10 Key Principles of Brand Management
In simplest terms, brand management is the oversight and maintenance of a collective impression of a product or company – fundamentally linked to every facet of a business.
In reality, this can be a highly complex endeavor that involves many minds in shaping, organizing, enabling, creating, sharing, and amplifying any and all aspects of what makes a brand a brand.
I’ll be honest: I really don’t want to over complicate this topic, but there’s a touch more to it than say, making a sandwich. As with most subjects centered on brands and branding, the mechanism for how brand management happens from an objective perspective is balanced with a unique set of characteristics, specific to each business and brand.
Compare the scale of your very own, personal brand, to a global conglomerate, for instance. You probably have an innate sense of who you are and how the world sees you. It’s probably fair to assume on the wide scale of brand management, that maintaining ‘you’ requires minimal effort. On the other end of the spectrum, envision an international organization with dozens of sub-brands. For argument’s sake, let’s say they produce fizzy beverages, employ hundreds of thousands of people, and are one of the most internationally recognized brands ever. Lots of moving parts, endless touchpoints; it’s clear to see how there might be some differences in how a brand is managed.
And yet, regardless of the nuances and complexities of brand needs, there are some universal pillars that remain true. The 10 key principles of brand management that you’re about to be introduced to are tied to one another in a number of ways – where some are prerequisite for others to fall into place – guiding the development and maintenance of a brand on a whole.
1. Define & Build Your Brand
Future-proof your business by checking all the brand boxes.
It’s not enough to have a great business – your brand needs to represent all of that (and then some). It’s the backbone, the foundation, the basis for everything your business is and can be, from the inside out. In a number of respects, a strong brand is more powerful than a strong business model.
So much more than a visual representation of a business, a brand is the true essence, meaning, and culmination of all those little parts that comprise the whole of what’s referred to as perception. A clearly defined brand gives substance and roots upon which a business can grow and thrive.
From the more obvious connection brand has to marketing and design, to minor and major intricacies well beyond, a brand weaves in and out of every aspect of a business. The strongest brands out there are shining examples of the authority brands carry.
Red Bull is one of those brands that’s really taken this philosophy to the next level. From introducing a new drink category to consumers in the late 1980s, to becoming a renowned sponsor and leader of sporting events and adventure activities, they’re far from a basic beverage company. They’ve pushed the boundaries of their brand with extreme and memorable maneuvers that fall in line with their story. Case in point, a little DIY flying machine competition that has garnered extensive acclaim and expanded the meaning of “Red Bull Gives You Wings.”
More than what you say, it’s how you say it that will take your brand from okay to awesome. The mission, vision, purpose, identity, guidelines, architecture, culture, and so on are the building blocks for brand greatness. Defining, documenting, and expanding on them is vital.
2. Be (Yo)unique
Highlight your brand authenticity and USPs to stand out from the rest.
Being the best there is and championing a business niche is only part of the game of success. You have to be shiny, noticeable, effective, and rare to pass the test.
In today’s consumer frontier, the struggle is very real. It’s a challenge to spot the glimmer of something special – and authenticity is the stuff of brand gold.
There will always be newer, more innovative, cheaper, exciting competitors in the market; this much is constant. What’s important is to stay true to your brand, at every point along the way, seeking out clever and compelling ways to leverage your hallmark benefits, traits, and identity.
Honing in on your brand’s authenticity lives deep beneath the surface of commonplace marketing tactics; it’s a proven avenue for connecting with an audience. Coupled with strategic methods for drizzling that special sauce over everything tied to your brand, and you’re one step closer to a signature goal of branding; establishing long-term brand value.
3. Let Thy Brand Be Known
Create opportunities for your target audience to get to know you.
You can’t have a successful brand if no one knows you exist, amirite? Letting the world know you exist – or just the relevant slice of it for your needs – means you’ll be in a position to make something of it.
Often times brand awareness is thought of as a register of familiarity, followed by how well consumers know or engage with your business. We can take that even further, based on measurements the brand, marketing, and even sales teams are looking at.
Keep your finger on the pulse of how your audience receives your brand – whether that’s through engagement, purchases, audience sentiment, you name it.
Correlating a bump in revenue with a high-engagement awareness campaign in a target market is a clear indicator that things are going your way. But what are some other goals your teams might have in mind? Consider what awareness looks like to you, and how to measure it to ensure you’re on track.
4. Make the Sparks Fly
Create an emotional connection with your audience and you’re in.
Take your brand from friend-zone to for-keeps when you turn up the feelings factor. Informing and meeting the needs of your audience is not enough. To keep them coming back for more, you’ll have to pull out all the stops.
Whether that means your communication style is all about pulling at the heartstrings of your audience, or tickling their funny bone – or you discover another special way to appeal to the essential values of your fans – let your brand and business light the way.
Listen to your audience and make sure your brand responds in kind. Don’t fight what comes naturally, and lean into the moments that trigger the desired emotional reaction and swipe of a credit card.
Think of your favorite athleisure brand. What is it about the brand that draws you to their products? Is it the fit, quality, or style of the clothing? Is it how you feel when you’re wearing it, or the indirect effect it has on your lifestyle (or vice versa)? Chances are, your affinity for wearing brand A over B when you’re working out (or cozying up in your favorite lounge chair) is about more than the ratio of cotton to lycra.
5. Find Harmony in Tactics & Brand Strategy
The recipe for improving brand recognition, boosting revenue, and achieving long-term business goals.
There’s a time and place to apply strategy to method in shaping brand experiences. Throwing caution to the wind is a romantic notion, but not exactly the most effective means of growing a brand.
Align what you want to say with the most fitting channel and format for the job – driven by key objectives and measurements. Working backward from the results you’re looking, alongside a clear picture of who you’re targeting, can narrow the focus on the message and the means.
Like cookies ‘n milk, or crisp air and soft sweaters, brand tactics and strategic thinking were made for each other. Explore this synergy in depth by taking a closer look at the importance of strategic brand management.
6. Extending the Brand to Everyone
Brands are about people.
Whether you realize it or not, brand management is a team effort – regardless of scale. Any and everyone involved in your brand, in some form or another, plays a part in shaping the identity. If you have any hope of success with the outside world, you need to get things squared away on an internal level first.
For some brands, the people are very much tied to the image. For others, this isn’t necessarily the case, but you need for all stakeholders to understand and support what the brand is (and stands for), or else you’re setting the brand up for a mountain biking adventure on a single-speed beach cruiser (read: uncomfortable bumps ahead).
This is one of those instances where the reach of brand extends into somewhat uncharted territory for many businesses, like employer branding and culture. Make the wide-reaching impact of involvement known to everyone in your company, and you increase the degree of employee enthusiasm to strengthen your brand on every level.
7. Be Continually Consistent
If you remember only one thing on your quest to manage your brand, let it be this: brand consistency matters. Like, a lot.
This is the tried and true crowd favorite of brand management; the song that even the crankiest wedding guest can’t deny tapping a foot along to. Consistency in branding and brand management is an infallible principle. It’s the vehicle for consumer confidence.
When your brand is consistent, the audience starts to get a feel for who you are. Through repetition and coherence across any and all brand experiences, familiarity turns into recognition.
It’s what contributes to the eventual mindless action of a person choosing your product or service over another. This turns into habit and brand loyalty. Yes, this is an intensely profound subject that we won’t sink into just yet.
In the early stages of a brand, this takes time. In fact, it always takes time and a conscious effort – light years better and more efficient, of course, with clear, continually updated digital brand guidelines, assets, and materials (wink wink, nod nod) – to keep a brand consistent. This is, and should be, the job of everyone linked to a brand. If you’re paying attention then you know that’s a not-so-hidden reference to that last principle. Yep, it’s a biggie.
8. Stay Agile & Ready
Give your brand space to breathe and flourish, but be on your toes.
Brand management is ongoing. If the goal is to create the best, strongest, most amazing brand, it’s kind of like a quest for eternal bliss. Or perfection. You can continue to strive for it, but will you ever reach it?
Agility and readiness are ingredients for a cohesive brand management mindset. If you play your cards right, you might just get pretty darn close.
There’s a sort of beauty in the progression of a brand. Brands don’t just happen, then – boom – that’s it. As an ever-evolving, living entity of sorts, brands are anything but static; susceptible to all sorts of influence from the internal team and the outside world. Along the brand journey of ups and downs, you can surely expect the unexpected.
For even the wisest of brand strategists and planners, this takes work. Anticipating, adapting, and reacting – whether that be in markets, competition, product and service offerings, etc. – is what sets the brightest brands apart from the pack.
9. Activate Your Cheerleaders
Give your fans a reason to celebrate, then show them you care.
Word of mouth is arguably the most trustworthy recommendation and conversion engines there is. We see the power of this every day on a very personal level, like your aunt recounting a recent vacation to, “...one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been,” or how your neighbor buys flowers from the same little shop every Friday, because they’re the freshest blooms.
As buyers, we take cues from those around us, leveraging their experience and opinions (which probably means more than the message some fancy marketing agency has put big bucks into pitching us) to our advantage. This cuts down on the time and energy we spend making choices for things like choosing a travel destination or a florist for next week’s party.
Your brand has these people – the ones that instantly recommend you and are happy to share a good word. They’re a secret weapon with unparalleled potential. They might just need an incentive, a kickstart, a reason to vouch for your brand.
This goes for employees and partners as much as your audience and customer base. Empower your brand evangelists to spread the news, benefits, highlights, etc. of your product or service by making their job easy. Then, reward them for it. People are generally happy to lift up their favorite brands, they just need some encouragement or direction.
It doesn’t have to be heavy lift. On a very basic level, we’re talking about creating a space for your brand supporters to show some love. Think social channels or other community forums, gathering data through surveys or direct contact with customer support (make sure to capture those testimonials), or even offering discounts for referrals.
True believers will jump at the chance to help benefit your business, so explaining the impact makes them even more likely to do so. You might even want to form a community where customers can collaborate with your brand; added value for you and them.
Back to that bit about employees and partners – the people behind the brand. They can be your biggest advocates. What they feel, say, and do beyond the walls (actual and metaphoric) of your business carries weight. Acknowledge them, be explicit about the role they play in your brand, and take their thoughts and feedback to heart.
10. Centralize Your Brand
To keep your brand on-point, connected, and building momentum, a single source of truth is the mechanism to make that happen.
All of that intensive work means little without a dedicated place for your brand guidelines, assets, and materials, etc. – the entirety of a brand – to live. Alongside consistency, centralization is one of the most significant criteria for proper brand management.
This principle isn’t just a shameless plug for Frontify. However, managing your brand(s) with a comprehensive, cloud-based, digital, shareable, fully documented, always up-to-date hub for everything brand is a stark 180° from the alternative.
Redundancies, confusion, and general misuse or brand errors are incredibly common when brand essentials are scattered, disorganized, or purely inaccessible. Everyday headaches can be a nuisance – like when you’re trying to update a presentation from out of the office, but the latest media files are localized back at the office. Not the end of the world, but enough of those add up to a migraine.
More extensive examples, however, like brand misuse on a broad public scale, are embarrassing and potentially detrimental. I’ll let your brain fill in the blanks; just know that whatever you imagine, it could get worse still.
A home for your brand unites everyone and every aspect within it, enabling all functions and brand expressions to happen with greater efficiency and accuracy.
Embracing this modern approach is a necessity to keep up with the growing roster of touchpoints and people involved. Simply put, it’s one of the most powerful tools you can apply to your brand and business.
Pretty solid principles, right? What counts most, in addition to the how – carving out the roadmap you set for your brand management process – is understanding the why.
A systematic solution for brand management is about setting your brand up to succeed. In the end, it all comes back to what they see; brand perception. Pay attention to your audience, explore ways to gain their favor, anticipate and react accordingly, and keep your brand’s sense of self along the way to instigate the kind of value that keeps brands ticking for the long haul.