Brand is the perception of your company in the eyes of the world. It’s shorthand for who and what you are.
Getting branding right gives people a reason to love you, which they’ll reward with loyalty. Getting it wrong, however, can create an impression you may never be able to change.
In this article, you’ll learn what’s required to create a branding campaign that strikes the right chord. We’ll look at the importance of strategy and cover the key ingredients a campaign needs to increase brand awareness. We’ll also give you creative fuel by breaking down how Lemonade has used branding to disrupt the market.
Branding strategy is more than a series of gimmicks
When we start in business one of the first things we’re encouraged to do is nail the branding: come up with a memorable brand name, a good logo, and a striking visual brand identity. These elements are important in making you recognizable.
If you were to show a group of people the Apple logo, most would associate it with Apple the tech company and not a Red Delicious. The same goes for all of the major tech and consumer companies in the world: Facebook, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc.
If people see your name or logo and instantly know who you are, you’ve done a great job of creating the tangible aspects of your brand.
But it’s what people feel when they see your brand that matters.
Reading the company names we just mentioned probably triggered feelings and associations in you. These feelings are called brand associations; the stronger the brand association, the more likely a consumer will buy from you.
As companies, we don’t directly control these feelings. They’re intangible and personal to each individual. But we can indirectly influence them. In fact, everything we do influences how people feel, for better or worse.
This is where a good brand strategy comes in. It’s also why campaigns can’t ever be led by gimmicks.
“Today’s audiences can smell a gimmick. Sometimes, they uncover the baloney within the first line of your ad content. They are more aware of marketing gimmicks than ever before. And, these potential customers no longer tolerate false promises and astounding claims. Instead, consumers want transparency and honesty from brands.”
– Steve Olenski [via Forbes]
Brand strategy helps influence how people perceive your brand. It maps out where you’re headed and helps you work out what (and what not) to do. It carries you into every campaign knowing the message you need to get across and how to say it.
“A good definition of brand strategy is the considered intent for the positive role a company wants to play in the lives of the people it serves and the communities around it.”
– Neil Parker, Chief Strategy Officer at Co: Collective [via Branding Mag]
It also gives your brand the robust foundations to handle scrutiny and bounce back if ever you do get things wrong.
For example, when Nike made a shoe featuring the Besty Ross flag to commemorate the July Fourth holiday, it was a gimmick that went wrong. The company was immediately called out on the flag celebrating an era in U.S. history when slavery was legal and commonplace. Nike quickly recalled the product.
The campaign will have left a sour taste that negatively affects how some people view Nike. However, because the company’s brand strategy is rooted in empowering its audience and building community, it was able to apologize and move forward without significant loss.
Had this strategy not been in place, a misjudged shoe could have easily defined mass brand perception.
To generate long-term brand equity and trust, and maintain competitive advantage, every brand campaign should be influenced by a strategy that’s built on four principles:
Purpose is your reason for existing. It’s the answer to the question at the heart of Simon Sinek’s famous Golden Circle presentation: Why?
“Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result.
By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
Beyond being a successful, profitable business, what drives you? What sets you apart?
Answering these questions will help you define your purpose and separate you from the crowd so that your voice isn’t lost in the noise. It will give you that unique quality for people to attach themselves to and follow along with.
How do you want people to feel about you?
Apple positions itself as a brand that builds beautiful, innovative tech for innovative, imaginative, and creative people.
HubSpot positions itself as a company that builds tools to help businesses attract and engage customers.
Thrive Market is positioned as a provider of healthy food products for busy, eco-conscious shoppers.
If you’re unsure about where to position yourself, do some competitive analysis to identify gaps in the market and carve out your place.
Your brand promise talks to your employees, investors, partners, and customers. It lets people know what to expect.
McDonald’s brand promise is “to provide Simple Easy Enjoyment to every customer at every visit.”
Noirbnb promises to “create a safe space for POC to travel and discover new adventures.”
Your promise is the combination of your position, value, and proposition.
Position + Value + Proposition = Promise
It should be relevant to your audience and simply explain how you aim to help or inspire them.
Consistency is the look, feel, and sound of your brand at every touchpoint. All of your messaging should be cohesive so that it never waters down your brand or confuses your audience.
Why is this important?
Because consistency creates familiarity, which is crucial in onboarding customers.
71% of consumers say that it is very or somewhat important that they recognize a brand before making a purchase.
If we couple this with the “rule of seven” which states that it takes an average of seven interactions with your brand before a purchase will take place, it’s clear consumers will favor familiarity over the unknown.
Brand consistency is evident in every successful company.
Take Mailchimp. Its content style guide ensures branding campaigns have the same tone of voice across all marketing channels.
“Using offbeat humor and a conversational voice, we play with language to bring joy to their work. We prefer the subtle over the noisy, the wry over the farcical. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
“Whether people know what they need from us or don’t know the first thing about marketing, every word we say informs and encourages. We impart our expertise with clarity, empathy, and wit.”
You can see this in everything from its website:
To its social media:
Regardless of how or where you find Mailchimp online, the company’s branding always delivers a consistent perception of a company that aims to help small businesses “look pro and grow.”
Use your marketing strategy to ensure campaigns never dilute your brand perception.
Keeping these four principles in mind, let’s look at an example of a company using branding to stand out.
How Lemonade positions itself in a crowded market
Lemonade is an online insurance company offering low-cost renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.
From the name alone, you get a sense that the company is different. Lemonade couldn’t be further away from the likes of Berkshire Hathaway and Allstate Insurance. Those names sound corporate. Lemonade sounds, in the words of its CEO Daniel Schreiber, “juvenile.”
But it works, for a couple of reasons. First, as Bud Hennekes points out in breaking down the brand’s positioning:
“For many, the thought of lemonade brings back memories of a pleasant childhood experience or the refreshing sensation of cooling down after a hot summer day. Contrast that to how one feels when hearing the word ‘insurance.’ There’s quite a difference.”
Second, the company’s whole M.O. is about being contrarian.
“Traditional insurers often equate trustworthiness with financial strength, which they project by erecting monumental buildings that dominate the skyline.
“Skyscrapers weren’t within our budget, but in any event we believed such extravagance sends the wrong signal. People worry their insurer lacks the will to pay, not the means. So we established Lemonade as a Public Benefit Corporation, with a view to signaling something very different.” [via Lemonade]
Lemonade is for people who want a change from the norm:
“Lemonade isn’t simply slapping P2P technology atop existing insurance companies. Insurance has remained fundamentally unchanged for centuries, so an insurance product for today’s consumer required re-architecting every part of the value chain. We created Lemonade as a purpose-built, technology-first, vertically integrated and legacy-free insurance carrier.
“Insurance brands are some of the least loved and least trusted, and we came to understand that the cause is structural: every dollar your insurer pays you is a dollar less for their profits. Their interests, in other words, are profoundly conflicted with yours.
“Brands that make money by delighting their customers deserve to be loved; those that make money by disappointing customers are destined not to be. With Lemonade we’re hoping to deliver an insurance experience that is instantaneous, un-conflicted and downright lovable.” [via Lemonade]
Its name fits with the brand’s lovable intentions. As does its identity.
Rather than opt for stock imagery, Lemonade uses illustrations on its landing pages. These add to the laid-back, non-corporate feel of the brand and complement the fun name.
The tone of voice follows suit, delivering information in a light, conversational tone that carries through its website, blog posts, and social media content marketing.
It all helps towards Lemonade’s image as a transparent company that understands and relates to its audience.
Also prominent in its branding is the color pink.
Other than black and grey, pink is the only color Lemonade uses. And it uses it consistently, in its logo, across its website in images, text, and CTAs, and on social media.
Pink is drastically different from the palettes used by Lemonade’s competitors, helping them stand out. It’s also a color associated with calmness, love, and kindness. These are feelings you wouldn’t typically link to insurance, but they’re perfectly in tune with what Lemonade wants people to feel about its brand.
Its use of pink also became part of a branding campaign when Deutsche Telekom went to the courts to demand they ditch it, as Daniel Schreiber revealed in a blog post:
“So we decided to fight back, and filed to invalidate DT’s Magenta trademark – calling on anyone who wanted to join us to #FreeThePink. We also bought a bunch of swag from DT and T-Mobile, and Team Lemonade got decked out in “their” pink, emblazoned with their mission statement: “Life Is For Sharing.” Who can argue with that?”
“The response has been amazing: the largest publications in Germany covered the story prominently, as did the media across Europe and the US; several CEOs of companies from a bunch of industries and countries wrote to say Deutsche Telekom threatened them too, and encouraging us to stand firm; and people around the world came out in droves calling to #FreeThePink.”
Had Lemonade not been as consistent and committed to the use of the color, it’s unlikely the campaign would have carried the same weight.
For a final example of how Lemonade does things differently, take a look at the company’s Instagram feed.
Rather than using the platform to push its own content, the company puts the spotlight on its community, commissioning artists to create stories:
This is closely tied to the company’s Medium account, which promotes its #ConnectedByLemonade campaign.
This gives Lemonade an endless stream of engaging branded content (the color pink is a feature of each commission). It also adds to its perception as a company that cares about its audience.
There’s no selling going on here, just relationship building.
For existing customers, #ConnectedByLemonade brings them closer to the brand, increasing loyalty and making them more likely to purchase and recommend Lemonade to others.
For prospective customers, it acts as one more way to stay front of mind. When the time comes to purchase renters’ or homeowners’ insurance, where better to get it from than the cool brand on Instagram that’s passionate about the same things you are?
And if you’re wondering what kind of impact this branding had, three years after launch, Lemonade’s had welcomed over 18 million visitors to its website and sold over 1.2 million policies.
How to create a solid branding campaign
With strategy providing the backbone, a successful brand marketing campaign consists of three key ingredients:
3. Consistency (again)
1. Find the right fit
You need to think about this in two ways:
1. Audience fit
2. Platform and channel fit
Audience fit is much the same as product/market fit. If you already have a deep understanding of who your customers are and how they feel about your product, you’ll have a good idea of who your branding campaign needs to be aimed at.
But it pays to revisit your target audience demographics. Not so much to go back over buyer persona characteristics like age, location, job, income, and gender (although it’s worth checking if these remain relevant), but to look how your campaign will resonate with them.
- What do we have in common with our audience?
- How does our brand fit into their lives?
- What can they expect from us?
- What do we want them to feel about us?
Answering these questions will give you an understanding of what your common vision is and how you can build relationships with your audience moving forward.
Let’s look again at Noirbnb’s vision to create a safe space for POC to travel and discover new adventures.
Noirbnb shares a love of travel and the desire for POC to be able to travel safely with its audience.
It fits into their lives by allowing them to book safe places to stay or list their properties for other people to stay. Its branding is heavily focused on showcasing experiences and inspiring people to embark on their own adventures.
This makes travelers of color feel confident in Noirbnb as a company that caters for them in a way that Airbnb perhaps doesn’t.
2. Platform and channel fit
Platforms and channels are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there’s a clear distinction.
“Platforms are the foundation on which you can build your brand presence, such as the web, phone apps, social media, and gadgets.
“Channels serve as a more direct means of communication and include email, advertising, search engines, chatbots, phone, and more.” [via Digital Brand Blueprint]
The overall goal of your branding campaign is the same regardless of where the message is, but how you communicate it differs depending on the platform or channel.
For example, Lemonade’s Instagram artist commissions are perfectly suited to that platform. The Instagram audience is largely creative and receptive to images and videos.
Had Lemonade decided to approach Twitter in the same way, where the average lifespan of a tweet is 15 minutes, or the professional audience of LinkedIn, content marketing wouldn’t have had the same impact.
Instead, the company uses Twitter to share news and engage in direct conversations.
The tone of voice and pink theme is consistent, but the approach matches the audience.
Find out where your audience is. Then work out how they interact with the platform or channel.
This will involve some trial and error, especially early on. So be prepared to experiment and analyze results to get in tune.
Measure brand awareness metrics and KPIs success by analyzing:
- Share of voice
Also, pay close attention to sentiment to get an understanding of how consumers feel about your brand.
You can measure sentiment via:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS) Questionnaires
- In-app ratings
- Direct feedback (customer interviews)
- Social monitoring (comment velocity and tone, and reaction tone)
2. Focus on things that are important to you and your audience
Your brand is defined by the words you say and the actions you take. And while speaking up on potentially divisive issues isn’t always easy, staying silent isn’t an option.
Kantar research shows that 68% of consumers say they expect brands to be clear about their values and take a stand on them. And doing so earns trust.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer report shows that brands are far more likely to gain trust than lose it when they take action.
This is rewarded by loyalty, engagement, and advocacy.
“Loyalty: 75 percent of people with high brand trust say they will buy the brand’s product even if it isn’t the cheapest, it is the only brand of the product they’ll buy, and they will immediately check out a new product from that brand to purchase
Engagement: 60 percent of people with high brand trust say they’re comfortable sharing personal information with the brand, and they pay attention to the brand’s communications
Advocacy: 78 percent with high brand trust say they’ll likely share or repost content about the brand, they will recommend the brand to others, and they will defend the brand against criticism.” [via Edelman]
If an issue of social, political, or environmental importance matters to your employees, purpose, and audience, make it a visible part of your branding campaign.
Dropbox did this with its support for the Black Lives Matter movement, sharing an email from CEO Drew Houston with its community:
“…starting today, I’m making an additional pledge to match every donation made by a Dropboxer in June to the Black Lives Matter Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Urban League. This is in addition to the company matching program, so it means that your contribution will have triple the impact.”
“For those who can’t give right now, there is still much that can be done by getting involved with your local organizations. Even taking the time to hit pause, look inward, and reflect on your own thoughts and actions can be immensely impactful right now. To help you all find the time and space to do this, we’ll be holding a half day of reflection this Friday, June 5th. Please cancel your meetings after 12pm so that you have the afternoon to do whatever is most valuable to you — volunteering, reading, or taking a moment to process everything that’s happened over these past several weeks. We just ask that you make the best use of the time given your own thoughts and experiences.”
Tommy Hilfiger ran a branding campaign involving a partnership with learning platform, Future Learn to provide free digital learning courses covering topics including LGBTQ+ allyship and community building.
Pernod Ricard launched an #EngageResponsibly campaign with the Association of National Advertisers to fight against hate speech and misinformation on social media.
The campaign aims to give companies a tool to track and report hate speech and earn an “Anti-Hate Certification”.
In each example, brands have been led by purpose. They’ve also backed words with actions and empowered their communities.
Go back to the question of what do we have in common with our audience?
Look at how to use these shared values for social good.
3. Be consistent
We’ve covered consistency from an identity perspective (i.e visual and tone of voice consistency), but let’s go beyond that.
Consistency should be a feature of everything you do so that people know what to expect from you.
This means three things:
1. Posting regularly on social media
2. Engaging with your audience
3. Never setting and leaving a campaign
1. Posting on social media regularly
There’s no need to post multiple times a day or even every day if you don’t have the resources or it doesn’t make sense for your brand. Still, your audience should know you’re active.
For example, posting on Facebook six times in one week and following that up with two months of silence runs the risk of your audience perceiving you’re no longer active. Or worse, that you don’t care. It’s much better to post once a week over six weeks.
2. Engaging with customers
Prioritize customer engagement on every platform and channel linked to your campaign. This is important for brand satisfaction, as 64% of consumers say they want brands to connect with them.
It’s also crucial to the customer experience, with 78% of customers preferring to engage with brands on multiple channels.
To make sure you’re meeting customer needs and generating good feeling, consistently engage customers in three ways:
Responding to customer questions, queries, or feedback.
You can see this in practice on MailChimp’s Twitter feed.
With reactive customer engagement, it’s important to monitor your mentions and inbox closely.
Sprout Social research shows that 40% of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out on social media, while 79% expect a response in the first 24 hours.
On email, nearly half of all customers (46%) expect a response within four hours. 12% expect a response in 15 minutes or less.
The quicker you can react, the better.
This is all about delivering information and support before the customer has to ask. Forbes’ Brie Tascione has an example:
“Consider banking. The moment you open a checking account, a number of questions about your new account may arise. Instead of leaving you to navigate the bank’s website to find the information you need or telling you to call customer service (just to wait on hold), your bank immediately reaches out to share your account information, a link to activate mobile banking and answers to common questions, such as how to set up a direct deposit. You receive one personalized experience containing everything you need.”
This has nothing to do with brand (the name and visual stuff) and everything to do with branding.
By understanding your customers and delivering a seamless experience, you can create positive brand experiences that carry through to a customer’s friends, family, and followers via word of mouth.
Social engagement is less about where you engage customers with your digital marketing and more about how.
“Social customer engagement can happen not just on social media platforms, but across other channels such as online forums, customer review websites, crowdsourcing platforms, charity fun runs, roadshows, and trade events.
“Social engagement can be both, a mix of proactive and reactive types of customer engagement, depending on the context. If a customer initiates an engagement first, it’s reactive. When your brand does it first, it’s proactive.” [via RingCentral]
We’ve already seen how Lemonade and Mailchimp use a casual tone of voice and humor to engage their audiences on social media. But there are inspiring examples everywhere.
Like IKEA, which utilizes online chat and augmented reality so that customers can choose furniture without having to visit a store.
Or Netflix, which provides social engagement by using algorithms and audience analytics to recommend shows and movies based on their viewing history.
Each example shares two things in common:
1. Brands are open to listening to their customers and adapting
2. They provide a valuable reason to come back
3. Never setting and leaving a campaign
A branding campaign is a hands-on effort that needs to be measured, assessed, and tweaked as you go.
Keep a close eye on how your campaign is performing. Make sure it’s striking the right chord with the right people and hitting your targets.
A/B test ad campaigns and marketing campaign materials to see which customers most engage with.
Remember, you can’t directly control what people think about your brand, but your marketing efforts can indirectly influence it.
Consistently analyzing your campaigns will keep things moving in the right direction.
Jeff Bezos once said that “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
Think about that when creating your branding campaign. What impression do you want people to have of you? What do you want them to say about you to their friends and family? It’s this that will determine whether your branding and, ultimately, your business is a success.
Start by developing your strategy and build every campaign from that. Stand up for what you believe in and invest heavily in consistency. Be visible so that your customers know what to expect. That familiarity and reliability is what will keep them coming back.