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What makes a strong brand?

17th June 2016

A strong brand is more than a logo and a funky strapline. No matter how creative or memorable. A strong brand goes to the very heart of what a successful business represents, and is the foundation upon which it is built.

Take household names, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Facebook, Disney and BMW. All strong, easily recognisable labels. It’s by no coincidence that they rank in Forbes’ Global Top 20 World’s Most Valuable Brands. 

In textbook speak, a brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation.

In real terms, a strong brand has values, personality and a reputation. It has a clear vision with a recognisable voice. It gets under your skin and makes you feel; it sparks an emotional response. It builds trust. People don’t forget feelings and trust is what people buy.

When a business really gets it right, the line between brand and business is invisible. They are one and the same thing. Hence, Forbes’ ‘most valuable brands’, not ‘most valuable businesses’.

How to build a strong brand – 5 brand building blocks

  1. Mission or Vision

What is your brand trying to achieve? Understand your brand’s purpose and business objectives. A look at leading brand names is a good place to start and demonstrates the individuality of a vision or mission specific to the brand.

BMW’s mission statement up to the year 2020 is clearly defined: the BMW Group is the world’s leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility. 

Whilst Coca-Cola’s mission, is:

  • To refresh the world…
  • To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
  • To create value and make a difference.
  1. Brand Values

What does your brand stand for?

Get back to basics with a pen and paper and jot down all of the values and qualities you associate with your brand. The invisible, sub-conscious brand values and experiences that your customers connect with. Why do they buy your products or use your services? What are the values that differentiate you from your competitors?

Is your brand trustworthy? Reliable? Adventurous? Is your brand pioneering or innovative? Does it act with integrity? Is it bold? Creative? Genuine? But don’t just throw all the clever adjectives you can think of into the pot. Identify your values carefully, selectively and appropriately.

A brand’s personality stems from its values.

  1. Brand Personality

If your brand were a person, how would you describe it?

Would it be outgoing? Witty? Friendly? Practical? Assertive? Adventurous? Sophisticated? Classy? Cheeky? Quirky? Warm? Caring? Serious? Reliable? You get the picture.

Regardless of the industry, product or service, a strong brand has a clear and identifiable personality. Think about it… Apple (innovative, intuitive, cool, casual), Nike (athletic, empowering, edgy, cool), BMW (powerful, premium, desirable), VW (reassuringly reliable, confident, friendly). Just take a look at the ‘About our brand’ page from VW Australia for a smart example of brand awareness.

A thorough understanding of a brand’s values and personality means that marketing teams and agencies can craft instantly recognisable campaigns and communications, year after year after year, weaving an unmistakable thread of familiar and consistent brand character and personality through all communications channels, including TV, print and digital platforms.

TV adverts are a great way to demonstrate how this works in practice. How often do you watch an ad and instinctively know who it is for, before the final scene and logo appears? Even on first viewing. John Lewis and their instantly recognisable Christmas ads, M&S, VW and Gap readily come to mind. The language, music, colours, humour, messaging and voice all blend together to convey the brand personality. When a brand really nails it, there’s a warm familiarity – like meeting an old friend.

A thorough understanding of a brand’s personality also means that real-time marketing can become an art-form, rather than an awkward knee-jerk reaction. If being on-the-ball and having a voice in current affairs is important to your brand, understanding its personality will enable your brand marketing team or agency to react swiftly to current news and events in a brand appropriate way.

  1. Brand Voice

A strong brand depends on strong communications with a clear, identifiable voice. By voice, we mean the tone and language used to express the all-important brand personality.

How does your brand voice sound? How does it speak to its customers on its website, packaging, literature and social media? Is it consistent and appropriate for its personality and values, as well as its customers? If your brand is fun, young and edgy, your language should be too. Think punchy and witty, not formal and stuffy.

If you have business premises, is your shop front and in-store décor, visuals and customer experience consistent with your personality and voice?

Once you have found your voice, write it down. Literally. Build it into your brand guidelines – yes, you should have those too, to make sure everyone knows how your brand talks. And then make sure your brand always sounds like your brand.

Successful branding tactics

  1. Logo and strapline

Only once you have nailed your brand vision, values and personality can you really start to think about your brand imagery or brand assets – your logo, strapline, colourways, typeface and icons.

A picture tells a thousand words and your branding, logo and colourways should sum up visually the essence of your brand. But more than that… how does it make you feel? When your design agency unveils your logo for the first time, think carefully about your emotional response. Is there a lightbulb ‘that’s it’ moment, or is it a grower?

Your logo will be featured everywhere. On your website, your stationery, your packaging, your social media pages. Make sure it works across all platforms. Make sure it resonates with everything your brand stands for. Then use it and use it and use it. Use it to build familiarity, presence and brand awareness.

Strong brands are predictable and familiar. But only because the brand knows itself inside out and every brand communication comes back to its values and personality.

Extra support?

A lot of brands commission an agency to support on brand strategy. View our 10 tips for selecting the right marketing agency.

This blog post was written in conjunction with Jo Quint.  Click here for Jo’s website


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