The times they are a-changin’.
They are for the token tech marketing employee, at least.
But the more things change, the more some tried-and-true principles remain the same. And so it should be with branding in the age of growth marketing.
Is your team playing by the rules? Is there even a rulebook? We’ll get to that. But here’s the short answer: there are guidelines. If you have no branding strategy, then you have no long game, and that immediately puts you at a disadvantage.
How does a brand influence results such as registrations and payment conversions? That’s pretty easy to answer. A brand allows users to attach your product to an ideology. People are much more apt to form an emotional attachment to an ideology than they are to a message about the actual functionality of your product.
If your messaging and marketing strategies showcase morals, ideals, or beliefs that resonate with your target market—and if your marketing convinces users that your company is committed to these principles—then your product is more likely to outperform a nearly equal competitor in the same market. A strong brand compounds the effectiveness of all the components of your marketing strategy. In other words, brand is what makes your marketing strategy add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Can you measure the direct impact of a brand on results? Not always, but resonance is traceable through engagement on social channels. Consider Grammarly’s 6M+ Facebook community as a testament to that. Once you’ve tapped into something magical, brand enthusiasts and community-driven efforts become much easier to leverage.
‘Batman’s Branding’ = (Commitment + Time)* A Taste for Theatrics
Your entire company must be committed to your vision to reap the rewards of a solid brand. Real clout doesn’t happen overnight, although forward progress can be wrecked overnight with a few mishandled PR nightmares. There’s a reason Mel Gibson isn’t starring in big commercial movies anymore, after all.
Is ‘On-Brand’ Part of Your Team’s Vocabulary Yet?
The amount of autonomy resting at the fingertips of marketing employees now is pretty incredible. And this is not a reckless trend. It makes good business sense to let talented employees execute their ideas on the fly so that they can drive outsized impact. Hiring competent people who have the right intrinsics and giving them the control stick is a beautiful thing. Even when these sharp-shooters fail responsibly, the long-tail results are usually growth, concrete learnings, employee satisfaction, and aha moments.
If your company has done its job, then you should have a sandbox that all public-facing content needs to play in. This is your brand identity, tone of voice, style guides, naming conventions, etc. And it’s this sandbox that can, once fully realized, empower better results, faster vetting of tactics and messaging strategies, and, ultimately, more conversions.
However, many growth marketers aren’t thinking about long-term brand goals when they create messages and ads—or they don’t have a comprehensive branding initiative to begin with. The reason growth marketers may ignore branding isn’t just that they’re focused on immediate KPIs, but because branding philosophies can feel nebulous and, therefore, confusing. The growth-marketing mindset fits direct-response marketing very well. Traditional and qualitative branding philosophies, not so much.
The brand is a north star for all messaging, even direct response messaging
Your company may feel they don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to take on branding as a larger initiative, but I’m here to tell you that it’s imperative to prioritize branding efforts. A powerful brand resonates with users and can absolutely drive sales. Ultimately, it’s up to your product to retain customers—but your brand can be a powerful acquisition driver.
If you aren’t sure whether cultivating your brand has a high enough ROI, then perhaps you just aren’t confident enough in your company’s shelf life or are thinking about things too quantitatively and short-term.
In other words, it’s time to think long-term, step out of the weeds, and figure out how to align your principles with those of your target segments. In brand we trust. In testing we optimize.
Tip 1: The Brand Concept Is Aspirational, Yet Highly Strategic
To build a brand identity that your team can follow, you need to make it relatable to internal stakeholders. A helpful way to do this is to personify your brand and define its attributes. For example…
Encouraging and instructive (like a mentor)
Grammarly should never be:
But this is jumping the gun a bit. Before you can personify your brand, you need to organize the entire initiative. Here is a format that may work for nimble companies.
- Create a brand committee of stakeholders who represent multiple functions (marketing, execs, support, design, etc.).
- This team will vet final concepts before rolling them out company-wide.
- Make sure to have one DRI (directly responsible individual), or a brand steward, to help lead all of your initiatives. I fill this role at Grammarly.
- Personify your brand using a common approach, such as a Brand Prism.
- Here is an article defining this approach, using Zappos as an example.
- Pick concepts that fit naturally with your company culture and target markets.
- Don’t do it in a vacuum. I led a first run of this exercise in collaboration with our entire marketing team to increase the likelihood that we’d end up with a strategy that everyone could get behind.
- Make sure you have a functional unit or team to govern all outward content and to update legacy content that is not on brand.
- At Grammarly, this is done by our Product Marketing team. Our Lead Copy Editor and I help to ensure consistency and to empower content creators with a better understanding of our sandbox.
- We also create style guidelines, product naming conventions, bios, positioning statements, and other documents when the needs arise.
This is a broad outline of objectives and desired outcomes. You may need to make some tweaks based on your company size and areas of expertise, but remember that the goal should be creating sustainable workflows.
Tip 2: It Takes Discipline, Team Effort, and Commitment
If your company understands the brand aspirations, and if their marketing tactics and experiments anchor themselves to the brand, then you are on your way. The reality is that your team will still stumble at times, but by having a solid framework for decisions you can easily course-correct and vet final ideas before publishing.
Therefore, the most important thing is to have a system of checks and balances in place so that you can keep sowing the right seeds to build your brand over time—hence our Product Marketing team’s function at Grammarly (mentioned in step #3 above). It’s a big team effort and it’s not always easy to request nuanced tweaks on an ongoing basis. But that’s the only way you’ll be able to create a consistent brand over time.
Tip 3: Test Like Crazy, but Only in the Branding Sandbox
Ideas should never be shot down for simply being too creative. But they should be shot down if the content or message goes against your brand. If an initial idea is only slightly off brand, you can usually course-correct with a few small tweaks.
Stop Making Silly Writing Mistakes in Your Emails
This line, while harmless to many, is off brand for Grammarly. Why? The statement can imply that the user is dumb. While it is potentially powerful to use fear as a motivator, pointing fingers at a user in any way (even implicitly) is a tactic that Grammarly’s brand is now trying to avoid at all costs.
A more on-brand solution:
Eliminate Writing Mistakes in Your Emails for Good
Writing mistakes are the foe in this example, not the user.
Tip 4: Over Time, the Body of Work Can Bloom Beautifully
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But let’s just say that the above garden is a metaphor for the brand concept that your team has been seeding. If that’s the case, and if you were right about what concepts resonate best with your market, then your customers should be exponentially more passionate about your product. Plus, your ideologies provide great fuel for content strategies that you can add to a blog and/or social channels on a daily basis.
Additional Tips from Life at Grammarly as the Brand Shepherd
- If there’s concern about changing a legacy messaging strategy that is off brand because it has been “working really well,” then test your way out of it. Nine times out of ten, there’s a way to pivot.
- It can take multiple quarters to an entire year to develop all of the assets you need in order to properly transition your brand. Come up with a roadmap and prioritize your foundational items, such as a brand prism and a branding committee, so that you don’t keep kicking the can.
- It’s hard to fix all legacy messaging issues at once. Prioritize making sure that all new content is on brand. Then create a reasonable timeline and checklist for auditing and updating all of your channels, as well as third-party content that showcases your brand (e.g., profiles on Glassdoor or Crunchbase). It’s often a big task, so it’s important not to let yourself get overwhelmed and to keep making forward progress.
Godspeed, my friends.
About the Author: Drew leads Product Marketing at Grammarly, where his team focuses on consistency in UX, messaging, and brand identity. His passion is life cycle optimization and pairing stellar creative with effective direct response. To date, he has built and managed several email marketing programs across SaaS, e-commerce, and publishing.