How to Differentiate Your Corporate Brand

August 14, 2018

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

To differentiate the corporate brand, corporate communications should focus on how the brand promise delivers personal benefits to stakeholders.

“Established 1852. Re-established 2018.” Wells Fargo features this tagline in a rebranding effort that follows its fake-accounts scandal. Facebook and Uber have their own brand-building ad campaigns intended to rebuild trust after, respectively, a vast data breach and complaints of rampant sexual harassment.

“ Stakeholders who have a strong connection to a corporate brand are four times more likely to pay a premium for the company’s products”

These efforts reflect the reality that corporate brands are critical tools used by companies to forge — or re-forge — relationships with their most important stakeholder groups. A company signals its differentiated value proposition through its brand (i.e., how it chooses to talk, act, and visually portray itself) and yet, says Gartner senior advisor Dean Vitté, “Our 2017 Corporate Brand Survey showed only 29% of brands were considered to be different than their competitors.” Many corporate communications teams, then, still have work to do to develop strong brands — and capture the associated benefits. 

Building a good corporate brand is harder than ever

Wells Fargo, Facebook and Uber may face specific trust challenges, but building a positively differentiated brand is tough for any company given today’s environment:

  • Companies are complex. Corporate acquisitions and transformation initiatives are increasingly changing the shape of companies, making it harder for them to succinctly articulate their corporate identity.
  • Stakeholders are polarized. Stakeholders are increasingly vocal in they way they support or denounce brands. It’s hard for companies to appeal to the spectrum of stakeholders with any single brand message that resonates across audiences.
  • It’s tough for brand messaging to grab attention. In the digital age, companies face seemingly limitless competition for stakeholders’ attention and preferences.

Given the challenging environment, communications leaders need to know where to target their brand-building efforts. Gartner’s corporate brand research shows that building brand connection is the single biggest driver of preference — so the best use of comms resources is to increase a stakeholder’s personal connection to the brand.

Focus on personal benefits

Focus your brand promise on a “personal benefit,” an outcome that stakeholders get from associating with the company that satisfies an emotional or psychological need. “Stakeholders who have a strong connection to a corporate brand are four times more likely to pay a premium for the company’s products than those who don’t,” says Vitté. “They are also three times more likely to want to work for such companies without any increase in salary."

Define corporate brand strategy

To (re)focus your brand on personal benefits, first evaluate changes that may impact brand strategy and determine which audiences matter more or less given these changes. Companies often refresh their corporate brand when they have experienced a significant trigger event, such as the company examples mentioned above. Organizational changes are specific to you and include M&A, strategic updates, CEO transitions or large-scale layoffs. External changes relate to the operating environment and include shifting stakeholder behaviors, emerging competitive threats, or regulatory changes. Discuss what these changes mean for your target stakeholders (i.e., which audiences matter more or less than in the past) to help prioritize the most critical audiences for your corporate brand.

“ Ensure your brand promises align with your company’s strengths or priority areas”

Specify what your company hopes to achieve through the brand refresh and identify which success metrics you’ll track to assess the health of your corporate brand. If your goal is to improve your brand’s image or reputation, track the number of people who are familiar with your brand or prefer your brand over your competitors. Also consider selecting metrics that help determine how well your company is fulfilling its values. For example, if your company highly values employee satisfaction, track metrics such as employee engagement scores or service levels.

Assess brand promises

Ensure your brand promises align with your company’s strengths or priority areas. Start by brainstorming potential sources of benefits to critical audiences, and determining a set of associated brand promises. Then think about what distinguishes your brand from competitors, what your unique strengths or advantages are, and how different audiences would describe your company (e.g., your best and worst customers, newly hired employees). For example, a consumer goods company may choose to focus their brand on the promises of self-esteem, or helping people feel good about themselves and life purpose, or helping people focus on achieving their health and wellness goals. Evaluate which of the alternative corporate brand promises audiences associate most with your organization and gather insight on how they derive value from those promises.

Refine the corporate brand

Once you’ve identified a potential list of brand promises, select those that are most meaningful and credible for each target audience. Pay attention to the language that stakeholders use to describe satisfying experiences with your company, as well as situations when stakeholders need the benefit you provide (e.g., when they’re under pressure, at risk, or require lots of effort). To resolve practical concerns about the brand promises, ask yourself (or your team) if:

  • they fit your internal capabilities
  • you are comfortable with the degree of aspiration and the risk of imitation
  • you have minimized message conflict across audiences

Finally, discuss the internal behaviors and structures that should be changed or reinforced to best fulfill the brand promises, and plan for brand implementation. Update brand elements, such as your company logo and color palette, build a repository of brand communication elements and fundamentals, build brand awareness among employees, and enable ongoing engagement and alignment.

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