A Modern Approach to Unique and Compelling Branding From Canto

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The following is a complete guide to branding in 2020. If you’re looking for some exciting, fresh ideas, you’re in the right place.

Let’s begin!

Chapter 1 – the Basics of Branding

In order to understand branding fundamentals, you first need to understand what a brand is.

What’s a Brand?

A brand is a trait or unique feature that establishes a differentiation between different organizations. A brand is the feeling and quality of experience customers have when dealing with a company in any capacity. It is usually made up of elements such as logos, visual designs, tone, voice, taglines and more.

What Is Branding?

Branding is how organizations understand and attach unique, specific traits and features in order to give consumers a direct association between brand and products or services. Branding involves the creation of elements like a name, logo and visuals for a business.

A modern billboard.Why Is It Important?

Branding helps consumers draw clear differences between your company and competitors. A recognizable, trustworthy brand is more important than most campaigns, pricing decisions and product quality.

A brand is an asset in and of itself. It drives your marketing, creates passionate customers and encourages teams to thrive.

The following is a list of some of the key ways branding empowers organizations:

  • Supercharges marketing campaigns. Branding is one of the main driving forces behind every new marketing campaign and project. As branding improves, so does each new advertisement.
  • Increases team member involvement. Powerful branding attracts quality job applicants and strengthens team harmony. Give your teams something to be a part of and proud of and they’ll respond positively.
  • Guides consumer spending. People often disregard things like quality and price in favor of brands. There’s a reason you see so many Macbooks despite a higher price tag than similar laptops from competitors.
  • Creates or builds upon a company persona. Branding is a way to mold the face of your company. This gives consumers a personalized connection that they can trust.

Now that you have the basics of branding down, and you understand why it’s so important, let’s dive into the different ways you can improve your branding.

Chapter 2 – Brand Management

Once we have a brand in place, we need to make adjustments and maintain it. That’s where brand management comes into the equation.

Brand management is a way to improve a company’s unique products and services, as well as their brand perception. It can affect pricing practices, improve customer loyalty and further overall brand awareness.

Effective brand management increases brand awareness, creates customer loyalty and boosts customer advocacy.

Brand management is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires extensive evaluation and constant evolution in order to be successful. Here are some ideas to improve your brand management.

1. Create, Evaluate and Use a Unique Selling Proposition

Your unique selling proposition (USP) is one of the biggest chances you’ll get to stand out from your competition. Chances are your product or service is similar in many ways to most competitors. A USP informs consumers that it’s completely different.

One of my favorite examples of a USP is Tivo’s ‘TV Your Way’ slogan. This simple USP let consumers know that watching TV around a schedule was a thing of the past, since Tivo allowed recording of live television in an age of physical tape-recording.

To create your own USP, determine the ways in which your product or service is different. Then, come up with a catchy way to express this differentiation.

2. Take Inventory of Your Brand Assets

Brand assets are highly important and require specific attention. Make sure you have a firm grasp of how your brand assets are currently performing. The following are some crucial assets to consider:

Website. Consider how well your website performs and adheres to brand. Would a user mistake it for a different company’s page? Are the color schemes correct? How does the layout feel?

Make sure to ask yourself these questions as you evaluate the website. It should be a representation of your brand, from the performance to the visual aspects. No one wants to struggle navigating a webpage no matter how much they’re interested in the company’s services.

Visual elements. Your specific visuals, such as logos, color schemes, layouts and images are assets. In fact, they’re quite powerful when used correctly. Consider how valuable it can be to slap a popular logo onto a product – sales typically follow. Keep this in mind when crafting and making changes to your visual elements.

Messaging. Brand messaging is how you describe the unique features of your brand. It focuses on the brand’s core values.

Messaging is such an important asset because of how it affects consumers. As your tone and messaging become familiar to your target audience, each new campaign will be that much more effective.

3. Put a Plan Into Place

Planning is a crucial component of brand management. Make sure you’ve put together a detailed layout of how you want to tackle things like evaluation, organization and technology. A plan may also outline the decision to outsource brand management tasks.

Workers creating a plan on a whiteboard.Whatever your ideal process is, make sure it’s laid out clearly for all to see. When it comes to evaluation, keep a running list of brand elements and change it when necessary.

When considering technology, look for tools that supplement your most important brand management tasks. If consulting an outside party to share the load, determine which tasks they’d be best suited to take on.

An underrated aspect of planning is the communication and re-evaluation involved. Get all teams and departments on board to ensure each task works for everyone. Schedule future evaluations of your plans to adjust for all potential changes.

Now that you have some ideas for how to manage your brand, let’s take a look at a way to stand out – brand identity.

Chapter 3 – Brand Identity

Let’s consider for a moment how we want our audience to view our brand. If our company had its own personality, what would it be?

A brand identity is the way we present ourselves, as a business, to consumers. This is done through brand values and messaging. Brand identity is created through visual elements such as logos and fonts, which help present a personality to consumers.

A person with a bag over their head.A strong brand identity gives our target market the right ideas about our brand. It helps demonstrate that we are unique and exciting with a personality they can relate to.

So how do we create our own successful brand identity? Here are a few key hints to get you started.

1. Review Competitors

If Pepsi presented itself as a healthy choice for cola consumption, and its sales skyrocketed, Coca-Cola would likely follow suit.

Researching the competition to see how others succeeded is a necessity to stay relevant and get ahead.

That isn’t to say that you should be copying successful brands and molding your identity to mimic theirs. Rather, it’s a way to see the ways in which they’ve built a solid brand and come up with your own path to that end result.

When researching competing brands, some key factors to consider are how did they influence brand perception, what kind of visual elements did they use and what were the circumstances surrounding their decisions?

Answer these questions and you’ll be able to pinpoint a way to create your own successful identity.

2. Maintain Tone

Part of brand identity is portraying your brand as something, whether it be with certain personality or character traits.

Dodge trucks are presented with a hard, tough tone. Apple products are advertised using modern, creative language. In what way does your tone determine your identity?

Whatever it may be, it has to be maintained throughout each new project and campaign. Certainly, there is always room for changes and innovative new ideas that result in a new tone. However, this is typically rare and should be carefully examined before implementing.

Ultimately, you don’t want to confuse your target market. If your tone is one of fierce, extreme demeanor in one advertisement, the following ad shouldn’t be a soft, fluffy tone.

3. Make Necessary Changes

It’s difficult to present the exact same brand identity over extended periods of time. The reality is the world we live in changes quickly. Words, concepts and images lose their meaning and become completely different.

The only way for our identity to be successful throughout these changes is through calculated adaptations.

Phillips ran a noticeable campaign in the late 90s that used a Beatles song ‘Getting Better’ as their brief jingle to coincide with their slogan. Just as disco died, so did rock music, in favor of electronic or rap. Similarly, Phillips no longer used a rock song as their jingle.

If your brand identity is working flawlessly and sending the right message, that’s great, but remember that tomorrow, it could be ‘dead’ or have a completely new meaning, so be prepared to adapt.

Behind all the fancy logos and catchy jingles is the identity you put forth. If it doesn’t reach its intended audience and make a real connection, it’s all for not. Make sure you do your research to make sure it does.

Now that you’re putting forth an identity that represents your brand, let’s focus on staying consistent.

Chapter 4 – Brand Consistency

Once you’ve built the foundations of your brand, it’s time to focus on the importance of being brand consistent.

Brand consistency is the methodology and structure in place to guarantee messaging and other elements stays true to original brand values and ideals. Brand consistency gives your target market a chance to familiarize and connect to your brand, since it’s constantly delivering the right message to them.

A group of branded items.Staying consistent increases overall credibility, satisfies customer expectations, builds loyalty and simplifies marketing tasks.

Here are some key ways to maintain consistency:

1. Make Sure All Teams Are Involved

Your brand will only be as consistent as the teams who build projects and campaigns using branded materials and assets.

It’s one thing to make sure all authorized parties are granted access to important branded materials. It’s another to ensure they’re used correctly and by everyone who represents the brand.

One way to accomplish this is by adding a system of checks and balances. For example, each campaign should be reviewed explicitly for any brand inconsistencies.

2. Develop and Maintain Brand Guidelines

It’s a lot easier for teams to stay consistent throughout each project if they’ve been given solid brand guidelines that get updated from time-to-time.

A strong guideline should cover voice, tone, logo usage, fonts, layouts, color schemes and more. Ensure each department has access to the right brand information at all times.

Color schemes in a book.These efforts help brand ideals and values stay on display through thick and thin.

3. Stick to Your Ideals During Tough Situations

If you’ve made a habit of something, and this habit has been an overall positive for your customers, don’t abandon it when it’s convenient or when things get difficult.

Think about a time when a brand offered you something important, be it an altruistic commitment, extra service or support. Now, imagine if this brand immediately pulled this service because it was easier for them to do so in a tough situation. How would you feel?

There will be times when your ideals and unique brand features are challenged. When this happens, consumers will expect you to stick with your initial values. If you don’t, they’ll change their opinion of your brand.

After you’ve satisfied the requirements for a consistent brand, you can begin creating wonderful experiences for consumers.

Chapter 5 – Brand Experience

A magical life moment can change our outlook forever. Similarly, an experience we cherish might be linked to a brand, connecting us with that brand for the rest of our lives.

Brand experience shapes the way customers think and feel about a brand based on an important past encounter. It creates loyal customers by attaching a positive emotional connection between them and the brand.

If the brand experience you offer doesn’t excite audiences, they’ll forget you over time and move on to other brands.

A person using a VR headset.One example that I find represents a fantastic brand experience is HBO’s escape rooms. Clearly, linking HBO and experience together might be difficult, considering it simply airs a TV show or movie. There’s no real event or interaction.

However, HBO capitalized on a real-life phenomena, the escape room. These were a team-building game in which human participants used clues to get out of a locked room together. HBO took it a step further by recreating rooms from their popular TV shows. This created a brand experience that people would remember forever and link with the HBO brand.

Let’s start building our own brand experience. Here are some helpful strategies.

1. Personalize When Possible

The modern user expects personalization on almost all their platforms. If we have the chance to personalize an experience, it’s an absolute must.

Personalizing the experience will make the event more memorable and create a deeper bond between consumers and brand. In contrast, if we don’t meet consumer expectations, they’ll surely seek out brand experiences from brands who will.

Imagine you went to a monthly play for five years. The employees at the theater got to know your preferences, and understood that you couldn’t see the stage well if seated too far to the right. As such, every month when you went to the show, they ushered you to a great spot on the left that was perfect for your eyesight.

Now imagine that you visit and no one guides you to the normal seat. In fact, they completely disregard you and you’re left to fend for yourself, eventually sitting on the right side of the theater.

This example shows a direct difference between a personalized experience and not. Make sure your brand uses all tools and technology necessary to cater to consumer needs.

2. Make Emotions a Goal

If you’ve cried at a movie, chances are you remember the name of it and the scene that brought upon the waterworks.

Similarly, if you’ve been terrified at a movie, you probably remember the movie and the scenes that scared you.

Two women watching a scary film.Brand experience is bolstered by an emotional response. If the moment is powerful enough to elicit some type of emotion, chances are that person will create a positive connection between a specific feeling (or in this case, emotion) and that brand.

3. Set the Right Tone

Remember that consumers expect a certain tone from brands, based on their history with them. A popular yoga chain hosting an event likely wouldn’t want to play Metallica during it, as this would send the wrong message and not give consumers the experience they were expecting.

There are many different ways to set the right tone with brand experience. The layout of a physical store, for example, should align with your brand ideals and values. Think of the different ways your brand presents itself, and determine whether it’s sending the right message.

Chapter 6 – Brand Positioning

When I see different brand logos or hear brand jingles, almost instantly I think of the types of values, features and positive attributes that specific brand offers.

Is this because the logo design or jingle-tone directly relay a brand’s core values and ideals? Of course not. It’s instead because of how they’ve utilized brand positioning.

Brand positioning is a way to influence a target audience to understand the types of features and values you offer each time they think of your brand. Brand positioning extends further than a captivating font or unique packaging. It’s a strategic approach to present your brand as a superior option.

A pink flamingo next to white swans.Think of brand positioning like tying a string around your finger to remember not to leave the oven on when you leave the house. Each time you feel the string, you’ll think of the oven.

Similarly, each time customers see one of your brand elements, like a logo, they’ll think of the positive attributes and characteristics your brand offers.

Every brand should strive for this type of connection, considering that if they’re able to influence customer preference, brand loyalty will increase as a result.

Let’s get started on creating your own unique brand positioning. Here are some key strategies.

1. Craft a Meaningful Brand Positioning Statement

A thoughtful brand positioning statement is one of the most basic, powerful ways to create effective brand positioning.

A brand positioning statement is a way to define your brand – what it does, who it helps, how it helps them and more. This gives team members a clear outline of how to behave throughout projects.

Make sure the statement is direct and clear. A typical mistake is creating a statement that is too vague. “We work hard to be great.” is an example of a much-too-broad statement. All brands try to be great. Be more unique and specific.

Another misunderstood concept with the brand positioning statement is it’s not a slogan or statement to the public. The brand positioning statement is for internal use only.

2. Create a Brand Positioning Map

Brand positioning is impossible without a firm grasp of your target audience’s perception (concerning your products/services vs. competitors).

Therefore, it’s crucial to find a way to zero in on how your audience thinks of your brand.

Luckily, there’s an effective way to do this: build a brand positioning map. This gives us a visual blueprint of where our brand lies in relation to competitors when it comes to different attributes and features.

By creating a map, we give ourselves a better understanding of how consumers perceive us.

A brand positioning map.The above picture is a brand positioning map I made using my best judgment concerning different peanut butter brands. Note that there are separate quadrants, organizing brands by their benefits and features.

My example shows that PB2 does the best in terms of calories, Skippy has great taste and is convenient, Jif is a great value and Peter Pan is as well.

When building your own map, include features that are important to your intended audience.

3. Consider the Competition and Follow Paved Paths

It’s a lot easier to position your brand once you have an understanding of its direct competition. This implies that you’ll need to research the current market and find potential competitors.

Next, consider the ways in which these brands are positioning themselves. Does what they’re doing seem to be working? Failing? Get a strong understanding of how it’s going for them.

Finally, take this newfound information from your research and apply it to your own positioning. The great thing about this method is you can learn from and avoid other brand’s failures.

Chapter 7 – Brand Image

Once you have a good understanding of your brand image, everything else seems to fall right into place. Furthermore, this understanding allows you to work toward improving and bettering your image.

Brand image is how a target market feels and perceives a brand. This feeling and perception is influenced by the brand values, ideals and identity. Brand image is largely crafted by customer interactions with brands.

An elderly gentleman dancing.Remember that brand image isn’t something we have direct, total control over. For example, if an automobile brand changes its slogan to, ‘The safest cars available’, it doesn’t mean their audience will agree.

Brand image isn’t how we see ourselves; it’s how our customers see us.

That being said, we can attempt to influence our brand image. In fact, we need to put our best efforts into this process in order to succeed. A good brand image helps with sales, customer loyalty and more.

Here are a few of the most important strategies to positively influence your brand image.

Transform Your Persona

However successful something is, there’s always room for improvement. This is definitely true with brand personas.

A brand persona is the way brands highlight specific features, values and ideals that are important to them. Personifying a brand makes it easier for consumers to connect with and understand its values.

Even if you have a persona that is working quite well, look for ways to improve it. If you can’t find any, that’s fine. Instead, set up a schedule to evaluate it. This ensures any societal changes don’t throw you off-guard.

Create and Unify Brand Visuals

It’s important that every brand find the right visual elements to match their personal ideals. Just as camouflage matches its surrounding, so do visual layouts and color schemes match a brand’s values.

If your brand wants to promote a environment-friendly lifestyle, colors like blue and green likely work better for it (since the Earth has a lot of blue and green).

Once you’ve come up with the layout schemes, colors, fonts and other visual elements for your brand, it’s important to keep them consistent across all platforms. This requires a unified effort from each department.

One way to ensure visual solidarity is to put into place a system of checks that verify each project meets the requirements.

Consider Your Brand Voice

Similar to a persona, the brand voice is a way to express a certain aura to a target market. Brand voice, like visual elements, needs to stay consistent from campaign-to-campaign.

Voice reminds people of audible elements, but it extends further to things such as emails, social media and more.

There are a lot of factors that go into voice, which vary from vocabulary to tone and more. Consider how customers will perceive your voice – the attitude and tone it relays.

Think of the different ways your brand could be more human and develop your brand voice accordingly.

Chapter 8 – Brand Association

It’s easy to see why brands want to be paired with certain attributes, like Facebook to social togetherness or YouTube to individuality and creativity. This connection essentially transforms how people think of a brand. It’s created through brand association.

Brand association happens when certain brand traits are entrenched in a customer’s mind. The ideal situation is for these traits to be positive rather than negative. Brand association creates value and equity by making consumers aware of their quality.

A woman thinking about gears.As important as creating positive brand association is, it’s crucial you remember that this is a delicate process that takes planning and effort. Putting a tank next to a dozen eggs in an advertisement won’t make people associate your eggs with the strength of a tank.

Let’s take a look at some ways to create your own brand associations.

1. Understand When and Where to Use Visuals

Just as a skull and crossbones doesn’t belong on breakfast cereal boxes, neither do your brand visuals belong on incompatible locations and campaigns.

Think of ways that your brand elements could influence your target market to create positive associations. Sometimes, your color schemes and layouts do most of the work for you. Other times you need to get creative.

A brand chart.For example, if you have brand colors like orange and black, creating some type of Halloween campaign would be effective.

The last thing to remember when it comes to branded visuals and creating brand associations through them is to respect and understand your limitations.

2. Introduce the Right Language and Vocabulary

An advertisement that uses the wrong language is usually a disaster, even if it’s unnoticeable to the creators. For example, an ad for an MMA fighting event wouldn’t want ‘weak’ language in the promotion, using words such as ‘fun’, ‘happy’, etc.

This type of mistake can create a negative association that fails to accomplish what a brand proposes itself to stand for or value.

Part of creating the right brand association is using the right tone as well. It’s not enough to use consistent vocabulary – you also need a consistent vibe. Think of the way your wording sounds when reading it. Does it relay the values and goals of the brand? Will it get people to create the right type of associations?

3. Introduce Personification

Personification brings inanimate objects to life, giving human traits and tendencies to something that does not have them.

Why is this so important? People love connecting with things on an emotional level, but that’s difficult when not everything is humanistic.

Even if a lamp is reliable, chances are you won’t have strong feelings toward it one way or the other if it breaks. However, if you give that lamp a name and have heartfelt, one-way conversations with it every night, some feelings might arise.

The same goes with your brand. Look for ways to personify things that might influence positive brand associations. Chances are there are a lot of different ways to use this powerful idea immediately.

Use these ideas to create brand associations that bring more customers and followers to your brand. Even the smallest associations can make waves.

Now that you understand brand associations, let’s take a look at the brand awareness concept.

Chapter 9 – Brand Awareness

When I see the Coca-Cola logo, I feel comforted, nostalgic, happy and calm. I don’t believe that I’m alone in these feelings, either. In fact, most everyone has some type of brand that brings out certain powerful emotions.

Now, it would seem that Coca-Cola would have wanted their logo to make people thirsty, and maybe they originally did. However, their extensive branding heightened their brand awareness.

Brand awareness is when someone recognizes specific brand traits and unique qualities. It is more than just seeing a logo and knowing which brand it belongs to. Brand awareness is a positive quality that indicates success.

A man drawing on a whiteboard.So, why is brand awareness so important? For one, it’s a main driver of brand equity. As customers grow accustomed to a certain brand’s quality, they’re willing to pay more for their products over competitor’s.

Another reason it’s so valuable is it helps companies introduce new products and services or enter new markets.

Let’s break down some of the key ways to boost your brand awareness:

Spell Out Your Brand in Detail

One of the biggest fears many brands have is that their target market won’t understand who they are or what they do. To quell this fear, you’ll have to work on making it clear what your brand is all about.

Think about the different ways your brand is presented to audiences. Would they be able to describe it in detail? Could they explain its characteristics?

A film clip.These types of questions need to be answered in order for a brand to gain true awareness. Put your best features forward and make it clear what your brand stands for at all times.

Focus on Content

It’s pretty tough to further our branding efforts without a serious focus on creating amazing content. Remember that people are accustomed to receiving all types of advertisements and clickbait content each and every day.

We need to completely disconnect from the mundane and instead overhaul the way our content is delivered and the level of quality it contains.

Don’t put a cap on your creativity! Remember that most people will enjoy something if the overall content is quality. It doesn’t matter if it’s an ad trying to sell something or a random story – the content is key.

Give Audiences a Reason to Listen

You’re trying to reach out and connect with customers in so many different ways. Take a step back and decide whether your approach is working. Put yourself in the shoes of your recipients and see if these methods would please you or be off-putting.

In what ways are you connecting with audiences? Does this connection feel like an attempt at a sale or a friendly check-in?

This isn’t to say you need to personalize everything or disregard any attempts to explain about sales. Instead, it’s simply a reminder that brand awareness isn’t built by bludgeoning our customers with boring newsletters that offer no personal connection.

Chapter 10 – Brand Authenticity

If I picture a brand that I want to connect with, in my mind they are always, at the very least, sincere. They are truthful, honest, genuine and real.

I’m not alone in these requirements, either. It’s extremely common for brands to be evaluated first and foremost on brand authenticity by their audiences.

So, what is brand authenticity? It’s the result of a brand that sticks to its values and is honest with its customers. An authentic brand goes out of its way to keep lines of communication open to customers while showing that it really cares.

A note that reads 'be honest'.Brand authenticity allows companies to thrive in situations others may struggle in. Customers continue to purchase products and services from brands who are authentic.

Here are some ways to build up your own brand authenticity:

1. Transparency Is King

It’s pretty tough to be authentic without full transparency. Even if everything you say is true, if you hide anything or fail to answer certain questions, it all falls apart.

This is where things can get tricky: giving a non-answer is unacceptable. A true commitment to transparency requires an all-or-nothing approach. Everything has to be out in the open, otherwise your audience will assume the worst.

An extremely common example of transparency is when McDonald’s began placing the nutritional content of their food onto the packaging.

Whether this decision came from outside pressures or within, it showed true transparency and opened up the possibility of making their brand appear authentic.

2. Remember What’s Truly Important Throughout Each Campaign and Interaction

It’s easy to lose sight of our goals, values and visions from time-to-time. However, it’s important we realign with them immediately to maintain brand authenticity.

Each time we have communication with our audiences, it’s crucial to, on top of being sincere, uphold our brand ideals.

When people think of authentic brands, they generally picture the values brands have and the larger goals they pursue for the greater good.

Every brand campaign, project and communication should reflect this, in some way or the other. Stay honest and true to our ultimate goals to be genuine in the eyes of our target audience.

3. Follow Through on Everything

If you give customers a special reason to believe in your brand, don’t fail to meet this expectation. This goes for claims, values and product or service specials.

If your brand stands for something, see it through in all situations. Your target audience will absolutely notice if you fail to do so.

When releasing a new line of products, make sure all claims made about them can be met. It’s easy to slip up, but it’s not so easy to gain back customer trust.

The result of your consistency and commitment will be a true customer loyalty and an audience base who believes that you are truly brand authentic.

picture of cory schmidt

Cory Schmidt - Head of Marketing I Canto

Cory is the Head of Marketing at Canto. He draws on years of experience to help marketers understand topics like brand management, demand generation and digital asset management.