New Rules of Branding for the Decade Ahead

Brand rules for 2021 and beyond

As we march into the new decade and leave behind the most turbulent year of our careers (and for many, our lives), these rules will help you set the right course for your company to stay competitive in the coming years.

1: Audit Annually

While an annual brand audit may seem like an overkill, conducting regular brand check-ups as part of your annual marketing planning will ensure that your brand remains in alignment with the company vision and strategic direction. This doesn’t always call for complete overhauls, but continuous fine-tuning.

Although built to last, even the strongest of brands becomes disconnected from the business strategy and begins to deteriorate over time due to internal and external factors that force your company to evolve.

The marketplace is changing at a rapid pace – and especially at this moment in time, it’s safe to assume that your company and its customers have gone through some significant changes. So, the only way to be certain that your company’s brand remains consistent, relevant, valuable and true to its strategic core is to conduct a brand audit.

The brand audit will help your company understand the current state of your brand and where it needs to be and create a strategy and plan for bridging any gaps the audit uncovers.

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Brand Audit Guide

Our step-by-step Brand Audit guide will help to ensure your brand stays on track and under control.

2: Lead With Purpose

In recent years, more and more B2B businesses began to recognize the importance of brand purpose and its strong correlation with the bottomline, resulting in the rise of the purpose-led brand.

“The brands that stand out and thrive create a shared purpose with customers and employees.” – Nicole Rennie, Forward Storystudio

With the proliferation of purpose-led companies, a publically stated brand purpose is a must, but it’s not enough. Your brand purpose must become a unifying force that connects the business strategy, operations, offerings and culture.

How is the customer different/better as a result of doing business with our company?

It’s important to understand that purpose is not a layer you add on top of your brand and marketing – it’s the very reason your company exists and drives its every decision, action and interaction.

3: Get Inside Your Customer’s Head

Market and audience research is the foundation of today’s marketing. Research-based personas lead to developing more accurate (and effective) buyer and customer journeys and, ultimately, attract and convert more of your company’s ideal customers.

To develop a differentiating brand and leverage today’s most powerful marketing strategies and tools – from account-based marketing to maximizing omnichannel and more – you have to collect accurate qualitative information and insights and become an expert on your customers.

Consider all the changes taking place in your customers’ world – have the needs and priorities of your customers changed?

Now is the time to collect and analyze data about your audiences’ needs and their behaviors at all points in the customer lifecycle in order to provide a better experience along their journey.

Also Read: What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Brand – Deep Dive into Customer Research

4: Get Serious About Competitor Intel

With the high degree of disruption happening in virtually every industry, seeking and leveraging competitor intelligence is more valuable than ever.

Whether ensuring that your brand is prepared to respond to a shake-up in your category or gathering information that will help your brand become the disruptive force, it’s well worth the marketing department’s time and resources to gather competitor information.

Not that long ago, it was common practice to ask marketing interns to conduct research on competitors by calling them under the guise of a college project. Today, we have countless competitive research tools and apps at our disposal to discretely find out exactly what our competitors are doing. Use this information to further differentiate your company’s brand and ensure that it remains highly competitive.

Remember this core rule of branding: never define your company against its competitors. Otherwise, your brand relies on theirs for its strength. Competitor research is for the purpose of gaining greater understanding and knowledge to further differentiate your brand – not about comparing, copying or sparring head to head.

Learn More: Knowledge Is Revenue – How to Conduct Killer Competitor Research 

5: Focus on Customers

No customer cares about your company. They care about their own company, solving their own problems and achieving their own goals.

You can talk for an eternity about how great your company is and about all it does for its customers, and it’s not going to bring business through the door.

What will, though, is putting the customer in the spotlight.

Creating a customer-centric brand requires looking at your brand through your customers’ eyes and framing the value you deliver in a way that clearly shows how it contributes to your customers’ successes.

As you translate your brand across all touchpoints, keep in mind that the first thing you want your customers to see is their own stories (their challenges, needs and aspirations). So rather than making your list of offerings front and center, show your customers that you understand their situations first.

Then, showing how your offerings and expertise solve their exact problems – and especially doing so through customer success stories – will be much more powerful and effective.

Download: Tips For Creating Better Buyer Personas

6: Measure What Matters

Marketing metrics have never been as important as they are today, when marketers are held accountable for demonstrating results that previously simply could not be measured. Yet, many companies concentrate on marketing metrics alone, neglecting to measure the performance of the very foundation of all marketing: the brand and the exponential impact it has over time.

The problem with not separating the two types of metrics is that it leads to overallocation of resources toward short-term marketing tactics and underinvestment in increasing brand equity.

The impact of a strong brand on the bottom line is well documented. A 14-year study by McKinsey & Company revealed that top-ranked brands outperformed the world market as measured by return to shareholders by 74%.

The key categories for measuring brand strength and effectiveness are visibility; reputation or expertise; and impact. Here are just a few brand metrics to consider:

  • Website and blog traffic, including repeat visitors
  • Email list growth and health, including opens, click-throughs and unsubscribes
  • Social media community growth and engagement
  • Speaking and media requests
  • Lead generation, including content downloads and opt-ins
  • Referrals, especially when coming from those who have never worked with your company directly
  • Lead to opportunity ratios

Learn more: Calculating the ROI of Branding – How to Use Brand KPIs to Strengthen Your Business Performance

7: Design Matters. A Lot.

Humans are visual. We just are. Design makes a huge difference in how your brand is perceived and experienced – for better or worse.

In branding, visual design is what translates brand strategy into compelling marketing communications and creates a strong emotional connection between companies and customers.

Have you noticed how corporate websites are starting to look all the same? Note the generic stock photos (the same ones your competitors use, making you all look even more alike), or the trendy design treatment – whatever flavor of the month.

To avoid slipping into the gray fog of sameness, invest in a strong and differentiating visual identity and a comprehensive design system that reflects your brand’s unique personality.

Introducing a distinct and consistent design standard will make your brand memorable and your company immediately recognizable to its clients, prospects, partners, employees and other stakeholders no matter where they come in contact with your brand – on any channel or device, at any touchpoint, online and off.

Learn more: The Central Role of Visual Design in Branding

8: Rethink Brand Management

Keeping pace with the speed of change also requires a different approach to brand management – shifting away from viewing brands as static artifacts and toward recognizing that today, brands are always evolving experiences.

Doing this requires mastering a whole new mindset, as well as new skills and a cross-functional approach, supported by the company leadership and involving everyone within the company.

  • Bridge the gap between brand strategy and operational functions (including business development, marketing, human resources and more) – which means using the brand to guide how the whole company operates and integrating it into corporate culture, behaviors and decision making.
  • Merge brand agility with brand consistency – which first requires developing a unique and differentiating brand voice that can remain recognizable across a multitude of communication channels, devices and customer interactions.

The key is to recognize that modern brand management is about much more than organizing brand and marketing assets! It’s about seeing the brand as a living entity and managing it as such – giving it both the freedom to breathe and the structure to be effective.

Learn More: A Brand Management Master Class

In Conclusion

While the core principles of branding are still very much the same as they have been for decades, there are many ways your brand must evolve to keep pace with change.

Ensuring that your company has a differentiating brand platform is, and always will be, the first step. The second step is to thoughtfully and skillfully translate that brand platform into your company’s visual identity and brand touchpoints, creating an equally differentiating brand experience.

But after that, there is still much to do! Branding is no longer an activity that can be revisited every five or ten years.

Companies that continually invest in monitoring and refining their brands will be the only ones in your competitive set that are prepared to respond quickly to shifts in the marketing and business environment – you need to ensure that your company is one of them.

Need help developing a brand and marketing program that’s more relevant and effective in today’s fast-moving business environment? Substance151 can help! Contact us to start a conversation and let’s ensure that your company’s brand and marketing keep pace with change.