Branding 101: The Basics Behind Today’s Most Powerful Brands

March 14, 2016         By: Erika Napoletano

Have you ever looked at your brand and felt stuck?

Like you feel like you have all the components of a successful brand, but the people you most need to bite aren’t biting.

Like it sounds good to you, but people aren’t picking up what you’re putting down.

You’re not alone. I’m here to get your brand unstuck and shorten the distance between where you are and “heck yeah!” — whatever your “heck yeah!” might be.

Over the past eight years of working with brands across a crazy spectrum of industries, there are some universal truths that apply to how those brands found their voices. It has a lot less to do with hex colors and fonts and a whole lot more to do with emotion.

And for people like us — people who like to get things done and move on to the next thing that needs to get done, getting bogged down in feelings doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, does it?

But let’s take a moment to sort out why your brand might not be performing the way you feel it should be — because that’s a feeling worth our attention.

And for those just launching a new brand, c’mon along. Feelings are, I’ve found, the best place to begin for every brand.

The Question You Answer

What keeps your customers or clients up at night?

The answer to this question is any brand’s No. 1 priority. Today’s most powerful brands understand how they make their customers’ lives better. And most importantly, they state their value in terms of the customer and not the company.

Here’s an example. You’re an online bookkeeping service. What keeps your customers up at night? Well, the easy answer is not knowing whether your company’s financials are squared away.

Easy, right?

But beyond that answer is the second question: What happens when a company’s financials aren’t handled properly?

Those second-layer questions are the ones you have to answer — because the consequences of those questions are so dire. In the instance of this online bookkeeping company, the consequences of a company’s financials being handled improperly are audits, potential embezzlement, payroll shortfalls, the person in charge of making sure the financials are squared away getting fired, and if they lose their job, their mortgage is on the line because that person is the primary breadwinner in the family…catch my drift?

Powerful brands ask the second-level questions about their customers’ pain points. Make sure you’re asking the best questions so you can truly know what you answer for the people looking to you for service or solutions.

Knowing Whom You Serve (and Don’t)

Now, just because someone looks to you for relief because they dig how you relieve their pains doesn’t mean they’re your customer.

One of the biggest mistakes I see brands making, and ultimately to their detriment, is being afraid to tick someone off. They’re flat-out afraid of offending someone, even someone who isn’t in the demographic of whom they want to serve.

The most powerful brands aren’t afraid of having an opinion. They know opinions and stances start conversations — either with people rallying behind in agreement or dissenters taking issue. These brands of strength find their strength in being resolute in their principles and direction and they know those principles and direction won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

And that’s okay.

Know whom you serve — and whom you don’t. And despite what someone will tell you somewhere along the line, you’re not leaving money on the table by polarizing your audience. It wasn’t money you wanted in the first place.

The Importance of Humility

It takes a strong brand with solid principles to leave money on the table, even money from people you weren’t looking to serve in the first place. The strongest brands however, go through every move they make and every product they create with an overwhelming sense of humility.

Because here’s the hard truth: what you do isn’t special. There are plenty of brands out there who do exactly what you do, which means there are plenty of places your customers could go instead of your house.

But how you do what you do and why you do it — that’s what makes you special.

When customers first meet you, they have to see your why and how — because that’s what brings you the right whos. Once those whos are in the door, it’s humility that keeps them there.

Because here’s the final branding truth that powerful brands understand: Those “whos” are the only reason you get to keep your doors open day after day.

It’s not your fancy website or that amazing product you built. It’s not your clever packaging or the cool logo you were so happy your designer came up with.

Your customers decide whether your brand lives or dies.

Never forget that. Find ways to always honor your customers and make them a part of your brand story. Celebrate them. Thank them. Go one step beyond what they expect and give them an experience they can’t get anywhere else.

It takes a humble brand to figure out how to do those things for its customers.

And the question is now — as the leader of your brand, how can you be more humble today?

This article was sponsored and brought to you by Discover Network.

Erika Napoletano is the author of the bestselling branding book, The Power of Unpopular (Wiley, 2012) and finds her joy in helping relentless brands and the people brave enough to lead them tell stories that keep customers coming back…and bringing their friends. Follow her uncensored brand, if you dare, at