15 actionable lessons to help you foster and grow a powerful corporate brand.
We all intellectually know it: corporate branding matters. But between securing financing and the daily business of actually running our startups, we often lose sight of what corporate brand actually entails – and how we can build it. So to refresh our collective memories, we’ve built a list of 15 things to keep in mind when considering your brand. Because a powerful corporate brand not only fosters loyalty and attracts talent, it bolsters your bottom line. In fact, 64% of consumers say that they’re likelier to trust a brand when they share the same values. But to build those long-lasting relationships with your customers, you have to figure out what those values are and make sure your audiences understand them. Worry not though, we’re here to help you comb out the tangled web of branding strategy, so you can keep moving towards growth.
1. Make your strategy comprehensive
“Just as it takes more than a hat to be a cowboy, it takes more than a designer prattling on about texture to make a brand.”
Branding goes far beyond the highly talked-about logo and color palette. A strategy for your brand identity should be all-encompassing, a thoughtful and intentional map of your company’s personality – or identity – and a breakdown of the culture that extends all the way from the C-suite to the customers. A brand strategy should include everything from mission, to design, and messaging. And we know, it sounds daunting, but this is the basic, foundational work that needs to happen to build a sustainable brand. You can’t circumvent it.
It’s been shown that consistent presentation of a brand increases revenue by 23% , but that consistency is about far more than standardized logo usage – it’s about consistency in stories, values, and behaviors. For more on how to structure that deep dive into your brand’s very core, check out our Abridged Branding Bible for Startups.
2. Talk to your team and customers
Though it’s easy to start chasing your tail in countless board meetings and marketing briefs, it’s important to remember that you already have nearly all of the qualitative data you need within your organization’s immediate ecosystem. You simply have to get out there and start asking the right questions.
Start with your team. Craft a survey and coordinate roundtables to get a sense of what connects your employees to your company – why they choose to come to your office every morning and what connects them to your mission. By carefully looking into the feedback you get, we’re willing to bet you’ll find unforeseen insight and guidance in how to position your brand.
Next: your customers. The people who love your company probably have a better idea of its current brand identity than your marketing team, and it’s only by collecting samples of this data that you can start to get more visibility on the way your brand is perceived. With that baseline, you’ll be able to evaluate and iterated until you gradually see your corporate brand align with your strategy. We also recommend interviewing other stakeholders such as a board of directors, investors, and whomever else is essential to your company’s story. But in the end, don’t forget: your customers are still the ones with the keys to your growth.
Have a bit of budget to invest in monitoring and maintaining your company’s brand? We recommend exploring sentiment analysis tools and technology like Keatext. By leveraging AI and highly trained algorithms to process and analyze unstructured qualitative data, these text analytics platforms can provide real-time insight into what people truly feel about your brand,
3. Make the strategy unique and memorable
There are plenty of templates and models for corporate branding out there, and while they can serve as a structural foundation, it’s important to create a strategy that specifically addresses your product, your market, your team and most importantly – your story. In many ways, self-branding is akin to personifying your brand or giving it a personality, a backstory, a belief system. And no matter how you grow and evolve as a brand, you want to make sure that persona is someone you still like. The intentional personalization of your brand strategy is what will make your brand identity feel personal and genuine to your stakeholders. And trust us, consumers will take notice too.
4. Don’t be afraid of new tech
It’s hard to speak of the importance of the internet and digital space without sounding terribly contrived, but here we are. A respectable website is now a requirement for any credible company, and the standards for what constitutes a respectable website are rising daily. Whereas a simple landing page used to suffice for most companies outside of the e-commerce space, now most are finding that complex site structures or multiple landing pages are necessary to meet their customer’s needs and expectations.
With those new complexities also come great new innovations, and understanding them as opportunities could be your leg up in building a powerful, proactive corporate brand. When it comes to monitoring and fostering a positive corporate culture, many have turned to HR sophisticated software solutions like Bamboo HR. Some companies are also using text messaging platforms to connect more informally and quickly with their audiences; sending them quick one-question text-back surveys to keep the pulse on sentiment and engagement, or timely reminders of appointments.
Heck, if your company is growing quickly or multiplying its user touchpoints, there may even be value in having a corporate app. Whatever it may be, be sure to stay curious and open-minded about what’s coming next. Being ahead of the game could serve as the ace up your sleeve, and ignoring new opportunities could mean your competitors get there first.
5. Keep CEOs actively involved and invested
We get it: as a CEO, you’ve got a lot on your plate. But trust us, this is one thing you do not want to let someone else ‘take care of.’ As the captain of the ship, the branding strategy is an opportunity to really steer the company from the outside in. Start with your story.
- Why was the company started?
- Where did you struggle or pivot?
- Where are you hoping to lead it?
- What is unique about you and your team?
- Why should people know and remember your product or services?
That brand story and identity must be implemented from the top, and as a CEO, you should be passionate about your company’s brand. I mean ... if you can’t be bothered, who will?
Want to find out more about identifying your brand story and asking the right questions? Check out our Ultimate Startup Guide to Brand Awareness, we cover it extensively!
6. Put your company’s vision at the center of all branding activities.
The company’s vision is your internal compass, and needs to be well-defined before fully diving into your branding process. With that compass well calibrated across your whole organization, your management has a clear guideline to align marketing, sales, development, and personnel strategies. A well storied and articulated vision also trickles down; bringing an extra layer of motivation and intention to every interaction your team has with audiences and customers.
7. Find an agency or dedicated in-house strategist you can trust
As you may have noticed, branding is both serious science, and a wildly unpredictable artform. Finding an agency that truly understands what drives you, your team, your vision, and your product is a must-have before kicking off any branding or rebranding campaign. Whether you’re supplementing an in-house marketing team or bringing on an agency to take care of the whole process, make sure you have all the skills you’ll need on hand before you dive in. This includes having a project manager, designer, copywriter, researcher, and strategist ready to create and implement your strategy and respond to feedback as you evolve. If you decide to stick to a purely in-house approach, make sure you’re setting aside proper time and resources for your team to truly dedicate their creative time and energy to this project. What we’ve seen is that too often, as other projects or client work are added on to the internal team plate, corporate branding tends to fall by the wayside.
8. Control the messaging to foster consistency
Your audiences need you to communicate your value proposition, and they need to recognize its essence in every element of your brand’s voice, tone and messaging. That’s why we highly recommend creating guidelines and editorial structures that can be shared and understood with all of your stakeholders. We call them brand identity systems, and we dive deeper into what they’re made of in our Abridged Branding Bible for Startups.
“A brand’s identity can only be shared and flourish on a foundation of well-communicated and well-documented brand stories, values and attributes. That’s where a brand identity system comes into play.“
These are the tools that will help your entire ecosystem seamlessly align the design and content of digital experiences, printed ads, written media, and brick-and-mortar locations.
9. Consistently create high-quality content
Speaking of continuity, you should aim to always maintain a high bar across all facets of your brand, including your digital content. If digital content is a big arm of your marketing strategy, make sure it lives up to the brand standards. 80% of people cite “authenticity of content” as the main deciding factor in whether or not they’ll follow a brand, and 45% of consumers say they will unfollow a brand if their activity is dominated by self-promotion. That’s why bringing added value to your customers and audiences through high-quality content is vital.
In fact, we believe in it so strongly, that we partnered up with a great sister agency that focuses explicitly on content quality: Content Cartel. Never under-estimate your audiences. Customers pick up on the subtleties of their interactions with you, and every touch point is an opportunity to engage in conversation, demonstrate your value proposition or disappoint – so use it wisely
10. Create a customer experience that fits
Every day, 2.1 million negative social media mentions about brands are generated in the U.S. alone. As we’ve already noted, brand identity doesn’t stop at graphics and copy. From the customer’s perspective, their direct experience with your product or service is a large part of how they understand and perceive you. So once your brand is starting to take form internally, it’s time to take inventory of your customer feedback and turn it into a tangible action plan that translates ideas into experiences. Whether it’s by re-committing to stellar customer service, focusing on the ease of use of your products or services, or reinforcing another unique value proposition, implementing changes to your customer’s experience will solidify and validate the promises you’ve baked into your very brand.
11. Turn employees into ambassadors
Your employees have the potential to work double-time as your brand ambassadors when they truly believe in your company’s vision and identity. By inspiring employees inside and outside of their work duties, your company has the power to activate an entire ecosystem of valuable marketing leverage and visibility. Keep your employees engaged organically with your corporate brand by giving them a voice, holding all-in meetings to update them on latest developments and challenges, making them part of your social media landscape and giving them the tools they need to promote and amplify your brand. When employees sincerely believe in what they’re doing and are given the opportunity to shine, customers are likelier to view your identity as sincere and human-centric.
12. Define and track your KPIs from day one
Your brand needs to perform for you, and the only way to make sure that’s happening is by keeping an eye on the right numbers. The stats that you track will necessarily change over time as your business grows and your strategies change, so be sure to constantly question and adjust your approach. What key performance indicators are most important for your company right now? How will they evolve along with your new brand strategy? To keep faith in your brand identity, try creating an internal brand scorecard with all of the elements that matter most to you. Perhaps you could turn it into a weekly or bi-monthly report? And if it’s not looking good at first…
13. Don’t get discouraged - find insight in bad stats
As Aaliyah would say: if at first, you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again. Instead of seeing low KPI numbers as pure failures, try to seem them as indicators and signposts. Since online conversions are often built upon a whole funnel of touch points, try to evaluate whether a single interaction has failed, or whether the entire funnel is weakened. That analysis is where an experienced team of strategists comes in handy. Once you know where your weak points lie, we know where to start working in order to boost your results and solidify your entire funnel. One bad number could spell disaster, but it also means that targeting that one interaction with an effective strategy could quickly and exponentially increase conversions.
14. Prepare to adjust course and optimize as you go
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your perfect brand be a one-push effort. If you expect your branding strategy to be set in stone and shelved for the next decade, you’re in for a treat. You’re also not setting yourself up for strategy optimization, which means you’re missing out on opportunities to bolster results and revenue. Once you’ve got an initial brand strategy set up, keep testing your KPIs regularly and adjusting accordingly. This system maintenance and optimization should be built into your regular practice in order to keep your brand relevant and up-to-snuff.
15. Keep looking ahead
It goes without saying: your brand needs to grow alongside your company. Rest assured – results may be slow at first, but once you get the ball rolling, growth will happen exponentially. It takes 5-7 brand impressions before someone remembers your brand, so depending on the purchasing journey you’ve laid out, it could take weeks to start seeing proper results. But as you start seeing an increase in your ROI, resist the urge to settle back and be self-congratulatory; raise your performance standards and expectations accordingly. Just as we go through our own personal changes and growth, we choose which aspects of companies to nurture and grow, and which to leave behind. As you evolve, think ahead about how your branding, messaging, and experience will adjust, while always staying true to the voice and vision that have guided you since day one.