“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.
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4. Focus on your ideal customer.
“You can’t please everyone.” David Tyreman highlighted this maxim in his 2019 BOUNDLESS presentation, and it’s something that’s very important to keep in mind when building a brand.
As Tyreman explains, successful branding is all about defining “what makes you most unique and valuable to the chosen market that you wish to do business with.” If your product is no different from your competition—or if the target market is “everybody”—then it’s merely a commodity and your company is just a vendor. And, as Tyreman likes to quip, “vending is for machines.”
Branding is all about differentiation, so design a unique brand DNA that aligns with a specific buyer profile, and you’ll attract a strong and loyal customer base.
5. Create community.
Having a sense of belonging is a fundamental human desire. To build a successful brand, a company should create a feeling of community for its customers (and employees too!). How far a company wants to take this will depend on its brand DNA and the type of product or service it sells.
Not every company needs to necessarily aim for a cult-like following. The goal is simply to promote authentic and positive feelings of belonging. Friendly customer support, an active social media presence, personalized emails, a newsletter, and a blog are all great ways to help customers feel connected. (For an example of a company that does these things extremely well, check out Zappos; they even include cultivating a “family spirit” as one of their core company values.)
Whatever community-building strategies you decide to employ, make sure they’re informed by your brand DNA so that they’re consistent with the rest of your company’s activities and messaging.
6. Harness the power of storytelling.
Not only do people love stories, they also tend to remember them better than a list of facts or statistics. Storytelling is a powerful way to connect to customers and to humanize a company, which, in turn, helps boost a sense of community (see principle #5).
People remember stories 75% of the time. People remember facts and stats less than 1% of the time.Ryan Dohrn
Successful brands often use storytelling in multiple ways—to tell their company history, to describe their operations, and to share their customers’ experiences. If you want to explore several detailed examples of great brand storytelling, check out this excellent article by Sujan Patel.
7. Incorporate elements of delight and whimsy.
Don’t underestimate the impact a bit of fun can have on your customers. At his previous company, Propaganda, Tyreman incorporated humor in a number of ways. In order to get his clients to pay their bills promptly, he created custom audio invoice cards. When opening the invoices, his clients were greeted with the booming voice of Igor (a Propaganda employee) saying in his thick Ukrainian accent: “You must pay this bill today!”
People loved it—and they paid their invoices much more quickly. Tyreman also designed custom shipping boxes with pictures of himself and his co-founder and silly messages on them—including a number for people to call if they liked the box.
Zappos did a similar thing with its #imnotabox campaign; they printed the interiors of a select number of boxes with templates that could be used to create various cardboard crafts, such as an iPhone stand, a 3D llama, and a planter. Google’s doodles—custom illustrations that surround the search bar on special dates and events—are another great example of seamlessly incorporating whimsy into a brand.
Here at Nutshell, our engineers created a hidden squirrel in our iOS app that appears when you shake your phone; it’s a bit of silliness that customers (and employees) love. While these details may seem small, they bring joy to people’s day and help make your company more memorable.
Branding for Sales: The Bottom Line
If you want to improve your company’s performance and make your sales team’s job easier, invest in your brand. We’ve given you seven principles for successful branding—develop a brand DNA, prioritize quality, be honest and transparent, focus on your ideal customer, create community, harness the power of storytelling, and have some fun. The first principle—creating your brand’s DNA—is the most critical since it provides the map that will inform all of your company’s decisions and help your brand grow naturally from the inside out.
“Once you figure out the DNA,” says Klopp, “then you just repeat it and consistently put that out there [and] people who like what you’re doing will collect to you.” Consistency is key to successful branding, and having a brand DNA—a guiding blueprint—ensures you will achieve it.
As your branding replicates across your company’s various activities, it will continue to strengthen. “Brands are like coral,” Klopp likes to say. “They grow over time. You don’t see them growing. They become very complex. If they’re really developed and really consistent, at some point you reach critical mass: they’re so unique you have a monopoly and nobody can compete with you.”