A brand is more than a logo, a product, or a killer elevator pitch. It’s a combination of language, imagery, experience, and perception, that together, build recognition, trust, and loyalty among consumers.
Today, brands are expected to provide seamless, personalized experiences across multiple social platforms, websites, emails, chatbots, physical stores, and sales interactions. Employee advocacy programs, influencer campaigns, review sites, and third-party sellers further complicate the mix.
Brand management is a critical strategy that reinforces brand goals, design, identity, and values at every touchpoint. Below, we’ll define brand management, cover some core fundamentals, then walk through a simple, eight-step process for building your own brand management strategy.
What is Brand Management?
Brand management is a strategy for influencing brand perception and representing your brand accurately in front of your target audience.
Where branding is about building your brand and defining its unique qualities, brand management ensures consistency across every channel, touchpoint, and piece of content by reinforcing brand guidelines.
Done right, brand management helps companies maintain control of their reputation, build market recognition, and shape audience perception in a way that generates awareness, affinity, and lasting loyalty.
Why Brand Management Matters?
No matter how great your brand is, outside forces can influence how customers perceive your company. As mentioned, a brand is made up of a lot of moving pieces—templates and style guides, briefs, sales sheets, and graphics, plus a long list of intangibles like perceived value or brand affinity.
Brand management matters because it gives companies the ability to control their own narrative. Without a systematic process for monitoring and maintaining these elements, online reviews, rogue employees, third-party partners, and press mentions join forces to tell a different story--one that might not align with your brand at all.
How Brand Management Impacts the Entire Organization
While you might think of brand management as something that marketing deals with, maintaining a positive brand image is a company-wide affair.
Because there’s so much competition, it’s important that your brand offers something consumers can’t find anywhere else. That goes beyond products and services--brands compete on experience and deal in intangibles.
Brand management helps the entire organization understand the brand’s voice, values, and what consumers need at each touchpoint in the journey, across every channel.
9 Fundamentals of Strategic Brand Management
Before you start putting together a brand management strategy, it’s important to understand these nine fundamentals.
1. Brand Promise
A brand promise represents an experience or level of quality that customers can expect to receive every time they interact with a company. Over time, as companies meet (or, ideally, exceed) expectations, the more valuable those brands become to their consumers.
2. Brand Identity
Your brand identity is made up of the tangible elements—color, logo, design—that makes you recognizable to your audience, and over time, it becomes what customers associate with your brand.
Identity is an important part of visually reinforcing brand values and personality, so that you attract the right audience and start building the connection that leads to conversion, loyalty, and if all goes well, brand evangelism.
3. Brand Marketing
Brand marketing is a strategy for promoting your products or services in a way that highlights your brand’s identity, personality, and unique value proposition in the communications you share with your audience.
The goal here is to bridge the gap between your product and your ideal consumer by reaching them with the right message, on the right channel, at the right time.
4. Brand Awareness
You can’t engage an audience if they don’t know you exist. Brand awareness refers to how familiar you are to your target audience, and while it’s hard to measure, is an important step toward building trust, equity, and eventually, loyalty.
Awareness is built over time by running ads, publishing content, and interacting with your audience, and essentially helps you put a face to your brand’s name, share your story, and prove your value. You might look toward freemium pricing, free trials, or referral programs to get users to spread the word.
5. Brand Recognition
While brand awareness and brand recognition might sound like two names for the same thing, there’s a subtle, yet important difference between the two. Brand recognition refers to how well your target consumer can recognize your brand based on imagery, logo, or tagline alone. In other words—do they know you if you take away the brand name?
Where brand awareness often relies on some guidance from the brand, recognition means that your audience can identify your brand without assistance.
6. Brand Reputation
Brand reputation refers to how both your target audience and the general public perceive your brand. It’s influenced by things like quality, service, and experience, as well as media attention, reviews, and word of mouth.
Reputation plays a critical role in your company’s success—for many, it serves as the first impression of your brand—and as a result, can be the determining factor as to whether someone takes a chance on your offering or goes with a competitor.
It’s worth noting that you can take control over your reputation just by showing up and engaging with your audience. According to a study sponsored by Forbes Insights, about 50% of a brand’s reputation comes from being social online.
So, while a bad review or public complaint is something you’ll want to deal with ASAP, making yourself known (and available) may well be the best way to shape your brand’s narrative.
7. Brand Loyalty
Brand loyalty is a term that describes how consistently your audience engages with your brand—be it via repeat purchases or ongoing engagement with your online channels.
Brand loyalty is won by focusing on satisfaction, customer relationships, and staying true to the values both you and your audience cares about.
Loyalty also has a major impact on the bottom line—it helps create brand evangelists who market on your behalf and keeps existing customers coming back for repeat purchases.
8. Brand Equity
Brand equity represents the value that customers assign to a brand name, rather than the products or services it provides.
Equity develops over time, as a result of customer experiences with a brand. Positive brand equity allows you to charge more than your competitors, can increase stock prices, and makes it easier for companies to sell new products—based on name alone.
9. Brand Innovation
Brand innovation is an essential piece of any brand’s marketing strategy. According to a Lab42 survey from a few years back, 84% of customers say that it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” that a company offers innovative products.
Keep in mind, new products, solutions, and marketing campaigns should center around your audience.
SurveyMonkey found that 90% of consumers say that the best way for companies to drive innovation is by listening to their customers.
Use feedback sourced from surveys, interviews, and conversations with your customers, along with insights gleaned from social platforms or reviews. Consider gaps in the market or areas where your competitors fall short.
Your Simple 8 Step Brand Management Process
Now that we’ve gone over the fundamental aspects of brand management, let’s go over a basic framework for developing a brand management process.
1. Clearly Define Brand Values and Positioning
Developing a strong brand management strategy starts by understanding exactly “who” you are as a brand. It’s important to note that while this may sound simple, defining your brand values and positioning is a process that requires some serious thought.
Your core values, goals, and market position will form the foundation for everything you do. That includes how you interact with your audience, who you hire, and how you’ll make decisions.
Get this part wrong, and well, the whole thing falls apart.
Here’s a quick look at what values and positioning mean in the context of brand management, and what benefits each brings to the table.
Established brand values communicate what a company believes in, and serve as the foundation for everything from your culture and communications to your aesthetic, behaviors, and decision-making.
That clarity provides several benefits including:
- Better decision-making. Brand values help organizations assess opportunities, threats, and potential partnerships by giving them a frame of reference. By asking yourself, “does this decision align with my values?” or “how might my audience respond to this move?” you’ll have an easier time staying true to your principles, even as you scale.
- Prospects can easily “self-qualify.” By making it clear what your brand is all about and who it’s for, you’ll automatically weed out the people who aren’t a good fit for your brand and make it easier to find the people who are.
- Attract & retain top talent. Your brand values also act as a recruiting tool for finding like-minded employees who feel invested in their work. Those shared values create a culture of belonging, which leads to greater productivity and lower rates of turnover. What’s more, employees with a sense of pride in their work and a belief in your mission are likely to be willing brand advocates on social media.
Keep in mind, defining brand values isn’t a one-time task. It’s something you’ll need to revisit regularly to maintain the integrity of what your brand represents.
Brand values also inform how you’ll respond to current events and crises--including the current pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, or a major natural disaster.
Long-term, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not changing your values based on what other people think they should be, and you’ll want to make sure that employees at every level are on the same page.
While your values might remain consistent, it’s important to check in and ensure that everyone is in alignment. Otherwise, consumers may encounter inconsistent experiences or conflicting messaging.
Brand positioning is typically defined as the process of designing the brand’s product/service and aesthetics to occupy a specific place in the market.
Done right, a brand positioning strategy forms the basis for creating associations in your customers’ minds—it’s the key to shaping consumer perceptions, driving loyalty, and building trust and credibility.
Brand positioning starts by:
- Understanding who your customers are and what they need
- What your brand can do to meet those needs
- How competitors are currently positioning their brand
From there, you’ll need to develop a positioning statement. Essentially, a brand positioning statement acts like an elevator pitch, explaining what your business stands for and why it exists. It should explain what you offer, who it’s for, and how you’re different from your competitors.
Positioning statements should meet the following criteria:
- It doesn’t promise anything it can’t deliver.
- It resonates with customer pain points, needs, or desires.
- It explains what you do that your competitors don’t.
Finally, it’s important to note that brand positioning should define your visual identity, tone, and target audience.
2. Set Up a Brand Asset Management System
Your brand assets represent the tangible materials that employees, customers, or members of the public can see, including:
- Social media accounts.
- Visual elements--think logos, graphics, photography, layouts, and color schemes.
A brand management system keeps all communications, visuals, and messaging compliant with brand guidelines and regulatory requirements, and makes it easy to find assets employees need to do their jobs.
You’ll want to establish a centralized hub for managing, organizing, and securing all assets.
At a minimum, your asset management platform should perform the following functions:
- Accessible storage system
- Uniform naming conventions
- Routine checks for inconsistencies and outdated information
- Guidance for how employees should access and use assets
- Access controls, plus sharing & editing permissions for maintaining brand compliance
You should routinely audit your asset management system to make sure that all channels, visuals, and content remain consistent as your library grows. Over time, you may need to adapt your folder structure to fit changing workflows.
3. Review and Approve All Brand Assets
Building on the last step, you’ll also want to make sure that your digital brand management stack includes the ability to review, approve, and collaborate on assets. If you’re using Ziflow to review assets, you can save a record of every version, comment, and decision point.
You’ll also want to find a solution that allows users to set approval flows for any creative that will be distributed to employees, consumers, or published on public channels. Additionally, solutions should include controls over who can edit/access specific assets.
Altogether, a review process, supported by workflows and controls help companies avoid mishaps that can put their brand at risk--from ad hoc sales collateral to outdated content or confidential information.
To save time, companies might put together a series of reusable templates for sales and customer success teams to share with clients and prospects. Templates can include customizable content blocks that allow for personalization, while keeping approved messaging and formatting intact.
Marketing teams can edit templates, sales sheets, and other resources, syncing changes across all user accounts. That way, all customer-facing teams always share the latest information, without having to dig through multiple content repositories.
This will help ensure things are not only on-brand, but that assets are always in compliance with regulatory requirements and your style guide.
4. Define Your Brand Distribution Channels
Where will you be promoting the brand? This will dictate how you measure performance, and where you focus your brand management efforts.
Typical distribution channels include a website, blog social media channels, and search ads, but they can expand into a complex, multiplayer network as you scale.
You might also rely on channel sales partners, influencers, affiliates, and third-party retailers to sell your products. In which case, you’ll need to create documentation, training, and assets that help your partners stay on-brand.
In terms of channels, you’ll need to come up with a plan for maintaining consistency on different platforms. While you’ll want to approach LinkedIn differently than say, TikTok or Instagram, there should be a consistent throughline between each channel.
Think about your brand as though it were a person. You might adjust your appearance and filter your language to fit different situations. However, you’re the same person, with the same values whether you’re at a job interview, a cookout, or a first date.
5. Develop a Brand Reputation Management Plan
From Yelp reviews to Twitter mentions, it’s never been easier for customers to share their thoughts with their friends, family, and thousands of strangers.
Social media channels allow unhappy customers to vent in front of a massive audience, which can cause serious reputational damage if you’re not careful. The other side of this is, when customers share positive experiences, it brings in business and grows brand affinity.
To make sure your reputation is working in your favor, you’ll need to develop an online brand management strategy that includes social listening and a system for capturing feedback.
You’ll also want to develop a strategy for generating reviews across all relevant platforms.
Local businesses should focus on Google My Business, Yelp, TrustPilot, etc., while e-commerce brands might focus on generating star-reviews and write-ups to feature on their site.
SaaS companies, on the other hand, will look to bolster their brand on sites like G2 and Capterra.
6. Monitor Brand Sentiment and Recognition
Long-term, you’ll want to make sure that you monitor brand performance, making sure that all channels, communications, and content aligns with your values and positioning.
You’ll want to measure success across three main areas:
- Internal. Is everyone on the same page when it comes to values, positioning, and company culture? How do employees talk about the brand on client calls, social media, or during in-office interactions?
If there are conflicting messages, this may be a sign that your foundational values/positioning statement need to be revisited and better incorporated into messaging.
- External. What do people say about your brand online? In surveys? How do they respond to content/messaging? Are there differences between the responses on different channels? What materials are most effective?
Additionally, you’ll want to pay close attention to press mentions, review sites, and vendors/partners and how they talk about your brand.
- Customer experience. Here, you’ll want to consider how your sales process, support staff, and online experience influence customer perception. Are you receiving complaints? Glowing reviews? Where might you improve processes or update messaging for better results?
While each of these elements looks at your brand from a different perspective, you’ll want to make sure everything consistently aligns with brand standards.
Is everyone in your company clear on what your brand is about? Are your values and positioning clear at every touchpoint? Do conversations with customers echo those values?
7. Incentivize and Reward Brand Advocates
Brand advocates, whether they’re among your employee ranks or your champions on the outside, are incredibly valuable assets. As such, make sure you reward those who spread the word about your brand.
- Loyalty programs. Reward frequent customers, long-term clients with redeemable points, VIP privileges, or membership to an exclusive community (i.e. an insider Facebook group or access to premium content).
- Referral discounts. Referral programs are particularly useful when you’ve got some loyal users but haven’t yet hit the big-time. Consider offering a discount to users for every new customer they bring in.
- Affiliate/influencer marketing. Establish paid partnerships with your fans who have followings.
On the employee side, you might tie advocacy to a cash prize or an office celebration to reward a job well-done. Things like leaderboards and point-systems can encourage participation by adding a competitive element into the mix.
You might also allow employees to build their personal brands on the job, sharing their own content alongside brand-related news. In B2B industries, this is a great way to build trust with audiences and position your brand as thought leaders in your industry.
8. Monitor the Market and Competitors
Competitive analysis is an ongoing part of your brand management strategy.
New entrants can emerge at any time. Technologies evolve, as do consumer preferences.
While your brand identity and values should remain intact, you should be prepared to respond to new opportunities, competitors, and the changing needs of your audience.
Ready. Set. Manage.
Great brands are built on more than product or marketing materials, they’re about experience, trust, and the perception of value.
Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop or enterprise company, a well-planned brand management strategy can protect your reputation and boost your bottom line.
Ziflow supports brand management with streamlined approval workflows, centralized brand asset management, and easy collaboration.
Learn more about our online proofing software--and its full suite of features here.