The word “brand” gets tossed around a lot when we want to refer to the personality and communication side of a company. But it turns out the concept of brands is a bit more complicated than that.
In this post, we’ll explore several aspects of developing and sharing your brand as well as how those efforts impact your content creation and strategy.
What is Brand Identity?
Renowned brand expert David Aaker introduced the Brand Identity Model (often called the Aaker Model) back in the 1990s, and it continues to set the standard for building brand equity today.
According to Aaker’s Model, brand identity is a unique set of associations representing what a brand stands for and promises to customers. These associations comprise four brand perspectives, each of which includes certain dimensions:
- Brand-as-product: the product scope, attributes, quality, value, uses, users and country of origin.
- Brand-as-organization: the organization’s attributes and local versus global organizations.
- Brand-as-person: the brand’s personality and its relationship with customers.
- Brand-as-symbol: the visual imagery and metaphors around the brand and the brand’s heritage.
In addition to the four perspectives, the Aaker Brand Identity Model differentiates between core identity and extended identity:
- Core brand identity is the essence of a brand and remains constant throughout the development of new products and moves to new markets.
- Extended brand identity is various identity elements that can be organized into cohesive and meaningful groups.
Aaker himself once gave six reasons why this kind of brand identity model is so important:
- A brand is more than a tagline or a single thought. Instead, it’s a collection of phrases that describe the brand’s aspirational associations.
- Not all brands can or should conform to the same dimensions, and this more complex model allows for custom dimensions that don’t have to be of equal importance.
- The varied priority of identity elements (core versus extended) gives strategists a bit more room to determine if a program is on brand or not. Certain characteristics might work for a specific campaign but won’t be brand drivers. In some cases, extended identity elements become core elements down the road.
- If brand essence is not compelling enough (for example, relatively generic characteristics like “trust”), they should not get so much focus that the whole brand suffers. Aaker says the essence in such a case should be optional.
- Core identity elements should be elaborated upon to drive the creation of brand building programs that can bring the brand to life.
- This brand model enables the brand to be scalable and adaptable for different products, markets and/or countries. The goal is for brands to be strong everywhere, rather than the same everywhere.
What is a Brand Positioning Statement?
A brand identity system is a thorough undertaking on its own, and a brand positioning statement builds on that brand identity. This statement is a helpful guidepost for content creators as they develop content for the company.
A positioning statement is an internal tool that describes your target market and how you want it to perceive your brand. According to experts from Cornell University, a good positioning statement follows six key guidelines:
- Remains simple, memorable and tailored to the target market.
- Differentiates your brand from competitors with an easy-to-understand picture of your brand.
- Highlights credibility and how your brand can deliver on its promise.
- Stakes out a particular position in the market that your brand can “own.”
- Helps determine which decisions are aligned with and supportive of your brand.
- Leaves room for growth.
The positioning statement should also include these three factors:
- Point of Differentiation (POD) – how your brand benefits customers in ways that set you apart from competition.
- Frame of Reference (FOR) – the market or segment in which your brand competes.
- Reason to believe – evidence for why your target market can be confident in the POD and FOR.
The Cornell article goes on to provide a basic template for your brand positioning statement:
“For [insert Target Market], the [insert Brand] is the [insert POD] among all [insert FOR] because [insert Reason to Believe].”
While the brand positioning statement is internal and not necessarily used with the audience, upbeat, appealing language can help set the tone for content creators. Here’s an example of a brand positioning statement for a fictitious company selling kids’ rain boots:
“For active kids and parents, the Splash Rainboot keeps feet dry so rainy day playtime goes as long as you want it to. Unlike other rain boots, Splash Rainboot offers a lifetime guarantee, so you and your little one can seize the day—no matter what the weather is like.”
What is Brand Messaging?
Brand messaging is where you bring together the elements of your brand’s identity, including the positioning statement. It’s the actual words that help your target market understand how your brand is useful and what it stands for. Further, messaging is how people come to instantly recognize your brand.
Messaging comes in a range of forms – taglines, ad campaigns and headlines, for example. Typically brief, simple and even catchy, they are based on all the points that make up your identity and positioning: core and extended characteristics, differentiators in the market, how the brand delivers, etc.
The brand identity model from Aaker helps set the framework for what questions you will ask in the various categories, who you will ask and so on during the initial research phase. Here are some questions that we use from time to time (tailored for the client and scenario, of course):
- What is the big-picture view of what your product allows your target market to do?
- What is the reality today versus what the reality could be tomorrow with you as an option in the market?
- If you were to describe your company’s personality as you would describe a good friend, how would you describe that friend?
- What trends exist today that motivate your target market to seek your solution?
To find out if you’re creating your messages in the most effective way, we like this checklist:
- Does your brand messaging offer something different than the competition?
- Are your brand messages easy to understand and compelling?
- Are your brand messages based in reality and believable?
- Do the messages say interesting things that resonate with your target audience?
What are Brand Voice and Brand Tone?
Now that you’ve got the identity, positioning statement and main messaging, you need to think about the experience you’re going to create through your communications. Enter brand voice and brand tone.
Voice and tone are often used interchangeably in the context of brand expression. However, they’re actually two different things. Voice is a constant, while tone can change as an expression of the voice.
Brand voice is like the framework for your messaging. It reflects your core values and personality no matter the channel or platform. Will you be funny or inspiring? Very concise or somewhat poetic? Understanding your target audience will help you determine the most effective brand voice.
For more on defining and maintaining brand voice, check out this guide from Sprout Social. There you’ll read about reinforcing your brand’s beliefs, avoiding bait and switch communication and more.
Brand tone is the way you express your voice (think of the phrase “tone of voice” if that helps). So, if you’re going to be funny, are you going to do it with sarcasm, jokes or just general silliness? While the tone should be genuine to the voice, it can change depending on the kinds of content and which part of your target audience you’re speaking to.
How Does Brand Drive Content and Communications?
Not surprisingly, there is a relationship between branding and content marketing. First you have your brand identity exercises, then you set the positioning statement and main messages and create a style guide that will help guide the entire company to create consistent branded content.
Finally, you have what it takes to create written, image, video, etc. content in any channel. The best branding content will reach your audience looking clear, impressive and effortless. But to make it do that you’ll need to put in the work.
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Have you spent time incorporating branding elements into your content creation? Tell me about it in the comments!
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