“Brand” is one of those diffuse concepts that nobody can fully agree on. Ask three specialists what a brand is, and you could get just as many answers.
And the sad truth is that it doesn’t really matter what we think our brand is. Our customer decides our type. That doesn’t mean leaving it all to fate is a good idea. So buckle up, ’cause I’m about to explain why you should care about brand pillars.
First things first – what are brands exactly?
According to Investopedia, a brand is “an identifying symbol, mark, logo, name, word, and/or sentence that companies use to distinguish their product from others”. The article explains further that a combination of one or more of those elements leads to the formation of a “brand identity.”
On a surface level, it seems pretty straightforward. However, the notion of “branding” is more amorphous than even the top branding experts would like to admit. That’s because brands mean different things to different people at different times.
A brand can represent the sum of a person’s experiences and feelings or an ever-present billboard that their minds don’t even register while they’re commuting to work.
No matter how you put it, a brand is about feelings, and feelings are complicated. Thankfully, there’s a way to make sense of this mess we call brand theory, and that’ll be brand pillars.
What are brand pillars?
Fortunately, brand pillars are not as hard to define as the concept of “brand” itself. Simply put, brand pillars are the fundamental points that set your company apart from your competitors. These can range from your core values, your visuals, workflow to the stickers attached to the office watercoolers.
Seems just as nebulous when you put it like this, I know. So for the sake of simplicity, let’s break it down into five clearly defined categories. Be aware that these can vary from company to company – but they’re a good starting point nonetheless. So here are some brand pillars examples to get you started:
Purpose – think of it as the mission
The first on our list is purpose. The purpose is your reason for being – your raison d’être. The reason why you founded your business and why your employees come to the office every morning instead of turning their backs to the alarm.
Every decision you make, report you mail, teambuilding you organize and experience your clients have with you should reflect your purpose in one way or another. All your branding strategies must be built around your purpose.
Your company’s purpose can also serve the role of an unofficial ambassador and attract certain types of people. Millennials, for instance, crave a sense of purpose. More than any other generation before them, millennials want to be “active participants in the social purpose of the companies they work for”.
In other words, millennials are not necessarily driven by high paychecks but by workplaces that share the same values and goals as them. And as the retirement rate of boomers has been steadily increasing over the past year and the oldest millennials are approaching middle age, if your company doesn’t have a clearly defined purpose, now would be the time.
Positioning – this should define your role
Kotler (I’m really flexing my reading material today, as you can see) defined brand positioning as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”. And you know what? Who am I to argue with Kotler? Btw, we have a strong relationship with the man.
In other words, positioning describes what separates a particular brand from its competitors and how the public perceives them (we’ll address perception later). To go even deeper into the rabbit hole, brand positioning can also entail what you want your consumers to think when they think about your bank. This is not a rabbit hole; it’s the freaking Mariana Trench.
There is a lot of theory I’m skipping over here, but in order to create a successful positioning for your brand, you need to consider the following things:
What your ideal consumers want
The strengths and limitations of your brand
How competitors are positioning their own brand
From this point forward, it all comes down to choosing a positioning that will resonate with consumers and shape their perception of your brand. This takes us to the next point…
Perception – is what they see what they really get?
Perception is the way your audience perceives your brand. You can think of perception as the distant cousin of branding, as perception is influenced pretty much by the same elements that define a brand:
An audience internalizes these elements and interprets brands based on them. Thus, your role as a company is to do your best to help shape that perception by sticking to your core values and your brand’s defining characteristics. From HR to marketing to customer support, all departments can have a significant impact on how your brand is perceived.
However, there’s only so much you can do to control this – ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide what your brand is about. To quote small-time entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Personality – can brands be shy?
Once you establish your brand’s personality, you can start working on your voice and tone. In other words, how you communicate with your audience across multiple platforms.
Why is this important? Because even if you pour millions of dollars into Instagram advertising, if you’re not memorable, people are going to scroll past your content. People build emotional connections with, well, other people, not products. If your product or service doesn’t have a story, a twist attached to it, people will go to the one that does. In the digital age, focusing solely on making a good product will only take you so far.
Promotion – the world is your runway
Before getting into the meat of this section, let me clarify one thing: sales promotion and brand promotion are two different things. Sales promotion is a short-time incentive to convince consumers to purchase products.
On the other hand, brand promotion is a marketing communication strategy whose purpose is to build brand loyalty. Basically, it’s a “come to us and not to them” sort of persuasion tactic.
The weird thing about brand promotion is that it borrows some elements specific to other pillars, such as messaging and advertising but gears them towards building brand awareness. A solid brand promotion strategy with a clear target and purpose can help even the smallest of upstarts cut through the noise.
Ok, but do you have any examples?
Yes, I do; I’m glad you asked:
Coca Cola. In 2016, Coca Cola launched their global branding campaign they dubbed “One Brand”, under the tagline “Taste the feeling”. This is an excellent example of brand promotion AND adding a human touch to their product done right.
Nike. Since its inception, Nike’s brand has been about “competition” and “surpassing one’s limits”. Nike is such a valuable brand because it consistently sticks to its pillars, which is reflected in its investment decisions, advertising, and messaging.
Virgin Media. Usually, corporate mission statements make for some good eye-roll material. But Virgin Media stands out from the corporate crowd through its bold, colorful, and edgy branding and casual messaging style.
What about content pillars?
Let’s move away from brand pillars and talk a bit about content pillars (you can’t do one without the other).
Let’s be honest here: creating large quantities of content while at the same time maintaining consistent quality is hard. In fact, it’s one of the biggest challenges marketers face, because fuelling social media with content is an essential part of growing your business in the digital age.
That’s where content pillars come to the rescue. A content pillar is essentially a large piece of content that you can break down into smaller pieces of related content.
Say, you sell agendas (hello, 2020). There’s only so much content you can create about agendas. So, what are the first things that pop into your head when thinking about agendas? Productivity? Efficiency? Attention to detail?
See what I did there? That’s how content pillars work. This takes us to the next point…
Why some companies are having a hard time maintaining content pillars
So here’s the million-dollar question: why are some companies having such a hard time sticking to their content pillars?
Mainly, it’s all about the logistics of branding messaging and awareness. In this day and age, social media is not just one extra platform to reach your audience; it’s the medium. We’ve come a long way from billboards and newspaper ads.
Thing is, due to the sheer number of social media platforms, keeping your messaging consistent can be challenging. You don’t want your brand to sound different on Twitter than, say, on Instagram. People will notice it. A lack of consistency in brand identity, as well as the content you post, can hurt your business.
So what are the solutions?
The solution, because there’s only one: Planable. You’re literally on our website, don’t act so surprised.
Planable is a social media collaboration tool that allows for seamless collaboration between marketers and clients.
Remember the content pillars thing I mentioned above and how hard they are to maintain? Because of the plethora of social media platforms out there?
Well, Planable can help you do just that.
Let’s start with labels. Labels help you organize and categorize your posts with just a few clicks. Posts can have multiple labels and be sorted by whatever filter you want. Say, you’re running a summer-themed social media campaign for a client and you want all posts about, I don’t know, beach bars, in one place. Just slap a label on top of that post and you’re good to go.
Now let’s circle back to my previous example about agendas. Let’s say you schedule 5 posts related to productivity, 10 to efficiency and label them accordingly. At one point, you may think “Hey, maybe we should slow down with the productivity-related content” or that you haven’t posted enough motivational quotes. Labels will help you notice this sort of stuff with a glance.
Moving on, Planable has one workspace where everybody can collaborate, share ideas, leave, and apply feedback. And across all the main social media platforms, too – Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Thing is, similar to a school project, the more people get involved, the messier it has the potential to become. The constant flurry of ideas, reiterations, edits, suggestions, and so on can be a nightmare to manage and keep track of.
But Planable’s workspace has everything in one place. Wanna shoot a suggestion? Leave a comment right next to the post. Set up complex and multi-level approval chains to ensure that no half-baked content gets released into the wild. What this means that maintaining consistent messaging across all platforms, even with multiple parties involved, has never been easier. When using Planable, your brand identity is in good hands.
Brand pillars are (or should be) the heart and soul of any business. To reiterate a previous point, coming up with a great product or service can only take you so far. But in truth, the message, values, and narrative that you attach to it are, really, what will take it to the next level. So, better start building those pillars because your brand ain’t gonna sustain all by itself.
And, uh, Planable. Because we have this collaboration thingie that helps you maintain your brand pillars.
Content marketer and aspiring YouTuber, in no particular order. Expertise in content writing, SEO, copywriting, and neo-noir graphic novels. Used to run a music webzine in the 2 seconds in the early 2010s when blogs were hot. I tweet very badly on Twitter.