If you’re looking to build a rock-solid foundation for the growth of your brand, defining your brand pillars is one of the best places to start.

You can think of brand pillars as the strategic scaffolding of your brand. They articulate your brand’s purpose in the world, determine how it is positioned in the minds of its customers, and define the connections it has with those customers.

Whether you’re looking to define your brand pillars for the first time, need help redefining an existing set of brand pillars, or just want some insight into these essential strategic assets, this post is for you.

In what follows, we’ll cover everything you need to know about brand pillars, including what they are, why they matter, and how to build a set of brand pillars that will serve as a foundation for sustainable business growth.

CONTENTS

What are Brand Pillars?

Brand pillars are the foundational tenets on which a brand is built. The five brand pillars include purpose, positioning, personality, perception, and promotion.

Also known as company pillars or messaging pillars, brand pillars comprise an integrated system that encompasses what a brand stands for, why it is unique, and how it communicates to the world. Brand pillars are a central part of any thorough brand strategy.

Why does your company exist? How do customers perceive you in relation to other brands in the market place? How do you communicate with those customers in unique and memorable ways? Brand pillars are designed to answer these foundational questions and more.

Why Your Business Needs Brand Pillars

Sturdy columns fronting a stately building are a metaphor for strong brand pillars
Now that we’ve answered the question “what are brand pillars?” let’s turn to why these strategic assets are so important for your business.

As we’ll see in the sections below, your brand pillars cover five distinct yet equally important facets of your brand. Together, they give you a foundation for a consistent, authentic brand experience.

And authenticity matters when it comes to your brand. Research has shown that a whopping 88% of customers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding which brands to support.

How do brand pillars help to ensure a more authentic brand? Each brand pillar contributes in its own way to a holistic portrait of your brand, ensuring it is purpose-driven, optimally positioned in the marketplace, has a relatable personality, is favorably perceived, and powerfully promoted.

Now that’s a recipe for a trustworthy, cohesive, and very authentic brand.

Next, we’ll unpack how each of your brand pillars offers a strategic business advantage you can’t afford to ignore.

The 5 Brand Pillars

There are five brand pillars that every business should have defined. Each covers a unique yet equally important dimension of the connection between your company and your customers.

An illustration of the 5 brand pillars: Purpose, Positioning, Personality, Perception, and Promotion

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what each brand pillar includes.

Purpose

Your purpose is why your company exists beyond making money. A good purpose statement answers to the most profound question you face as an organization: why?

The answer to this question should be understood and shared by all of your internal stakeholders. It should be the reason that team members get up in the morning to go to work. Especially during challenging economic times.

Your purpose is what drives you to do what you do as a business. More than just motivation, however, purpose is one of the most valuable ways you can make deep and lasting connections with those you serve.

Research has shown that customers want to buy from purpose-driven brands. In fact, 71% of customers would buy from a purpose-driven company over a competitor when cost and quality are equal.

This is why the world’s most successful brands are infused with purpose. It shows up in everything from their brand story to their social media messaging to their quarterly reports.

Positioning

Your brand positioning is the unique space your brand occupies in the minds of customers, especially as it relates to other brands in the marketplace.

Are you a budget brand or a luxury brand? Convenient or premium? Tasty or healthy?

These are just a few of the qualities and attributes customers consider (either consciously or subconsciously) when deciding between your brand and the competition. In fact, truly effective positioning lets you define a space in the market so unique that “competitors” are no longer relevant to your target audience.

A well-positioned brand leaves no room for ambiguity in a customer’s mind when they go to make a purchasing decision.

This type of precision positioning gives you invaluable clarity when it comes to identifying the actual problems your brand solves for customers. Only by identifying these unique, real-world problems can you communicate the specific solutions that only your brand provides in meeting your customers’ needs.

Personality

Whether we realize it or not, we have personal relationships with the brand’s in our lives. And just like people, each of the brands we interact with has a personality all its own.

Brand personality is the sum of a brand’s human characteristics: its behaviors, emotions, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. The best brands are relatable on a human level because of they have personalities that are recognizable and resonant.

Brand personality shows up in all of the ways your brand expresses itself. From your brand voice to brand design, color palette to brand messaging, and beyond.

A strong brand personality has two important qualities. One, it’s authentic. We’ve already seen why authenticity is so important to the success of your brand. When it comes to your personality this means that wherever your brand engages with customers—from your social feeds to your website to your advertising—it feels genuine and identifiable.

The second most important quality when it comes to personality is one that’s common to all strong branding: consistency. The brand loyalty that customers exhibit with their favorite brands is built on trust. And one of the best ways to build trust is with a reliably consistent brand personality, across channels and touchpoints.

Perception

In simple terms, brand perception is how customers experience your brand. It includes all of the associations—both positive and negative—that customers attach to your brand experience.

Ultimately, it’s your customers, not your company, that hold the key to your brand’s perception. But that doesn’t mean that customer perceptions can’t be shaped. Shaping customer perceptions is what branding is all about.

In fact, each of your other brand pillars represents a valuable opportunity to shape customer perceptions.

The purpose that drives you as an organization, the positioning you define in relation to other brands in the space, the personality you cultivate through voice and messaging, and the promotion that packages it all up and delivers it to target audiences—each is a distinct dial that you can adjust to influence customer perceptions.

Brand perception can also be shaped at any one of a variety of brand touchpoints. Think websites, ads, social media, trade show booths, talks by company executives, recommendations by trusted individuals, and, of course, the most important opportunity: your customer’s firsthand experience of your product or service.

Promotion

Last, but certainly not least, brand promotion includes all the ways you introduce, engage, entice, and motivate customers to connect with your brand and choose your offerings over others.

Brand promotion is very different from product promotion, in that the goal of brand promotion is to cultivate brand loyalty and build brand equity, rather than merely facilitating short-lived transactions.

The communication channels you use, the online and real-world experiences you provide, the touchpoints you create, and the visibility you have all play an important role in brand promotion. It’s not only the where, when, and why, but also the how often.

The best brand promotion strategy puts your brand in the right place at the right time and in the right context for customers. It’s all about meeting your customers where they’re at and telling a memorable brand story that they connect with on deep and meaningful level

It’s hard to put a price on the type of profound connections made possible through effective brand promotion. They pay long-term dividends by boosting brand awareness and building brand equity over the lifetime of your brand, making it all the more valuable if and when you’re ready to exit.

A Few Tips on Building Your Brand Pillars

A team works at a conference table on creating brand pillars
As you can see once you start to unpack them, brand messaging pillars comprise an integrated system of strategic assets that exist across your brand experience.

A strong set of company pillars takes time to fully develop. Ideally, they should be informed by data and insights from brand research and developed over the course of strategic workshops with key decision-makers within an organization.

The best place to start is by assessing how each brand pillar exists (or doesn’t exist) within your current brand. Approach your pillars one by one, and ask yourself the following questions.

Purpose

The best brands start with purpose. Remember, your purpose is the reason your company exists, beyond making money. Answer the following questions and write a short purpose statement:

  • Why do we do what we do, as a business?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • How do we impact our customers, stakeholders, and community?
  • What inspires us day in, day out?
  • What do we want our legacy to be?

Positioning

Positioning is how your customers think about your brand vis-à-vis other brands in the space. Ask yourself the following questions and write a positioning statement outlining the unique value you offer to your target customers in the context of your competitive landscape.

  • Who is our target audience?
  • What are they looking for in our category?
  • Is this the right target for the brand and our future goals, or do we need to reach a different audience?
  • Does our current positioning resonate with our audiences? Do we need to evolve our positioning?
  • How are we different from the competition?

Personality

Your personality is the characteristics you would ascribe to your brand if it were a person. Personality should inform all aspects of your brand’s visual and verbal identities. Ask the following questions and come up with four adjectives to describe your brand personality.

  • How would we describe our brand if it were a person? No-nonsense, humorous, playful, academic, etc?
  • How does our brand come to life on social media and similar channels?
  • What are our competitors’ personalities?
  • Do we look, act, and sound similar to the competition?
  • Is our personality authentic to who we are and where we want to be?

Perception

Perception encompasses both how your brand is currently perceived by customers and how you want to be perceived. Ask yourself the following questions so that you can identifying and address any misalignments that exist between current perceptions and aspirational perceptions.

  • How do our customers perceive our brand?
  • How do we want to be perceived?
  • Where are there misalignments?
  • What do these misperceptions stem from?
  • How can we better communicate our brand or better serve customers to address these misalignments?

Promotion

Like a tree falling in a lonely forest, your brand is only effective if it’s seen and heard by the right audience. Ask yourself the following questions and think of ways—from messaging to channels to touchpoints—that you can better promote your brand with the goal of building long-term brand equity.

  • What business objectives does promotion need to support?
  • What promotion strategies have been effective in the past
  • What does our competitive landscape look like?
  • What channels do our customers use to find us?
  • How do we get our brand in front of more customers?

Examples of Brand Pillars

Not surprisingly, you’ll find useful brand pillars examples in most of the world’s most successful brands. These are brands we are all familiar with. We gravitate towards them for more than just the quality of their products or services.

The brand loyalty that these brands have cultivated is the direct result of their brand pillars: an integrated system of well-defined strategic ideas that underpin authentic, purpose-driven brand experiences that are impossible to ignore.

Let’s take a closer look at brand pillar examples in a few of the world’s top brands.

Apple

The Apple sign hnags outside of a business
There are plenty of companies who manufacture phones, computers, and music players, but none have come close to Apple’s brand popularity. In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to the helm, he clearly defined Apple’s position around three core tenets: simplicity, creativity, and humanity.

These tenets shaped the company’s brand pillars, which, in turn, touched every aspect of the brand—from the product design to customer service to marketing and advertising.

From its “think different” mentality to its unmistakably minimalist personality to its understated yet powerful promotion, Apple’s brand pillars have been key to the brand’s market domination for decades.

  • Purpose: To create products that enrich people’s daily lives.
  • Positioning: For individuals who want the best personal computer or mobile device, Apple leads the technology industry with the most innovative products and considers the impact our products and processes have on our customers and the planet.
  • Personality: Creative, sleek, minimalist, fun
  • Perception: The must-have technology brand for creatively minded individuals.
  • Promotion: “Dear Apple” Apple Watch Ad

LinkedIn

The LinkedIn sign hangs on a building exterior
It’s no accident LinkedIn has become the world’s leading professional networking and career building platform. The company’s mission is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

With nearly 900 million members in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, LinkedIn has redefined everything from networking to recruiting to advertising. It’s done so by keeping its finger squarely on the pulse of brand perceptions, and deftly adjusting its positioning throughout the years to better meet the changing needs of its customers.

  • Purpose: To connect the world’s professionals.
  • Positioning: The world’s largest professional network with more than 900 million members in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
  • Personality: Professional, encouraging, aspirational, helpful
  • Perception: An indispensable asset to the modern day professional.
  • Promotion:“Level up your profile” post

Salesforce

The Salesforce sign hangs outside an office building
As the world’s best-known customer relationship management (CRM) platform, Salesforce helps its customers build outstanding relationships with their own customers. The brand set out “to empower companies to connect with their customers in a whole new way.”

Self-described trailblazers, Salesforce sought to redefine an industry, but in doing so built a reputation as a trusted partner through continuous innovation that uniquely addressed its customers’ needs. One can clearly see purpose, positioning, and perception at play in the brand’s meteoric rise to the top. By building a brand atop clearly defined pillars, Salesforce has all but made its competition irrelevant.

  • Purpose: To build bridges between companies and customers.
  • Positioning: We develop the technology, the partnerships, and the communities that help companies connect with customers. So that every company can become a customer company.
  • Personality: Helpful, productive, whimsical, robust
  • Perception: The world’s most comprehensive CRM brand.
  • Promotion: Matthew McConaughey leads a march for #TeamEarth

The Takeaway

More than ever, customers are looking for brands that stand for something with unmistakable personalities and a clear point of view. They want brands that they can connect with on a more human level.

The pillars of a brand are critical to its success. They play a central role in establishing your messaging strategy, communication strategy, and business strategy. When you look at brand pillar examples in the world’s top brands, it’s easy to see why these strategic assets are so key to business success.

Defining an integrated system of your brand pillars is one of the best ways to boost brand loyalty and build brand equity—now and well into the future.

The Ultimate Guide to Rebranding

Everything you need to know about rebranding your business-and avoiding costly mistakes.

Read more by

A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.