All companies must depend on innovation and keeping good on their promises if they want to grow. They must look and get branding tips from the competition — and then find a way to do it better.
For a mid-sized company, it can be pretty daunting looking to the world’s biggest companies for branding tips — particularly if you don’t have a huge budget or team. Yet, these big brands didn’t become this way simply because of money. Some of their best branding strategies can be applied to companies of any size.
In this article, we look to the big players for inspiration — without focusing too much on budget. Read on to discover five branding tips that mid-sized businesses can apply to their own brand strategy to achieve growth.
Branding Tip 1: Focus on Social Impact
People are increasingly expecting more from the brands, holding them accountable to the values they tout. They expect speed, self-service, and convenience — but also expect brands to live up to a number of social values, too.
Young consumers in particular are mindful of social and environmental impact. For example, they no longer find it acceptable for companies to be silent on social justice issues and neither do they accept a lack of diversity or inclusiveness in marketing campaigns.
The best brands pay attention and respond accordingly — or they get cancelled. By incorporating social responsibility or sustainability into a brand’s ethos and, importantly, living up to any promises and claims, purpose-driven brands achieve twice the brand value growth of their peers.
Mini Case Studies: Adidas and Patagonia
Large companies have found ways to incorporate social or environmental impact into their branding. In an effort to highlight the brand’s commitment to sustainability, Adidas paired with Disney’s Kermit the Frog to launch a range of their classic Stan Smith sneakers made from recycled materials.
While Adidas is far from the world’s most sustainable or environmentally friendly brand, brand partnership initiatives like this contribute to a shift in consumer attitudes towards the brand and how it lives up to its corporate social responsibility as a global brand.
Other brands take their sense of obligation much further. Well established as a leading brand in the space of environmental and social impact, Patagonia donates 1% of all sales to environmental organizations globally and makes all their products from sustainable or recycled materials. Sustainability and ethical production are at the core of the brand’s identity, and it’s working for them, with wide recognition as one of the most socially responsible brands and continued company success.
Mid-sized companies too can take steps — large or small — towards becoming more sustainable, treating workers better, donating to charities and causes, and even engaging in activism. Even by taking a clearer stance on political topics such as racism and sexuality on social media, brands can better align socially and build stronger relationships with their customer base and audience.
One step mid-size brands can take right now is to apply for formal recognition, such as B Corp certification. In doing so, they join a global community of brands and organizations working towards doing business for good by meeting stringent standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
Branding Tip 2: Focus on Brand-Driven Storytelling
Highly creative brands consistently outperform their competitors. By embedding brand campaigns with stories that move, thrill, or amuse target audiences, brands like Airbnb, Lego, and Nike successfully cut through the clutter to connect with and win new and loyal customers.
Consumers have come to expect their favorite brands to provide a compelling story, rather than focusing solely on product benefits or brand attributes. Today, it is a better strategy to convey the identity of a brand in a way that resonates and establishes a lasting connection.
Mini Case Studies: Airbnb, Nike, and Lego
At Airbnb, rather than telling the company’s story itself, Airbnb incorporates hosts and their properties into brand-driven storytelling, which has been a highly effective brand strategy for Airbnb. This approach allows them to convey what one can expect an Airbnb stay to be like, in a way that resonates with guests, and subtly shares what the brand is all about — unique experiences, rather than just rooms for rent.
Nike has been leveraging the power of great storytelling for decades. Almost everything the brand does involves storytelling, not just about the brand itself, or about celebrities, but everyday people as well. Storytelling itself is at the core of the brand ethos.
Just one example is the brand’s partnership with Michael Jordan. Nike has incorporated the iconic athlete’s career story into many brand advertising campaigns.
Since 1932, LEGO has diversified into movies, video games, television shows, and even major amusement parks — bringing their products to life through highly relatable storytelling across multiple mediums and platforms. What makes LEGO’s products exciting is not the sets of interlocking bricks and figures, but the imagination that children (and adults!) all over the globe bring to the way they play.
Identifying that play and imagination are at the core of the brand’s value and bringing this philosophy to life in the LEGO movies and other platforms has been critical to the brand’s ability to evolve from a plastic kids toy to an entertainment and media company.
Good quality storytelling doesn’t mean you need to partner with major celebrities or transform your business into a media conglomerate. What makes storytelling successful is the brand’s ability to truly understand the value of their brand, product, or service, as well as who buys, uses, or interacts with it.
Bringing an authenticity to the way your brand story is told is more important than a splashy campaign that will blow the budget. Ask yourself, does the story embody the identity and values of the brand? Does it go beyond simply communicating the brand story or product benefits? What brand-driven storytelling can you incorporate into your next branding campaign?
Branding Tip 3: Remember Brand Consistency
The world’s most recognizable brands strive to ensure that the way a consumer experiences their brand is consistent at every touchpoint, from website through to packaging and even scent. With ever-increasing choices and channels available to consumers, factors like brand trustworthiness and brand integrity are more important than ever for brands to build loyalty and brand affinity.
Consistency forms the foundation upon which these can be built. On the other hand, inconsistencies can undermine the brand and confuse or even aggravate customers who feel they’ve been misled.
Mini Case Study: McDonald's
Visit a McDonald’s restaurant anywhere in the world, and you’ll see the same familiar golden arches. Order french fries and the staff will use the same method to prepare and serve a product that will look and taste the same no matter where you are.
McDonald’s knows the importance of consistency to developing a powerful brand that resonates and builds trust with customers.
Mid-sized companies can ensure brand consistency by implementing brand guidelines that ensure that brand image and personality can be applied to all aspects of their business.
A consistent tone of voice across all social media channels is a great place to start. Another is to keep consistent color schemes and design elements across all online and offline platforms — from printed sales literature, to in-store signage and email newsletters. Getting your whole team on-board with brand guidelines is particularly important — that way, everyone is empowered to make informed decisions about the way the brand is represented.
Branding Tip 4: Leverage Employer Branding
Another advantage to training staff on brand guidelines has to do with how your brand is perceived by employees and candidates. Utilizing the power of the company’s workforce can be a particularly impactful aspect to branding. Employees acting as brand advocates is an important strategy for attracting and retaining a strong and engaged workforce.
Organizations with positive employer branding tend to have an engaged and motivated workforce of people who are also often willing to advocate for the company’s brands, products, and services. More than the company’s ability to attract and retain talent — employee branding has to do with the willingness and preparedness of employees to advocate for the company’s brand.
Mini Case Studies: Glassdoor and Google
Ranking first in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in 2020, HubSpot has made the most of employer branding opportunities. Providing marketing and sales products to help other businesses with their own branding, HubSpot has earned a reputation for having a supportive and inclusive culture.
HubSpot employees are particularly enthusiastic brand advocates and ambassadors, not only attracting high-quality candidates to join the team, but also reinforcing the HubSpot brand values and experience.
Attracting some three million job applicants a year, Google is another example of a large company optimizing employer branding opportunities. Using research on the impact of culture on the working environment, Google aims to foster a workplace where employees feel safe, valued, and like their work has meaning and impact. Known around the world for being an innovative, prestigious, and thrilling place to work — they’re getting something right.
You don’t have to be a household brand name to attract great talent or have employees speak highly of your brand. With the right training, tools, and culture, employees can add value to the company brand and how it’s presented in different spaces.
Mid-sized companies can start by focusing on consistently delivering a positive day-to-day experience for employees, seeking feedback, and providing opportunities for personal growth and development. Also, it's helpful to create opportunities where the staff to experience the brand, so that they too can understand the customer experience.
By educating your workforce about your brand's values, attributes, and promise, you can foster a positive culture that supports engaging and positive conversations about the brand.
Branding Tip 5: Make Data-Driven Decisions
One of the most useful branding tips to borrow from large companies is to embrace new methods of tracking your brand. By utilizing available sources of data, companies of all sizes can better understand their brand health and make informed decisions about campaigns or rebranding efforts. Brand monitoring can provide insights into brand KPIs such as awareness, association, experience, purchase behaviour, and engagement.
Brand tracking is the continuous monitoring of your brand’s health over a period of time. It provides a means to understand what your target audiences think of your brand and how they respond to your brand messaging. It allows you to track your competitors, compare your brand performance across different markets, and identify new market opportunities.
In the past, accurate and meaningful brand tracking was more difficult and time-consuming to perform, but nowadays almost every large company utilizes advanced brand tracking to make smarter and more impactful decisions.
AI-supported brand tracking allows brand managers to record and optimize brand performance across all touchpoints, cultivate better connections, and drive loyalty, and monitor other brand KPIs.
Being able to access brand insights in a timely and accurate manner enables branding and marketing budgets and ROI to be managed and measured more effectively, too.
While brand tracking can be undertaken by gathering information through surveys and social media listening tools, this approach can be cumbersome and inaccurate.
To accurately measure important brand KPIs like brand experience, brand associations, or brand engagement — look for a solution that meets your unique needs. Thankfully, there are some great brand tracking tools available.
At its most basic, a brand represents a promise and an expectation – no matter the size of the company. While some of the strategies used by large companies may seem inaccessible to mid-sized or small businesses, it’s often just a case of adapting an approach, strategy, or philosophy to the level of resources you do have.
These five branding tips are just a starting point to strengthening your brand strategy. Make sure to check out our other articles for additional information and advice on how you can improve and grow your brand.