Out of curiosity, I asked a few people what their favorite brands are and why. This is what I got:
“I love REI because of the quality of their product, awesome customer service, and the environmental component that is woven deep in their brand.” - Amy Lezca
“I admire Starbucks because they’re currently teaming up with McDonald’s (their competitor) to produce a coffee cup that’s environmentally friendly, and I think that’s pretty cool.” - Claire Brenner
So, what do they all have in common?
There is one major commonality between all of these responses:
They’re about brands that nailed their brand marketing strategy and established reputable, trustworthy names for themselves.
So congratulations to REI and Starbucks, you killed it.
But for the rest of you wanting to hear similar responses about your brand, this article is for you.
Building a brand like those mentioned above isn’t easy. Heck, building any brand at all can be difficult. But let me tell you a little secret: Many companies are doing it wrong because they don’t understand what a brand actually is in the first place.
Don’t let that be you and keep reading, because I’m going to cover it all.
What is a brand?
In order to understand brand marketing, you’ll need to understand what a brand is. I’d like to keep it simple and give you a straight-forward definition, but unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.
Not because I want to make this complicated for you, but rather the fact that the term “brand” is hard to nail down. It’s one of those words that is widely used, but not well understood.
So, let’s start with a quick recap on the history of the word. When did the term “brand” start to surface?
Well, more than a century ago cattle ranchers started marketing their animals with a branding iron to signify which animals were theirs; a trademark, if you will.
Years down the road, as the production of consumer goods were on the rise, producers emulated this by doing something very similar: They put their special mark on their product. The purpose of this? To indicate the source of the product, and to differentiate their product from similar products being offered.
With that, a brand simply became the non-generic name for a product that tells consumers the source of the product.
Fast forward to today, and the term brand has taken on a new meaning to people. You see, a brand is not a logo. It’s not an identity. It’s not a product. Instead, it’s a promise to your customer.
Your brand is not only an embodiment of who you are as a company, but also who your customers are as users. Therefore, you owe it to them to represent yourself in a positive, trustworthy way.
Simply put, a brand is a representation of who you are and what you do.
Now that we’ve discussed what a brand is, let’s move onto brand marketing.
What is brand marketing?
Brand marketing is about boosting recognition and reputation. But contrary to what many people believe, brand marketing is not just plastering your company name and logo everywhere and hoping that people see it. Brands are feelings, and we all know how complicated feelings are. So when it comes to marketing your brand, you have to meet your customers on an emotional level.
So, how do you get an audience’s attention when you want to sell in a crowded market? Market your brand with intention -- the intention to evoke positive feelings about your brand.
Brand marketing is also about taking your customers on a journey with you, a journey of building the brand you aspire to be. Your brand is not only who you are today, but also who you want to be to your customers down the road, and your customers can actually help you build and market that brand.
How to build a brand strategy
Your brand strategy is one of the most important parts of your marketing plan. Your secret weapon, if you will. Because its purpose is to create long-term relationships with your customers so that you can ultimately build a brand that they trust.
So how do you build a brand that your customers can stand behind?
You must understand your purpose before you can build your process. Once you understand your company’s core identity, you can move forward strategizing your brand language and elements, and how you can apply them.
A well-planned and executed brand strategy can make or break your business. Like I mentioned before, your band strategy is your secret weapon. If you do it right, you’ll keep your customers happy and your company successful for ages.
Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers. It’s not a promotional tactic, but rather the core of your brand’s competitive strategy. The thing is, your brand will be positioned by customers regardless, so the more proactive your company is about developing a solid brand position for itself, the more successful your brand will be in the market.
While positioning your brand you have to determine how to differentiate your brand in the eyes of your target customers. Why are you unique? What makes you better than your competitors? What do you offer that your competitors do not?
Develop a distinct and value-based positioning idea
Define key benefits (What benefit does your product offer to your target customers?)
Define key differentiators (What makes you different, or better, than your competitors?)
Write positioning statement and value proposition
If you're in the early stages of building a company (and subsequently, your brand), you could even use A/B testing software to try out a couple of different statements, and let your customers make the choice.
An important step in the positioning process: having both a positioning statement and a value proposition.
Although commonly used interchangeably, they are different.
Your value proposition should represent the “big picture.” It reflects what your brand is promising to deliver, as well as reflects the range of benefits your company has to offer. It’s arguably the most important element of your marketing messaging.
For example, Starbucks differentiates itself from competitors by creating the unique value proposition of becoming the “third place” for customers, after home and the workplace. Purchasing a cup of coffee is an “affordable luxury” and an experience in itself. Customers can order customized drinks and enjoy the beverage in a relaxed, upscale environment. They've solidified this brand positioning through content marketing.
Your positioning statement, on the other hand, is a subset of your value proposition. Unlike your value proposition, it focuses more on the specifics of your competitive differentiation. The positioning statement usually includes the target audience, product name, product benefits, and the competitive differentiation.
Kate Spade’s positioning statement, for example:
Kate Spade New York combines a playful, sophisticated personal style with high quality and long-lasting utility for the young professional fashionista.
Both your value proposition and statement help to set you apart from competitors in the industry.
Be sure to put time and effort into constructing a solid brand positioning for your company. It’s key to long-term success against your competitors.
TIP: Brands can take stances on humanitarian and political issues to help develop their brand. Learn how some companies are branding themselves as eco-friendly with sustainable packaging programs.
Advice from a brand marketing professional
I spoke with G2 Crowd’s very own Meg Murphy, Marketing Partnerships & Community, to round up some of her very best advice on brand marketing.
Here are her thoughts on brand marketing:
Meg suggests you start by asking yourself who you really are. You’ll not only want to identify your core values as a company but also your personality as a company. Dig deep into figuring out who you are as a business and who you aspire to be, so you can be that for your customers.
There are several resources you can tap into to understand how your brand is being perceived. Meg recommends reflecting both internally and externally. Look at online customer reviews of your company, talk directly with customers, and talk to your internal team to understand the current perception of your brand so you can identify what areas need changing.
For example, in her past experience with brand marketing, Meg spent time on Glassdoor, G2 Crowd, and the company’s social media pages searching through reviews and looking for common themes on what people cared about. From there, she could pull out themes that gave her the ability to find core messaging (that’s authentic) and so she could take the brand to the next level.
TIP: Build your brand's credibility with reviews. 85% of buyers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
85% of buyers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. If you're a B2B company selling software or services, claim your free G2 profile and prove that your brand delivers on its promise.
Once you understand how your brand is currently being perceived and where you want to be as a brand, represent that desired personality and feeling. Find elements (like those in the graphic below) that match that feeling and utilize it in your culture and messaging to evoke feelings that relate to your brand and your customers.
The keyword here: FEELINGS. If you fail to meet your customers on that level, you’re selling your brand short.
This is Meg’s approach to brand marketing. It all radiates out from the core.
Tip: Looking for a brand agency to help you boost your brand?
That’s brand marketing!
And there you have it. Those are the basics of brand marketing for you! In this article we’ve covered what a brand is, what brand marketing is, how you can build a successful brand strategy, and how to go about positioning your brand in the market.
Next step? Establish a trustworthy, reputable brand for yourself!
REI and Starbucks did it, and so can you.
Ready to learn more about establishing a brand? Learn how to set a position statement in 2019 for internal and external comms.
Jordan Wahl is a former Content Marketing Manager at G2 who joined after graduating with her BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She loves anything that puts her in her creative space – including writing, art, and music (her absolute favorite).