How to Build a Strong Brand in 7 Steps

Want to learn how to build a strong brand?

The difference between a generic (or unbranded) product or service and branded one is that the former is purchased strictly for rational reasons (e.g., acceptable quality, reasonable price) and the latter is purchased also for emotional reasons (e.g., makes me feel good, shows that I’m savvy). And because of the additional emotional reasons underlying brand purchases, brands can command a higher price than identical but unbranded products and services. As a result, most entrepreneurs and organizations seek to build brands.

So, how do you build a strong brand? What are the steps involved?

In what follows, we describe the seven primary steps involved in building a strong brand.


Step 1: Discover/Develop Your Brand Purpose

Remember that brands are purchased for emotional reasons. There are many different options to choose from for any given product or service, and people want to buy brands that align with their beliefs, perceptions and motivations because it feels right to them. Simon Sinek describes it this way: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Strong, successful brands have a defined purpose; a set of defined values, a philosophy, a guiding principle and/or a mantra that appeals to those who share these. Fundamental questions to ask yourself in the context of building your new brand should include things like:

Why am I (are we) here?

How is my brand different?

Why would/should people care about my brand?

These are vision/mission kinds of questions and transcend detailed features and benefits of your product or service, but they are critical in giving your target audience(s) reason to buy your brand over similar products and/or services.


Step 2: Know Your Competitors

Gaining an understanding of what your competitors are doing and saying in the marketplace is important as you are building your brand, and will continue to stay important over the life of your brand. In order to differentiate yourself effectively from those competitors, you need to know what perceptions they own in the minds of your target audience(s).

An easy and effective way to organize the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ perceptions uses a model of perceptions like this one:

Evaluation of their messaging, reviews/social media comments made by customers as well as primary opinion research among their customers will provide you with a “received view” and indication of what brand strategy each of your competitors is pursuing.


Step 3: Determine Your Primary and Secondary Target Audiences

Branding is inherently about focus and having a differentiated point of view and purpose. Generic or unbranded products and services are, by definition, undifferentiated and compete largely on functional variables like price and availability. Therefore, you must identify your ideal target audience (and the next tier or two out from ideal) based on steps 1 and 2 above. Mindset plays an important role here, because you are looking for people who like and share in the “why” of your brand.

It is helpful to go through the exercise of developing customer profiles, or personas, that bring to life whom you are targeting. Start by identifying demographic variables like age, sex, education and profession and then layer in psycho-social variables like hobbies, motivators, favorite brands, personality traits, life philosophy, etc. Here’s an example of such a profile.

Use your customer personas to guide your brand messaging and marketing efforts going forward.


Step 4: Build Out Your Brand Strategy

To give guidance and structure to your brand, it helps to have a strategic brand platform that articulates your brand’s vision and mission, how you want to differentiate your brand from competitors and the perceptions you want to own in your target audience’s minds. Putting these in writing and having everyone understand and agree is critical to building and maintaining a strong brand. Here is an example of a brand platform:

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Step 5: Develop A Compelling Brand Narrative/Story

Storytelling is powerful because it has been the primary method of connecting people with ideas and knowledge since time immemorial. Stories do more than communicate, they build familiarity and trust. They elicit emotion. And, they are surprisingly efficient at conveying complex and abstract ideas. People understand stories easily and remember them better than general or abstracted information. People retell stories more readily and easily than reciting other learned information. Accordingly, the strongest and most successful brands are good at telling compelling and interesting stories that bestow meaning and relevance upon those brands.

In our experience, using one or more stories to explain the value, purpose and/or exceptionalism of your brand is essential to greater brand success.

In the case of our brand, prospects may or may not remember the description of Six Degrees as a psycho-sensory brand-building agency that applies findings from psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics about how people process information/make decisions and then applies proven sensory techniques to trigger the desired perceptions and emotions in the minds of each specific target audience across all  marketing materials.

But, what we hear people remember about us are the stories of our work. Like how our approach enabled Viagra to reduce the taboo around erectile dysfunction and bring ED treatment into medical and public discourse, helping to create a billion-dollar brand in the process.


Step 6: Create a Brand Identity

Once the brand story has been crafted, it’s time to build an identity for your new brand or refresh the identity of your existing brand. This includes name, logo and brand voice. Make sure to share the brand strategy with whoever is designing your new brand identity and develop a creative brief that provides further guidance to the creative development process, including examples you admire as well as creative directions you would find counterproductive if not objectionable. You should expect at least three different directions, first in black and white. Once you have narrowed down your overall design choice, decide further details like color and font.

Developing your brand identity should be an iterative process, but it is important not to get hung up on details. It is unrealistic to expect an “ah-ha, that’s the one” moment when you see brand identity concepts. A brand identity is a starting point, an empty vessel, and the strength and value of the brand will depend on what perceptions and associations you imbue it with over time. Consider how people may have felt about names and identities like Starbucks and Nike BEFORE they were household names imbued with loads of meaning through products, experiences and marketing.


Step 7: Live The Brand

Finally, it’s not enough to develop a new brand identity and expect that it will become great without a whole lot of effort. A brand is akin to reputation: It takes a long time to build up … and it can be damaged in an instant. Accordingly, you are always working on brand equity. The image someone has of your brand is the mental average of their last brand experience or impression and their most extreme one (good or bad).

To be successful, you must “live” the brand. That means you must authentically embody the brand strategy in everything you do. New employees must be trained on the brand. Partners must understand and contribute to the brand image. Interactions with customers must be consistent with the brand’s values, promise and pillars over the short term as well as the long term. Brand building is a life-long activity, because once you stop, you are essentially “milking” the equity from the brand.

Brand-building is a specialized activity. But more than that, it is a mindset. If you are uncertain of where to get started or how to carry on, or you would just like some support along the way to ensure you are doing everything you can to improve your brand, consider engaging with a branding agency. They will bring additional thinking, tools and techniques to further enrich your brand’s image and value in the marketplace.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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