What makes a strong brand?

I was talking to a client last week about growing her wholesale business through digital marketing. She has an active social media following, a beautiful end product with a good value proposition to her customers, but is lacking a unifying brand identity and brand strategy.

brand identity is the visible elements of your company, such as your logo, colors, design, and typography (fonts) that identify who you are. 

More important than how you look is your brand strategy or story, which is knowing who your customers are, what they want, the problems they face, and how you can help solve those problems.

Your brand identity and brand strategy work together to provide customers with an understanding of who you are.

But, what is a strong brand? How do you know if you have one?

A good way to explain this is through a recent Target commercial that used video, words, and music to sell goods for Thanksgiving.

This TV ad from Thanksgiving 2018 is easy to identify as Target because of the brand’s artistic style, font usage, music choice, and styling. It matches the Target brand story we’re familiar with. 

If this same commercial was dark and somber, it would not speak to their target customer (no pun intended!) and not match the type of products Target has. Depressing music doesn’t sell Thanksgiving food, decor, and apparel. 

The Target shopper is likely a middle-to-upper class female who values the visual appearance of the merchandise she purchases. She’s willing to pay more for nice-looking products but is still price conscious enough to shop at a big box store. Target’s branding matches this and it’s easy to identify a Target store, commercial, website, email, or Spotify ad when we hear or see it.

So, what makes a strong brand? Clarity and consistency!

No matter what you’re looking at, if it falls under Target, it follows the Target brand.

Three things you get with a clear and consistent brand

Going through the process of creating a brand identity, brand strategy, and then enforcing can be expensive and time-consuming. There are many companies we work with that struggle with this, no matter the size or industry.

  • Small businesses often have never sat down and defined a brand. They may feel like they need a clear brand identity, as business is good, but fail to see how their lack of clarity is causing them to miss out on new business. Or, they are able to be consistent because everything moves through the small business owner, but that doesn’t scale and can hinder company growth.
  • Mid-market companies may have a dedicated sales team and a marketing department, but they are often inconsistent in how they talk about their product or service. Their website was built in 2011, has outdated language the sales team never uses, and they never unlock their potential with a clear and consistent message. 
  • Large, enterprise organizations typically have set brand guidelines that are enforced but struggle with keeping it simple. Making clear, customer-first messaging permeate everything is tough when you’re so large.

So, why invest the time and money into your brand?

1. It grows trust

Once you know what you stand for, the problem you solve, and how you help solve those problems, repetitively sticking with this messaging will reinforce trust. No one wants an insecure, shady salesman who can’t articulate what he’s selling.

But, how do brands use clarity and consistency to gain trust?

  • Create helpful content. Hopefully, you’re reading this article because it’s helpful, as that is my intent! You get relevant information that helps you grow your business and you get to know me, gaining trust in my advice. But, what if the next article I wrote was not about digital marketing, but how to roast a chicken? My roasted chicken recipe is really good, but it breaks my brand identity and brand strategy. You’d leave confused about what BranchStrategy.com’s purpose is.
  • Engagement. Answering customer emails quickly, calling people back, responding to people when they post something on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook … These are all examples of engagement. But, how you engage is equally as important. Taco Bell is notoriously funny in how they engage with customers. And since their target customer is likely a 25-year-old guy, it fits in with who they are as a brand.
  • Don’t hide the bad stuff. No matter what size company you work in, honesty should be a key part of your brand. Embrace the honest customer feedback and incorporate it into everything that you do. An old client of mine, Domino’s Pizza, completely reinvented itself with a very public campaign. The CEO took real customer feedback, like “the worst pizza I’ve ever had,” and ran commercials, committing to making it better. It worked. The company went from $8 in 2010 to $284 a share in 2019.

A clear and consistent brand is more than just what you say it is, but it reflects the trust people have in your product or service. Speak with clarity, consistency, authority, purpose, humility, and honesty.

2. It gives a perception of dependability

Imagine a colleague who shows up late about half the time. Yes, he or she may be on-time the remaining 50%, but if you need someone to get a critical task completed, you’ll likely move onto someone else. Why? Because they aren’t dependable.

Consistency in the little things makes you look dependable for the big things. What does this look like for brands?

  • If you’re whimsical and silly on Instagram but sterile and vague on your website, you’re sending mixed signals that will confuse consumers.
  • If a customer has to go to your website, Facebook page, and check old emails to try to find the location of an event or if you’re having a sale, you’re making it too complicated for them to buy from you.
  • If a customer wants to follow you on social media but has a hard time finding you because your social media presence doesn’t match your physical location. You might be using an old logo or a username that doesn’t match your business name, so your customers just give up.
  • Your company acquired a new division and they are so fractured and different. Your customer or patient can’t tell who is who, causing problems throughout their entire purchasing journey.

People want to buy things from companies that make it easy. They’ll decide to buy an inferior product (e.g. Chinese-made goods via Amazon Prime) over a custom product just because they can pick up their phone and buy it with literally the tap of a button.

A clear and consistent brand communicates dependability, adding to the trust you have with your customers or patients.

3. Customers feel that they know you

Living here in North Texas my family is comprised of Dallas Cowboys fans (with the exception of my older sister, who somehow held onto the Washington Redskins after our 3-years in Virginia as kids). One Cowboy’s player, Jason Witten, is a family favorite of ours.

I don’t know Jason Witten. I’ve never met him, but I like him. Why? Because he seems like such a great guy. He is married to his first and only wife and they have four kids together. He’s regularly featured on the news volunteering, always uses clean language, and is a great role model for my son. His personal brand aligns with my values and although I’m not a professional football player, I feelthat we have a lot in common. That is the power of reputation and good brand. If Jason was arrested for drunk driving or some other horrible incident, it would ruin the way I feel about him, ruining his brand. 

Strong brands take the time to define who they are, the characteristics and values they embody, what they stand for, and what they promise. When you are able to convey this through your brand and are consistent with its application, you build trust, dependability, and people enter into a relationship with your brand. 

Strong brands evoke strong emotions through clarity and consistency. They know who their customers are, what they want, they understand the problems they face, and how they can help solve those problems.

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