It’s hard to overstate the value of a strong brand. Beyond its immediate impact on your bottom line, strengthening your brand maximizes its value over the long run. A strong brand will always command a higher multiple when it comes time to sell your company.
The problem is, few managers are able to step back and objectively assess their brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Most company leaders would be hard pressed to identify even the factors they should consider. The rigors of day-to-day business management make it easy to overlook these higher-level metrics.
In what follows, we’ll look at 10 attributes shared by the world’s most effective brands. Think of this as your Brand Report Card, a simple way for you to score your brand on what should be its most important characteristics.
Score your response to each question on the following scale:
1. Do you have a well-defined brand compass?
A world-class brand starts with a well-defined brand compass. A summary of the most fundamental truths about your brand, the brand compass articulates the direction your brand is headed and why.
A well-defined brand compass serves as the foundation for successful brand-building initiatives, ensuring consistent messaging and identity across all touchpoints. Its components represent a cross-section of the most profound truths about your brand.
A well-defined brand compass should include:
- Purpose: The reason your company exists beyond making a profit.
- Vision: The ideal world your brand hopes to bring about.
- Mission: What you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, whom you’re doing it for, and why you’re going to do it.
- Values: The principles on which your company culture is founded.
- Objectives: The tangible business goals you plan to achieve. They ground the loftier and more abstract language of your purpose, vision, and mission.
2. Do you know your target audience?
I mean really know them. Who are they? What are their challenges? Why do they buy from your company? Time and again, we find that companies who are convinced they know their customers are, in fact, woefully misaligned with regards to their perceptions. And that, to put it mildly, is a problem.
If you don’t understand the specific needs of your customers, then your messaging will always be suboptimal. You will forever be missing a valuable opportunity to connect with those you serve in a genuine and powerful way.
Understanding your customers is as easy as asking them. It starts with the basics. Do you know the following information for your target audience segments?
- Education Level
- Job Title
- Income Level
- Company Size
- Favorite Websites
- Top Goals
- Greatest Challenges
- Buying Motivation
3. Is your brand differentiated from the competition?
The strongest brands occupy distinct niches in their customers’ minds. They are differentiated from the competition in clearly identifiable ways. One of the most immediate points of differentiation is brand personality.
Brand personality is the unique spectrum of thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns that are intrinsic to a brand. Its personality includes a brand’s most individualistic traits. It is what makes Apple the chic, minimalist auteur, or REI the rugged, pioneering outdoorsman.
A brand’s personality is the reason it is identifiable to its customers and the basis for the highly personal relationships they form with it. A brand that is well differentiated from its competition has a personality that is:
- Human: It speaks to its audience in a natural, identifiable voice.
- Engaging: It relates important information in an interesting, compelling fashion.
- Recognizable: It is distinguished from other voices and identifiable in its uniqueness.
- Authentic: It is born from a brand’s purpose and values.
- Cohesive: It exists throughout a unified brand narrative.
- Consistent: It is the same personality regardless of touchpoint.
4. Do your employees understand your brand?
It’s essential that your employees understand what your brand stands for and what is expected of them as brand ambassadors. When your employees don’t understand your brand’s values, positioning and promise, it translates into a confusing brand experience for your customers. Your employees are literally the face of your brand, after all.
All too often, executives underestimate how much the effectiveness of a brand’s strategy depends on internal alignment. The good news is that because so many brands are misaligned, internal brand alignment represents a huge opportunity for competitive differentiation.
Go ask these 5 questions to any (or all) of your employees. Their answers will give you a barometer on how well they truly understand your brand:
- What is our organization’s purpose, mission, vision, and values?
- What is our brand promise?
- How would you describe our business in one sentence?
- Who is our target audience?
- How are we different from our competitors?
5. Is your brand relevant?
When it comes to branding, relevance can feel like a fickle pursuit. The problem is too many brands confuse staying abreast of trends with relevance. Nothing can cause your brand to lose focus more quickly than the relentless pursuit of trends.
Relevance is not the same as trendiness. A brand is relevant when it fulfills the needs of its target audience. The minute your products or services no longer do that is the minute you’re no longer needed by your customers. In mistaking trendiness for relevance, too many brands lose sight of who they serve and why.
By remaining focused on your target audience—that ideal customer with a distinct need for your unique product or service—you’ll always be relevant, and in the process outlast the ebb and flow of ephemeral trends.
Some questions to ask when evaluating your brand’s relevance include the following:
- Are you relentlessly customer-centric? Everything you bring to market should be designed to meet the needs of your target audiences. This includes needs that customers might not yet be aware of.
- Are you focused on experience? Focusing on customers means focusing on how people experience your brand. Every touchpoint counts.
- Do you remember what makes your brand different? Jumping on a bandwagon will always be only a short-term fix. You have to adapt in ways that play to your strengths and emphasize your brand’s differentiation.
- Are your decisions aligned with your purpose? Always ensure the paths you pursue are true to your brand. Inauthentic attempts at staying relevant never work.
6. Is your brand consistent?
When it comes to strong brands, consistency is key. Your messaging should be born out of purpose every time your customers hear it. Your target audience should feel engaged every time they interact with your brand. You should be continually focused on the unique value proposition that makes you the best at what you do. And, of course, you should strive to deliver on your brand’s promise every chance you get.
Consistency breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds trust, and trust is where loyalty begins. Consistency has multiple dimensions occurring over multiple touchpoints. Each dimension should be faithfully repeated and recognizable across every touchpoint.
How does the consistency of your brand hold up when it comes to the following dimensions and touchpoints?
- Visual Identity
- Voice and Messaging
- Market Positioning
- Social Media
7. Does your brand architecture make sense?
Brand architecture is the clearly defined configuration of services or products within a brand. Effective architecture brings a brand’s full range of services into focus. By adopting a distinct and logical brand architecture, you can better cross-promote your services, and, more importantly, assert some control over the way your customers perceive your brand.
Brand architecture is an integrated system of names, symbols, colors, and visual vocabulary that caters directly to your customer’s thought process. The best brand architecture is built on a solid foundation of research into customer awareness, preference, and experience. Research enables you to know how your brand performs across different demographics and geographic areas. Only with research can you be aware of how and why your customers are making decisions.
In evaluating your brand architecture, start by asking the following questions:
- Are your products and/or services arranged in a simple, intuitive way?
- Are customers aware of the complete breadth of your products and/or services?
- Do your products and/or services effectively cross-promote each other?
- Does your brand’s extended identity system, including naming conventions, colors, and symbol placement, align with your overarching brand strategy.
8. Is your marketing effective?
When your brand is cohesive and well-articulated, your marketing initiatives will be too. Branding encompasses the foundational elements of marketing: visual identity, key messaging, brand personality, and competitive advantage.
Thorough brand strategy, including customer research, allows you to develop targeted marketing campaigns that are highly relevant to your most valuable customer segments. A bold identity makes every marketing touchpoint more engaging, and the guidelines that emerge from branding ensure the consistent execution of your brand.
By measuring the effectiveness of your marketing, then, you are by extension measuring the effectiveness of your brand. Any number of key performance indicators (KPIs) can give you an informed measurement of your marketing’s effectiveness. The following four are some of the most important:
Cost per Lead: Cost per Lead measures the cost-effectiveness of marketing campaigns. This metric focuses entirely on the leads generated by a campaign. Cost per lead does not factor in the relative quality of a lead, however.
Return on Investment: Return on Investment measures the sales revenue a campaign brings on every dollar spent. This is the best KPI to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns because it also measures the quality of leads these campaigns generate.
Customer Lifetime Value: Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is one of the most important metrics to measure because it can predict the future success of your brand. There are different ways to calculate CLV, but a simple equation measures:
- Average Order Value: average amount of money a customer spends on every order. Average Order Value = Total Sales / Order Count
- Purchase Frequency: average number of orders placed by each customer. Purchase Frequency = Total Orders / Total Customers
- Customer Value: average monetary value that each customer brings to your business during a timeframe. Customer Value = Average Order Value x Purchase Frequency
Revenue Growth: At the end of the day, the best way to judge your marketing’s success is by measuring your growth in sales revenue.
9. Does your visual identity capture your brand’s essence?
Your brand’s visual identity is more than just its logo. It includes elements like color, photography, and typography. An effective identity should be a unified system inspired by one or more of your brand’s defining characteristics.
An increasingly digital-only media landscape has empowered brand identities like never before. Your identity can now be multifaceted and dynamic—even incorporate movement or change as an ownable, differentiating aspect like colors or typeface. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your identity effectively captures the authentic essence of your brand.
Some essential elements to consider when evaluating your brand’s identity include:
- Logo: Is it a strong, contemporary mark that resonates with your brand’s audience?
- Color: Does your identity feature colors that best represent your brand’s personality?
- Photography: Does the imagery featured on your website and in your collateral capture the authentic spirit of your brand?
- Typography: Do the fonts and styling in your identity, website and collateral comprise a cohesive system consistent with your brand personality?
- Layout: Does the arrangement of information produce a balanced look and feel across creative solutions?
10. Is your brand well-maintained?
Even the strongest brands require vigilant maintenance and ongoing development. You should never grow complacent or rest on your laurels when it comes to moving your brand forward. A brand, after all, is a living, dynamic entity that requires continual maintenance to survive. This is achieved with ongoing customer research and regularly scheduled brand audits.
A brand audit is a detailed analysis of the current state of your brand and its position in the marketplace. This analysis is designed to give you an understanding of what’s currently going right with your brand. And, more importantly, what’s going wrong. With this understanding in hand, you can create an action plan to address your brand’s critical issues.
The following are a few signs that you’ve been slipping on brand maintenance:
- You find yourself reading your latest blog posts, email blasts, or social media content and wondering if what you’re saying even makes sense anymore.
- You feel like you’ve moved too far away from what your business was about when you started.
- Your business has evolved since your last rebrand, and your visual and verbal messaging is no longer relevant.
- You continue to add to an expanding list of products and/or services.
- Your website traffic continues to grow but you aren’t converting that traffic into sales.
Grade Your Score
So, how did you do? If you’re feeling like the student who’s terrified to show his report card to his parents, don’t panic. The fact is, most brands score terribly on these attributes. Which is baffling, because each one is not that difficult to correct. It just takes a little time and effort, as well as commitment on behalf of decision-makers. It’s important that leadership understand the value of your company’s brand if you hope to fundamentally improve its performance.