’t necessarily part of their job in the first place) is rewarded well.
Think about it: influencers and brand ambassadors charge almost-exorbitant prices to market your brand, so employees shouldn’t have to do it for free. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to give an arm and a leg for every successful employee advocate; small tokens, shout-outs, even simple incentives like extra vacation days can go a long way to making your employee happy.
If you have the budget, gadget giveaways and raffles are also a great way to reward hard work. Whatever it is, employees need to feel like the company appreciates their efforts, values their contributions, and encourages them to continue.
Activity: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Embarking on a Brand Strategy
Brand strategies require knowing the psychographics of your target audience, but it also involves introspection into your company, your products, your services, and your values. During your brand strategy ideation, ask yourself these questions and try to apply the answers during execution:
- Why is our brand different from the competition?
Understanding your unique selling point, or what makes your brand completely different from your competitors, is the first step to convincing your market to choose you. Figure out what exactly makes you better, and take a hard look at all the things you’ll need to improve?
- How do we add value to the lives of our customers?
Remember that brands aren’t just selling a product; they’re selling a lifestyle. Take a good, hard look at your products and/or services and figure out a way to integrate it into your target market’s lifestyle.
- What kind of value do we provide?
Underline the value that your brand provides, and always make sure that it addresses a specific pain point your customer might have in their buyer’s journey. This is a good way to connect with your audience: by letting them feel that you understand their needs and have an appropriate solution for their problems.
- What language should we use?
Communicating your company’s values is one thing, how you communicate it is another. Figure out the kind of “language” your target market uses: do they favor a more casual and fun tone, or do they respond better to a more professional and sophisticated voice? Or perhaps, your audience leans heavily towards visual stimuli. If so, what kind of visual aesthetics do they appreciate?
- Where should we market our brand?
Understanding where you market your brand requires learning more about your target audience: where do they spend their time on the internet? Are they big on social media, or do they favor online forums? It should go without saying, but marketing in the wrong channel is a complete waste of time, effort, and capital.
- What’s Our Story?
Finally, figure out what your company’s story is! Customers love a narrative that underlines a company’s journey from humble beginnings to the success it’s enjoying now, especially if that story involves the accomplishments of individual employees.
Remember that brand strategy is about understanding your target markets, your products, and your services. Successful execution of a brand strategy does require going down to the grassroots level to figure out what people say about you, how you can change it, and how you can engage your employees to help. And never forget to connect with both audience and employee on a personal level. No one wants to do business with a faceless corporate machine after all!