Brand building is key for sustained, positive customer relationships that lead to increased recognition and sales. How do you build a brand?

It starts with a brand vision, which provides an articulated description of the aspirational image for the brand: what you want the brand to stand for in the eyes of customers and other relevant groups, such as employees and partners. It ultimately drives the brand-building component of the marketing program and greatly influences the rest.

When the brand vision clicks, it will reflect and support the business strategy, differentiate the brand from competitors, resonate with customers, energize and inspire employees and partners, precipitate a gush of brand-building ideas, and generate consistent, “on-brand” brand building over offerings and segments. When absent or superficial, the brand will drift aimlessly, and marketing programs are likely to be inconsistent and ineffective.

7 Steps for Building a Successful Brand

When building a brand, use the brand vision model (formerly the brand identity model) as your starting point, as it provides the structural framework for the development of a brand vision with a point of view that distinguishes it from others in several ways.

Follow these seven initial steps, based on the brand vision model, when building your brand:

1. Define the Key Elements of Your Brand

It may be based on six to 12 vision elements. A single thought or phrase cannot define most brands, and the quest to find this magic brand concept can be fruitless or, worse, can leave the brand with an incomplete vision missing some relevant elements. The vision elements are prioritized into the two to five that are the most compelling and differentiating, termed the “core vision elements,” while the others are labeled “extended vision elements.”

The  core elements will reflect the value propositions going forward, and drive the brand-building programs and initiatives. For the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business’s brand, for example, they are: “question the status quo,” “students always,” “beyond yourself” and “confidence without attitude.”

2. Identify Extended Vision Elements

They add texture to the brand vision, allowing most strategists to make better judgments as to whether a program is “on brand.” The extended vision affords a home for important aspects of the brand, such as a brand personality, that may not merit being a core vision element, and for elements, such as high quality, that are crucial for success but may not be a basis for differentiation.

Such elements can and should influence branding programs. Too often during the process of creating a brand vision, a person’s nominee for an aspirational brand association is dismissed because it could not be a centerpiece of the brand. When such an idea can be placed in the extended vision, the discussion can go forward. An extended vision element sometimes evolves into a core element, and without staying visible throughout the process, that would not happen.

3. Customize the Model to Your Brand’s Specifics

Key elements of your business— what types of good or services you offer, how you interact with customers, and what segment of the market you serve, to name a few— affect how you should use the brand vision model. Organizational values and programs are likely to be important for service and B-to-B firms but not for consumer packaged goods, for example. Innovation is likely to be important for high-tech brands but less so for some packaged goods brands. Personality often is more important for durables and less so for corporate brands. The dimensions that are employed will be a function of the marketplace, the strategy, the competition, the customers, the organization and the brand.

4. Prioritize Brand Associations

It is the associations that the brand needs to have going forward, given its current and future business strategy. Too often, a brand executive feels constrained and uncomfortable going beyond what the brand currently has permission to do. Yet most brands need to improve on some dimensions to compete, and add new dimensions in order to create new growth platforms. A brand that has plans to extend to a new category, for example, probably will need to go beyond the current image.

5. Find Your Brand Essence

When the right brand essence is found, it can be magic in terms of internal communication, inspiration for employees and partners, and guiding programs. Consider “transforming futures,” the brand essence of the London Business School; “ideas for life” for Panasonic; or “family magic” for Disneyland. In each case, the essence provides an umbrella over what the brand aspires to do. The essence always should be sought.

However , there are times when it actually gets in the way and is better omitted. Mobil (now ExxonMobil) had leadership, partnership and trust as the core brand vision elements. Forcing an essence on this brand likely would be awkward. If the essence does not fit or is not compelling, it will soak up all of the energy in the room. In these cases, the core vision elements are better brand drivers.

6. Adapt Your Brand to Product-Market Contexts

Having the same brand vision in all of your brand’s product-market contexts is elegant and convenient but not feasible in today’s complex marketplace. The goal should be creating strong brands everywhere, not the same brand everywhere. Managers need flexibility to adapt the brand to their context while still avoiding programs that are inconsistent with the vision. The brand vision can be adapted in several ways. Those employing the brand in different brand contexts can emphasize different elements of the brand vision, can interpret vision elements such as quality or innovation differently, or can augment the vision with additional elements.

7. Create a Communication Guide Using Brand Position

The current positioning often emphasizes the brand vision elements that will appeal and are now credible and deliverable. As organizational capabilities and programs emerge or as markets change, the positioning message might evolve or change. The centerpiece of the position often is a tagline communicated externally that need not and usually does not correspond to the brand essence, which is an internally communicated concept.

Final Thoughts

What does a winning brand vision look like? As noted above, it should differentiate, resonate, inspire and precipitate ideas. It also should have credibility internally and externally. That means that there should be proof points or strategic imperatives, planned programs that will create proof points. In addition, the very strong brands tend to have in the vision a source of energy, a higher purpose, and a personality.

This post originally appeared in the American Marketing Association’s publication Marketing News. 

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