The Relationship Between Growth and Brand
When talking growth, brand strategy inevitably comes up. Sometimes, it’s just a natural part of the conversation because brand guidelines shape growth. But other times, it’s because the two are easily intertwined, sometimes mistaken for one another. Tone and voice, for example, are integral for a growth team to master and wield. But if there seems to be a messaging problem, is the issue with branding or marketing? It's hard to know.
And usually, it's not either/or. But understanding the relationship and function of both strategies can provide clarity. In the simplest terms, we like to think of them like this:
Branding is who you are when you’re alone. Growth is who you are when you’re out.
Which means companies who have real integrity will reflect both at all times.
Certainly, startups have no choice but to determine brand, growth strategy and even minimum viable product all at the same time, though usually in the opposite order. As soon as possible, however, a growing—even established—company should take time to pause the day-to-day flurry of tasks and deeply examine not just their who they are (brand) but how their voice reinforces that to the world (growth).
Building a Brand Identity
Finding yourself, your core identity, can be a journey. The American Marketing Association says “brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” More than that, though, it’s the intangible quality empowering those names, terms, designs, etc. to make a consumer feel something. In other words, it's the public perception of a product/service.
Jeff Bezos puts it like this: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” So it’s in a company’s best interest to know who they want to be, so they can live up to it.
Fortunately, frameworks exist to walk companies through brand discovery.
Create a Brand Persona
When freelancing almost exclusively for a small local branding agency several years ago, my full-time challenge was taking an existing company without much brand direction and breathing life into it. Our bible was “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes” by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson.
We would ask, was this brand, say, a hero, helping to improve the world? Did it step in, solve problems and inspire others? Or was it an outlaw, breaking the rules and fighting authority, all while paving the way for change? And more importantly, which one did their target audience need them to be?
This became more complex, but also more authentic, as we walked through the 12 master brand archetypes, examining the stories of established brands as we sat in front of our own blank canvas:
Write Your Brand Story
It’s important to think not just about how you want to be perceived, but also how you actually impact customers. That can be done most powerfully through storytelling. The New York Times puts it this way: “Stories, research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.” What more could a company hope for?
Just google “how to write a brand story” and you’ll get all sorts of step-by-step options. One of the most popular is the tried and true “hero’s journey” template, pioneered by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with A Thousand Faces,” published in 1949. In it, Campbell outlines 12 stages that almost every single hero (ever) goes through:
If you think about your three favorite heroes, you can probably fit them into this framework. So think about your customer and write their story. (In this exercise, remember, the customer is the hero, not the brand. Even if the brand falls into the hero archetype, it’s because they can heroically inspire others to be great.)
So if the customer is the hero and your product is instrumental in transforming them or enabling them to achieve big goals, what is their call to adventure (motivation to purchase), villain (barriers), transformation (value prop) and more? Mapping this out as one holistic story can really help a company focus on exactly how they interact with their target audience.
Once the core identity is established (and often narrowed—one of the biggest inhibitors of growth is when a brand tries to be too much to too many), then it’s time to go public.
*It IS important to note, however, that it’s never too late to step back and establish (or re-establish) a solid brand.
Growth is Sharing Your Brand with the World
The most powerful growth has clear direction, and having a solid brand enables this. Usually, a brand story is accompanied by a style guide—colors, images, voice, etc.—that not only reflect the brand but also promote consistency. And while growth can’t be forsaken while establishing the brand and finding product-market fit (often, they must be done in tandem to get them both right), knowing who you are as a company means you’re truly ready for aggressive growth.
From there, growth strategists or marketers will put together a series of tactical plans, specific to the target audience and their unique motivations, pain points and needs. Plans can include (but aren't limited to):
Creative Assets (website, landing pages, content packaging, etc.)
Everything, then, is centered around the brand. And while true growth, especially in the digital realm, requires constant experimentation, the brand is the anchor, the control variable that makes each experiment viable. The brand is the foundation that every growth tactic is built upon.
Growth is A Natural Extension of Brand
A person who’s different in private than they are in public is quickly explosed as inconsistent, if not utterly untrustworthy. So does a person who has no idea who they are and constantly strives to please whoever they’re around. If these traits are easy to spot in a friendship, why would they not be even more obvious in a transactional relationship? When done well, growth strategically reinforces the identity of the brand and, at the same time, organically builds trust.
The truth is, when people outside of the branding and marketing world mix the two up, it means an organization is doing their job well. It means every image, every bit of copy, every ad reflects the essence of the company and invokes the emotional response customers have come to expect when they think of a product or organization.
So even though every company should view its own branding and growth as very different strategies, success happens when the world sees them as the same.
*Growth Guild aligns itself to your brand strategy to give it a voice. If you’ve been wanting to get a little “louder,” let’s talk.