One of the most difficult things when it comes to the momentous task of building a brand has always been the process of measuring its efficiency. How do you know when you’ve got it right?
These days, thousands of corporations spend billions of dollars in an effort towards making their brands as strong as possible.
The funny thing about that, is the fact that those corporations devote so much money towards building a strong brand—but what many of them fail to recognize—is when they’ve actually accomplished their mission of building a strong brand.
Which leads to them allocating even more millions of dollars towards the task of searching for the branding equivalent of Shangri-la.
But what if I were to tell you that there's a way for you to circumvent that… let’s just say—mishap? What if there were a template that served as a gauge that could allow you to determine whether you have a strong brand or not?
Well, I’ve got great news for you. After studying the commonalities of strong brands for well over a decade—I’ve discovered that there are seven ways to tell if a brand is strong.
1. Its clearly distinctive
Branding is one of those words that often gets tossed around so much to the extent that many people have (understandably) forgotten its actual purpose. Some have even reduced branding to just a logo and a tagline. If you happen to fall into that category and have forgotten the premise of branding—simply remember this, the basis of branding is to convey a clear distinction from anything or anyone else in the marketplace.
In fact, Merriam-Webster defines a brand as, “A characteristic or distinctive kind.”
We’ll get to the characteristic portion of the definition later in the article. But for now, let’s focus on the distinctive part. The first telling sign of whether you have a strong brand or not is if your audience knows what it stands for.
Here’s the thing, whether you’re a founder, marketing professional, or an executive officer—in your mind—your brand makes perfect sense. I’m sure you could describe its mission statement in ten seconds.
However, to have a strong brand—whatever it is that your brand stands for must also be clearly obvious to your target audience. Here’s a way to find out if your audience views your brand the same way as you do:
Write down three distinctive pillars that you believe that your brand stands for. Then, conduct a survey asking at least one hundred people in your target audience what your brand represents to them. After that, grade their responses using an A,B,C, I system.
— If a participant doesn’t mention any of your pillars, your brand gets an I for incomplete.
— If a participant only mentions one of your pillars, your brand gets a C grade.
— If a participant only mentions two of your pillars, your brand gets a B grade.
— If a participant mentions all three pillars, your brand gets an A grade.
After calculating all of your grades, if at least 89% of the participants named your three pillars—you’re on your way to having a strong brand. If not, make it your mission to clearly articulate your brand’s three distinctive pillars on your website and all of your marketing materials.
Remember, all strong brands are clearly distinctive and unique. “If you ignore your uniqueness and try to be everything for everybody, you quickly undermine what makes you different.” Says co-authors Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin in their book, Differentiate Or Die.
Strong brands don’t ignore their uniqueness—they amplify it!
2. Your brand is consistent
A wise man once said, “Success isn’t always about ‘greatness, it’s about consistency.” That logic certainly applies to the success of building a strong brand. And if you think that quote is crazy—the wise man who said it was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—so make sure you don’t tell him that.
How often do you change your brand’s colors? Taglines? Or positioning strategy? Those changes may seem subtle—but strong brands exude a level of consistency.
3. It's stronger than the product
What’s the first thing that you think of whenever you hear the word Nike? Let me guess, you think of either the Swoosh, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, or another elite athlete… right?
There’s a reason why the first thing that you think of when you hear the word Nike isn’t the performance of its products—but more so what those products represent—which is dominance, greatness, and style. The reason is because it was designed that way by great brand marketers that spent an innumerable amount of hours crafting the brand's image.
Today, Nike is quite possibly the strongest brand on the planet. However, it took awhile for the behemoth brand to become the cultural force that it is today. Prior to embracing the power of brand marketing—Nike was a fledgling shoe company that only catered to runners and struggled to gain market share.
“The problems forced us to take a hard look at what we were doing, what was going wrong, what we were good at, and where we wanted to go.” Said Nike co-founder Phil Knight in an interview with the Harvard Business Review. “When we did that, we came to see that focusing solely on the product was a great way for a brand to start, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Things changed for Nike when Knight, his team at Nike, and their creative partners at the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy focused more on what they wanted the brand to represent in the minds of their audience—instead of solely (no pun intended) on the performance of their products.
Knight admits, “We had to learn to do well all the things involved in getting to the consumer, starting with understanding who the consumer is and what the brand represents.”
If Nike stopped selling apparel today and sold treadmills instead—they’d have the highest-selling treadmill company in the world because what the Nike brand represents in the mind of its target audience is much stronger than any of its products.
4. Copycats can't compete
How many times have you gone grocery shopping and seen the generic store brand items right next to the originals for a cheaper price than the originals? If you’re like me—you probably have less of an emotional attachment to the generic brands than you have with the originals—even if they’re made with almost the exact same ingredients.
That’s because the original brands are so strong that copycats can’t compete with them in the mind—nor the heart. So ask yourself, "If my competitors copied everything that my brand did—would my customers churn? Or would they stay committed to my brand?" If the answer to the latter is yes—you probably have a strong brand.
5. Controversy couldn’t damage it
If you want a high-paying job in the marketing industry—one of the best careers to aim for is public relations management. The reason why public relations managers demand such a high salary is due to the fact that they’re the ones responsible for ensuring that a brand maintains a positive image in the eyes of the public—especially when controversy arises.
Though sometimes, controversy arises to levels where even the best PR managers on the planet couldn’t put a positive spin on it. That’s when the strength of the brand becomes its own PR.
For example, you'd probably have a tough time imagining any controversial scenario that could occur that would lead to true customers and fans of Harley-Davidson turning their backs on the brand. That's because people identify with the brand on an emotional level. Harley-Davidson fans consider themselves part of a tribe.
And when controversy arises regarding a tribe, its core members form tighter bonds within the tribe—as opposed to defecting.
6. End-consumers relate to its personality
Memorable brands are sort of like memorable people—they all have distinctive and relatable personalities. Some may be loud and boisterous. Others may be soft-spoken and humble. But regardless of the personality type—all strong brands have personalities that their end-consumers relate to.
In other words, the brand's personality is culturally relevant to its audience.
Great brand managers understand that every brand has a personality, whether it’s intended or not. And if you fail to create a personality for your brand—the public will definitely do it for you. Which is why taking control of your brand’s narrative and creating a brand personality that’s relatable to your target audience is paramount in branding.
Author, Gregory V. Diehl emphasized the importance of creating a relatable brand personality in his book, Brand Identity Breakthrough, “If you don’t choose for yourself what kind of character you want others to treat you as—the world will do it for you without your consent."
The same is true with your company’s brand.” As Diehl emphasizes, “The solution is to establish a strong brand personality before anyone else has the chance to impose their projections onto you.”
7. Your target audience would proudly wear your merch
Lastly, this one is short and sweet. As a brand director, one of the things that I often tell founders wondering if they currently have a strong brand is to simply ask themselves, “Would my ideal customer be proud to walk through a crowded mall on a Saturday afternoon in a shirt with my brand’s name front and center on their chest?”
If you could honestly answer that question with a resounding, "Yes"—you probably already have the answer to whether or not you have a strong brand.