Ah yes, the venerable brand. Key to customer decision making? Or convenient term to throw in an agency pitch deck to get a bigger budget?
We’ll step aside from high-minded branding debates and get right into it, bringing you lessons from high-, low- and zero-dollar branding projects in this article.
Read on for specific branding examples from a cable network, business development service, school, rock climbing instructor, and companies in the cybersecurity, food and beverages, leisure, travel and tourism, software, and business supplies and equipment industries.
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For many direct response and conversion-focused marketers, branding can feel amorphous. These marketers are generally focused on direct results and have no patience for woolly metrics like brand sentiment or positive associations.
To gauge branding’s effect on conversion metrics, MECLABS Institute has run branding experiments on landing pages (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa). Here are two examples.
In one experiment, a lightly branded landing page had 40% higher conversion than a non-branded landing page.
But in another experiment, a fully branded landing page experienced a 34% decrease in conversion when tested against a lightly branded landing page.
So branding is a woolly beast to master. Done well, simply adding the brand to the exact same marketing collateral can drive a significant increase in conversion. However, done poorly, you’ll be shooting your marketing in the proverbial foot.
In this article, we’ll provide mini-case studies of successful branding to spark your own ideas.
And if you’d like to learn a systematic approach for a successful brand strategy, feel free to watch the MarketingExperiments session Aligning the Brand with the Value Proposition Is the Most Powerful Way to Create Value Momentum, the source of the two previously mentioned experiments.
Humans are pack animals. We’re social creatures. We can’t help but look at others and try to keep up with the Joneses.
I’ve been in meetings before when I see something on a company’s website, ask how they came up with it and was told, “Well, we saw the industry leader doing it.”
Don’t just follow and copy the branding of your industry’s leader, or you’ll create yet another Why Bother Brand.
Take C-SPAN for example (which stands for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network). There are many cable news channels trying to make politics exciting — with dynamic exploding graphics packages, and tickers moving all over the screen screaming “breaking news”, and talking heads screaming at each other about whatever side of the rhetoric they are paid to represent.
When I was a Page in the U.S. House of Representatives in high school, my family back in Florida would watch C-SPAN when they missed me. Because it was literally just a camcorder aimed at the House floor, and they could see me walking around all day or opening the door for the Speaker.
You can watch your elected officials in action, and in special moments, watch the build-up to historic legislation.
Creative Sample #1: C-SPAN transit bus ad before rebranding
It would have been easy for C-SPAN to mimic its competitors when it launched a brand refresh to mark its 40th anniversary. But instead of looking outward, the brand tried to learn more about itself.
“The challenge was to ensure that the essence of C-SPAN — what makes them so iconic — remained. After absorbing their existing research, we conducted internal and external interviews with stakeholders on the Hill [Capitol Hill], the media, and C-SPAN’s funders,” said Lauren Leva, VP, Marketing Services, Grafik, an agency that led the re-branding for C-SPAN.
“The team seemed genuinely intrigued and motivated by the fact that we’re different, and we felt good that they were paying us so much attention and adjusting their efforts to match our interests and needs,” said Peter Kiley, VP Communications, C-SPAN.
Based on the research, the unifying theme “Your Unfiltered View of Government” was adopted and introduced to remind viewers that C-SPAN offered a unique view into government.
“In a time with so much dissension in the media and people choosing sides, there was universal agreement that C-SPAN is more relevant today than ever before. This was a good opportunity for C-SPAN to showcase their position right down the middle as a trusted resource,” Leva said.
Creative Sample #2: C-SPAN newspaper ad after brand refresh
The unfiltered branding approach was communicated through advertising with a headline like, “40 years on the Hill, and we have yet to take a side.”
Creative Sample #3: C-SPAN TV network transit bus shelter ad after brand refresh
Merchandising was even created to communicate the new brand message with, for example, a hat that read “Make Up Your Own Mind” and a coffee mug that stated “#Unfiltered.”
Creative Sample #4: C-SPAN merchandise after re-brand
The campaign garnered over a quarter of a million viewers in the first two weeks of the campaign as #cspan40 trended on Twitter.
“C-SPAN was recognized as one of the three finalists in Brandweek’s rebranding category for campaigns,” said Marty Dominguez, VP Marketing, C-SPAN. “Although it wouldn’t be solely attributable to rebranding, we’ve had a banner year in terms of growth. Increased engagement and number of followers on social media platforms has exceeded all of our expectations for growth this year.”
All of marketing can be explained by “Seinfeld.” In one episode, Jerry buys his dad The Wizard electric organizer. His dad doesn’t care about an electric organizer, but when he hears that he can use it to calculate tips — that impresses him.
Don’t make your brand all about your product and company. Nobody cares about that. They care what your brand can do for them. They care, for example, that your company can help them “Think Different.”
While this is true for every product and service, it tends to be especially challenging for tech companies.
DeSantis Breindel conducted a series of workshops, surveys and interviews across a digital security hardware provider’s global offices, and discovered an opportunity in the market.
“Security competitors were good at describing what they provided — trust, simplicity — but few explained why this benefited clients. They left the client to make that cognitive leap. VASCO could stand out by emphasizing what their software empowered clients to do,” said Howard Breindel, Co-CEO, DeSantis Breindel.
The previous visual brand told a hardware story.
Creative Sample #5: Previous branding for digital security hardware provider
“The methodology challenged everyone involved to think beyond the product features and functionality and to consider the broader business benefits, which were discovered and confirmed during interviews with our customers, partners, analysts and employees,” said Mary Ellen Power, Vice President, Marketing, OneSpan (the company’s new brand name, you’ll see why below).
Before the market could get behind this message, however, VASCO’s own employees would have to. “We discovered a serious divide between VASCO and eSignLive (a recent acquisition) employees. It became clear that a new name, a new brand architecture and internal engagement initiatives would be vital to uniting the company,” Breindel said.
After an internal teaser campaign, a new name (OneSpan), brand and redesigned website were introduced. Internal brand education initiatives taught managers how to incorporate the brand into their teams’ day-to-day activities.
And the new branding emphasized customer benefits. For example, it could help banks create “a frictionless customer experience across channels.”
Creative Sample #6: New branding for digital security hardware provider
The previous messaging had highlighted the types of products offered. For example, “… two-factor authentication, transaction data signing, document e-signature and identity management …”
The messaging after the re-brand explained why potential prospects should care about these products. For example, “… so even the most regulated companies can drive bold digital transformation and deliver powerful digital interactions with their customers.”
The visual look and feel used interlocking circles to suggest OneSpan’s secure offerings and integrated platform.
Creative Sample #7: New logo for digital security provider
The new tagline also emphasized the main benefit to the customer — “Be bold. Be secure.” The brand manifesto explained it as, “… For many businesses, especially in highly regulated industries, bold moves can seem daunting, if not impossible. We make the impossible possible for our clients, redefining what highly secured digital experiences can be …”
“With security underpinning OneSpan’s cloud platform, our clients have the confidence to make bold advances in their digital transformations because they do not have to compromise security when building great experiences that strengthen relationships with their own customers. That’s the connective tissue that unites all of our offerings, and that served as the crux of our brand story,” Power said.
Eight months after launch, OneSpan reported it had exceeded the high-end of financial guidance, with a 10% revenue increase over 2017.
“We often find that companies are too focused on the what — the tangible products, solutions and services they offer — which holds them back from talking about the why — the higher purpose for why they exist, and what they ultimately enable for their clients,” Breindel said.
Strong brands stand the test of time. Brands like Colgate, HarperCollins, Brooks Brothers and Macy’s have been around since the 1800s. They are still strong today.
They have, of course, refreshed and updated with the times. That may be over long periods of social and societal change. Or it may be small or large changes in the zeitgeist. What are your customers going through? How has it affected their lives? How does that affect their brand perception? And how should that impact how you communicate your brand?
One example — and it is hard to write an article about marketing these days and avoid this topic — is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Empathy is just good business. Your partners and community are your greatest assets, and you should treat them as such,” said Dave Goldman, CEO & Co-Founder, Eliqs.
Eliqs is a rather unique food and beverage company. “Eliqs was built around the concept that linking the design community to the canned craft beverage space could create new business opportunities and help cure the beverage market of its plastic addiction,” Goldman said.
In normal days, that means working with freelance designers to create personalized custom brands of beer for corporate events, social events, weddings, bars, restaurants and hotels. But suddenly, those key constituencies found themselves shut down or without work.
So the company launched a campaign to brand beer for the COVID-19 era. It built an ecommerce store to sell the beer, paid full price for canned beverages from craft brewers, and donated 100% of profits split 50/50 between the freelance designers who made the can design and the WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund.
For example, one beer can designed by Carly Altieri borrowed the look of a disinfectant. The can used the Eliqs brand and dubbed the beer “Wash Your Hands.” Where product features normally go, the can listed “Stay Inside. Self Isolate. Drink Up.” And the brand promise was listed as “Kills 99.9% of Boredom.”
Creative Sample #8: Craft beer branded in response to COVID-19 Pandemic
Eliqs offered 60 COVID-19 themed beer designs submitted from the freelance design community. “We were able to donate close to $7,000 to those hurting most,” Goldman said.
Travel booking platform CuddlyNest modified its logo in response to COVID-19. Typically the logo shows two birds flying close together.
Creative Sample #9: Previous travel company logo
The company separated the birds in its updated logo as a nod to social distancing.
Creative Sample #10: Re-branded travel company logo
The company also changed its tagline from “Browse. Book. Stay.” to “Plan Now, Stay Later.”
“While we are a travel company to our core, we want to encourage our guests to adhere to CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) policies and social distance, so we can all travel safely again soon,” said Jessica Armstrong, PR and Social Media Manager, CuddlyNest.
You can make all the soothing color palettes and flat logos you want, but when it comes down to it, you can’t create the final word (or visual) on your brand. The customer decides what your brand really is. Your brand goes through a trust trial with the customer — every brand interaction shapes the customer’s perception of that brand.
Lessonly launched an interactive virtual event series to replace its in-person events and help customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was important for us to be seen as a helper to our customers and prospects instead of being too opportunistic. These events speak to the heart of Lessonly’s brand — to help people ‘Do Better Work.’ Our mission is to help people do better work so they can live better lives, and these events help further that mission. When people think of Lessonly, we want them to think of an experience in their career that helped them become better in some aspect of their life, whether that's work or personal,” said Katie Brunette, Director of Strategic Marketing, Lessonly.
The training software company dubbed its virtual event series Virtual Coffee Connections and Llama Lunches (after its mascot). To take care of customers and prospects, Lessonly even sent lunch egift cards and Starbucks egift cards using Sendoso before the events.
Creative Sample #11: Email invite from training software company for virtual event series
Lessonly generated an average attendance rate of 55% to the events across 12 events they conducted over a two-week period.
One of the most tangible ways customers will interact with your brand is your website’s URL. They will type it in, click on it, see it as a call-to-action at the end of print ads.
For startups, the cost of a URL can be a significant factor in an original brand creation or re-branding.
Desk Nibbles originally started as a platform that made it easy for companies to get snacks for the office.
But the team realized the two-year-old startup was helping companies with much more than just snacks, it had become a software platform that made it easy to order a bunch of other things (like office supplies), so a rebrand was in order.
They needed a name that did not just imply food, and one that could grow with the business as it expanded into new categories and created new solutions for customers. The .com also had to be reasonably priced.
“It took us months, but we finally decided on Hoppier after a constant barrage of Slack messages in our #Rebrand channel,” said Cassy Aite, Co-Founder & CEO, Hoppier. The domain only cost about $400, and the .ca domain was $1. So the new name was a fit, and a three-month rebranding project was launched.
Since the rebrand in early 2019, the company has had more than 300% annual revenue growth.
An effective value proposition isn’t just a general statement, it is focused on the ideal customer.
To align your company’s brand with its value proposition, the brand must be focused on the ideal customer as well. Otherwise, you will attract the wrong people to your company — people you can’t help profitably.
“When I launched my business a little under two years ago, I knew that I was providing a super-valuable service to small business owners. However, I struggled with articulating that value through my branding,” said Kendra J. Lewis, Founder, The Boss Architect.
“Unfortunately, it was also attracting the wrong types of clients to my business — you know, the non-paying kind,” she said.
Creative Sample #12: Previous website for business finance strategist
Creative Sample #13: Previous lead magnet for business finance strategist
“The messaging attracted a lot of dabblers and hobbyists, and generally anyone who was just looking for quick ways to get money if they had bad personal credit,” she said.
Lewis went through a re-branding and focused on communicating a more business-level message versus a personal-level message. Gone was the image of her walking down the street on the homepage, replaced by Lewis in business settings. She replaced messaging like “even if your personal credit is not so great” with business language like “cash flow,” and she emphasized the separation between the personal and the business – “without touching your personal credit.”
She made the same changes to her lead magnet, going from language like “have lenders throwing cash at you” to “fund your operations like a big business.”
And she changed the company’s tagline from, “I help businesses get funding without using their personal credit at all” to “Let's get the money you need to bring your business to life.”
“The new messaging speaks more to established businesses that are looking for ways to uplevel their businesses as opposed to struggling with cash or personal credit,” Lewis said.
She also took a more benefits-based approach with her re-branding. “My pre-rebrand message focused solely on the ‘thing’ that I was actually doing as opposed to the value and benefits of what I was doing. The sales copy focused on getting credit for your business without using personal credit, not why business credit was important, what you actually used business credit for, and why it's actually a strategy for business growth,” Lewis said.
Creative Sample #14: Re-branded website for business finance strategist
Creative Sample #15: Re-branded lead magnet for business finance strategist
This re-branding also led to a change in her social media strategy. “My organic strategy used to consist of posting click-bait type posts in groups, such as ‘Build Business Credit immediately without using personal credit,’” Lewis said.
Creative sample #16: Previous Facebook post for business and financial strategist
With the re-branding, Lewis shifted her social media strategy and now produces benefits-based, informational posts that focus on the process, the results and the experience of working with her.
Creative Sample #17: Facebook post for business and financial strategist using new brand strategy
Before the rebrand, Lewis had only sold two high-ticket offers in the six months her business had been running. In the first month after the new branding launched, she sold three high-ticket offers (a total of $10,000 in revenue). “Previously, my entire month of sales would cap out at $10,000. That month enabled me to double my revenue,” Lewis said.
“Don't brand prematurely, you need to be confident in yourself, your offers, and have real data from real clients before you invest in a brand,” Lewis advised. “If you can't sell it ugly, you won't be able to sell it pretty.”
If you’ve got the budget for Super Bowl TV ads and double truck ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today — fantastic. Great way to get your brand out in the world.
But if you don’t have those resources, don’t think for one moment you can’t succeed in branding. Everything that touches the customer communicates your brand.
For example, id8 agency was working on a rebranding project for Carman Adventist School, a private Christian school in Marietta, Georgia.
After an initial analysis, id8 determined strong branding and positioning was needed, but it discovered another problem: The school was located on a heavily trafficked road — but hidden by a hill of kudzu — so no one knew it was there. Recognizing the huge potential of gaining brand impressions from street traffic, id8 recommended that the first task after creating a new brand for the school would be to design a large, bright, permanent outdoor sign and directional signs to the school that would be easily seen from the street.
Creative Sample #19: Outdoor advertising before and after re-branding for private school
After developing a strong brand through experiential design, Carman Adventist School experienced a 25% increase in enrollment from the previous year.
“With any rebranding project, taking the time to experience the customer journey first-hand, from the first touchpoint to the last time they interact with the brand, will provide monumental feedback and insights into how the business is represented to its customers. Experiential design is a process that helps shape a brand that connects your story with your audience in a meaningful way and produces substantial results,” said Kriston Sellier, President, id8.
Most of the examples in this article focus on creating a distinctive brand for an already existing company or product.
But I leave you with this last point of inspiration — do something worth branding.
Sure you can create a slick brand identity for almost anything, but look beyond the brand elements you’re creating. Get to the core of the company, and make sure it is delivering true value and bringing something unique into the world.
That brings me to a gentleman named Iain Miller. “I have created a brand which is me; I am the world’s only professional sea stack climber,” Miller told me.
Miller has been able to create a clear exclusivity factor around his brand. “So many people and companies spend time and resources watching competitors. This then means they are following and trying to catch up rather than leading,” Miller said.
However, exclusivity is not enough for a value proposition to build a brand on. You need appeal as well.
Miller started by promoting the appeal of his local area — County Donegal in Ireland. “Star Wars came looking for a sea stack location, l showed them around and they filmed here at Malin Head,” Miller said.
Creative Sample #20: Article from Outside magazine about adventure travel in County Donegal
“When branding something, its uniqueness can be an advantage as it can have little competition. But uniqueness is also a disadvantage as it can cause what you are branding to be little known. So in my case, I had to promote my area first and foremost to create the market into which I became the only player. Like most successful brands, it is the strength of its unique selling point and the difficulty in getting to market that prevents future competitors,” Miller said.
He then shifted to becoming the brand and promoting himself.
Creative Sample #21: Article from Forbes about professional sea stack climber
Miller is the owner of Unique Ascent, the company he built off of his brand. He guides people from all over the world up to the summits of sea stacks, he trains people to be mountain and rock-climbing guides, and he does tourism promotional work.
“Turning a hobby such as rock/sea stack climbing into a business is part of [a] professional strategy. People want to be trained by the best. Being the best or the perception of being the best is very much part of having authority, which is of course, simply good branding,” Miller said.
And if Iain can successfully brand sea stack climbing, you can create a powerful brand around research and product development. Or your freelance work. Or a crowdsourcing marketplace. Or however you, your client and/or your company add value to the world.
“It is possible to brand anything and brand it well. If I can take an unknown niche activity in an unknown part of the world and attract a global audience, then anything is indeed possible, especially when you consider all it cost me was time and very little financial cost,” he advised.
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