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Brand Building Foundation

Brand Building Foundation

Brand building is essential for any organization. When the time comes for a sale, a donation or an engagement of any kind, a clear understanding of your brand will put your organization head and shoulders above the competition. In other words, the more your audience knows about you, the more likely they will be to engage when you need them to do so.

So what are the basics of brand building? If you think I’m going to say “You need the world’s finest logo, obviously…” then you didn’t read my last blog. I’ll expand on this list below, but brand building basics include:

  • Positioning
  • Messaging approach
  • Cohesive visual approach
  • Brand building tools


What is positioning? Positioning is where your brand lives based on your audience’s needs and your competition’s offerings. Got that? Here’s a definition I found online from Amazon, of all sources: “The unique value that a brand presents to its customer.” Interesting that they don’t even mention competition…maybe that’s an Amazon thing? But I digress.

The most direct way to define the positioning of your brand is either in a vertical or horizontal. A vertical would be an industry. A horizontal would be a service or product. Tight positioning is where the two collide: Brand building for nonprofits. Tools for woodworkers. Mental health support for first responders.

The fact of the matter is that you can’t be everything to everyone or you will never truly build up expertise. With that expertise as your fishing rod, tight positioning will mean you’re fishing for customers or clients in a pond rather than the ocean. Not only does it help you focus your approach but it also reveals unique and sometimes hugely powerful marketing channels specific to the industry or service you’re focused on. Plus, there are less spots around that pond, so it should limit your competition…unless you pick an unusually crowded pond. Keep in mind that you can still provide services or products outside of your tight positioning if you want. The tight positioning is just what you use for your marketing.


Ultimately you must really understand your audience. That seems obvious but the number of folks I have worked with through the years that are trying to sell what they have rather than what an audience actually needs is shocking. It doesn’t mean you can’t start with a product or service and figure out who your audience is, but there has to be an audience out there large enough to support your organization.

If you really get your audience, you can tailor your messaging approach, your marketing channels, and your new products or service offerings to appeal directly to them. Depending on your industry and the size of your organization, really understanding who your audience is doesn’t have to be that daunting. The audience you’re talking to is ultimately up to you and what your organization does…remember that positioning thing?

Once you know your audience there are processes to not only understand them well enough to develop personas, but to develop scenario maps and journey maps for those personas that will help you understand what your audiences (primary, secondary…tertiary?) want and how your organization can help them get it.

Brand Messaging Approach

Let’s say you are clear on your positioning and audiences. You’ve done the work to develop personas and understand the scenarios they face and the journeys they will take to get what they want. Your brand messaging must speak to each of those personas specifically. Gone are the days when you would run a television ad and hope that it would appeal to all the personas you were trying to connect with. Even TV ads speak to different audiences on different channels, during different shows and at different times.

Your brand messaging approach needs to consider who you’re talking to and how you want your organization to come off. I know I speak differently when I’m giving a chamber of commerce presentation than when I’m chatting with my teenager. The key is, I’m still the same guy so it still feels genuine. But the vernacular is different and one conversation may be more casual…you decide which.

Cohesive Brand Visuals

As I mentioned, I wrote a blog titled “Sorry But…Who Cares About a Logo?” Coming from a guy who founded an agency with ‘brand’ in the name, this may surprise you. The gist of the blog, although you really should read it if you haven’t, is that logos are so ubiquitous these days, that the impact has decreased. You still need one, but the focus when designing a logo should be on being professional and representative of your organization, not on being that Nike swoosh that the whole word recognizes.

I would rather that brands develop a cohesive visual approach, which includes a logo, but uses colors, image styles and design components to stand out. All these components in play together are going to tell a way more complete story.

The tone of your visuals are just as important and should match with your messaging approach. There’s room to be more playful with your visuals on social media than in print, but are cute heart emojis right for a tool brand? Depends on your audience I suppose…

Brand Building Tools

Once you have your positioning solid, clarity on your audience, your brand messaging approach defined and a cohesive approach for your brand visuals…it’s time for a nap. Then, brand building tools! This is the stuff that many organizations skip to without a lot of the brand building basics listed above. That’s understandable, but strategically that leaves a lot up to luck. If you don’t have a clear strategy and some guardrails set up, the chances of your brand building tools working to their full potential is low. Because the key is they all have to work in concert.

Every organization needs a presence online. Your website is likely the first stop for people interested in your brand, especially now that everyone’s carrying a little web browser in their pockets. There are definitely other ways to find out about a brand but much of it either links to or is pulled from your website. So a solid website is brand building tool number one. It doesn’t have to be a huge, custom site with all the bells and whistles. Oftentimes that doesn’t represent a brand well anyhow. But you must have a website that puts your brand visuals and messaging into action.

The next brand building tool that makes sense for most organizations is a brand building campaign of some sort. These days digital marketing makes getting people’s eyes on your campaign within the reach of all sizes of organizations. That doesn’t mean digital is the only approach you should take. It all goes back to understanding your audience and how they want you to communicate with them. 

Brand building campaigns also don’t need to be paid. If you’re willing to put in the work, there’s a lot to be said for social media content aimed at your followers, email marketing if you have a well-developed list, participation in events and other traditional engagement tactics. However, it’s worth noting that this is a long term tactic and oftentimes needs to be worked on for the future while a paid campaign is getting some immediate traction.

So. That’s a lot. But ultimately it comes down to positioning, messaging approach, cohesive visual approach and brand building tools to bring it all together. You know where to find us if you need more help sorting through all of this.