8 New Rules of Branding – How to Build an Unbeatable Edge

By Ida Cheinman posted 02-14-2018 08:17


Make a commitment to follow our new rules of branding this year to make your brand unbeatable – and leave your competitors in the dust.

1: Audit Annually

Once upon a time, the corporate brochure ruled the B2B marketing world.

Significant resources were put into crafting the message, copy and design, and then, after the company printed at least 10,000 copies, the brochures were stored in the office supply closet for years to come.

Companies simply did not audit their brand or communications frequently. Brands were, after all, built to last.

Today, branding is vastly different.

The marketplace and marketing itself are changing at a rapid pace, and getting the word out about your company requires much more communication across many more channels using a much wider range of message formats. This means:

  • The sheer volume of marketing communications a company produces, combined with the constant introduction of new channels, can make it easy to lose control over the integrity and relevancy of the brand message. So the brand itself and all brand-related communications need to be audited much more frequently.
  • Even though every brand should be enduring, fast-changing circumstances likely will spark the need for more frequent adjustments. Not always complete overhauls, but continuous fine-tuning.

While an annual brand audit may seem like an overkill, the above two factors alone build a strong case for making a brand audit part of your annual planning process.

2: Reboot Often Within Your Own Walls

When a company goes through a rebrand, the employees are often the last to know, much less be educated about what the new brand means or how it should be expressed publicly.

And even if there were an internal rollout, after a brand has been around awhile, long-time employees and the leadership team can become fuzzy about what the brand stands for. If the brand experience isn’t carried into the company culture and brought to life in various ways every day, it will cease to exist.

It’s much like Febreze’s popular “nose blind” campaign – the internal team is so used to the brand that after a while they can’t sense it anymore.

Considering that a company’s employees are its most valuable brand ambassadors, this is a huge problem. Although the exact lost potential can’t possibly be measured, you can be certain that there are missed opportunities when the internal team is not fluent in the company’s brand.

To overcome this, find ways to reboot your brand internally, to remind employees regularly about what it stands for and to make employees feel more aligned with the brand. Some of your reboots can be formal, creative and apart from day-to-day activities in order to truly engage your team.

Other reboots can be more low key and integrate into employees’ daily experience as they go about their work – things as simple as introducing short messages that show up when employees log into the company intranet.

3: Get Under Your Customers’ Skin

Market and audience research is an integral part of brand development, but many companies continue to rely on superficial research processes and methods that don’t allow them to go deep enough to collect truly useful information and insight. This negatively affects the company’s ability not only to develop a differentiating brand – the very foundation of every marketing effort – but also to take advantage of just about every current marketing strategy and tactic.

Certainly, demographics and psychographics can help in understanding your audiences’ archetypes, but there is much more you must know in order to leverage today’s most powerful marketing strategies and tools – to engage on social media, to leverage account-based marketing, to maximize omnichannel tactics and more. Today’s marketing commands much deeper customer understanding than ever before.

Now is the time to collect and analyze data about your audiences’ needs and their behaviors at all points in the buying process and to get inside their heads in order to create more meaningful buyer personas and to provide a better experience along their journey.

The ultimate goal is being able to read the subtext beneath what your customers say. In other words, you need to know what your customers say they need and want, but also what they really need and want – and this information is hidden layers deep beyond the surface.

4: Get Serious About Getting Competitor Intel

Not that long ago, it was common practice to ask marketing interns to conduct research on competitors by calling them under the guise of a college project.

Today, we have countless tools at our disposal to discretely find out exactly what our competitors are doing. Use this information to further differentiate your company’s brand and to ensure that it remains highly competitive.

With the high degree of disruption happening in virtually every industry – and heavily impacting brand perception – seeking and leveraging competitor intelligence is more valuable than ever.

Whether ensuring that your brand is prepared to respond to a shake-up in your category or gathering information that will help your brand become the disruptive force, it’s well worth the marketing department’s time and resources to gather competitor information.

Remember this core rule of branding: never define your company against its competitors. Otherwise, your brand relies on theirs for its strength. Competitor research is for the purpose of gaining greater understanding and knowledge to further differentiate your brand – not about comparing, copying or sparring head to head.

5: Stop Talking About Yourself

No customer cares about your company. They care about their own company, solving their own problems and achieving their own goals.

You can talk for an eternity about how great your company is and about all it does for its customers, and it’s not going to bring business through the door.

What will, though, is putting the customer in the spotlight.

Creating a customer-centric brand requires looking at your brand through your customers’ eyes and framing the value you deliver in a way that clearly shows how it contributes to your customers’ successes.

As you translate your brand across all touchpoints, keep in mind that the first thing you want your customers to see is their own stories (their challenges, needs and aspirations). So rather than making your list of offerings front and center, show your customers that you understand their situations first. Then, showing how your offerings and expertise solve their exact problems – and especially doing so through customer success stories – will be much more powerful and effective.

6: Measure Everything that Matters

Marketing metrics have never been as important as they are today, when marketers are held accountable for achieving specific results that previously simply could not be measured.

Marketing metrics are not for marketing campaigns only. They also can tell you if your brand is still on point or starting to lose its strength and relevance.

The key categories for measuring brand strength and effectiveness are visibility, reputation or expertise, and impact.

Here are just a few brand metrics to consider:

  • Website and blog traffic, including repeat visitors
  • Email list growth and health, including opens, click-throughs and unsubscribes
  • Social media community growth and engagement
  • Speaking and media requests
  • Lead generation, including content downloads and opt-ins
  • Referrals, especially when coming from those who have never worked with your company directly
  • Lead to opportunity ratios

7: Don’t Let Templates and Hacks Become Your Brand

Have you noticed how corporate websites are starting to look alike? It’s a direct result of a massive explosion of ready-made templates and tools that literally allow you to fill in the blanks. And companies are doing just that.

To avoid disappearing into the gray fog of sameness, blending in with all of your indistinguishable competitors, invest in a unique and differentiating visual identity and a comprehensive design system for your print and digital marketing communications.

Introducing a unique and consistent design standard will make your brand memorable and your company immediately recognizable to its clients, prospects, partners, employees and other stakeholders no matter where they come in contact with your brand – on any channel or device, at any touchpoint, online and off.

8: Rethink Brand Management

Keeping pace with the speed of change also requires a different approach to brand management – shifting away from viewing brands as static artifacts and toward recognizing that brands are fluid, adaptive, experiential and always evolving.

This means that the old practice of following stringent brand guidelines, policing brand usage and insisting on full corporate ownership must be replaced with new rules for brand governance:

  • Bridging the gap between brand strategy and operational functions, including business development, marketing, human resources and more – which means using the brand to guide how the whole company operates and integrating it into corporate culture, behaviors and decision making.
  • Merging brand agility with brand consistency, which requires developing a unique and differentiating brand voice that can remain recognizable across a multitude of communication channels, devices and customer interactions.The key is to recognize that modern brand management is about much more than organizing brand and marketing assets! It’s about seeing the brand as a living entity and managing it as such, giving it both the freedom to breathe and the structure to be effective.

In Conclusion

While the core principals of branding are still very much the same as they have been for decades, there are many ways your brand must evolve to keep pace with change.

Ensuring that your company has a differentiating brand platform is, and always will be, the first step. The second step is to thoughtfully and skillfully translate that brand platform into your company’s visual identity and brand touchpoints, creating an equally differentiating brand experience.

But after that, there is still much to do! Branding is no longer an activity that can be revisited every five or ten years.

Companies that continually invest in monitoring and refining their brands will be the only ones in your competitive set that are prepared to respond quickly to shifts in the marketing and business environment – you need to ensure that your company is one of them.

Ida Cheinman is Principal and Creative Director of Substance151, a strategic brand communications firm for evolving brands. Find more free branding and marketing resources to help you stay ahead on the Substance151 blog.