Build Your Brand on These 4 Key Branding Principles

This post is the fourth in our “How to Build a Bullet-Proof Brand” series. In this blog, I will introduce the 4 key principles of branding, and share how and why they work together to create your bullet-proof brand.

What do I mean by these 4 key branding principles?

The four key principles are share of mind, share of heart, brand differentiation and brand relevance.

4 brand principles

1. Figure out your brand differentiation – “the exact opposite of one-size-fits-all”

Brand differentiation

Let’s start with brand differentiation, since this one is the hardest to figure out, and influences the remaining three branding principles. Let’s repeat the learning from the last blog post. Your brand essence must be unique, not replaceable. You must stake out and own a single idea.

This is what I mean by brand differentiation – your brand is a snowflake, and you need to own it loud and proud. Otherwise, your precious little brand will be relegated to the ho-hum, generic brand time-out box along with the soggy cornflakes and clumpy kitty litter, remember? Don’t go there!

For example, you will never hear:

“I picked it because it was exactly like every other car I test-drove.

“We bought it because it was exactly like every other house on the street.

“I married him because he was exactly like every other guy I dated.


The Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas advises that you compete on attributes that your competitors have failed to serve. For years high growth companies have entered markets by first catering to an underserved niche market. Netflix started by mailing the cult classic films that you couldn’t get at Blockbuster. Vimeo focused on professional videographers unlike YouTube. Tesla started making luxury vehicles instead of competing with electric low-end hybrids. This strategy of differentiation is key for both disruptive start-ups and established companies. Amazon started by shipping you books and followed it up by selling you everything else online. It is a tried-and-true path to brand growth.

Ask yourself, what do you offer that is yours alone? What can’t your competitors do, that you provide? These are your unique attributes, the foundation of your brand differentiation. Take time to map these out using the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas. Instead of offering the same old-same old, like all of your competitors, where can you swim and be free? And attract some new customers who really get into what you do?

2. The brand principle of relevance – Why should your audience care about your brand?

Brand relevance

This brand principle is all about the “what’s in it for me (meaning your audience or customer base, not you)” question.

There is no point in identifying and tapping into an essence that is irrelevant to your audience. Essences that don’t connect are the reason behind many failed brands. Do some basic market research – at minimum, talk to your customers to validate it. Research it. Run a survey.

An extreme example of this would be the Harley-Davidson tough rebel brand suddenly talking about saving the planet and promoting engines that are quiet and gas efficient.

The Harley-Davidson version of saving the planet and being a good citizen is more likely to help organize club rides for the various charities that the individual clubs support. What could be more fun than to go ride with your biker besties, and earn some bucks to support kids or other critters in need? Win-win all the way ‘round. You get to make a difference, while keeping up the “tough guy/gal” image.

3. Share of Mind – What your customers and audience think about your brand

Share of Mind

People’s minds have two sides – a rational, logical side, and an intuitive, feeling side. Share of Mind speaks to the logical side. Share of Mind can be measured and analyzed. It is tangible and can be described using our five physical senses. 

Most of us are familiar with how products and services are described by their features and functionality. Features and functionality are meant to appeal to the logical and rational thinking side of our brain.

When you measure brand awareness or recognition, that is one way of measuring your Share of Mind in the marketplace. An example would be the little pop-up on my Waze tool that asks me if I have seen any of the following brands recently (usually gas station or fast-food restaurant brands). This little survey is measuring a brand’s Share of Mind (brand awareness or recognition) compared to their competitors. Sneaky, huh?

For businesses who advertise on Waze, Waze offers an ad recall study to help measure the campaign’s effect on whether Wazers remember the ads. Waze surveys two groups of Wazers: a group of Wazers who were exposed to your ads and a control group of Wazers who were not exposed to your ads. The question that pops up in the screen: “Have you seen any of these brands on Waze lately?”

4. Share of Heart – What your customers and audience feel about your brand

Share of Heart

Share of Heart is the opposite of Share of Mind. Share of Heart is about feelings, emotions and experiences. Share of Heart wants to know all about the benefits and value that are connected to your brand. Research shows that humans make purchase decisions based on Share of Heart. 

We may or may not use logic and reason to help make the decision, depending on our buyer’s purchase preferences, but in the majority of situations our emotions determine what we purchase. Logic is used to justify our emotional decisions!

“Share of heart in the business world means the affect relationship between a consumer and a particular brand, product or service provider (Wood, Pitta and Franzak, 2008). Abyrab (1999) said human beings are consumers who respond to products in an emotional, rather than rational and cognitive manner. It touches areas like humor, fear, joy, sadness and anger. It represents a degree of consumer commitment and emotional bonds that underlie a relationship with a product or service. Share of heart or brand love is a marketing construct that assesses satisfied consumers ‘passionate and emotional attachment to particular brands’ (Pitta and Franzak, 2008; Srinivasan et al, 2010).”

My Waze app hasn’t started asking me how I feel about the brands that pop up in the little surveys, but I am sure that is coming soon. However, they do track how often people change or modify their driving routes after seeing a particular ad on the Waze tool.

They offer a survey that measures the “navigation lift,” i.e., how often the person searched for the business mentioned in the ad, and set up navigation to that location. The question they are trying to answer for their business advertisers is “Are users more likely to search and navigate to your business destinations after seeing your ads on Waze?” Similar to their Share of Mind survey, Waze has two survey groups respond to the question. The difference in search navigations between the two groups is the “navigation lift” or effectiveness of the ad campaign.

Waze claims that businesses advertising on Waze drives an 8%* increase in visits to business locations. With Pins, Search, and Takeovers, and ad activation based on both radius and frequency, Waze ads are effective in reaching the interviewed companies’ target audiences closer to the point of decision making, making it more likely consumers will decide to navigate to their stores.

Share of Heart branding questions are ones that attempt to measure how we feel about the brand. Common examples of questions are ones that ask you what specific brands you would recommend to your friends and family, what brands you would consider for a purchase, or a question that asks you to rate or rank the brand on a scale (often measured via ratings across a 1–5 scale).

This is why I have been so annoying in repeating that you need to build your brand with a strong emotional connection to your audience. A strong brand is all about the intangibles it provides – the benefits, experiences and connection that keep people engaged and coming back for more. In the end, having strong brand love or Share of Heart means higher levels of brand loyalty. If you have a strong Share of Heart with your audience, people are more likely to search you out in preference to other alternatives, recommend you, and even pay more for your products or services.

Some brands are tilted more towards aspects that represent the logical and rational Share of Mind, while other brands glory in the Share of Heart. Your brand will be somewhere on the spectrum between logical and emotional – just make sure that both sides get represented in whatever balance feels right!


How does your brand measure up in each of these 4 key branding principles? Take time and do an honest assessment for each of these on what is working, what isn't, and where you can take good to great. Finally, what three SMART (strategic, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely) action steps can you take to get moving forward for each principle? 

Next episode: Do you know how many different ways there are for your brand to show up in the world? We'll take a close look at a crazy branding wheel, and talk about how to choose which ways to take out for a test drive. 


Maja Haloway

As a director at Xylina, Maja helps clients find their ideal audience and connect to them through the right branding, messaging and marketing channels. Maja holds an MBA degree from St. Thomas University. She can be found at marketing, entrepreneur or techie-related meetups in the Portland OR/Vancouver WA area.

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