“Brand” isn’t just about a company’s logo, slogan, and appearance. It also refers to a company’s overall identity, and how it sets itself apart from the competition.
Brand is built by several factors, including:
- Company mission, vision, and values
- What the company offers (products, services, benefits)
- Differentiation (what makes the company different from its competitors)
- Brand messaging (voice, tone, personality)
- Imagery (brand colors, logos, visual style)
- Brand reputation (how others see the company, what others say about the company)
Although all of the above are important, we were curious to find out which factors marketers thought were most important to building a brand.
So we ran a survey across 105 marketing experts, who shared a wealth of experience and insights. Read on to learn what they had to say.
Reputation is the top priority when building a brand
According to a 30% majority of marketers, the most important factor in building a brand identity isn’t any direct action taken by your company – it’s your brand reputation.
Brand reputation is what your current customers, potential customers, and the public as a whole think of your brand. How others perceive your brand is what makes (or breaks) your reputation, much more than how you actually define it yourself.
A company’s mission and values ranks a close second, at 25% of marketers. This isn’t surprising, since your mission and values define the “why” behind your brand. While your mission defines what your brand seeks to accomplish, your values guide all the actions your brand takes to get there.
In fact, reputation, mission, and values are all tightly connected. The public will hold your company accountable for its mission and values. And living up to these values will help you build a stellar brand reputation.
Factors in developing a brand identity
Now that we know what experts consider the most important in building a brand, let’s look at the reasons behind their answers. What led to their decision? How have they used these factors in their brand strategies? We share some insight into the top branding factors below, in order of how each one ranked.
1. Brand reputation
Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls shares, “Most of my work comes by referral and word of mouth. I think having a good online reputation is incredibly important to building a strong professional service business, like mine. Successful businesses understand their product or service is about more than the transaction: they are in the relationship business.”
Brian Robben of Robben Media says, “Brand reputation is the X-factor that allows your business to charge profitable prices, build customer loyalty, and create a winning team culture where employees are inspired to serve customers and grow the business. Best part is, your reputation can’t be bought. It has to be earned through an obsession on serving customers right.”
Vasilios Alexiou of FirmPlay says, “Who doesn’t have a reasonably compelling benefit, voice, or imagery these days? Brand reputation, though, is earned. And as a result, it’s more trustworthy. It’s also way more scalable because your customers and employees have significantly more connections who trust and listen to them than the company itself does.”
Christine Glossop of Looka attests, “However much time you put into polishing your messaging, your brand is ultimately in your customers’ hands. The feelings, stories, and memories customers have of your company – those make up your brand. It doesn’t matter if all of your branding and marketing efforts say you’re one thing. If your customers see you as something else, that’s what you are. Great branding isn’t about fighting your brand reputation. It’s about understanding it and learning to direct it so that slowly, over time, the way you want to be seen aligns with the way people see you.”
Similarly, Jessica Rose of Copper H2O explains, “At the end of the day, what matters is how the public perceives the brand, since the brand’s success or failure will depend on the extent to which the public wants to use its products or services.”
Nathan Ryan of Blue Sky Partners shares, “Assuming your product or service even moderately lives up to the hype, a good brand reputation will also create a kind of social pressure for people to share their experience with your product or service. People want to be ‘in the know,’ and seen as aware of what’s good, which just creates more awareness and hopefully improves your brand’s reputation.”
Mike Stewart of Vancouver New Condos tells us, “Unlike other verticals that can leverage customer testimonials, engage in influencer marketing, and so on, our real estate group can’t, due to the level of privacy our clients have with their homes. So we have to be hyper-focused on making sure each client becomes a brand ambassador for us in private conversations within their networks. Our brand’s reputation is our most powerful marketing vehicle and lead generation tool.”
Wendy O’Donovan Phillips of Big Buzz explains, “Business owners don’t create brand, and not even marketers create brand. Instead, the people the brand serves create the brand with their collective mindshare.”
Mark Kay of GearTrench shares, “A business with poor brand reputation will have a hard time making sales, regardless of how good its product or services are. Consumers will not even look at your product if your brand has a negative connotation in their mind. On the other hand, a brand with excellent reputation will have more leeway, even if they underperform sometimes. One clear example of this is Apple. Consumers trust their product and will buy it even if the product sometimes does not perform well or gets buggy.”
Jeilan Devanesan of Venngage affirms, “96% of people talking about brands on social media aren’t following those brands! That means branding is not about just catering to your most engaged audience. You have to nurture the overall image and reputation of your brand. While branding is a long game and takes time to grow and establish, it’s how you minimize the time it takes for someone to go from interacting with your brand to trusting it as a solution.”
2. Mission, vision, and values
According to Greg Corey of Porchlight, “Mission, vision, and values are the starting point for all branding. After all, you can’t even begin to have a successful brand if you don’t know who you are or where you’re going. In order to attract an audience and mean something to them, you must articulate who you are, how you’re different, and why you exist in the first place.”
Ethan Taub of Loanry affirms, “If you don’t have a clear mind about where you want your company to go and who you are, you will struggle right from the beginning. I suggest writing your core values down, and having them somewhere everyone can see. All employees need to be on board with the mission, otherwise you will not have a clear goal.”
Jeremy Owens of Seriously Smoked describes “the company mission, vision, and values as being similar to the preamble of the constitution. [They] help set the boundaries of your branding strategy and a clear goal for your brand-building activities. Otherwise, you might do things lacking purpose because you do not have a clear picture of where you are currently and what you want to achieve.”
Jessi Greenlee of Good Impact Network shares, “How you define your purpose and guidelines for conducting business directly impact how you differentiate yourself from your competitors, what type of messaging you focus on, how you speak to your audience, how you make your audience feel, and ultimately the reputation that you are able to establish publicly.”
David Drab of Strong Wall Construction explains, “You’re meant to be the expert in your field, so convey that expertise and capability to your market. Branding is who you are, marketing is how you build awareness. Without clear brand identity, you won’t be able to effectively market.”
David Adler of The Travel Secret shares, “Brand identity begins from within, with the company’s mission and values. Brand identity is an extension of the founder’s identity, and it has to be cultivated from day one. Imagery, reputation, and many other aspects of brand identity will come after the fact.”
Kate Obert explains, “The foundation, or what I like to call ‘the soul of your brand,’ is your mission. If you don’t understand why you’re in business, your entire brand will be inconsistent. The soul of your brand affects every other aspect: what your products are, how you speak, your visual branding, and so on.”
Paul Neel of Electric Enjin explains that “although messaging is very important to capture brand loyalty, it can change over time. Trends, economic conditions, and even shifting consumers can influence your messaging approach. But no matter what a company sells, the most important thing consumers connect with is the brand’s ‘why.’”
However, Inna Shevchenko of iGMS notes that when writing your mission, you’ll need a complete understanding of your target audience. “If you address everyone within a mission, no one will respond. Keep in mind the exact profile of your intended users when writing your mission.”
Stephanie Powell agrees, “First and foremost, you need to know who you serve, why it’s important to you, how you do that differently, and the values on which you’ll build your business and brand. We don’t buy from companies, we buy from people, and we buy from people who share our values and beliefs.”
Jonathan Ochart of The Postcard Agency adds that “people gravitate toward brands that share similar values as them. Emphasizing these values – whether that’s protecting the environment or advancing technological developments to improve everyday life – is one secret to building an attractive brand target audiences care about.
“A company’s products and services likely share several similarities with those provided by competitors. It’s a company’s mission, vision and values that tell the story behind the brand, setting it apart from others.”
3. Messaging, voice, and tone
Tom De Spiegelaere of Tom Spicky explains, “When the brand messaging of a company is strong and relatable to people, the products will fly off the shelves. Even if your product is simple or unremarkable, it’s about how you promote it to your potential buyers. It’s about the message they’re getting and what message they’re sending out to the world when they buy your products.
“For instance with apparel, a shirt is just a shirt until it’s marked with a popular brand name. Once the customer sees the brand, the normal shirt transforms into a status symbol – and that’s why the customer will buy it.”
Brent Craige of Newtral Groundz shares, “Earning the trust of your viewers should be your number one priority and it starts with how you say hello. Your brand voice builds trust and rapport with your audience. Consumers are bombarded with so many pieces of content that they only respond to brands that they trust. Social media algorithms are also shaped by user interest, so establishing a real connection with your viewer is important.”
Eulises Quintero of Titoma tells us, “Keeping consistent messaging across your different communication channels is crucial. This educates your audience and possible customers on what your company does, how it does it, and why your brand is what they need.”
Eric Yaverbaum of Ericho Communications shares, “Messaging conveys the overall value proposition of the brand and influences all aspects of brand identity. When developing brand messaging, consider product positioning and benefits, value proposition, intended audience, and tone. All of these combine to define the messaging framework that should guide content on all channels, both internally and externally.”
Will Ward of Assistive Listening HQ shares, “People often overlook the importance of having the right messaging. I built my entire brand just on clear, helpful messaging. All the information available [for assistive listening equipment] was full of jargon and too technical, meant for audio engineers. All I did was get the messaging right and boom, my brand hit the skies.”
4. Differentiating your brand from competitors
Alex Membrillo of Cardinal SEO Company advises, “When crafting your brand, think in terms of what separates you from the competition. As an example, in 2017 Panera launched a campaign to promote their promise, by delivering food that only uses ‘clean’ ingredients. Panera inspires brand loyalty – and has built a brand identity – based on what they stand for.”
Joe Casper of Casper Funeral & Cremation Services shares, “Unlike most industries, our clients often learn about us when they’ve experienced an incredible loss and are feeling quite overwhelmed. We understand and respect the trust our clients place upon us during this difficult time. Whether we’re speaking to clients on our site, podcast, videos, or social media, we always make it very clear that we have no surprises, all pricing is upfront and public on our website, and we’re only a phone call away to answer any questions. We strive to provide ease and comfort that is hard to replicate if you haven’t made that conscientious effort to bake it into your business.”
5. Customer service
Mohammed Gandhi of Lil Helper Cloth Diapers says, “The definition of customer service in the digital world is not being nice to people and greeting them at the door, but to provide critical help and support even before they need it. The real test of a brand and its values are seen when you are faced with a disappointed customer who is struggling with their purchase or needs help.
“For example, we saw that a lot of our customers were buying diapers before their babies were born. Heartbreakingly, some folks would lose their babies due to complications. To allow our customers to grieve without the financial and emotional burden of having a bunch of unused items to look at, we introduced a guarantee: If something sudden happens where you are unable to use your diapers, we will refund your entire purchase, no questions asked.
“Also, Lil Helper built the Newbie App to answer any questions the customer might have [about using cloth diapers]. It becomes a reference throughout their cloth diapering journey.
Justin Lovely of The Lovely Law Firm also shares his experience. “Most of our clients come to us in times of great despair or significant loss. Clients know that when they call the firm, they can get me on the phone, directly, and we can chat about whatever they need, without being handed off. That was by design because that’s what matters to me, as a customer and an entrepreneur. We provide superior customer service as a differentiating point compared to our competition.”
Colin Little of Social Launch affirms that even small customer service gestures can go a long way in building your brand: “Each time a new customer makes a purchase, we send an email with both a thank you video and thank you note from the founder. This method is an incredible way to immediately build a loyal relationship with the brand because so few people are actually doing this. It’s really nice to receive a thank you video from the brand, and the results are clear that it works!”
6. Quality products and services
David Bell of Countryvpns explains, “If a company offers top quality products and services to its customers, good word of mouth will spread about it. On the other hand, if the quality offered by a company isn’t good, it is destined to fail no matter how well its products and services are promoted.”
Quality is especially key when you’re in a service industry, as Tony Kalka, Esq. of The Kalka Law Group explains: “When you’re a service provider, in my opinion, you make or break your brand name on results. To be competitive in any service offering, you must achieve consistent results, or else your client base will lose faith in you. Our personal injury law firm is a service provider [and] we’re judged explicitly by the results we achieve for our clients regarding their trials and settlements.”
And finally, Megan Marrs of K9 of Mine explains the importance of imagery in brand-building. “Humans are visual creatures – we process visual data faster than any other type of information. In fact, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text! So while your language, tone, and voice are of course very important, a customer’s first and most powerful impression of your brand will be in connection with your colors, logos, and images.”
Wrapping things up
Based on our brand strategy survey, we found that how others perceive your brand is just as important as the messaging, visuals, and other branding elements you create. Now you know the most important factors in building your brand, and can start applying them to your brand marketing strategy.
And for everything else you need to know about building a brand, be sure to check the resources in our Definitive Guide to Brand Strategy.