Brand pillars can be thought of as a brand’s DNA—instructions that define a brand’s purpose in the world, determine its positioning, and distinguish its characteristics.
Each brand pillar is an important component in how a brand communicates itself to customers, how it differentiates itself from its competitors, and how it builds brand equity and maintains momentum in the marketplace.
Below, we go deeper into describing brand pillars, the 5 categories that comprise brand pillars, and how you can build strong brand pillars for your company.
- What are Brand Pillars?
- What are the 5 Brand Pillars?
- How to Build Your Brand Pillars
- Examples of Brand Pillars
- The Takeaway
What Are Brand Pillars?
Brand pillars are the foundational tenets on which a brand is built. They include things like purpose, positioning, and personality.
Also known as messaging pillars or brand messaging pillars, brand pillars encompass the essence of what a brand stands for, why it is unique, and how it is communicated to the world.
Who are we as an organization? Why do we exist? What drives us to do what we do each and every day? These are all questions whose answers can be found in brand pillars.
Customers choose brands based on connections, after all. They want to know that the brands they’ve chosen not only meet their needs and challenges, but share their values and ideologies. Brand pillars ensure your brand will resonate with your customers and reach them where they are at.
What are the 5 Brand Pillars?
There are 5 brand pillars that are at the heart of every brand. The 5 brand pillars include:
Each pillar helps shape the “who,” “how,” and “why,” of your brand in its own way. Let’s explore each pillar in depth.
Your purpose is why your company exists beyond making money. It’s what gets you up in the morning and makes you eager to head to work.
Purpose is the answer to the most fundamental question your company faces: Why? It’s a profound motivation that should be embraced by all stakeholders, including future employees.
As you begin to articulate your brand’s purpose, ask yourself:
- What drives our brand?
- What problem does it solve?
- How does it impact our customers, employees, and community?
- What inspires us day in, day out?
- What do we want our legacy to be?
- What are we most proud of as an organization?
Your brand resides in a very distinct place in the minds of those who experience it, including your customers, investors, and employees, to name just a few.
Brand positioning is the process of defining how your brand is perceived—as sophisticated, reliable, luxurious, or whatever your defining characteristics may be.
By precisely defining your brand’s positioning, you’re better able to build brand loyalty and gain market share. When evaluating your brand positioning, ask yourself:
- 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?
- What are our 5-year goals? What are our 10-year goals?
Brand personality describes the human characteristics, behaviors, emotions, and intellectual features that define your brand.
Brand personality influences your brand voice, brand design, color palette, and more. It defines your brand’s first impression, creating an immediate connection and familiarity between you and your customers.
When crafting your brand personality, consider the following questions:
- How would we describe our brand if it were a person? No-nonsense, humorous, playful, academic, etc?
- How would we describe our company culture?
- 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?
In simple terms, brand perception is how your customers experience your brand. Remember that your customers, not your company, ultimately hold the key to your brand’s perception.
Which isn’t to say that perceptions can’t be shaped. Each of your other 4 brand pillars is an opportunity to shape perceptions. That’s what branding is all about.
Brand perception can 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, an experience of your offering firsthand.
To shape brand perception, you first have to understand it. And to do that requires good old fashioned brand research. In trying to better understand brand perception, ask the following questions:
- How do our customers perceive our brand?
- Is this how we want to be perceived?
- From where do customer misperceptions stem?
- Are we effectively communicating our brand positioning?
- What problems or challenges does our brand solve?
- What do our customers think of our competitors?
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 build a long-lasting relationship, rather than merely encouraging a short-lived transaction.
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 right brand promotion strategy places your brand in the right place at the right time and in the right context for customers.
When working on your brand promotion consider the following questions:
- What is our current brand awareness?
- How are we currently promoting our brand?
- What are our communication channels?
- When do our customers need us?
- Where do our customers find us?
- How do we get our brand in front of more customers?
- Do we have brand ambassadors, and are they the right fit?
How to Build Your Brand Pillars
As mentioned earlier, brand pillars contain crucial information that get to the heart of your brand and all of the aspects that make it unique.
Below, we’ve outlined steps that will help you build strong brand pillars able to withstand turbulent markets and consumer capriciousness. After all, it’s only when you know who you are as a brand, that you’re able to successfully communicate it to the world.
Step 1: Conduct Research
We’ve said it before, and we’ll continue to say it in perpetuity: all important branding efforts begin with research.
Before you set pen to pillars, it’s imperative to get situational awareness of your brand through the eyes of others. Research allows you to pinpoint where your brand sits in the hearts and minds of stakeholders, both internal and external.
The goal of brand research is to identify your target audiences and better understand how they experience your brand. It’s equally as important to get a better grasp on how employees, board members, and other internal stakeholders feel about the brand.
By way of a competitive brand audit, research can also give you important insight into how your competitors position themselves, equipping you with the information you need to differentiate your brand in the minds of consumers.
Step 2: Facilitate Workshops
With your research in hand, it’s time to move into strategy. Key to the strategy phase are hands-on workshops to define the ideas that will make up your brand positioning framework.
Your brand positioning framework includes all the information you need for your purpose, positioning, and personality brand pillars—and more. It outlines who you are as a brand, what you stand for, and how you’re different, and should be heavily informed by insights from your research.
In addition to your purpose and personality, your brand positioning framework includes important core messaging like your brand benefits, key differentiators, and brand promise.
Workshop exercises and discussions allow you to and work collectively towards definitions of these key components that your internal stakeholders are aligned on. Remember to ask whether each component addresses the needs and challenges of your customers, as you’ve learned from the research.
Wherever there are misalignments between existing positioning or messaging and customer perceptions, this is the time to correct for them.
Step 3: Update Your Brand Identity
At this point, you’ve better understood existing brand perceptions through research, made the necessary adjustments to positioning, and defined your purpose and personality (along with other important core messaging) in strategic workshops.
The only remaining pillar to address is promotion, but before you can do that, it’s important to ensure that your brand identity is cohesive with the changes you’ve made.
Brand identity includes both visual and verbal identity. Visual brand identity starts with your logo and extends to elements like your color palette, photography, website, and other marketing assets.
Both components of brand identity should be intimately guided by purpose, positioning, and personality. That’s why it critical to ensure that the look, feel, and sound of your brand is informed by these three pillars.
Refreshing your logo, website, messaging, and other touchpoints to reflect changes to purpose, positioning, and personality is critical before moving on to the final pillar, promotion.
Step 4: Promote Your Brand
With a newly defined brand positioning framework and refreshed identity, you have the assets you need for effective brand promotion. You just need to get them in front of the right eyes and ears.
Like a tree falling in a lonely forest, your brand won’t be heard unless you ensure it has an audience—and the right audience at that.
Promoting your brand begins by identifying where your target audiences are, and bringing your brand to them. Are your current marketing channels relevant to the audiences you identified in step one? If not, make the necessary adjustments. And plan for the long game.
As mentioned earlier, brand promotion is all about thinking long term. That’s because the brand equity that’s built through brand promotion has compound returns. The more trust you build with customers, the more loyal they become, and the more loyal become, the more valuable they are.
Examples of Brand Pillars
A common thread among successful brands is their rock-solid brand pillars. You know who these companies are and what they stand for by how, when, and where they present themselves. Their brand pillars are reflected in everything they do and have held strong through the years.
Let’s take a look at examples of brand pillars in a few of the world’s strongest brands.
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 brand’s market domination for decades.
When people, from professional athletes to recreational runners, think of athletic performance, they think Nike. The brand has established a name for itself with impressively consistent brand pillars, year in and year out.
Nike’s mission statement, “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” is embodied in everything from its products to its brand ambassadors. You can see the brand’s purpose, positioning, and personality at work in every athlete they sponsor, sport they champion, and pair of sneakers they release.
It’s no accident that 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 800 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.
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.
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.
Brand pillars are the foundation of any brand. They’re critical in establishing your messaging strategy, communication strategy, and business strategy.
By going through the process of articulating your brand pillars, you can ensure that your brand will capture the hearts and minds of those you want to reach, now and well into the future.