Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has steadily converted the idea of staying in strangers’ homes into a legitimate (and often even preferable) alternative to hotel stays. But as competitors surfaced, the brand struggled to distinguish itself.
Performance marketing wasn’t changing the dynamic. “Airbnb kind of lost control of the brand a little bit,” according to Hiroki Asai, Airbnb’s CMO. In response, Airbnb pivoted to “big, bold brand campaigns” and dialed back the focus on performance-driven marketing, allowing it to take back control of the narrative.
This is precisely the goal of brand marketing: an effort to tell your brand’s story by proactively communicating what makes it unique. While brand marketing is often seen as a focus on logos, colors, and brand refreshes, it’s, in fact, a much bigger effort that encompasses everything from billboards and digital ads to events and content marketing.
Read on to understand what makes brand marketing so important, to get a sense of the latest trends to be aware of, and to see successful brand marketing examples to find inspiration for your next campaign.
What is Brand Marketing?
In the show “Mad Men,” Don Draper is a 1960s advertising executive with moments of creative epiphany leading to huge turnarounds for his corporate clients. (Typically, the result is a new logo, tagline, or magazine ad.)
Many non-marketing professionals—including some C-suite executives making planning and budgeting decisions—continue to view brand marketing through this lens. But brand marketing has come a long way since the Mad Men days. Rather than chasing single moments of brand-defining success, today’s brand marketing is a long-term effort to improve your brand’s perception in the eyes of your target audience.
Sure, logo refreshes, font tweaks, and color palette changes can be powerful: for example, companies that use a signature color consistently can increase brand recognition by 80%. But even more importantly, brand marketing is about clearly defining what a brand stands for and communicating that purpose and personality across every touchpoint.
Brand marketing is often confused with product marketing, and they share significant overlap. While brand marketing is the “big picture” and builds the overall brand, product marketing does many of the same things for specific products. However you define brand marketing, it’s an investment that drives serious business value: Adobe, for example, has a brand equity of $35 billion.
What are the Goals of Brand Marketing?
Brand marketing’s primary goal is to improve a brand’s perception, but brand marketing strategies typically target a number of other objectives as well:
- Awareness: Without basic brand awareness, it’s tough for the rest of your marketing to have an impact. (How are customers supposed to buy from you if they’ve never heard of you?). Improved awareness means your brand is part of the consideration process when your ideal customer has an itch that needs to be scratched.
- Purpose and shared values: Customers want to form relationships with brands that align with their principles and priorities. When branded touchpoints all reinforce the core ethos of a brand, it fosters consumer connection on a deeper level.
- Customer loyalty: Loyalty is a growth supercharger, but it takes time—40% of consumers don’t consider themselves “loyal” until they’ve bought from a brand at least five times. Brand marketing builds loyalty not just through compelling ad campaigns, but by delivering on the brand promise consistently. When the customer experience is consistently on-brand, customers grow to trust (and promote) the company.
- Premium pricing: If you have poor brand recognition, you’ll likely have to compete largely on price. Strong branding justifies higher prices, especially if you’ve succeeded in differentiating yourself and positioning yourself as a premium brand.
- Consistency: A consistent implementation of your brand doesn’t just mean following your brand’s logo and color guidelines. Your brand’s purpose and values should seep across your company—especially your customer-facing teams. When your employees embody your brand, that’s part of your brand marketing effort too.
Why is Brand Marketing Important?
A 2022 brand marketing study found strong customer-brand bonds in industries as diverse as technology (Apple), consumer products (LEGO), sports (Real Madrid), personal care (NIVEA), and even medical products (Aspirin). Why are these strong bonds—driven by brand marketing—so important?
Brand loyalty is one key factor.
A study by researchers at Princeton determined that the human brain decides if someone is trustworthy within a tenth of a second. Brand marketing helps you get over that initial trust hurdle, attract more customers, and retain customers for longer. Meanwhile, loyal customers have a 306% higher lifetime value.
Brand marketing also gives companies the ability to charge premium pricing. This phenomenon isn’t just limited to luxury brands; even mass-market goods can support premium pricing based on an emotional connection with customers.
The ripple effects of brand marketing also extend beyond marketing and driving sales. Recruiting top talent, for example, becomes easier when you have a well-regarded, prominent brand. Brand marketing also increases the value of your business, generates referrals, and creates the credibility needed for entering new markets or drumming up investment.
Brand Marketing Trends to Keep in Mind
Today, brands are accountable to consumers like never before on topics like ethics, purpose-driven marketing, and employee engagement. Here are key brand marketing trends you need to keep top of mind.
Customers are Demanding Purpose-Driven Marketing
Today’s consumers expect brands to stand for something meaningful, and 82% of consumers prefer a brand’s values match their own. Any brand wanting to form long-lasting relationships with customers should heed these trends; the Harvard Business Review found that shared values are a primary factor in 64% of brand relationships. Meanwhile, 76% of customers report that they would stop buying from brands that treat employees, communities, and the environment poorly.
The good news is that if your brand executes this successfully, you’ll be rewarded. 74% of consumers would pay at least 11-15% more to buy from brands that positively impacts the world.
Companies are Using Social Media to Drive Brand Affinity
Every brand wants to reach customers’ social media feeds, but few make the cut. In fact, 76% of customers follow under 10 brands on social media. How do you make it into one of those coveted spots? Brand marketing helps. Your social media team exists not just to share the latest promotions, but to build brand affinity among your target audience.
Keep in mind, too, that social media is increasingly a brand discovery tool: 85% of consumers conduct research about new brands on social media. Marketing management software can help ensure brand consistency across marketing channels.
Employees are Becoming an Integral Part of Brand Marketing
Brand marketing isn’t just about customers—it’s also about the rest of your organization. 80% of talent acquisition managers say good branding makes it easier to hire the best employees. And once those employees are a part of your company, a new task presents itself: employee marketing.
It’s long been the case that frontline employees, like customer support representatives, affect your brand reputation among customers. But today, in a world where many employees also moonlight as social media content creators, companies have a choice: try to suppress employee voices or actively cultivate them.
Joe Lazer, the Head of Marketing at A.Team, a tech talent platform, says that as paid ads, SEO, and outbound marketing struggle to perform in the 2020s, brands will increasingly rely on employee influencers to fill in the gaps. “Five years ago…this influencer strategy was a bonus; now, it’s mandatory. If you don’t have a creator/influencer in place at your company, you’ll either have to develop one internally or hire one from the outside.”
Just remember that—unlike your brand voice—employees come and go. Make sure not to become so reliant on a single employee voice that your brand suffers when they eventually move on.
How to Create a Brand Marketing Strategy
Follow these key phases to build a strong brand that forges emotional connections with your target audience. (To streamline this process, consider using a brand management software to map out your objectives.)
Step 1: Define Your Brand’s Purpose and Audience
First, distill your brand to its core essence and personality. Outline the target audience and analyze their needs, wants, and values—especially those that align with your brand essence and values Then, articulate the key promises your brand makes to customers. Consider validating your focus and assumptions with customer research.
For a closer relationship with your audience—and to open the door to personalization opportunities—use marketing CRM software to segment and track customers.
Step 2: Develop Your Brand’s Messaging
Once you’ve pinpointed your brand purpose and audience, you’ll need to figure out how to communicate it effectively. Design a positioning statement that summarizes what your brand stands for, create a compelling tagline and outline a brand story and brand message that will emotionally appeal to customers.
The style of messaging you use is highly dependent on your target market, brand personality, and tone of voice. This is where you can get creative, using unique angles that activate your customer base. For example, in 2021 Burger King refreshed its brand with a 1970s-inspired aesthetic, capitalizing on consumers’ preference for nostalgia.
Step 3: Turn Messaging into Marketing Campaigns
Once you’ve figured out your brand messaging, you’ll need to turn those messages into real marketing campaigns. This means coming up with specific plans and tactics to communicate your brand message to your audience.
Start by picking the marketing channels that make sense. According to Kathleen Griffith, founder of marketing agency Grayce & Co, “a good marketing plan starts with placing strategic bets on a few channels where your customer is most likely to see your message AND take action.” Will social media, email marketing, content marketing, influencer partnerships, or old-school advertising work best? It depends on your audience and strategy.
Then, create content that fits your brand messaging. Design ads, write social media posts, build email newsletters or make videos—and make sure it all lines up with your key brand messages. If you’re running omnichannel campaign (across both social media and traditional advertising, for example), make sure your messaging, calls to action, and campaign timelines are consistent.
Step 4: Create (and Enforce) Brand Guidelines
While 85% of organizations have brand guidelines, only 30% report that their brand guidelines are enforced. The result? A majority of brands find themselves dealing with off-brand content.
To avoid this, set brand consistency policies so that visuals, tone, and messaging are aligned. Then, disseminate the fundamentals of your brand marketing strategy widely within your organization. Map out each branded touchpoint that customers experience—across all channels—and make sure your brand experience is consistent.
This is especially important if you have an planned brand extensions.
Part of your goal in ensuring brand consistency should be to create more on-brand moments of customer delight—which will drive referrals and sales. Sarah Stockdale, the founder of growth marketing program Growclass, says high-ticket SaaS sales are happening less through ads and more through word of mouth and relationships: “Your selling is happening in the DMs now… usually, the way that we find—especially software and higher-cost higher-ticket items—is through our friends. We’re asking in our micro-communities.”
Step 5: Set Goals and Measure
As you roll out your new brand assets, messaging, and campaigns, determine the metrics you’ll track and the goals you want to hit. This makes your branding efforts more unique (and measurable). You'll need to track brand awareness, consideration, preference, and loyalty to gauge the impact of your brand marketing strategy, and consider using marketing tools to streamline data collection.
Of course, brand marketing is never “done.” Plan regular check-ins to ensure your brand strategy continues resonating and driving business value over the long haul.
Measuring Brand Marketing Performance
Many SaaS brands are used to performance marketing, where the ROI of any given marketing dollar can be tracked down to the cent. That’s not always the case with brand marketing. Since it often focuses on awareness and brand perception, there isn’t always a direct line to follow from ad spend to individual sales.
As a result, one mistake brands often make is to overemphasize vanity metrics like impressions and reach. Because these are easily trackable, they can become a tempting proxy for the success of your campaign. However, they don’t necessarily correlate to the meaningful long-term changes your campaigns generate in terms of brand perception and consideration.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to measure the performance of your brand marketing campaigns. Common KPIs for branding marketing include:
- Brand awareness, attributes and emotional connectivity scores (via market research surveys)
- Net Promoter Score (NPS) benchmarks versus competitors
- Increased sales revenue and customer lifetime value
- Growing share of voice and search volume online
- Employee NPS and brand sentiment internally
By using marketing analytics tools and other marketing measurement tools to track these metrics, you’ll be able to understand the fuller picture of the impact of your marketing dollars—and tweak your future brand marketing investment accordingly.
3 Inspiring Brand Marketing Examples
Designing an effective brand marketing strategy can be overwhelming: every brand is different, so there’s no single strategy—no, not even meme marketing—that’s appropriate for every company. For inspiration, view these successful examples of brand marketing, ranging from SaaS to education to tourism.
HipChat, an early Slack competitor, has long since been acquired (first by Atlassian, then by Slack). But the story of how the SaaS brand reached its successful exit is an interesting one, and involves some savvy brand marketing.
HipChat’s founder, Peter Curley, negotiated a cut-rate deal for a billboard on a prime piece of highway in Silicon Valley. Typically, these billboards featured dry, enterprise-focused messaging from big companies like Microsoft. To get viral attention, he used an eye-catching meme that appealed to HipChat’s internet-savvy audience, boosting branded search traffic for “HipChat” by 300%. Less than one year later, the company was acquired.
2. University of Redlands
The University of Redlands is consistently ranked in the top 5% of US universities by Forbes, but before its brand marketing efforts, it frequently dealt with low awareness among potential applicants.
By launching a brand marketing campaign featuring a bold, confident brand identity, the University of Redlands successfully changed its image among applicants. The two-year campaign included TV, print, radio, internet, billboards, direct mail, and public relations efforts. The result? Enrollment reached a 107-year high, and the campaign generated $20.4 million in revenue and delivered a 4:1 ROI.
3. Visit Britain
That’s right—countries are brands, too. Visit Britain focuses its brand marketing on bold digital ad campaigns and vibrant video marketing to highlight the areas of the country beyond London. One video-based campaign took viewers to 10 UK cities through the eyes of a local, showing hidden gems from Birmingham to Norwich. The campaign reached over 16 million people and generated 113,000 engagements.
Building Lasting Connections with Brand Marketing
With the rise of digital ads, performance marketing was the vogue for decades. But it’s no longer the default choice for every brand. Jens Grede, the co-founder of Skims, said “If you look at it from an ROI point of view, the cost of paid social has gone up so substantially over the past few years while the effectiveness is down trending. We don’t think the equation makes sense any more.”
Brand marketing and even personal branding offers companies the chance to build an emotional connection with customers, carefully cultivate their brand positioning, and shift toward a perception of greater value. Rather than logos and taglines, the core impact of brand marketing comes from values, purpose, mission, and differentiation. Done right, strong brand marketing cuts through the noise, helping brands attract customers, drive sales, and build long-term relationships that power growth for decades to come.
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