The marketing leader’s guide to effective brand management

An identifiable brand represents far more than just the sum of its parts. Like a familiar face, a recognizable brand evokes an emotional reaction in customers. It connects your product to the qualities and values you represent to that customer, and it builds the familiarity, trust, and loyalty your business needs to flourish.

All departments within a company are responsible for representing your brand and using these connected values to inform their work. Though brand management and marketing are connected, there are key differences. Brand management is the process of creating the brand itself, while marketing promotes that brand and uses it to encourage customer engagement.

Since the role of marketing is to form the connection between your business and your customers, marketing teams are entrusted with much of the responsibility of brand management. To manage your brand effectively, you need to shape the emotional connection your customers have to your product, visuals, and the values your company represents.

What is brand management?

Brand management encompasses all the ways a business can measure, influence, and use customers’ emotional perception of their brand identity. It is the strategic ways you can shape the perception of your brand to serve your business’s goals and help it grow.

Brand management shapes brand features to evoke an emotional reaction

A brand is recognized by its logo and design, but those are not the brand. The brand itself exists within the mind of the public. A brand is a customer’s emotional reaction to your product. It is created in the interaction between your company, your product, and your customers.

The elements that define a brand fall into two categories — tangible and intangible features.

The tangible features of a brand

The tangible features of a brand are elements that can be seen and experienced with the senses. They are concrete and objective. These include —

  • Logo (The Golden Arches, the Swoosh)
  • Signature colors (Twitter blue, Coca-Cola red, Starbucks green)
  • Design of marketing materials
  • Design of product (The curve of a coke bottle)
  • Packaging (Minimal white iPhone boxes, a Tiffany blue box, an Amazon package)
  • Price ($5 footlong, The Dollar Menu)
  • Social media(Ben & Jerry’s Twitter feed)
  • Spokespeople or characters (Mickey Mouse, Geico Gecko, The Most Interesting Man in the World)
  • All sensory cues — signature scent, flavor, lighting and store design, music (The scent of Cinnabon at the mall)

Nike's swoosh logo, Coca-Cola red and it’s iconic bottle, and the Tiffany's blue box are all easily recognizable and instantly connect to the brand.

Each of the examples in italics evokes a sense-association, and most people will be able to instantly identify the brand from the cue, without its name ever being mentioned. That is the power of branding.

The intangible features of a brand

Intangible elements that relate to the purpose, vision, and mission of your company.

  • Who your target audience is
  • Your company mission statement
  • The voice, tone, and personality of your communications and marketing materials
  • Customer experience—in-store or online
  • Brand image and social meanings

Brand management is intentionally selecting and leveraging these brand elements to shape the public perception of your brand.

Ben and Jerry's company values are an integral part of their brand

Brand management is a long-term project

A brand is not built overnight. It takes time to firmly establish a brand that is recognizable and evokes a strong mental association for customers. Some brands may achieve overnight viral recognition — often disappearing just as quickly — but building a brand that will last is still a slow and steady process.

The most instantly recognizable brands have built up their name and branding over many years. They are firmly established in the mind of the general public, making their brand incredibly valuable.

The stronger a brand gets, the less is needed to communicate it. The most recognizable brands can be identified with the simplest of cues: Coca-Cola red or a swooping arrow on a brown Amazon box. These simple visual cues prompt memories, emotions, and connections in the audience’s minds.

Brand management creates monetary value

Branding has a tangible monetary value. According to a DISQO study, 58% of respondents had a stronger affinity for brand name products over generic products, and financial analysts have ways to put a dollar value on the brand itself. This is important because customers will be willing to pay more for the same item if it is associated with a brand they like and trust. If you can develop a favored brand, it will bring significant financial benefit to your business.

Brand management guides your company’s work

A brand is also a tool that everyone at the company actively uses in their work. It will inform the visual design of the materials that teams create within the company. It will also help to guide the choices teams make and evaluate if their decisions are in line with the direction of the company.

Establish a brand strategy

A brand strategy establishes long-term goals for your brand. Your strategy is what will inform the direction in which you build your brand management. Generally, the main goal of brand strategy is to make your product identifiable to and preferred by consumers.

To create a brand strategy, you need to understand what your target market wants, make a plan to deliver that need in a better or different way than your competitors, and deliver messaging to that market linking your brand to the need that is being met.

Understand what need your product meets

To begin implementing a brand strategy, you need to understand your brand's current position before making goals for how you want it to develop. Evaluate the following factors:

The purpose of your brand

What problems does your product solve? How does your product benefit customers? How can your product establish itself more firmly as the product that meets a specific need?

Consult loyal customers

If your brand is already somewhat established and looking to grow, the most important thing you can do is consult the customers who are already loyal and advocating for your company. Use focus groups and evaluate online responses to understand what they value about your brand. Why do they love your brand? What about it works for them? How do they perceive you?

Convert potential customers

To grow, you will need to bring in a wider customer base as well. Look at your audience of potential customers to establish strategies to convert them. Why haven’t they become customers yet? Are they aware of your brand? If not, your goal should be to build awareness.

What are their perceptions of your brand? If they don’t perceive your product as suiting their lifestyle or fulfilling their needs, develop strategies for changing that perception. What needs do they have that you could fulfill? Why aren’t you already their choice in fulfilling those needs?

Identify your competitors

Plan your strategy taking the landscape of your competition into account. Decide where you want to differentiate yourself and where you want to do the same thing, but better. Examine what your competitors offer that you also offer, what they do that you don’t, and what could make you stand out in comparison.

Survey employees

An often-overlooked element of creating a brand strategy, especially for a new or growing company, is employee perception of brand identity. Ask employees how they perceive what you do and what they value most in your company. Employees are the ones actively using and building your brand in their everyday work, and they will be the ones helping you to achieve your brand strategy. Their buy-in is important!

Decide on your target audience and develop messaging for them

Your product delivers specific value to a specific group of people and your brand strategy develops marketing materials that target your chosen audience in order to increase brand awareness and demonstrate the ways your product will meet the needs of that group. Your target audience needs to be specific. An overly general audience will end up with a vague strategy that doesn’t connect strongly with anyone in the end.

Your brand messaging will be delivered through all of your marketing channels, including your website, social media presence, paid advertising, and content marketing. Your marketing team should develop materials that are informed by your brand strategy and goals and use the brand positioning and guidelines in the next steps to create them.

Define your brand positioning and narrative

To execute effective brand management, you first need to define and communicate what your brand is, getting everyone in the company aligned on your brand identity and mission.

Establish and refine brand positioning

Brand positioning is relational. It establishes your brand’s place on the map, plotting out the areas you occupy and where the boundaries lie between your offerings and those of your competitors.

Write a brand positioning statement

Your positioning statement should be unique, memorable, and specific. Avoid being generic or using vague words like “high quality.” This is the brand equivalent to someone on Tinder claiming to “like having fun.” Even if it’s true, it won’t make someone swipe right.

A positioning statement reflects how your brand is perceived; it doesn’t create it. It should ring true with users’ existing experiences. This is not the place to be unexpected. Someone familiar with your brand should react with recognition, not confusion. Authenticity builds trust. To begin writing, listen to your customers and reflect their positive associations back to them.

A positioning statement has four elements:

The target audience: Who uses your product?

A frame of reference: What is your field or industry?

Your point of difference: What makes you stand out from the rest of that industry?

Support: Why are you different or better than your competitors?

Let’s look at Apple for an example:

“For individuals who want the best personal computer or mobile device, Apple leads the technology industry with the most innovative products. Apple emphasizes technological research and advancement and takes an innovative approach to business best practices — it considers the impact our products and processes have on its customers and the planet.”

The target audience: Individuals who want the best personal computer or mobile device

The frame of reference: The technology industry

Their point of difference: The most innovative products

Their support: Apple emphasizes technological research and advancement and takes an innovative approach to business best practices — it considers the impact our products and processes have on its customers and the planet.

Refine your positioning over time

Brand positioning is reflective of your perception rather than determining it, so it needs to be able to change over time. The market may shift, the product you offer may develop, and your company will ideally grow and change with the world around it. Revisit your positioning statement at important junctions in your company growth to keep it responsive and current.

Develop brand narratives

A brand narrative is the story that you tell about your brand. It can describe its history, the connection that its users have to it, and the way its values shape its choices. It forms a framework that connects the various elements that make up your brand into a cohesive and emotionally evocative story.

You can use your brand narrative to guide your decisions as a company and to craft marketing materials that give your customers a deeper connection to who you are and what you represent.

As an example of a well-supported brand narrative, Brandeis University shares its brand narrative. The university also elaborates on how it crafted its narrative—doubling as appropriate branding support for an educational institution. Its starting point is this:

"Brandeis is a research university shaped by a spirit of rigorous inquiry. And because Brandeis is smaller than other research universities, it is also marked by a particular connectivity. Faculty, students and staff engage with others across departments, disciplines and interests. This results in an academic and social environment that is both deeply curious and collaborative."

It further explains its themes of “connectedness” and “intellectual rigor” and backs up its narrative with information about its scholarship, its students, and its history. It connects its founding by Jewish scholars in the 1940s to its commitment to accessibility to all and social justice.

Create and use brand guidelines

Brand guidelines take the emotional context of your brand identity and turn it into concrete, usable pieces. The narrative and positioning that you established will inform these brand guidelines.

The most important part of brand guidelines is that they are a working document. They are meant to be actively used on a daily basis. They should inform the work of all your departments by helping them to understand and represent your brand in their work.

What to include in your brand guidelines

Brand guidelines should include visual and design elements. We’ve included examples from our own brand guidelines for Canva.

Colors

Show the colors that define your brand in your logos, web presences, and printed materials. Define primary, secondary, and tertiary colors for your brand and color palettes for specific uses. Explain exactly where and how to use each of these colors. Include CMYK and RGB codes, so the colors are definitive and useable across devices.

Canva’s brand guidelines include primary and secondary colors, a gradient, and colors for special uses.

Logos

Show your company logo along with the different versions you have created for use in different contexts. Include guidelines for logo usage—where it should be used, how it should be used, and when it should not be used. Give information about sizing and placement. You can include downloadable files of your logos that are ready to be used.

Canva’s own brand guidelines include downloadable logos in different forms, including apps.

Font

Explain what fonts should be used for company materials and in what contexts. Include information about digital and print marketing materials, as well as company communications and internal documents. Include information about text sizing. For the web, you might want to include information about minimum and maximum sizing for accessibility.

Canva’s brand guidelines include fonts and sizing for titles and body text.

Images

Include information about whatever types of imagery your company uses. This may be everything from photographs to illustrations to icons. This is an area where brand narrative can provide additional context. Do you use human figures? What kinds? Do you have guidelines for diversity within these images? Do you have a specific aesthetic or values that need to inform the choice of imagery that is used?

Canva’s brand guidelines include a media kit with photographs and product screenshots.

Layouts

You may want to include templates of various layouts that can be used for your company’s materials. Web layouts are useful for repeating elements, like case studies or product pages, as well as templates for letterheads and business cards for your employees’ use.

You can include a template for your business cards that can be downloaded and customized by your staff.

Writing guidelines

Include information on how to write for your brand. This might include the grammar rules you follow. It should also define the tone of voice and approach you use in your communications and advertising. It can be helpful to add information about accessible and inclusive language and terms to use or avoid that support the values of your brand.

Brand identity, history, and voice

Along with strictly visual information, you also want to give those using your brand guidelines some deeper information about your brand. This is where you can give quick access to information on your brand history, mission statement, values, and vision for the future.

Share your brand guidelines

Brand guidelines need to be easy to use and easy to access. Most companies have digital guidelines they use that can be accessed within the company. You can make a quick-reference brand board or develop a brand presentation to share newly developed guidelines internally.

Brand guidelines are a living document, so make a digital version that can be updated and shared easily. A digital format also enables you to include elements, like logos and fonts, that can be quickly and easily downloaded for use across your company.

You may want to share your brand guidelines publicly on your website. Public brand guidelines will both build your brand identity and give you an opportunity to show off your designer’s skills. Webflow and Asana are both great examples of public brand guidelines as public websites.

Asana’s brand guideline site features this beautiful visualization of the Brand System they have created.

Measure brand equity

Brand equity is the value of your brand turned into a quantifiable measurement. Measuring it will help you evaluate the success of your brand management efforts. Brand equity will reflect how aware of your brand the public is and how they feel about it.

You will want to measure equity regularly in order to track the success of your brand management over time. These three measurement methods together can give you well-rounded information about your brand equity:

Brand evaluation

Brand evaluation takes a quantitative approach. It measures your company’s financial situation and how it may be impacted by your brand.

This approach uses quantifiable datasets, such as dollar value and hard numbers (sales, subscriptions, financial data), to measure brand value and performance. It is easier to measure, but it can be hard to determine how much of the added value is due to the brand, compared to all the other factors that might influence finances.

To financially evaluate your brand, track these numbers over time:

  • Company revenue
  • Rate of sustained growth
  • Market share
  • Average transaction value
  • Price premium compared to the competition

Brand awareness

Measuring brand awareness looks at the general public and your potential customer base for their perspectives on your brand. The questions you’re trying to answer are:

  • Does the general public recognize your branding?
  • Are they aware of what your company offers?
  • Do they have opinions about the quality of your product?

You can measure brand awareness by gathering focus groups, sending out surveys, and evaluating the media, social channels, and review sites.

Brand preference

Measure brand preference to evaluate the perception and reasons for the performance of your brand against your competitors. Brand preference testing can also help to make emotional data more objective by evaluating the practical factors that could influence someone choosing your brand. Measure brand preference by evaluating the following elements that affect brand preference:

Accessibility of your product

Evaluate whether your target market is able to easily access your product and if it is actually available where and when they need it. Offering a product isn’t going to succeed if that product can’t get into the hands of the people who need it. Accessibility can be measured by identifying who your target market is and surveying them to find out where they purchase or download their products. Identify geographical areas, physical shops, and websites and compare that list against your suppliers.

Brand relevance

Evaluate the specific benefit your product offers to the public and whether it has a unique feature that sets your brand apart from that of your competitors. To measure brand relevance, survey the products in your field, break them down, and compare those features across the board.

Brand value

Evaluate the cost of your product compared to the services that are provided. Measure brand value by surveying your pricing and the features of your product compared against those of your competitors.

Emotional connection

Evaluate how strongly and how personally customers feel about your product. Use surveys and focus groups to measure emotional connection. An example of a strong emotional connection impacting a brand is the intense loyalties that some users may have to Apple iPhones versus Android phones.

Use effective brand management to support marketing efforts

Skillful brand management works in tandem with marketing efforts. A strong brand is easier to market. Instead of advertising and building customer awareness from zero, marketing teams have an identity to riff off of and build upon.

Brand management is a long-term project, and marketing leaders should plan a thoughtful strategy for defining and building their brand in both the short term and long into the future. The work will pay off. A marketing team that has built a recognizable and valuable brand over time will find that they are able to use the public perception of their brand to craft creative and successful marketing initiatives.

Frequently asked questions about brand management:

What is the difference between brand management vs marketing?

Brand management may fall under the umbrella of marketing, but its focus is more specific. Brand management is in charge of shaping the perception of your brand and strategically developing your brand with an eye on the goals of the business while marketing focuses more specifically on selling your brand and products.

What is a brand framework?

A brand framework is a guiding structure that keeps your brand management focused on your core brand identity and strategic goals. It is commonly visualized as a pyramid or Venn diagram showing the core features of your brand such as brand promise, personality, attributes, and positioning.

What makes a brand successful?

A brand is successful when it has a clear association in the minds of its audience that is recognizable, distinctive, consistent, and has a positive emotional association that is tangibly linked to the brand’s attributes.

What are the key activities associated with brand management?

Brand management involves analyzing the competitive landscape and brand equity, setting brand strategy, determining brand positioning, creating and communicating brand guidelines, and guiding the execution of the brand strategy within marketing and throughout the company.

What is a brand personality?

A brand personality is the human characteristics that customers associate with a brand. The brand personality is how they might describe the brand if it were a person. The words used should have strong emotional implications such as rugged, sophisticated, fun, or passionate.

What makes a brand unique?

A brand is unique when it is instantly recognizable and clearly differentiated from its competitors both visually and by its features.

What is the role of a brand manager?

A brand manager develops a brand strategy that supports the business goals of the company and executes that strategy to build brand associations in their target market.

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