While ad men who worked on Madison Avenue in the 1960s might have you believe corporate branding peaked in their smoky, martini-soaked boardrooms, they really only laid the groundwork for something that would become truly transformative. The following decades would see companies expand on their ideas in exciting ways, creating some of our most iconic brands, such as Apple, Google and Tesla.
The internet opened up a new, accessible landscape for advertising, and allowed small businesses to compete with corporate giants for attention. As a result, “corporate branding” isn’t just for large companies—it’s something that all businesses need to prioritize. Here’s a primer on corporate branding, why it’s important, and how to develop a branding strategy for your business.
What is corporate branding?
Corporate branding is a strategy that contextualizes and promotes your brand, rather than just a product or service. Corporate branding encompasses your brand logo, values, tone, messaging, purpose, offering, target audience, and market differentiation. A strong brand shapes public perception and helps you separate yourself from competitors. Having one can result in growth, brand loyalty, and repeat business.
Why you should focus on corporate branding
Well-executed corporate branding crystallizes and conveys your business’s personality and values. It extends to most aspects of your business from marketing to sales to customer service. A strong corporate identity can:
- Help you connect with your target audience. Strong brands have a clear purpose and set of values that, when effectively communicated, connect with your target audience’s values.
- Guide your decision-making. Your brand’s mission statement should be at the core of your decision-making framework. It can guide your approach to everything from customer service to company culture to communications.
- Differentiate your brand. Consumers can be overwhelmed with choices—especially in the age of ecommerce. Memorable and compelling corporate branding can help you stand out from the pack.
How to develop a strong corporate brand
A brand strategy takes time to build and execute, but having one ultimately can help you make decisions more efficiently. Here’s how to build a strong corporate brand.
- Identify and understand your target audience
- Research your competitors
- Identify your value proposition and unique selling proposition (USP)
- Hone your brand voice
- Establish a visual identity
1. Identify and understand your target audience
Your target audience is made up of various customer personas (a representation of customer types and characteristics) who share your values. Identify your ideal customer based on factors such as their location, education level, profession, age range, income, shopping habits, aspirations, and personal values.
Remember: Your brand doesn’t need to be everything to everyone; rather, your brand’s value proposition should speak clearly to your specific audience. For example, luxury brands connect with an audience focused on lifestyle, rather than a price-conscious audience. Trendy brands connect with an audience concerned with being of the moment, rather than an audience focused on practicality.
2. Research your competitors
Understanding your competitors is an essential step toward understanding what makes you different. Review your competitors’ positioning on all of their customer touchpoints, evaluate their voice and tone, and dig around for authentic customer opinions about them. Answer these questions as you conduct research:
- Who are my main competitors?
- What’s their promise to their customers?
- Are they delivering on that promise?
- How do they speak to their customers?
- How do customers perceive them?
- What opportunities exist to beat them?
3. Identify your value proposition and unique selling proposition (USP)
Some great advice from Joey Ng, the CMO at Yami, is to “find your niche and define in very few words what makes your brand distinctive.” In this context, finding your niche means figuring out exactly what benefit you provide to customers and why you provide it better than your main competitors. These are, in essence, your value proposition and your unique selling proposition (USP).
To find your brand’s value proposition, answer these three questions:
- What are the specific benefits you provide your target audience?
- What pain point are you solving for your audience and how will you solve it? How will your product improve their situation?
- How is your product the only solution to their pain point? What are you doing differently or better than the competition?
Answering the third question will also point you toward your USP.
4. Hone your brand voice
Brand voice is your business’s personality and your way of “speaking” with customers. Whether your voice is motivational (like Nike) or a bit silly (like Wendy’s or Old Spice), it should reflect your brand’s values and mission and speak directly to your customers.
“The brands that speak to everyone speak to no one,” says Morgan Brown, Shopify’s VP of marketing. To develop a brand voice that will resonant with your audience, ask yourself:
- What are a few adjectives that describe my brand’s personality?
- Given what I know about my audience, what’s the most appropriate way to speak to them?
- Who is a person (real or fictional) who my brand might emulate? Are we cool like Dominic Torreto or earnest like Ted Lasso?
5. Establish a visual identity
Just like your brand voice will influence your brand’s copywriting, your visual identity will influence how your brand’s assets and touchpoints will look. Here are some tips for creating a visual identity:
- Think about how your visuals complement your values. Do you want your brand to come across as simple, clean, and straightforward? Or would a maximalist visual identity support your brand’s mission more effectively?
- Do your homework. Make sure that all aspects of your brand identity will make sense to your audience. It’s a good idea to cross-reference your ideas with different cultures to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation.
- Make use of free design tools. There are low-cost ways to build a brand identity. For instance, Canva can help you create advertising elements and marketing collateral regardless of your design skills and budget.
Corporate branding FAQ
How is corporate branding different from product branding?
Corporate branding reflects a company’s overall values, mission, and visual identity in addition to products and services. Product branding is focused on the messaging and identity of a specific product or family of products.
What are some key elements of corporate branding?
Some key corporate branding elements are brand identity, brand image, brand personality, and visual identity (color scheme, typography, etc.).
How can companies measure the success of their corporate branding efforts?
A few effective ways to measure your corporate branding efforts include reviewing sales figures, collecting feedback from customer surveys, and analyzing the data from marketing or advertising campaigns.