In recent years, we have seen considerable attention given to brands as leadership have begun to realise that their brand can make a valuable contribution to company results. The focus on marketing & communications is shifting slowly from short-term results to long-term brand building, creating trust and connection, and propagating the brand’s ‘purpose’ or value. This awareness is increasingly being fed by consumers (and employees) who care about whether brands fulfil their promises and make a positive contribution to society.

"Be selective in what you promise and be honest. Consumers are critical and quickly identify insincerity."

The Great Marketing Survey 2018 shows that brand awareness is the most important KPI for 51% of marketers. The same research, conducted in 2017 has also shown that successful companies focus their attention on the value of the brand. In short, brand is high again on the agenda. But how are you building a strong brand? To have a successful brand, you need to start inside your business. Below – based on insights from our own Brand Performance Study – is a step-by-step plan to achieve a strong brand through an optimised brand organisation.

1.  Convince your management of the importance of the brand

We have seen that management increasingly recognises the importance of a brand, but does not always invest in it. Without brand investment, and an active contribution from management, the brand will never be fully exploited and its application is likely to be limited to just marketing communications. Therefore, it’s essential to convince your management of the importance of brand.

There are numerous scientific studies which prove that within an organisation it pays to give importance to the brand (including Gromark & ​​Melin, 2011). Work with management to determine which KPIs are crucial to them and ensure that you continuously monitor them (see tip 9). Fluctuations in such scores can be the reason to give the brand the investment it needs. You can make this visual by creating your own ‘Wall of Shame’. Making inconsistencies visible in the customer journey can emphasise the importance of the brand.

2. Define a strong trade mark

A relevant, credible and distinctive brand positioning has to be defined in order to determine exactly what the brand is and what it promises. This can be implemented using brand values, brand promises and/or a brand personality. Many organisations tend to promise too much. You need to be selective in what you promise and be honest. Consumers are critical and quickly identify insincerity. Our Brand Performance Study, for example, shows that organisations with three brand promises are able to deliver on the promises better than organisations with four or five brand promises. Moreover, these promises are best when there is a combination of emotional and functional values.

3. Make the brand the starting point for the organisation’s actions

Our Brand Performance Study shows that strong brands are not only implemented in marketing communications, but are the starting point for the organisational strategy; from processes for product development, to the behaviour of employees. When a brand is strong, it’s seen and treated as one of the organisation’s most important assets, and also acts as a differentiator from competition. In order to prevent the brand from being seen as just property of the marketing communications department, it’s better to not use the word ‘brand’. Words like ‘purpose’, ‘identity,’ ‘mission’ or ‘DNA’ generally do better as a starting point for all actions.

4. Set up a brand steering group

Setting up a brand steering group can help ensure that the brand is used as a starting point for all departments within the organisation. Most managers in the relevant departments are represented here. Monitor together (under the leadership of the brand manager) how the brand delivers on all fronts, what it promises on the basis of concrete KPIs, and determine what needs to be done to improve the brand performance. In this way, each department within the organisation gets the responsibility for implementing and propagating the brand.

"Monitor how the brand delivers on all fronts and what it promises on the basis of concrete KPIs."

5. Translate the brand promise into concrete starting points for action

The brand steering group plays an active role in determining how the brand can be optimally reflected in the most important brand touch points. By determining each category of brand touch points, and how each of the brand values ​​becomes visible, tangible or noticeable, the structure will then be laid for the implementation of the brand throughout the organisation. This means there will be involvement from all departments which will form the basis of a coherent brand experience.

6. Translate the trade marks to a matching style

It is important that brand promises are translated well into the so-called brand style, consisting of a house style, tone of voice and behavioural guidelines. This is the basis for brand touch points, environments, some products and services, and also employee behaviour. Our Brand Performance Study shows that strong brands keep a good balance in the extent to which these guidelines are laid out. Because they give a certain freedom in applying the brand style, these brands create a coherent image. Today, brand touch points no longer need to have the same visual layout, as long as there is coherency which conveys the same core message and thereby contributes to the brand’s values ​​and promises.

7. Keep control over the entire customer journey

For a coherent appearance of the brand, it’s important that testing is done on the application of the brand style and the development of brand touch points. Testing is then less about checking the application of the corporate identity guidelines, and more about whether the right path is affected by the core message and visual appearance. It is advisable to set up processes around the approval of brand carriers. Tools can provide support here, for example approval processes can be recorded and resources can be designed in a brand portal. You can also use online communities to control the application of the brand.

8. Involve HR and employees in the brand

Employees play an important role in advertising the brand within their organisation. With strong brands, employees act as brand ambassadors and also implement the brand in the right way. HR plays a crucial role as an intermediary, and therefore it’s important that the brand is a fixed component within a number of HR tasks such as recruitment and selection, onboarding, the assessment cycle, internal training and education.

"With strong brands, employees act as brand ambassadors."

9. Measure and monitor the brand and improve brand performance

Without knowledge of the brand’s performance, it is difficult to make improvements. Make sure you know what the brand stands for so that it becomes clear which points can and should be improved. First, choose (in collaboration with management) which brand KPIs are most important to your organisation and draw up a plan to determine how and with what metrics you will measure the brand. You will need to measure it on a regular basis. Daily monitoring for some brand KPI’s is recommended and can done through a Brand Dashboard. By making fluctuations transparent, adjustments can be made in real-time. Don’t forget to use these results as input for your brand (management and implementation) plan.

10. Consider carefully what you do with your marketing budget

When negative fluctuations in the brand KPIs become visible, they are normally acted upon quickly by creating extra communications (media deployment, email marketing, advertising etc.) to improve brand performance. It is clear that investments in communication can improve brand performance in the short term, however at the same time we see that investing in products and services, environment and behaviour is a more sustainable solution for improving brand performance. The success of your brand increasingly depends on the way your target group sees added value from your brand, and less and less on the amount of messages you fire at your audience. Consider spending part of your marketing budget on the optimisation of your brand, which you can start by using the above the steps!