Leader’s Guide to Effective Branding

You can sell just about anything once, if you are persistent. But if you want to sell a product over and over, you need to have a good understanding of brand equity. The most successful executives, products and companies all have one thing in common: a very strong brand.

In this Leader’s Guide, we’ll dig into what a brand is. We’ll talk about:

  • how to create your brand and promote it to build a client or user base
  • how to make sure your target market understands what you are offering
  • why it’s important that they understand your brand, and
  • how to get your customers to tell others how great your brand is

Get this right and everything else becomes easier. Ignore this and you’ll work very hard for minimal gains that are not repeatable.

Before we start, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Branding need not be an expensive undertaking. Essential, even critical, yes. But at its heart, branding is a simple process. You’ll see what we mean by the end of this guide.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is a Brand?
The importance of branding for digital products
Understanding your target audience
Understanding why your prospects will buy
Crafting a unique brand voice and messaging strategy
A closer look at the four story types
Crystallizing your brand identity
More thoughts on designing a compelling logo and visuals
Promoting the brand through content marketing
Leveraging social media for brand promotion
Measuring and refining your brand strategy
Getting some help to build a more powerful brand

What is a Brand?

Many branding experts will tell you that branding is the work of defining the vision, mission, purpose, positioning, and value proposition in the market for a product or company. That’s like telling someone what a tree is by pointing to its shadow.

Here is RGA’s simplified definition of brand: that collection of feelings and benefits you consistently provide through service to your customer.

Two things you should notice about this definition:

  1. You cannot define your brand in the absence of a customer. This should make sense as Peter Drucker taught us that there isn’t even a business without a customer. Those who define their brand without viewing the result through the eyes of those they hope to serve are just throwing words against the wall in the hope that something will stick. You can’t even decide for yourself what your brand is in the marketplace. You can set the target, but the only people who can tell you are those you serve and those you hope to serve.
  2. There is no market positioning, corporate vision promotion or even mission promising in this definition. There is an implied value proposition, but it is not about what you say you’ll do; your brand is all about what you actually do, on a consistent basis, in service to your customer. Your brand is a reflection of your actions as viewed by those you serve. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.

That’s literally all there is to it.

An example might be helpful. Take Nabisco, a brand owned at the time of this writing by Mondelez, Intl. If you look for Nabisco branding information on the parent company’s website, you’ll find some snacks you can purchase and a picture of the logo, the familiar red triangle. That’s about it.

There’s no branding information on the page because there doesn’t need to be. By the time the company purchased Nabisco, that brand had been well established, which I suspect is why they bought it. Anyone over the age of 45 or so can tell you exactly what it is.

Nabisco is the saltine crackers that your mom gave you when you stayed home from school with a fever and were placed on the couch with a pillow and warm blanket to watch television. The memory makes us remember that feeling of being warm, safe and lucky not to be in school with our friends. It’s a nostalgic reminder that your mom loved you and worried about you when you didn’t feel well.

Now, can you imagine the executives at Nabisco sitting around the conference room table and coming up with this? Neither can I. And yet, this is what millions of Americans feel when they see that red triangle, even if it’s on a new snack product.

It’s more difficult to follow Nabisco’s example today than it was in the past. When our example company was founded, it was very difficult to know anything about the people behind the brand. There was no internet or social media to expose the details about the people involved. We were satisfied with the little red triangle or Tony the Tiger or some other cartoon brand ambassador. Those days are over. Today, the strongest brands are backed by people we feel like we know.

If you want to sell an offering, whether that be a person, product or company, you need to know how to build a brand that will come to life in the minds of your customers and make them feel like they know you.

The importance of branding for digital products

We believe that anything you want to sell more than once needs to have an established brand. But it’s even more important for digital products.

In the digital age, where competition is fierce and buyers have many options available to them, having a strong brand identity is crucial for the success of your digital product. Once your brand is established, it will set your offering apart from any competitor. The brand stories you tell about those you serve will help create a connection with others in your target audience. 

A well-defined and effectively promoted brand identity can increase brand loyalty, attract new customers, and ultimately drive revenue.

One of the key benefits of branding is differentiation. But don’t get this backwards. The branding words you come up with in the boardroom doesn’t set you apart from your competitors. Your brand is the shadow cast by everything you do in service to your customers. When that shadow represents something that is better than anything else out there, you have a brand that is ready to be promoted and that’s what will differentiate you in the marketplace.

Brands are built in the marketplace not the boardroom.

With countless digital products available in the market, it’s essential to stand out and offer something unique. Effectively promoting a strong brand identity allows you to differentiate yourself from competitors by showcasing your unique value proposition, values, and personality — as they are perceived by the people you serve. Just remember, your identity flows from what you do, not what you say you do.

When satisfied customers tell your brand stories, it helps you build trust and loyalty with your audience, making it more likely for other to choose your product over competitors.

Good brand stories play a crucial role in building credibility and trust. A strong and consistently promoted brand identity creates a perception of professionalism and reliability. When consumers feel confident in your brand, they are more likely to engage with your digital product, make a purchase, and recommend it to others. 

Trust is a valuable currency in the digital marketplace, and branding is the proof that you have earned it by meeting the needs of your customers.

Is it starting to sound like your brand is something you earn instead of create? If so, you’re getting it.

Understanding your target audience

Before you even think about creating your brand identity — that collection of statements, promises, and artwork that exposes your brand — it’s essential to have a deep understanding of your target audience. You literally can’t brand without it.

Your brand should resonate with the audience you wish to reach, by creating a strong connection between what you offer and their needs, desires, and aspirations. 

To achieve this, you need to really understand the people you want to serve.

Most companies conduct thorough market research and develop detailed buyer personas. Far better would be to perform a brand audit by reaching out to existing customers. If you are not currently serving a target market, this will come as close as you can to getting a clear picture of your future customer.

Start by identifying your target demographic, including age, gender, location, and other relevant factors. Then, delve deeper into their psychographics, such as their motivations, interests, and pain points. Some of this work may already have been done in the product development lab.

You can get additional insight by analyzing any competitors who are currently serving your target market. By understanding what your competitors are offering and how they are positioning themselves, you can find opportunities to differentiate your offering and service and thereby cast a stronger brand in the market. Remember, it’s not about what you say you’re going to do, it’s what you have built your company to deliver.

Some will tell you that finding the right balance between customer-centricity and authenticity is a key to creating a brand identity that resonates with both your audience and your internal team. Ignore that. If you’re working with our definition of brand, the customer is already central to your efforts and authenticity will be determined by your customers and prospects by comparing what you say you will deliver to what you actually deliver.

Understanding why your prospects buy

No company can effectively deliver something that their prospects won’t buy. That’s why it’s important that you understand what is most likely to get your prospects to act on your offers while you’re working through the branding process.

Very large B2C companies have the luxury of creating a product and then throwing it into the market with a large advertising budget to see who will buy it. They’ll tell you that they performed market research, but based on some of the spectacular failures we’ve seen, we have our doubts. Small to medium-sized companies and B2B firms will rarely use this strategy.

Instead, extensive market research, including focus groups, are used to find out the exact reasons a consumer would purchase a particular product. Even then, this will only be an approximation on the B2C side because consumers buy things for a multitude of reasons, many of which are a response to emotional needs they may not even have expressed verbally.

It’s more straightforward on the B2B side, at least if the company is well run. Professional business buyers will never buy on impulse or to satisfy an emotional need for status. It happens, but not in good companies.

Business buyers only buy for one of four reasons:

  1. Counteract a current source of significant business pain.
  2. Invest for a future gain.
  3. Guard against future loss.
  4. Because it’s a compliance requirement.

That’s pretty much it. Fortunate are the companies that provide products and services that companies are required to buy. They have a captive audience for their marketing. All they have to do is create a brand that shows buyers they are a good option.

Far and away the most common reason that business buyers buy is No.1, stopping the pain. Knowing all you can about the pain your prospects are currently experiencing will prepare you to continue your branding work.

Crafting a unique brand voice and messaging strategy

We’ve talked about how your brand is like a shadow puppet on the wall, cast by the good work you consistently do in service to your customers. If you do this well, your company will grow, even if you don’t promote your brand. Just ask 5 Guys, a burger company that never bought advertising to promote its brand and yet has grown into a national leader.

Most companies don’t want to wait 20 years for their brands to take off, like 5 Guys did. That means they have to promote their brands.

The first step in this process is uncovering the brand’s voice. If the company has a strong brand, you can hear its voice in the stories people, both inside and outside of the company, tell about it.

There are four important types of brand stories every company must tell:

  1. Origin Stories — the stories that explain where the company came from, how it was started and, most importantly, why.
  2. Product Stories — the stories about the offerings the company uses to meet the needs of the customers it serves.
  3. Success Stories — the stories that show the company is growing thanks to its ability to serve its customers.
  4. Stories Others Tell About the Company’s Success — some call this Word of Mouth (WoM), but it’s much more than that.

Imagine someone is reading you one of these stories about your company. Who is the narrator? Your brand voice is the tone and style that this narrator would use to communicate with your audience.

To develop a unique brand voice, start by defining the personality traits that reflect your brand. Is your narrator friendly, professional, authoritative, or playful? These traits will guide the tone of voice you use in all of your communications. This is easier if you have a strong personality standing behind your brand. This leader becomes the brand’s voice.

Then, promoting your brand is just a matter of which stories to tell where and when. This is your messaging strategy.

Your messaging should be clear, concise, and compelling, and should always align with your brand’s core values and mission.

Consistency is key when it comes to brand voice and messaging. Ensure that your brand’s tone of voice and messaging are consistent across all your digital platforms, from your website to your social media channels. This consistency will help build brand recognition and reinforce your brand’s identity in the minds of your audience.

A closer look at the four story types

If you look back to the four story types we have identified, you’ll see that the first two may seem to be about your company and your products, but they are really about your customer’s current pain points and needs. These stories highlight your brand’s unique selling propositions by connecting what  you offer to the pain points and aspirations of your target market. 

The other two story types are stories about your success. The first are those told by your own team. Many of these will come in the form of press releases. While some newer branding experts will tell you that press releases are no longer an effective communication tool, that is misguided. You can find our take on the effective use of these tools in our Press Release Leader’s Guide.

The fourth type of story is made up of stories that others tell about your success. This is the most powerful story a company can tell. We find it in testimonials, business referral messaging, and case studies. You can tell these stories by inviting satisfied clients to appear on webinars and podcasts and by co-writing feature articles with them for the trade press.

In review, here are the stories you must be telling in support of your brand:

Origin Stories

These stories explain why you got into this business and who you started your company to serve. They introduce your target audience to your executives, your vision, and your mission. We find many of these stories under the “About Us” tab on the website, but they can show up in many other places.

Product Stories

These stories are really about the pain points that gave rise to your offering. When you talk about the problems your target market is working to overcome, your prospects realize you understand their business and you earn the right to sell to them. One of the best tools to tell these stories is a well written white paper. You can learn more about our approach to this important sales document in our Leader’s Guide to White Papers.

Success Stories

These stories are the market signals that tell your stakeholders, partners and prospects why you are a viable option. We tell them often in press releases, through podcasts and webinars and from the podium at business conferences during keynote presentations and panel sessions. Social media has also emerged as a powerful tool for sharing company success stories.

Stories Others Tell About the Company’s Success

The companies that can get their satisfied customers to tell stories about their success have the strongest brands. Helping our customer’s clients see the value in telling stories together that promote both parties is a core part of what we do at RGA.

Crystallizing your brand

Once you have a clear understanding of your target audience and you know precisely how you will serve them, it’s time to crystallize all of this into your brand identity documents and create your brand kit. 

Start by brainstorming keywords and adjectives that describe the essence of your brand. Think about the way your company interacts with your customers. Are you innovative, reliable, playful, or sophisticated? Think of the words your customers would use to describe you. Bonus points if your research has already provided this list.

These descriptors will help guide the development of your brand identity and ensure consistency across all touchpoints.

Next, focus on how your brand’s core values and mission statement align with the needs of your customers. Defining your core values and mission will help you create a brand identity that is authentic and aligns with the aspirations of your target audience.

Once you have a clear understanding of your brand’s essence, it’s time to bring in the artists.

The graphic design team is often called upon to take everything you know about your company, your customers and how you serve them to create your logo and choose your color palette and typography. 

Design a compelling logo that represents your brand’s personality and values. Your logo should be simple, memorable, and versatile, allowing it to be easily recognized across different digital platforms.

In addition to the logo, establish a cohesive color palette and typography that aligns with your brand personality. Colors evoke emotions and can significantly impact user perception, so choose colors that reflect your brand’s values and resonate with your target audience. 

Similarly, typography plays a crucial role in conveying your brand’s tone of voice, so select fonts that are legible and align with your brand’s style.

From this, you can create business card and stationery templates, marketing collateral templates and guidelines for other digital assets, like website design, media profiles and digital advertisements.

Finally, brand guidelines are written to determine how to use the brand elements, including logo placement, color usage, typography, and tone of voice, as well as imagery guidelines for the style of photography, illustrations, or graphics that align with the brand.

Additionally, your brand style guide should be easily accessible to everyone involved in creating content for your digital product. Whether you have an in-house team or work with freelancers, providing them with the necessary guidelines will help maintain brand consistency and ensure that your brand identity is accurately represented.

This kit serves as a comprehensive guide for maintaining brand consistency across all touchpoints. Notice: while many branding experts will start with this section, if all of the work above is not complete, they will just be making things up.

More thoughts on designing a compelling logo and visuals

A well-designed logo is a cornerstone of your brand identity. It serves as a visual representation of your brand and can evoke emotions and convey your brand’s personality in an instant. 

When designing your logo, consider the following elements:

  1. Simplicity: A simple logo is more memorable and versatile across different digital platforms.
  2. Relevance: Your logo should reflect your brand’s values and resonate with your target audience.
  3. Versatility: Ensure that your logo works well in different sizes and formats, from large banners to small app icons.

What you don’t need to do is pay a boat load of money to get some killer art created. No artist will tell you that, of course. Do you doubt that it’s true? Pull up that Nabisco logo again. Not something you are likely to ever find in the Louvre, and yet…so powerful.

In addition to the logo, your visual branding should include a consistent color palette and typography. Colors have a significant impact on user perception, so choose colors that align with your brand personality and evoke the desired emotions. Typography, on the other hand, sets the tone of voice for your brand and should be legible and aligned with your brand style.

Remember, the goal of your visual branding is to evoke a memory or feeling in the minds of your existing customers that aligns with their experience with your company and empowers them to share that story with others. You can do this with anything, if you live the brand. Nothing will work, no matter how much you spend on it, if you don’t.

When done correctly, your company artwork will be exactly what your existing customers expect to see based on what they already know about doing business with you.

Consistency is key, so ensure that your brand assets are used consistently across all your digital platforms.

Promoting the brand through content marketing

A brand without effective promotion is a brand that almost no one will know. You can call yourself a best-kept secret if it makes  you feel better, but the truth is you haven’t done the work necessary to either build a strong enough brand for your customers to promote or done the work to promote it yourself.

Content marketing is a powerful tool for building brand awareness and establishing your brand as a thought leader in your industry. By creating valuable and engaging content, you can attract and engage your target audience, driving traffic to your digital product and building credibility.

Start by identifying the topics and themes that are relevant to your target audience. What are their pain points, challenges, and aspirations? By addressing these topics in your content, you can position your brand as a trusted resource and build a loyal following.

Additionally, leverage different content formats to cater to different preferences and consumption habits. From blog articles and videos to infographics and podcasts, explore different mediums to engage with your audience and showcase your expertise.

Remember, content marketing is not just about creating content; it’s about distributing and promoting it effectively. Share your content on relevant social media platforms, collaborate with influencers in your industry, and optimize your content for search engines to maximize its reach and impact.

Leveraging social media for brand promotion

Social media is a powerful tool for brand promotion and can significantly impact your brand’s visibility and reach. With billions of active users, social media platforms provide an opportunity to connect with your target audience, build brand awareness, and drive engagement.

To leverage social media effectively, start by identifying the platforms where your target audience is most active. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, focus your efforts on platforms that align with your target demographic and offer the most potential for engagement.

Next, develop a social media strategy that aligns with your brand identity and business goals. Create a content calendar and plan your social media posts in advance to ensure consistency and relevance. Engage with your audience by responding to comments and messages, and leverage user-generated content to build social proof and credibility.

Social media advertising can also be a powerful tool for brand promotion. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer highly targeted advertising options that allow you to reach your desired audience with precision. Consider allocating a portion of your marketing budget to social media advertising to amplify your brand’s visibility and attract new customers.

Measuring and refining your brand strategy

Marketing experts can offer you a great many metrics by which you can measure the effectiveness of their work. The most significant of these, and the one you should use if you use no others, is the number of sales.

If your brand strategy is not resulting in sales, it was either not done right or not promoted effectively (or both).

Whether you just watch sales or have a dashboard full of metrics to monitor, it’s essential to continuously measure and refine your approach. Branding is an ongoing process, and it’s crucial to stay agile and adapt to changing market conditions and consumer preferences.

Start by setting clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for your brand strategy. We like to focus on sales, but you can also set your goal to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, or generate leads. Most experts will tell you to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), though it can be argued that setting any goal you can achieve today is setting your sights too low.

Monitor your brand metrics regularly to track your progress and identify areas for improvement. Tools like Google Analytics can provide valuable insights into your website traffic, engagement, and conversion rates. 

Similarly, social media analytics tools can help you measure your brand’s reach, engagement, and sentiment.

Based on your findings, make data-driven decisions to refine your brand strategy. Experiment with different messaging, visuals, and content formats to see what resonates most with your target audience. Continuously seek feedback from your customers and make adjustments to your brand strategy based on their preferences and needs.

Getting some help to build a more powerful brand

In today’s digital marketplace, where competition is fierce and consumer attention is fleeting, a strong brand identity is more important than ever. By mastering the art of branding and creating a powerful brand identity you can differentiate yourself from competitors, build trust and loyalty with your audience, and drive revenue.

But remember, your brand identity springs from the work you do in the marketplace in service to your customers, not the other way around.

From your brand voice and messaging to your content marketing and social media presence, every interaction with your audience should reflect your brand’s values and personality. That’s easier when you contract with an outside agency to act as your editor.

There are many ways RGA can support your brand development work, from brainstorming calls to on-site branding workshops to becoming your outsourced content marketing partner. If you are interested in working with an objective third party to help you uncover the brand you are building in the marketplace today, schedule a no-obligation call with us today.

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