Which brands would you have difficulty giving up – Hulu, Under Armour, iPhone, Levi’s, Ford? What made you choose these brands over the competition? It was likely not just a logo, but a relationship that was built over time, based on that brand’s performance, value proposition, and the personality associated with the brand. Brands are complex and made up of several components that form a brand platform.
Building a Brand Platform
A brand platform includes brand identity, image, character, culture, personality, voice, value proposition, promise, and messaging. The result may be a fully developed branding document or several descriptive brand foundations or pillars.
Brand identity is how the company wants to be perceived – what it stands for based on unique associations that make a promise to customers. Brand identity drives the company’s communication; it provides direction, purpose, and meaning for everything the company says and does. A wood flooring manufacturer’s brand identity may be “highest quality.”
Character in people relates to how trustworthy or honest they are – also called integrity. A brand builds and enhances character when it is true to its identity, delivers on its promise and the experience associated with its name, and communicates honestly with customers. A high-quality wood flooring supplier builds character when it handles complaints about unsatisfactory materials with minimal hassle for customers.
Brand culture is about creating a community around your brand based on a system of values. 3M has a culture of innovation. Apple’s is about creativity. Disney creates a magical experience.
Brands have internal and external cultures; ideally, they’re similar or at least complementary. A “quality” culture may mean even low-level employees pay attention to detail and strive for ultimate customer satisfaction.
Brand image is based on consumers’ perception of the company’s reputation in the marketplace. Image is the starting point for developing an accurate brand identity. Brand image is focused on the brand’s outward, visible expression. For example, our quality-focused wood flooring supplier might feature professional photography; an uncluttered, elegant showroom; and classic design in their marketing materials. Brand image is closely tied to brand personality, a personification of the brand.
Brand personality goes beyond the product’s attributes, assigning personality traits usually used to describe people such as gender, age, socioeconomic class, and other human traits. In our example, the high-quality supplier might be a 54-year-old, experienced craftsman who appreciates history and respects nature. He is wise, but down to earth; he is upper class, but lives simply and doesn’t flaunt his wealth. His humor is subtle; he is quiet, but witty. (Think Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, played by Nick Offerman.) A brand’s personality is reflected in its written and spoken communications, referred to as brand voice.
A company’s brand voice can be sincere, friendly, witty, understanding, casual, trustworthy, intellectual, confident, and so forth. Brand voice is based on the brand personality and culture, and should be consistent throughout all company communications. Our Ron Swanson brand personality might be authoritative, direct, confident, knowledgeable, and trusted.
Brand Value Proposition
A brand’s value proposition is based on its functional, practical, emotional, self-expressive, and social/psychological benefits. A functional benefit is based on a product attribute. For example, a functional benefit of wood flooring is that it’s long-lasting and durable. The practical benefit is that it will save money in the long run. The emotional benefit is not worrying about replacing it. The self-expressive benefit is that it’s classic and elegant. The social/psychological benefit is that it’s environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Brand promise capitalizes on the greatest value proposition you can credibly claim. It’s an overarching benefit that’s communicated in a clear, easy-to-understand message. An example is GEICO’s “15 minutes or less can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance” – a claim that’s made it the country’s second-largest auto insurer.
The outward expression of a brand message is a tagline or slogan that succinctly and accurately articulates the brand’s promise, which in GEICO’s case is also its promise. The core message should underscore the company’s value in believable terms that are relevant to the customer and create a desire for its products or services.
- be different from its competitors;
- be short, simple, and clear;
- be authentic and based in reality;
- resonate with target audiences; and
- ideally, be focused on a single benefit.
This message should be used in all communications including advertising, digital/social media, and printed materials.
To wrap up our example of the high-quality hardwood flooring supplier with the Ron Swanson brand personality, a branding message might be, “When you demand the best, choose the best.”
Four Branding Principles
Brands come and go, but these principles of branding stand the test of time.
1. Brand equity (value) is built over time.
Strong brands are built by customers’ repeated exposure to consistent service, quality, or experiences. Founded in 1997, Netflix promised “movie enjoyment made easier.” Initially selling and renting DVDs by mail, in 2007, Netflix began offering streaming. Today, Netflix still makes movie watching easier with individual profiles, multiple categories for browsing, algorithms that suggest movies based on your preferences, and original content.
2. Brands must be based on reality – or a reality you create.
Polaroid cameras used to be clunky, boxy contraptions that were definitely not cool. Today they are kitschy, popular, and often used by teens and young adults who string up pictures in their room or create albums at weddings. In this digital age, Polaroid found a way to make this low-tech product relevant and cool through unique branding and attractive packaging.
3. A strong brand adds value to your offerings.
When you consistently deliver on your promise – with on-time delivery, convenient payment options, or product expertise – customers place a higher value on your brand. That added value allows you to charge more for your products or services. If you don’t agree, consider the premium prices consumers pay for designer shoes, watches, handbags, or cologne.
4. Consistent branding requires total commitment.
Branding cannot be half-hearted. Your actions and behavior must support the brand’s value proposition. Consider a satisfaction guarantee, expert endorsements, user testimonials, demonstrations, certifications, or independent testing.
Sometimes, it’s about doing the right thing. In 2014, CVS became the first major U.S. pharmacy chain to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products despite losing approximately $2 billion across more than 7,500 stores. President/CEO Larry Merlo said, “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.” CVS also launched smoking cessation programs for smokers, specifically targeting youth and cancer patients.
What’s your brand?
If you’ve never thought about your brand in depth, write a paragraph for each component of the brand platform. Work with others, or get their input after your initial effort. If you don’t reach consensus internally, get feedback externally from those who know you well and will be candid. Also, seek input from those less familiar to uncover possible misperceptions in the marketplace. This will provide insight for future branding messages.
Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, trainer, writer, and principal of Katrina Olson Marketing + Training. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.