Brand attributes are a foundational component to any successful brand. Look no further than world’s most successful brands to see why:
IBM is intelligent.
Helpful? That’s Google, here to lend a hand.
And when we say American Express, you probably think premium.
Attributes like these shape the way companies are perceived—by their customers, their employees, and the world at large.
If you’re launching a new brand, reviving an old one, or simply repositioning to keep pace with a shifting landscape, brand attributes are one of the most essential tools in your arsenal.
In what follows we take a deep dive into all things brand attributes, including how you can leverage these powerful branding tools to boost your business’s performance.
- What are Brand Attributes?
- Why Do Brand Attributes Matter?
- Brand Attributes List
- How to Define (and Implement) Your Brand Attributes
- Brand Attributes Examples
- The Takeaway
What are Brand Attributes?
Brand attributes are the highest-order traits that define a brand. Also known as brand characteristics or marketing attributes, brand attributes are those qualities most readily associated with a brand.
One of Nike’s defining attributes, for example, is empowering. Happy? That would be Coca-Cola.
An integral part of brand strategy, brand attributes don’t simply build recognition or memorability. When clearly articulated and consistently applied, they spark emotion in customers, which can lead to deep and lasting connections with your brand.
Why Do Brand Attributes Matter?
The power of brand attributes lies in their capacity to redefine how your business is perceived by key target audiences. That’s because these sets of characteristics don’t exist in a vacuum. They impact foundational components of your brand, including positioning, visual and verbal identity, and even brand equity.
Let’s take a closer look at how brand attributes can have a measurable impact on the performance of your brand—and your business.
Strengthen Brand Positioning
Brand positioning is the unique space your brand occupies in the marketplace—as well as in the minds of your customers. It’s the cross-section of ways that your business is perceived as distinct.
Brand attributes play an important role in defining positioning by articulating the fundamental characteristics of your brand—including how you set yourself apart from the competition.
Think of General Electric. GE has owned attributes like innovation and imagination since its earliest days—and these traits have remained constant throughlines across the various articulations of its positioning, whether it was “bringing good things to life,” putting “imagination to work,” or, since 2020, “building a world that works.”
No matter the tagline, GE’s indelible and immutable attributes have been driving forces—helping to define its positioning along the way.
Shape Visual and Verbal Identity
Attributes are also foundational to brand personality, which defines the look and feel of your brand’s visual and verbal identities.
Consider a luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz. Known for its prestigious and superior brand attributes, Mercedes has cultivated a visual identity that is nothing if not sleek and streamlined. Its verbal identity, in turn, is elevated and authoritative.
Each of these branding decisions is informed by the brand’s key attributes. The brand experience brings prestige and superiority to life by way of evocative imagery and messaging.
Build Brand Equity
Take the classic Starbucks versus Dunkin’ match-up, for instance. Starbucks continues to significantly outperform Dunkin’. And while it does have a significantly larger footprint than the latter, a big part of its success comes from the brand equity it has built by leveraging attributes like inviting and sophisticated—both qualities that Dunkin’ decidedly lacks.
Even though both businesses sell comparable products, Starbucks’ brand attributes have enabled it to build a level of brand equity that justifies it charging a premium for its offerings.
Brand Attributes List
As we’ve seen, every brand needs its own set of unique attributes to help shape its strategic platform. But if you’re looking to define your own set of attributes, it can help to start with a selection of commonly used ideas.
The following list includes a cross-section of some of the most resonant—and relevant—brand attributes used by B2C and B2B brand today.
In today’s hyper-commoditized world, true quality can be hard to come by. That’s why companies so often highlight quality and performance when defining their brand attributes.
It’s important to note that high-quality doesn’t have to mean expensive. To be sure, the majority of luxury brands claim quality as among their defining characteristics, but delivering a top-tier product or service doesn’t necessarily entail an off-the-charts price point.
Brands that embody high-quality: Tiffany and Co., Warby Parker, Lululemon, Adobe
“What’s next?” Some of the world’s most iconic brands are driven by this question—so much so that it becomes a central attribute that defines their brand experience.
From releasing fresh product iterations to defining entirely new industries, brands that stake a claim to innovation are those with their gazes fixed permanently on the horizon.
Brands that embody innovation: Tesla, Uber, Netflix, Impossible Foods, Salesforce
In today’s socially and environmentally conscious zeitgeist, sustainability doesn’t just resonate deeply with the moral compasses of audiences—it can also drive their purchasing behavior.
Businesses that tout sustainable as among their attributes take an earth-friendly approach to everything from their visual and verbal identities to their real-world business practices.
Brands that embody sustainability: Patagonia, TOMS, Allbirds
Customers can count on you. You’re in their corner, by their side, and always following through. Being dependable doesn’t only create positive associations among customers, it also helps to build trust—and, ultimately, brand loyalty.
As with any effective brand attribute, to fully embrace the quality of dependability, a brand has to “walk the walk.” That means investing in customer service and prioritizing responsiveness.
Brands that embody dependability: Zappos, Amazon, Trader Joe’s
More and more, consumers want to feel a deeper connection to the brands they’re buying. They’re looking for companies who are honest, genuine, and empathetic.
Whether it’s by delivering transparency in the marketplace, putting themselves in the shoes of customers via user-centric designs, or speaking in a human voice, companies that emphasize authenticity as one of their top attributes cultivate highly relatable brand experiences.
Brands that embody authenticity: Nike, TD Bank, JetBlue
How to Define (and Implement) Your Brand Attributes
Now that you have a sense of the types of characteristics that brand attributes can include, it’s time to get down to the business of defining attributes for your own brand.
The following steps will help you define the right attributes for your brand—as well as implement them across your brand experience.
1. Conduct Research
Creating brand attributes isn’t just about throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks. Like most branding initiatives, research is a critical component of the project. This includes both internal brand research and customer research to better understand brand perceptions.
Internally, interviews and surveys among your staff and other internal stakeholders (think board members and strategic partners) are the best way to assess how your brand is perceived from the inside out.
Externally, customer interviews and surveys give you the tools to better understand existing customer perceptions. Based on the data you collect, you may decide to lean into certain attributes or define attributes that counter misperceptions.
Finally, a competitive brand audit is a great way to survey the competitive landscape to get a better idea of which attributes your competitors are already laying claim to (with the goal of competitive differentiation in mind).
2. Determine Your Attributes
Once you have the proverbial lay of the land, it’s time to build your unique set of attributes.
Ask yourself: What types of qualities and characteristics were mentioned most in your internal and external research? Where was the overlap? Are there any attributes you feel were missing?
Use these insights to build a long list of potential candidates, and then workshop the list among key internal stakeholders with the aim of whittling it down to 3 to 5 attributes.
Have workshop attendees write their top contenders on post-it notes, put them all up on a board, and see which ones have the most votes. Group the outliers by category and try to come to a consensus on a final selection.
Listen. Learn. Iterate. Repeat. The branding process isn’t always a straight line, but, ultimately, it will lead to the right results.
Remember: Attributes exist at the intersection of your customer perceptions, your employer brand, and the competitive landscape. And while they should be future-minded, they should not be overly aspirational. Credibility is key—if you’re going to hang your brand’s entire hat on a few words, after all, they have to be believable.
3. Apply Your Attributes to Your Brand Identity
After you’ve nailed down your final 3 to 5 attributes, the real fun begins: weaving them into your brand framework, starting with your brand identity.
Remember, visual and verbal identity is where your brand attributes come to life. At the end of the day, your brand’s look-and-feel should be in lockstep with its attributes—and vice versa. Powerful branding is all about consistency, after all.
For example, if confident is one of your key attributes, your visual identity will likely incorporate bold colors and typography, while your brand messaging might take the form of short, authoritative statements.
Brand Attributes Examples
We’ve seen popular examples of brand attributes throughout the above sections. But it often helps to take a closer look at how the world’s most successful companies use branding to boost their business’s performance.
The following brand attributes examples illustrate just how effectively a distinct set of characteristics can amplify a brand.
Apple: Innovative, Elevated, and Effortless
Apple is a perennial game changer—inventing products that have revolutionized entire industries and pioneering designs that have changed the way we think about technology.
Apple has consistently reinforced this positioning through its innovative, elevated, and effortless attributes, which shine through in famous taglines like “Think Different,” arresting advertisements displaying the power of images “Shot on iPhone,” and products that have clean interfaces and streamlined physical forms. (Remember when cellphones had buttons? Us neither.)
By ensuring that each and every one of its consumer touchpoints is consistently inspired by its central attributes, the Apple brand amassed a worldwide cohort of diehard fans—and cemented its legacy as one of the world’s most valuable brands.
HubSpot: Expert, Helpful, and Supportive
Marketing and CRM software company HubSpot has fashioned itself into a true hub for its loyal customers by leaning into its key brand attributes of expert, helpful, and supportive.
These characteristics come to life in the way the brand positions itself as an indispensable partner for its clients. From its tagline inviting users to “grow better” to its seemingly infinite library of online resources, HubSpot has planted its flag as the go-to resource for growing businesses.
HubSpot is a great example of a B2B brand that’s found unique and charming ways to leverage its brand attributes, including a pirate-themed ad asserting that HubSpot helps its customers treat their customers like “people not conquests.” It’s clear the brand does the same for those it serves—thanks, in part, to its defining brand attributes.
Nike: Heroic, Empowering, and Inclusive
Nike’s heroic, empowering, and inclusive attributes play an important role in almost every move the brand makes.
From its epic “just do it” tagline to its democratizing mission to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world (*if you have a body, you are an athlete),” Nike’s brand attributes inform the foundational elements of its brand platform.
Heroic, empowering, and inclusive are evident in the brand’s marketing initiatives, too. Nike’s campaigns encourage audiences to “Find Your Greatness” and “Dream Crazier.” Its sponsorships spotlight and idolize major athletes like Serena Williams and Lebron James.
And Nike is known for advocating social causes, too, from promoting women in sports to standing by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he was ostracized for kneeling in protest of racial violence. What’s more heroic, empowering, and inclusive than that?
IBM: Intelligent, Visionary, and Accessible
As a business, IBM plays in complex verticals: AI, cloud computing, data and analytics, and blockchain, just to name a few. But within what can be a cerebral, overly sophisticated industry, IBM has managed to keep its brand down-to-earth.
So how does IBM strike a balance between being groundbreaking and staying grounded? It all comes down to attributes.
Throughout its long history, IBM has established and continued to stay true to its intelligent, visionary, and accessible attributes. It built Watson, a supercomputer that humanized AI, showing off its awe-inspiring genius in a playful man-versus-machine Jeopardy matchup against champion Ken Jennings.
In its marketing campaigns, the brand imagines a better future with colorful and approachable ideas like “Outthink,” “Smarter Planet,” and, most recently, “Let’s Create.” The bottom line is that its unique attributes have allowed IBM to evolve—while remaining consistent and relatable.
When it comes to the world’s most successful businesses, brand attributes aren’t just a nice-to-have. They’re a fundamental component to any effective brand, influencing the many facets that comprise your brand platform.
From brand associations to brand identity to brand equity, attributes are the driving force behind a consistent, cohesive brand experience—helping to carve out a distinctive space in the minds of your customers and boost your business in turn.