“The reality is, the greatest companies in the world don’t sell. They brand.”—Gary Vaynerchuk
At its core, a brand is simply a company’s identity. And branding is the intentional process by which an identity is created, communicated, and, ideally, embodied.
While branding is definitely a long game, it can eventually become the primary driver of a company’s success. In fact, as GaryVee points out, when it’s done right, branding essentially does the selling for you.
Great brands lead people to make more purchases at higher price points and with less deliberation. They also create loyal followers who tend to share their enthusiasm with others. In other words, successful branding is a salesperson’s dream come true. (High-quality leads galore!)
In a study of 1,800 brands, Havas Group found that those that were the most “meaningful” (Havas’s proprietary metric of brand strength) scored much higher on a variety of KPIs, including repurchase intent and premium pricing, than those that were the least meaningful. They also found that the most meaningful brands outperformed the stock market by a whopping 134 percent.
But perhaps the most shocking finding of Havas’s study was that consumers wouldn’t care if 77 percent of brands disappeared. What this means is that the majority of companies are falling way short when it comes to their branding efforts and have some serious work to do in terms of justifying their existence. With that in mind, here are seven principles of great branding that can give your sales organization the edge among your competitors:
1. Brand from the inside out.
Some people think a brand is just a logo and a tagline, but a brand actually encompasses all parts of a company. As Millward Brown Chief Global Analyst Nigel Hollis points out, “The person on the street makes no distinction between marketing, production, sales, or customer service—those distinctions are reserved for the business world alone. To the individual consumer, these are simply different aspects of the same brand.”
What this means is that branding needs to pervade every part of a company, and the best way to to achieve this is to create a brand DNA—a foundational identity that informs everything a company does. Branding expert David Tyreman recommends that companies focus on getting really clear about their values and the personality they want their brand to express. “We have to understand who we are and we have to own it,” he says. “We have to deliver it so that the customer's experience is consistent with what we stand for.”
This is the approach that entrepreneur and investor Hap Klopp took when he founded The North Face in 1968. He chose three words to encapsulate his brand’s DNA (disruption, quality, and triple bottom line) and then pursued them with a “laser-like” focus, making sure they were incorporated in every touchpoint of the business—both within the company and in the marketplace.
2. Make quality a priority.
No amount of fancy visuals, quip-worthy taglines, or high-profile influencers can make up for a sub-par product or service. In an age of near-instant informational access and the wildfire effect of social media, there is virtually no way and nowhere to hide. And investing in quality is well worth the effort since it leads to happy, loyal customers. In fact, research shows that quality is the most important factor in brand loyalty for both men and women.
Quality was so important to Klopp when he founded The North Face that he chose it as one of the three words of his brand’s DNA (and he put his money where his mouth was by offering a lifetime warranty on all North Face products). Today, that dedication to quality is the primary contributor to The North Face's brand strength, according to a study by Prophet, which ranked the company number 23 on its list of the top 50 brands in the U.S.
3. Be honest and transparent.
Trust is foundational to a strong brand. As we just mentioned, in an age of unprecedented informational access, it’s easier than ever for a consumer to call your bluff. Fostering a company culture of transparency and honesty will help build the trust you need to both attract and keep customers.
According to a survey conducted by Label Insight, 73 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to pay more for a product that was completely transparent (ingredients, sourcing, etc.). A McKinsey study of B2B business practices found that purchasers based their buying decisions primarily on two things: a company’s honesty and its expertise. Yet interestingly, the study also noted that companies weren’t focusing their brand messaging on either of these areas. As a result, McKinsey suggested “fact-based business branding” as a way for companies to cater to potential B2B customers.
This strategy seems obvious, yet McKinsey’s study clearly showed companies weren’t doing it. (In their language: “To put it gently, there is room for improvement.”) If you follow branding principle #2—having a high-quality product—a fact-based marketing strategy should be enormously successful.