We all use the word “brand” as though everyone else’s understanding of it were the same as ours. Yet chances are it’s not, says Lindsay Pedersen, author of Forging an Ironclad Brand.
“Logo is part of a brand,” she says. “TV and social media are parts of a brand. Naming, your product, your customer experience, your SEO tactics are as well. The font, tagline, personality, and even the color of your employee uniforms are a part of the equation. But none of those are, by themselves, the brand.”
In order to make smart brand strategy decisions, it’s important to understand all the aspects. In her book, Pedersen identifies seven layers within every brand:
1. A brand is what you stand for
Your brand image is what you mean to your customer. It is the place (i.e., impression) you occupy in his or her mind. Everything your business does either reinforces your meaning–solidifying and growing its place in the customer’s mind–or it weakens that meaning, blurring its place in the customer’s mind.
If you sell shoes that enable customers to run fast, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of fast shoes. If you sell hospital software to streamline patient check-in, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of streamlined check-in.
2. A brand is a relationship
A brand is a relationship between your business and its customers. These relationships have existed for millennia. The pre-Industrial Age small-town butcher made a promise and faithfully fulfilled it time and time again, making his relationship with his customer ever more meaningful for both. Today with the countless ways customers can communicate with a business, it’s even more important to deliver value.
There was a time when the business with the most spending power had the loudest megaphone and, therefore, the most powerful brand. Now, the customer has a megaphone, too, and once again carries clout in the relationship. The feedback loop demands a mutually fulfilling relationship. Businesses must carefully make distinctive brand promises and deliver on them faithfully.
3. A brand is a promise and your fulfillment of that promise
When a brand has integrity, its promise is true. The business makes a promise—to deliver a scrumptious-tasting dinner, or eliminate a software system’s downtime, or make a home-buying experience more enjoyable—and delivers on that promise. It is not merely what you say you do—it is what you actually do, how you do it, and why.
As Don Knauss, former CEO of Clorox and head of North American operations for Coke, puts it: “A brand is a promise of performance. Any transaction between two parties requires a promise of performance. To sustain your business over time, you’ve got to, first, be very focused on defining your promise of performance and, second, be diligent about delivering consistently. If you can’t do these two things, you are not a sustainable business.”
4. A brand is a filter
A brand captures and guides attention. It serves as a filter for customers, shaping how they see you and believe you. We, humans, need these filters. When faced with too much information, we use cognitive shortcuts as filters to tame sensory overload. Branding ties your business to something that is already in your customer’s head, making it easier for the person to engage with your business. Branding creates a similar neural pathway, leading the customer to choose your business with ease.
5. Brand strategy is the deliberate articulation of your company’s purpose
While branding is the purpose you stand for inside your customer’s mind, your brand strategy is the deliberate articulation of that purpose. Brand strategy distills your promise so you can make choices across your business to carry out that promise. It answers the questions: What kind of business are we, and what kind of business do we want to be? What do we want to mean to customers?
“Brand strategy is about gaining self-knowledge. It’s about defining your business as its best possible self so that it can become more of that—more of its most intentional, most purposeful self.”
By distilling what you stand for, you give yourself a tool to guide the choices you make to grow the kind of business you want. Brand strategy is about gaining self-knowledge. It’s about defining your business as its best possible self so that it can become more of that—more of its most intentional, most purposeful self.
6. Branding fuels differentiation
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) leaders, like those at Clorox, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, and Nestlé, have been using the power of branding for decades because they have to. CPG companies are bastions of excellent brand-building because largely undifferentiated products force brand excellence. When your products are pretty much the same as those of your competitors, you better have an outstanding brand.
A bottle of Clorox bleach contains essentially the same bleach as store-brand bleach—6 percent sodium hypochlorite, 94 percent water. But the consumer price of Clorox bleach is often double that of store-brand bleach, and Clorox bleach still wins 65 percent market share of the bleach category. That’s because the Clorox brand stands for something different from the others, something that resonates and motivates their target customer. Clorox stands for feeling like a good, competent, loving parent. The target customer values this, and Clorox can deliver this.
7. A brand is your north star
When every element of your business is aligned around a single brand strategy, you leverage human nature to your advantage. All the parts of your business work in concert. As a result, it creates a compounding loop of goodness for customers, employees, and investors. Operating this way makes growth easier and more gratifying.
Successful brand strategies are not squishy, elusive, or superficial. They are logical, proven, and always ready to guide you. When you create a brand strategy deliberately and carefully, you define your company’s North Star that will clearly guide every decision you make and every decision your team makes. A brand forms your most durable competitive advantage. It lights your way to creating purpose, value, and scale.
Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker, and teacher known for her scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She developed the Ironclad Method for value-creating brands while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, and IMDb, as well as many burgeoning start-ups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. For more information, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com.