We’re all familiar with household names like McDonalds and Ford, and chances are that the mention of their names brought an image of their associated logo to mind. But have you ever thought about how these companies continue to achieve this recognition and dominate the market despite all the competition? It all boils down to the brand, or more specifically, brand management. There’s a reason why 43% of customers spend more money on brands they are loyal to.
In this article, we explore not only what brand management is, but why it's essential to business success and how you can create a strong strategy.
What Is Brand Management?
Your brand isn’t just your logo and business name—it is your business’ reputation and how it is perceived by potential customers. Everything your business does to represent itself can have an impact on the brand image, from the typography to imagery and even tone of voice.
Brand management is about creating and maintaining rules about how a brand is used externally. It covers everything to do with a company’s external image and becomes the beating heart of your business. It's a living entity that needs to be adapted and protected as your business grows. Brand management plays several different roles:
If your target audience is ever going to become your customer, they need to first know who you are. In order to build the necessary awareness, you need to have a strong coherent brand that is consistently applied. Brand management provides structure to your marketing strategy and advertising campaigns, helping to ensure that they are as effective as possible in building awareness.
Your brand equity encompasses all the positive aspects of your brand which give it its value. Think about how Coca Cola is so much more than just a drink. For many of us, it’s tied to powerful positive associations and experiences which have been ingrained in us since childhood. Brand management is all about protecting this brand value over the long term.
To grow a business you need brand loyalty—customers who keep coming back to purchase from you, and hopefully tell their friends about you, too. We often think that brand loyalty is solely about the product or service, but it's actually much bigger. We buy from brands that reflect our values and our aspirations (just think of luxury brands like Chanel). Brand management ensures consistency and continuity of the brand to keep customers coming back.
How many brands can you recognize through the logo alone? What about when you hear taglines like “Just Do it”? Companies like Nike have strong brand recognition—we know exactly what they’re about and what we can expect from their products simply by the logo or tagline. In order to achieve brand recognition, every aspect of your brand must be consistent over time.
On average, it takes 5 to 7 times of seeing a logo before we recognize the brand, so it’s vital that the logo looks exactly the same each time a customer sees it if you’re going to achieve recognition.
Brand reputation isn't just about how your customers experience your product or service, but the impression your brand creates among potential customers as well. This is particularly important for luxury goods or expensive services.
For example, you might think twice about trusting a real estate agent with a rubbish-looking website and unprofessional marketing materials even if they were recommended to you. Whereas, a realtor with a slick, professional-looking website and catalog is far more likely to inspire confidence. Creating and maintaining a professional and consistent brand image through brand management goes a long way toward protecting your brand reputation.
Why Is Brand Management Important?
As we’ve discussed, brand management fulfills a lot of different functions, but there are two reasons in particular why it is so important:
- Customer loyalty - Research shows it costs up to five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Whether you’re a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business or in the services industry, repeat customers are the holy grail, and as we’ve discussed, brand management is an important tool for building customer loyalty.
- The ability to charge higher prices - When you take away your brand, all that separates you from competitors selling a similar product or service is what you charge. Having a strong, consistent brand that inspires consumer trust and loyalty allows you to charge a premium for your products, and brand management protects your ability to do this. It’s particularly important during times of recession, when consumers are price sensitive and only willing to spend extra on products or services which they really value.
What Is The Difference Between Marketing And Brand Management?
You often see the words marketing and branding used interchangeably, but in fact, they are two distinct practices. Branding is largely about visual appeal and shaping how your brand will be recognized—from logos and fonts to graphics and colorways—while marketing is about sharing the brand with potential customers through the selection of appropriate messaging, channels, and strategies. At the end of the day, the branding or style guide helps the marketing team to represent the brand consistently.
Unless you’re in a large organization, chances are that branding and marketing are the same team. When I worked as a marketing manager at a small law firm, I wore a lot of hats, including the Head of Marketing and Brand Management!
So what exactly is brand management? Typically, it covers the following:
It may sound crazy, but your brand name takes a lot of protecting. Particularly when you're a new business, it’s not uncommon for people to misspell your brand name, incorrectly or inconsistently use capitalization, or abbreviate it. It’s vital that a brand name is consistently used correctly if customers are going to recognize your brand, as a misspelled name could lead a customer to mistake your brand for something else, or not be able to find you at all.
No matter where you go in the world, when you see the McDonalds golden arches you know exactly what to expect. Your logo is arguably your most important brand asset—it immediately conveys what your brand is all about, and research shows that your logo is your brand’s number one identifier. Your logo is essential to successful brand recognition and customer loyalty.
Brands spend a huge amount of time choosing brand colors, and that makes sense when you consider that color psychology plays an integral role in our purchasing behavior. Walmart, for example, has created its own primary color 'Walmart Blue.' Likewise, the clothing company Jack Wills is recognizable by its pink and blue color palette conveying the preppy, English style of the brand.
Fonts / Typography
Fonts and typography play an equally important role when it comes to brand recognition. Think about Google’s clean sans-serif font—it wouldn’t look quite right if it suddenly appeared in swirly italics. Brands spend a lot of time and money choosing fonts that reflect what they’re all about, so it’s a crucial part of brand management to ensure the font and typography are used consistently.
Any business taking brand management seriously (which, hopefully, is every business) will employ a particular style when it comes to the graphics it produces. Whether you’re producing infographics for your website or graphs for a presentation, it’s essential that your graphics look consistent. Using the same color palette, icons, and visual style will help build recognition.
Packaging is incredibly important, particularly for ecommerce brands as it’s often the first physical interaction a customer has with your product. Once the marketing or branding team has come up with the design for your packaging, it needs to be adopted consistently across all your products. Think about Pringles—they come in a huge variety of flavors, but the eye-catching packaging is always the same and customers know what to expect as a result.
A style guide is effectively your brand management bible. Usually created by the marketing or branding team, it’s a definitive guide to how your brand should be applied in any situation. For large brands, these guides can be more like a copy of War and Peace—covering everything from the exact dimensions and colors of a logo through to typography and even iconography!
The Benefits Of Having A Strong Brand Management Strategy
It’s pretty clear that a strong brand management strategy is an essential element of the marketing mix, but it’s worth exploring the benefits in detail:
The fundamental purpose of branding is to distinguish your products over the alternatives. Before the internet, consumers didn’t have that many products to choose from. If you wanted a face moisturizer, you would simply go down to your local store and choose from the five or six products on offer. Nowadays, you can choose from thousands of moisturizers at the click of a button from anywhere in the world. Needless to say, it’s essential that you create a powerful brand and protect it with a strong brand management strategy.
One of the hardest parts of building a brand is getting employee buy-in. For your brand to feel authentic, it needs to represent the values and ideas of the whole business, not just the marketing team. When you have employee buy-in, everyone in the business understands the brand purpose and proudly stands behind it, making employee retention somewhat easier than it would be if the product meant nothing or little to your team.
Increased Sales & Loyalty
As we’ve mentioned, strong brand messaging and increased sales go hand in hand. Not only are you more likely to reach and engage with a wider audience thanks to greater brand awareness, but you’ll make more sales from a loyal customer base. Building an emotional connection with your customers can be very rewarding—more than half of shoppers prefer to buy from brands they know and trust. These loyal customers may even turn into brand ambassadors, which in effect is doing your marketing for you.
A strong management strategy protects your business from ending up in a race to the bottom on competitive, price-driven marketplaces. For ecommerce sellers, your brand is especially important, as customers can’t feel the quality of a product when purchasing online so your brand is one of the few factors which will allow you to charge more money. As your loyalty base grows, so will your ability to charge what you want for your product (within reason, of course).
Tips For Effective Brand Management
Establish Branding Basics
In order to manage your brand effectively, you need to first establish branding basics. This means coming up with all the branding assets that your business needs. All businesses need a logo and typography but there might be certain assets that are particularly important to your business.
For example, if your business is in financial services then you might need to produce a lot of graphs and charts, in which case you need a brand style for creating them. These assets also come in handy when planning a brand extension.
Once you have decided on your assets and approach to branding, make sure it is all documented in easy-to-follow brand guidelines or a style guide that anyone in the business can access, understand and adopt. It may seem unnecessary when you’re a small business with a small marketing function, but as soon as the business gets bigger, it’s essential. When I worked in a marketing team for a global law firm, a style guide was vital to make sure our colleagues in different offices were using all our brand assets in the same way.
Create Compelling Stories
Effective brand marketing isn’t about listing facts about your business and products, it’s about storytelling. Airbnb is a great example—their advertising and marketing campaigns don't focus on the number of properties on the marketplace or their technology, but the life-changing experiences their customers have when staying in Airbnb properties around the world. These stories help Airbnb build meaningful relationships with its target market and it relies on strategic brand management to spread these compelling stories.
Imagine the Customer Experience
As with all marketing, you must keep the customer experience in mind at all times. When a customer engages with your brand, what impression do you want them to get? How will the customer experience reflect your brand values? For example, if you’re a new challenger bank targeting Gen Z customers, you may want to provide a customer experience that is highly personalized, completely digital, and feels clean and modern. If that’s the case, your brand management strategy needs to promote and protect these values.
Sustain a Solid Core
88% of consumers report that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support, so it’s clear that you can’t ignore brand authenticity. Securing employee buy-in throughout the brand management process is a good way to ensure your brand has a solid core. Your brand management strategy will help you to reinforce your brand values and ensure that they remain authentic as your business grows.
While your brand values should stay rooted and solid, your brand identity can develop as your business grows and adapts. As a startup, you may only need a short style guide covering fundamentals like your logo, typography, and tagline, but just as your business innovates so should your brand. Brands like Coca-Cola know this well. Diet Coke has rebranded several times over the years, most recently in 2021 when it relaunched with a slimmer can in a variety of new flavors to appeal to the millennial market. Through an effective brand management strategy, Coca-Cola is able to continually innovate to capture new markets while retaining brand loyalty and recognition.
Use the Right Software
If you want to guarantee brand consistency across your business, you need to make it as easy as possible for everyone to access your brand assets—that’s where brand management software comes in. Platforms like Bynder and Brandfolder act as online management systems for all your brand assets so that you can ensure everyone uses the correct brand assets in the right way.
A brand management strategy is absolutely vital to drive customer recognition and loyalty as your business grows. Taking the time to document your brand properly and implement the right software will save you time and ensure your marketing campaigns are as effective as possible.
Not sure where to start? Why not familiarize yourself with the art of brand reputation management. If you’re looking for regular marketing insights and strategies, be sure to subscribe to the CMO newsletter.