It’s difficult to define what a brand is. Maybe that’s because a brand is a mix of values, promises and identifiers that are communicated both visually and textually. A brand also includes unspoken and unseen things, like emotions, desires and self-image. Certain brand elements (logo, colors, fonts, etc.) can be controlled, while other components (reputation, what customers feel and their self-image when they interact with your brand) are less immediate and controllable.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. People notice that over time. I don’t think there are any shortcuts.”
It’s true a brand is developed over time, but it’s built with a solid brand strategy as its foundation. Essentially, you need to know the “who, what and how” of your business before you can create a brand.
When you talk about branding, most people think of the visual brand identity (logo, brand colors, photography, etc.). Ironically, visual elements come later in brand development. The five brand elements discussed here are a great place to start when building your brand strategy.
1. Brand positioning statement
For use: Internally
In brief: What you do, for whom and how you do it
The brand positioning statement is the core component of your brand strategy. It is often the most difficult element to nail down. But, rest assured, the time and thought you devote to your brand positioning statement will pay off in the long run.
A brand positioning statement says where your brand should be positioned in the marketplace. Simply put, it says what you do, who you serve and how your company (uniquely) does this.
Because it forces you to define your target audience and the unique value you offer to customers, a positioning statement supports more than branding. These are things you need to know in order to create effective marketing and, well, to be successful in business.
We shared a few templates and brand positioning statement examples in a previous post. One of my favorite brand positioning templates is:
[Brand] provides [target audience] with [unique value]
than any other [your Industry] by [proof points].
This template can help you find exactly what you want to communicate, but then you’ll want to make sure that your positioning statement sounds like your brand. Warby Parker’s brand positioning statement communicates all the right things in their brand voice:
“Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear
at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”
Having a clear, concise and accurate positioning statement will make your other brand elements come more easily. As a matter of fact, your proof points are essentially your brand differentiators (element #3).
2. Brand promise
For use: Internally
In brief: How you aspire to connect with your clients
Your brand promise is the emotional hook that draws customers to and turns them into advocates for your brand. It’s an expression of the fundamental human needs that your brand satisfies.
While your brand positioning statement is “just the facts,” a brand promise is more “kittens and rainbows.” Take this opportunity to humanize your brand’s purpose. Your brand promise should be aspirational; it’s okay to be lofty here. Aim high (with a heart).
Creating a brand promise is pretty straightforward (not easy). It should complete the sentence “We promise…”
Here are some great examples of brand promises:
- Coca-Cola: To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.
- Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
- Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Notice how the focus isn’t on the product or the business? It’s hard to make a direct connection from “moments of optimism” to a carbonated beverage. However, it’s pretty easy to connect “optimism and uplift” to Coke’s recent “Taste the feeling” ad campaign.
3. Brand differentiators
For use: Internally and externally
In brief: What unique value you offer to your customers
All brands must differentiate themselves. Brand differentiators are the things that make your brand unique and the reasons why someone would choose your brand over a competitor. These are also sometimes referred to as your value propositions or your unique selling propositions (USP).
Good news. If you’ve worked through your brand positioning statement, you may have already identified your differentiators. Look at the proof points in your positioning statement and see if they can stand up as a differentiator.
A brand attribute is a differentiator if it:
- Communicates a specific benefit
- Is a unique claim that isn’t being or cannot be made by a competitor
- Speaks to a specific audience’s needs
Differentiation isn’t simply a branding or marketing concern. Standing out in the competitive landscape can mean differentiating yourself by developing a product that serves an underserved population (what Luna did by developing a bar for women) or creates a new subcategory (what Toms did for shoes). Toms’ “One for one” program is an example of a powerful brand differentiator.
4. Brand personality
For use: Internally
In brief: Tone of voice and visual cues
Brand personality is a branding tool. Once developed, your brand personality can help you make other key decisions about your brand identity, such as colors, fonts, photo styles, tone of voice, etc.
People relate to people. Personifying your brand by giving it human traits helps you create a recognizable and memorable brand. Brand personalities usually appear in a brand guide and take the form of a list of 3-5 traits.
Examples of brand personalities:
- Harley-Davidson is rebellious, independent, free-spirited
- Dove is real, simple, empowering
- Jeep is adventurous, outdoorsy, rugged
You might select a brand archetype instead or in addition to a brand personality. Psychologist Carl Jung developed a list of 12 archetypes, which are characters that are instantly recognizable because they are universal and instinctive; they cross borders and cultures.
5. Brand story
For use: Internally (sometimes used externally)
In brief: An authentic expression of what your brand does and stands for
Your brand story is the culmination of all your branding efforts thus far. It incorporates your personality, promise, differentiators and aspects of your positioning statement. Most importantly, it has to be authentic.
A brand story isn’t fiction. It’s a truthful narrative about who your brand is and how it touches peoples’ lives—in real ways. It speaks of the communities your brand is a part of. Every business is backed by people—the humans that come up with the ideas, do the work, make the things. Your brand story is a way to talk about how those people connect with your customers and the community.
Guinness’ “Pursuit of More” brand campaign is a great example of brand storytelling. It honors the deep roots of the 255-year old brand and highlights the brands connection to people and communities.
Brand stories most often appear in brand guides for internal use, but they are also occasionally used for employer branding on career sites or even in marketing materials. This narrative can be the seed for your brand elevator speech or for the boilerplate you use for media relations.