The ultimate guide to brand pillars

There are many steps that go into creating a cohesive brand strategy, but one of the most important is your messaging. Clear communication about your brand’s values and targets help to uphold your reputation, attract new customers, and help your existing audience feel connected to what you do. One of the key components of a strong brand messaging strategy is brand pillars.

Creating content that’s aligned with your customer’s interests and encourages them to purchase your goods and services sounds like an obvious goal. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, which is why developing a brand strategy takes time and a meticulous understanding of what your brand is aiming to achieve. And that’s where the five brand pillars come in.

Illustration of people sat around a table, working out brand pillars with infographicsIllustration by OrangeCrush

What are brand pillars?

Brand pillars are the five categories that brands use to define their values, and how they communicate those values with their audience. The five brand pillars are purpose, perception, personality, position, and promotion. Refining these elements will help you convey an accurate and attractive brand image that will help to boost your reputation among existing and potential customers.

As well as the presentation of your brand to the public, creating a clear definition of these pillars can help you communicate the goals and aims of your company. For example, if you’re working towards more sustainable production, or you aim to help a specific number of people with your service, you can decide the most effective way to track and share that information by including it in your brand pillar plan.

Let’s work out how to polish up your venture, one brand pillar at a time:

  1. Pillar 1: Purpose
  2. Pillar 2: Perception
  3. Pillar 3: Personality
  4. Pillar 4: Position
  5. Pillar 5: Promotion

brand purpose in advertisingExpress your brand’s purpose in your advertising by Bill Kenney via Dribbble

Pillar 1: Purpose

The purpose pillar takes your strategy right back to the roots of your brand. The mission or vision that brought the company into being is what defines your purpose. Sharing this with your audience is all about transparency. You could share the story of the founders, the circumstances that inspired the launch of the brand, or even how your original mission has evolved and developed over time. For example, Toms shoes are known to donate a pair to people in need for every sale they make. Similarly, alternative search engine Ecosia claims to plant a tree for every search.

And how do they do this? Through their brand messaging. Both brands talk about their mission and impact on dedicated pages on their websites. Both source data to back up their findings and share these with their audience.

illustrations of people drawing to decorate their annual reportIllustration via Toms

An “impact” or “mission” page on your website is a place to share your long-term goals so that audiences can decide whether you’re on the same page. This will also help you understand the kind of people that are attracted to your brand. You might choose to create a series of social posts about your origin and values. It could become part of a wider campaign, or even feature on your packaging.

Share the reason for your existence, what motivates you, and how you use that motivation to service your customers. It might seem over the top, especially if your brand is functional rather than aspirational. But with 9 in 10 millennials saying they’re more likely to purchase from a brand with a cause, it’s worth being vocal about your integrity and values.

brand guideline documentCreate brand guidelines to be used internally by Hugo Maja

Pillar 2: Perception

The perception pillar looks at the way your brand is viewed both internally and externally. Brand perception isn’t just about your audience, but about your workforce, too. After all, how can potential customers understand your values if the people running the business aren’t living them? Aligning your internal and external communications supports the integrity covered in the purpose pillar. For example, a happy work environment will help create a positive image for your brand as it will attract employees who feel loyal and dedicated to what you do.

a brand’s website about perceptionYour visual branding influences audience’s perception by Sudhan Gowtham via Dribbble

Considering the words and ideas that employees and audiences would use to describe your company is a good starting point when understanding the perception of your brand. Are you positive, informative, authoritative, passionate? Though you set these tones with your communications, in effect, your audience has full control over this pillar as it is based on their interpretation of you.

a brand’s websiteThe mission of your brand should be clear to your audience by Monge Designs

You can influence perception with your branding and imagery, tone of voice, advertising, and reputation. But ultimately, you need to know what audiences already think of you to be able to sway their opinions positively in your favor.

For example, if your tone is passionate you probably don’t want to be over the top, but measured in your enthusiasm. If you’re authoritative you don’t want to be intimidating, and if you’re aspirational you don’t want to appear out of touch with the reality of your audience.

Positive experiences can also be gained through great customer service, top-quality products, and consistent, proven fulfillment of your brand’s promises. Achieve all three, and your audience is likely to have a positive perception of you that leads to loyalty and good word-of-mouth reviews.

consistent brand designFor audiences to perceive your brand, your identity should be consistent by N North

Pillar 3: Personality

The personality or identity pillar looks at the things your business does to make itself identifiable to your customers. The tone of voice, opinions, and mood of your communications play a part in this from a strategy point of view. While more tangible examples would be the look and quality of your product, the delivery of your service, and how recognizable your logo and visual branding is.

Similar to perception, your brand’s personality can be influenced by your audience. Understanding how they view your persona can help you alter or lean into the identity you want to build. Your visual identity is as important as the understanding of your product or service. Just look at the age-old statistic that children were able to identify the McDonald’s golden arches before they knew their own names. A recognizable brand leads to brand loyalty and being front-of-mind when the time comes that they need your service.

a cartoon of personasYour brand can have more than one persona, but they should all be understandable by Oli Lisher via Dribbble

Your persona also separates you from your competitors and helps define the ways in which you communicate with audiences across all platforms. A strong persona will be understood by consumers who haven’t purchased from, or perhaps even heard of, your company before. Like the perception pillar, your internal communications should reflect these same personality traits. For your pillars to succeed, the people making your business run should be as involved in this process as your audience. Their understanding and embodiment of your brand’s persona will seep into the way your brand presents itself externally.

a brand’s logo and advertisingThe personality of your brand should be clear in everything you do by dseverika

Pillar 4: Position

The position pillar looks at where your brand sits in the market, and how that influences the ways in which you reach your audience. When considering the position pillar, think about the people you want to appeal to, how that matches or differs from the people you’re currently attracting, and who you are competing against for this audience.

Now you’ve defined your audience’s perception of you, you can incorporate their personal values into your brand’s positioning against competitors. Your current position should influence the way you communicate your brand values and promises, in a way that appeals to your desired audience and offers a brand or product that will be more relatable to them than your competitors’.

For example, ASOS is known to have a wide range of products that are shipped quickly. This could make them more appealing to customers prioritizing urgency, as they know they can find what they want in one place and receive it the next day which might not be possible by shopping with individual brands. Another example in the clothing industry is Nike, whose industry-leading position makes them the go-to brand for sportswear.

a pitch deck covering brand positioningExplain how your brand should be chosen over your competition by Kyle Anthony Miller via Dribbble

The long-term goals of your company should also inform your position pillar. Understanding where you currently sit, and how you need to grow or evolve to reach your desired position can be useful for all your brand’s strategies. You need to know your limits, but a realistic growth plan will entice your audience with new things to look forward to.

brand book for a dog and veterans serviceA brand book helps employees embody your brand by Daylitedesigns

Pillar 5: Promotion

The promotion pillar focuses on the awareness raised by your brand’s advertising and marketing. This could be digital advertising, social media strategy, or even influencer campaigns in which brands align themselves with third-party personalities that will appeal to their audience.

Promoting your brand is not the same as a literal sales promotion, in which you might offer a discount or giveaway to increase orders. In this case, brand promotion refers to the actions your company takes to attract new customers and develop loyalty from your existing audience—literally ‘promoting’ your brand in the most traditional sense. This could be a case of winning them over with positive campaigns and values, or advertising your must-have product that is unrivaled by competitors.

a promotion for a start up launchStart-up brands rely on eye-catching promotions by Jamie Carr via Dribbble

Consistent standards defined by your brand’s guidelines will mean your promotions are easily identifiable to audiences. From your visual identity to your tone of voice, it’s important that your promotions fully reflect your brand image. This should run across all channels, from your emails to your website to your social media. As a customer flicks through your platforms, they should always feel like they’re in the same space and having the same conversations.

a brand advert in a magazinePromotion is about how you reach your audience by 3088151

How to build brand pillars

Now you understand each of the five brand pillars, you can begin to build them into your strategy. If you’ve already created a marketing strategy or wider business plan, you can apply some of the same considerations to your brand pillars.

The best place to start is by refining your company’s values. When you get down to the core motives that give your company purpose, you can begin to work out ways to use them to relate to customers with the same values. You could gain an understanding of these shared values by conducting a feedback survey to learn more about what your customer wants, needs, and cares about.

A good example of a brand making this shift is Coca-Cola launching new Zero, Diet, and sugar-free ranges in response to audiences becoming more health-conscious. And since 71% of consumers prefer to buy from brands that they feel are aligned with their own ethics, the research will be worth it.

From here, you can begin to understand the perception of your brand and how your audience relates to its personality. A clear image of the demographic, interests and purchasing habits of your core audience is fundamental in understanding how to communicate with your consumers, and how your brand is positioned against competitors. For example, if your main buyers are 30-year-old men, there’s no point in curating an Instagram page that unwittingly attracts 20-year-old women.

Planning the best platforms for your audience is also key to reaching more engaged customers. Test different channels on social media and online advertising to see which ones return the most effective results in terms of promotion. Reviewing your metrics is as valuable as survey feedback: your audience lets you know what it likes by reacting to and interacting with your messaging. Don’t overlook this information and think you know better. If your audience is engaging positively with your content, adapt your strategy to fit their needs.

a brand strategy deckOnce you’ve refined your pillars, you strategy should be documented in one place by Filip Justic via Dribbble

Lean on your pillars

Using these five pillars to understand and inform the way your brand’s purpose, perception, personality, positioning, and promotional potential, you can build a brand identity that stands out from the rest of the market.

Many brands that don’t consider these pillars may face failure, as they lack an inherent understanding of their own brand. For example, if you find that your internal ideas about your brand aren’t reflected by your target audience, building brand pillars will help you navigate this.

So develop a strong strategy around the brand pillars, and customers will know exactly what your company is about.

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