Although the practices of marketing and branding have been around for centuries, the industries started to shift in the 1990s.
The digital age came about and companies began to market their brands more than their products with the goal of giving their company a personality.
As a millennial born in the early 90s, I grew up at the same time as the digital revolution. In fact, millennials have a reputation for spending all day on their phones and being lazy.
However, I'd argue that as the digital age and technology began to evolve, so did society's work expectations. Businesses, and even employees, are expected to be a brand in and of themselves that has value and positively impacts society (instead of just selling products).
As a marketer or business owner, you might be wondering, "How can I create a brand that my audience connects with?"
In this post, we'll discuss how to create brand pillars that clearly communicate your brand identity to your audience.
What are brand pillars?
Brand pillars are the values and characteristics that make up your brand. Your brand should be about how you communicate your message to the world. Brand pillars help you do that by defining the fundamental points that set your company apart from your competitors.
For example, brand pillars can be core values, important strengths, or aspects of a brand that support or add dimension to the core idea of "Who are you?"
Essentially, these brand pillars can be anything that your customers find important -- perhaps it's innovation, reliability, on-time delivery, etc.
Brand pillars are meant to differentiate your brand and should be valued and endorsed by your customers. When someone asks why your customers like your brand, they'll probably be able to list off your brand pillars if you're clearly communicating your brand well.
These pillars should be decided on strategically to provide better products or services to your customers.
I know this might sound slightly conceptual. Brand pillars can be easier to understand when we break them down into categories.
Below, let's learn about the five brand pillar categories you can use to determine your own brand pillars.
What are the five brand pillars?
The main brand pillars are purpose, perception, identity, values, and brand experience.
Purpose can be described as the mission and foundation of your company. It will answer questions like "Why did you start your company?" and "What are you hoping to achieve?"
Think about this strategically. What do you want to communicate to your audience as your purpose? What do you want to communicate to employees or potential employees? Knowing your purpose will help you hire employees who align with your mission and correctly target your audience.
Purpose can even be described as the culture of your company. For example, at HubSpot, our culture is about growth-minded individuals who have HEART (they are humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent). The acronym HEART is one of our brand pillars as a company.
Perception is about how your customers perceive your company/brand. You'll want to either evaluate how current customers view your brand, or if you're a new company, write down some characteristics that you'd like customers to associate with your brand.
This could be something like hospitality or leadership. If these are your perception brand pillars, then you want customers to view you as a leader in your industry that is a trusted, good host (this makes sense for a hotel, for example).
This brand pillar is about who you are as a brand. A brand is something you are, it's not something you have. It's all about your personality as a company.
For example, an identity brand pillar could be something like "cheeky" or "bold." This means that you want customers to see you like a cheeky personality. The reason to define this brand pillar is so you have a guiding light for how to be human and interact with your customers.
Your values are about communicating your overall position to your audience. What's important to you as a company? How do you want to make a difference? This could be something like valuing integrity and ownership.
5. Brand Experience
Lastly, brand experience is a pillar that will help you promote your products and services. People use products and services when they like a brand. When there are so many options to choose from these days, customers will choose to buy from companies they like. This means you need to create a positive customer experience and association with your overall brand.
By using these brand pillars as a basis, you can create a brand identity that sets you apart from your competition. Companies that fail most likely haven't considered what their brand pillars are and how they align.
If you have a robust strategy, but you don't have a purpose or identity, people won't feel compelled to purchase from you. On the other hand, if you promise that you value user experience, but the perception is off, then you also won't find success.
In the next section, let's review how you can use these categories to define your brand pillars.
How to Determine Your Brand Pillars
To determine your brand pillars, you should ask yourself a series of questions to come up with the top characteristics that you want to communicate to your audience.
- Why did you/are you starting your company?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How do you want to serve your customers?
- What value do you offer to customers that support your mission and vision?
Your purpose should serve as a magnet for employees and customers who share similar values. It will also provide a hook to tell your company's story and differentiate yourself from your competition.
- What role do you play in your customer's mind?
- What do they perceive your value to be?
This pillar could be something like education. Perhaps people view you as a place they go to learn about your industry. This is completely owned by your audience and how they interpret your brand through messaging and reputation and management.
- What's your culture like?
- What's your point of view?
- What kind of tone of voice do you use in communication?
- What are your convictions and behaviors that define your brand?
Defining your voice and brand is about strategizing how you want to speak to your audience on several platforms. The brand personality signals what employees might be like, how they behave, who your customers are, etc.
- What's important to you in your interaction with your audience?
- What do you value above all else, even before your own financial interests?
Again, this pillar will help define what you care about as a company.
- How do customers interact with you at each touchpoint?
- What kind of experience do you want customers to have?
- What makes your customer experience better than your competitors?
This pillar will define much of your perceived personality and reputation.
When creating your brand pillars, think about what your customers get from you. Do they get convenience, higher quality, time savings, etc.?
To determine your brand pillars, think about your brand strategy and come up with things that clearly define your personality, voice, customer experience, your purpose, and how people will perceive your brand.
Brand Pillar Examples
1. Hilton Brand Pillars
Hilton's brand pillars are very clearly stated on its website. They value hospitality, integrity, leadership, teamwork, ownership, and now (sense of urgency).
These are stated as their values, but they're really brand pillars that showcase how the company wants to be perceived, what their identity is, what the customer experience is like, and what they value.
2. Patagonia Brand Pillars
Patagonia is a brand that has personality and purpose. Their mission is to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis (this is their purpose). Additionally, Patagonia offers a minimalistic style and values simplicity and utility (this is their personality and values).
3. Nike Brand Pillars
Since it was founded, Nike has been consistent in its brand pillars. They are all about competition and surpassing one's limits. All the company's advertising, messaging, and investment decisions support that personality and value.
Brand pillars are a great way to define and differentiate your company from the competition. It's not just about making products anymore -- it's about having a voice and point of view that offers value to its customers.