How to Elevate Your Brand in the World

This post is the fifth in our “How to Build a Bullet-Proof Brand” series. In this blog, I will share how a powerful, balanced and healthy brand shows up in the world. You will also get some useful tips on how to create a stronger, more balanced brand.

Anatomy of a brand

 First rule: Companies make and sell products and services. However, customers buy brands. More importantly, they buy the brands that they know, like and trust.
Core brand essence pyramid

Core brand essence pyramid

Here’s a simplified map to how your core brand essence shows up in the world.

Your brand’s core essence is at the center of your brand. Your brand essence is expressed through three main sections. Think of these sections as the sides of a triangle, surrounding your core brand essence in layers. All three sides work together to create a strong triangle that is balanced and grounded.

  • Heads and Hearts sits at the peak of the triangle, like a mountain summit that can be seen miles away.
  • Walking and Talking form one of the supporting sides of your triangle. This side of the triangle is how you express your brand values, purpose and vision, literally “how you walk your talk.” Are your actions in alignment with what you state in Heads and Hearts?
  • Proof and Positioning are the second supporting side of your brand triangle. This side represents the “show me the money.” Can you back up your brand’s promises with facts and proof, or are you just hot air and empty talk? How do you prove to people that they can trust and believe in you and your brand?

Part One: What’s at the heart of your brand? 

Heads and Hearts pyramid

Think of Heads and Hearts as your brand’s mountain peak that can be seen from miles away.

The top of your brand triangle is all about what’s at the heart of your brand – what you stand for.

We discussed the importance of appealing to your audience’s heads (Share of Mind) and hearts (Share of Heart) in the last post. People’s minds have two sides – a rational, logical side, and an intuitive, feeling side.

To summarize, Share of Mind is what your audience thinks about your brand – your company, your products and services and even you, the business owner. 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. A familiar example would be your product or service features and benefits statements.

Share of Heart is how your customers feel about your brand. Share of Heart is the opposite of Share of Mind. Share of Heart is about feelings, emotions, experiences and human relationships. Does your brand give your customers the warm fuzzies? Make them feel safe and secure?

Your brand needs to connect with your audience at a deep emotional level, since that is how we humans make our buying decisions. It’s all about the feels. So, make sure that you build your brand with strong emotional connections to your audience.

Now back to Heads and Hearts. There are three primary parts to Heads and Hearts.

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Belief

Let’s look at these through the lens of Nike, one of the world’s most iconic athletic brands.

Vision – Can you express your vision or dream clearly, in a way that engages your audience? What is your business trying to accomplish, that means something to them? Nike’s vision statement is a great example of a brand vision that has stood the test of time.

“Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Nike has shared inspiring and motivational athletic stories from around the world. Not just the world-class variety – my favorites are the underdog, and every day hero stories that show regular people like myself doing whatever it takes to reach their goals by overcoming whatever obstacles are in the way.

Values – Can you express what your brand stands for, that people can relate to? Do you share your values with your audience consistently? Here’s a values statement from Nike that has been updated to reflect their values regarding diversity and inclusivity, and environmental responsibility:

“Our mission is what drives us to do everything possible to expand human potential. We do that by creating groundbreaking sport innovations, by making our products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities where we live and work.”

Nike’s key values anchors its vision, mission, and purpose. Nike’s core values are:

  • Community
  • Sustainability
  • Diversity
  • Social responsibly

Belief – What do you believe to be true in your heart, mind and soul? What do you believe in, that drives your vision, values and purpose? If you don’t have something to believe in that makes you want to leap out of bed every morning, why would your audience want to believe in you? Here’s what Nike CEO John Donahoe said about Nike:

“I believe in sport’s capacity to transform lives and communities. And at a time when our society is more fragmented than ever when polarization is wearing down our institutions, and climate change is threatening our very survival, I believe in the power of sport to bring us together to change the world for the better.”

(Read his letter in Nike’s 202 report to learn more about how the company acted on their vision, values and beliefs.)

Part two: Walking your brand’s talk

Walking and talking pyramid

The three sections of Walking and Talking are:

  • How we look
  • How we talk
  • How we act

“How we look” – your brand’s visual identity

The “How we look” section covers the visual elements to your brand. When people think of branding, the logo is the first thing that comes to mind. Visual elements can also include the type fonts, colors and images used by the brand. Humans are very visual creatures. We tune into the colors, shapes and images used by brands, and how they are used.

When you look at a brand’s visual brand elements, you are seeing the brand’s personality expressed visually. Much like how people use fashion and clothing to express their personal identities, brands do the same thing using design and color. Just think of the crazy fashion codes we all adhered to in middle and high school that let other people size up quickly who we were, and who we liked to hang out with. You could usually easily tell the difference between the preppy kids and the skateboarding gang. Not rocket science – all brands rely on the same kind of visual cues to connect with their audiences!

Brand guidelines create the rules on how all the various visual elements of a brand play together to support the brand’s visual image. By making sure your brand elements are consistently used according to your brand rules, you come across as a brand who has its act together. An inconsistent or poorly defined visual brand identity is a clear signal to your audience that your brand is confused about who it is, and therefore maybe not the brand they are looking for or want to associate. 

“How we talk” – Your brand’s voice

Yes, your brand has a voice. Just think about the silly M & M candy characters. They love to poke fun by being colorful and entertaining. They are literally the voice of the M & M’s fun-loving brand.

Red M and M character

Your brand’s voice is the tone and words that you use to talk to your audience. If you know your brand’s archetypes, use the power words and voice/tone that are in alignment with your dominant and influencer archetypes to create authentic connections to your audience.

“How we act” – Your brand’s behavior

 Here’s where people judge your brand by what your brand does, not just the looks and talking. Does your brand “put your money where your mouth is?” In other words, when your brand commits to doing something, is there actual follow through to completion? More importantly, does your brand’s actions reflect your brand vision, values and beliefs? If your brand shares its values, vision and beliefs with your audience, that is what your brand will be judged by.

Let’s go back to our Nike example. Nike’s brand reputation, as well as other well-known sports apparel brands, has taken a beating with some audiences because of allegations of using unethical manufacturing practices in China and other countries. Critics have claimed that these unethical practices fly in direct opposition of the values that the Nike brand says it stands for.

People who feel strongly about this issue will respond, even to the point of changing to another brand or voicing negative opinions about the brand’s behavior. The result is Nike having to do a lot of damage control to repair the damage to its brand’s reputation.

Part three: Your brand’s proof of credibility & positioning 

Proof and positioning pyramid

This triangle governs your brand’s reputation and credibility. At the foundation of this pyramid is your brand’s positioning or value proposition. This foundation is essential to set your brand apart from the rest of your competitors. 

This pyramid also answers your audience’s question of “Why should I trust you?” You can build it up and support in a number of ways, depending on your business and industry.

Proof points

Proof points are factual, data-driven statements that demonstrate how you support your brand’s claims and promises. Ideally, these are from third-party or industry research sources, client testimonials and case studies, industry awards or similar recognition. Proof points provide credibility from outside your business and are an important part of differentiating your brand from the competition.

You have probably seen the “9 out of 10 doctors recommend XYZ brand to their patients.” This is a familiar example of a type of proof point called a recommendation. It uses authority figures (doctors, who are presumably trustworthy sources of recommendation) to create credibility with clients or prospects. Unless you have access to the list of people surveyed for the recommendation, it is left up to you, the consumer, to determine the validity of these kinds of recommendations.

Proof points can also come in the form of:

  • Industry benchmarks, such as research studies that provide quantitative results. An example of this would be a research paper published in a professionally recognized medical journal, such as the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA).
  • Industry leadership claims, such as being the first, best or only business to do or offer XYZ. If you, your business or brand has been recognized or awarded professional recognition for your achievements, use them! If you are a top seller in real estate, insurance or similar volume-ranked industries, these kinds of recognition are coveted.
  • Customer or industry analyst quotes or testimonials speak to the authority and credibility of your brand. Being human, we want to know who else has used your products or services, who has interacted with your brand, and how they rate you. This is what is behind the huge pull of leading social media influencers in your market or industry. The larger their following, the more influence and clout they carry.

Your brand’s taglines and slogans

Taglines are the catchy little sound bites or phrases that are used as a shorthand description of your brand and what it offers. Slogans are meant to express your brand’s big idea in a couple of words or short phrase.

In business, a slogan is "a catchphrase or small group of words that are combined in a special way to identify a product or company," according to Entrepreneur.com's small business encyclopedia.

A tagline is a catchy quip that evokes an image of your brand in the minds of your customers. Taglines enable people to make lighthearted associations with your business: "When I see [tagline], I think [company]." (For more info on slogans and taglines, check out this hubspot post.)

Here are some well-known examples of slogans:

  • M&M: "Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands"
  • Nike: "Just Do It."
  • State Farm: "Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There"
  • Dollar Shave Club: "Shave Time. Shave Money."

And now for some fun taglines:

  • Bounty: "The Quicker Picker Upper"
  • Lay's: "Betcha Can't Eat Just One."
  • McDonald's: "I'm Lovin' It"
  • The U.S. Marine Corps: "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."

Your brand positioning

Finally, your brand’s positioning. “Brand positioning” has been defined by marketing expert Philip Kotler as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.” In other words, brand positioning describes how a brand is different from its competitors and where, or how, it sits in customers’ minds.

Kotler recommends choosing specific positioning. Benefit positioning is common, where the brand promises a specific benefit to its targeted audience. An example of multiple benefits would be a toothpaste that promises fresh breath, whiter teeth and anticavity protection.

Other common examples of brand positioning include use or user positioning, where the brand provides a specific niche benefit, such as a Nike shoe designed specifically for basketball court performance. Category positioning is where the brand claims leadership, such as such as Dell or HP claiming industry leadership in enterprise business computer expertise.

(For more information on brand positioning, and how to build strong brand value propositions and positioning, read chapter 4 of Philip Kotler’s book “Kotler on Marketing.”)

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Are you taking a 360-degree view of how your brand is showing up in the world, or do you suffer from tunnel vision? Look at each of the sides of your brand triangles – have you neglected any of these areas, creating areas of weakness and/or instability that needs fixing? A triangle is only as strong as the three sides supporting each other.

Next episode: I’ll take a break from all this brain-heavy branding information to talk about the 4 main channels your brand shows up in the world (messaging, visual branding, collateral and places both online and physical). I’m also going to give you my opinion on what makes a brand great these days – it’s not always about the pretty logo!

Resources:

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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