I’ve written and talked at length about the importance of brands and branding and the difference they can make to your organization. From Fortune 500 companies to 6 guys in a garage, developing and nurturing your brand can have a huge impact on your business. In case you missed it, here’s my post where I discussed the importance of branding and why even the smallest company (ie: your startup) should get started on this early. Like I always say: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The race isn’t to the swift but to those who keep running.”
In one of my podcasts (which you can watch here) I also talked about the one of the first and most important tools you can use to get started on branding called the Brand Bible.
One of the key ingredients of the Brand Bible is what’s called the Brand Pyramid. It’s actually the 4th step in developing your Brand Bible. But what is the Brand Pyramid and why does it matter for startups?
Whenever I go into an startup or start coaching its founders, the first thing I do is go out and ask the key employees in the company a number of questions including:
- Who are you? Describe your business in one sentence.
- What customer problem are you solving? What’s the benefit?
- What’s the emotional value of your product? How should the customer feel after using your product?
- What are your core values? How would you describe yourself as a person?
- What’s the essence of your brand? What’s the core idea you’re trying to communicate?
- What’s your company’s Mission?
- What’s your company’s Vision?
More often than not, particularly in tech or early stage companies, when I ask 5–10 people these questions, I get answers that are all over the map. Although there might be some overlap of general ideas and concepts, people’s answers are inconsistent, confused or simply plain wrong. They will also have differing opinions of what their core values are and generally confuse their company’s mission statement with its vision (we’ll do a separate post on that later).
Why is this a problem? Because if 10 different people are telling your potential customers 10 different things your messaging is unfocused and it’s less likely these potential customers will remember why you’re different when they’re comparing your offer to that of your competitors.
What is a Brand Pyramid?
A brand pyramid is a tool that answers the fundamental questions outlined above in a pyramid like diagram that can be easily shared and communicated across your company. The only thing it doesn’t tackle directly are questions related to the company’s mission and vision (although the brand essence is a direct result of what the company wants to be when it grows up or its vision).
Why it matters?
Developing a brand pyramid might seem like a trivial exercise but it’s important because it does 4 essential things for your business:
- Forces consensus among senior management on what the company wants to be, who it serves, why, how it should make customers feel and what the company’s core values are.
- Clarifies some of the brands fundamentals — such as what is the essence of the brand.
- Sets the strategic foundation of the brand.
- Provides all this information in an easy-to-use diagram that can be quickly shared with other founders and employees in a way that’s easy to share and understand.
What it’s made up of?
The brand pyramid is made up of 5 components going from bottom to top:
Product features and attributes: This section explains what the different features of the products are (for example — a messaging app might also have emoji, video chat and group chat functionality).
Functional benefits: This section helps provide clarity around “what problem are we solving? Why would a customer use our product and what is the expectation once they’ve used it?” (in our above example, the messaging app helps you communicate with others via text, voice and video in a way that’s free).
Emotional benefits: Beyond just solving the customer’s need this component helps answer “How does the customer feel after using our product?” If you recall one of my previous posts on why startups should focus on “slaying dragons not in talking tech”, customers aren’t just interested in your product features, they want you to tell them a story. They want to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel just a little bit better that morning simply because they are using your product. That’s where the emotional benefits comes in. (in our messaging app example, maybe the app helps users feel “close”, “secure”, “needed”. These are the emotional needs the app can provide.) Why do emotions matter? Because consumers who feel a certain emotional to a product are less likely to churn than those who don’t! — that reduces your marketing costs and keeps your keeps consumers coming, using and, hopefully, paying.
Brand Persona and/or Core Values: If your brand were a person, how would you describe him or her? What are the values that are important to this person and to your company? How does everything you do from product development to marketing to customer service reinforce these core values? Think of Geico’s Gecko for example. The Gecko is friendly, approachable and curious. These are attributes which users can relate to and it makes them feel closer to Geico as an insurance product.
Brand Essence / Idea: The brand essence is the underlying idea and answers the “why” customers should care about your brand. For example, Apple’s brand essence is “empowering people through technology”. Brand essence is essentially your brand’s DNA. What you stand for and what differentiates you from your competition. It’s the core about makes you “you”.
Practical implications and what it means for your business
The ultimate goal of your company and especially your marketing team, is to get customers to understand, believe and evangelize your product or service to others. The more closely a consumer actually really gets your brand’s essence and is willing and eager to share this with others, the more loyal they are, the stronger the relationship, and the less likely that customer is to switch to a competitor’s product. They are also more likely through word of mouth (WOM) to recommend your product to a friend. Establishing a brand’s essence in the mind of a customer is the “holy grail” of marketing and a goal rarely achieved by most brands. I discussed the benefits of a strong brand in another post so let’s talk about “how” you actually build your brand pyramid.
Developing your brand pyramid
The first step is really understanding whether you need to develop a brand pyramid or how solid your current one really is. That’s where a brand “review” comes into play. The simplest way to do this is to interview all the key people in your company and ask them the list of questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If the answers are very consistent and aligned then you’re doing a good job. If not, you’ve got some work to do. You might also want to interview a few of your customers and/or potential customers to see what they think. The answers may surprise you.
For an early stage or mid sized company (10–200 or so) I would suggest the following:
- Create a list of questions like the ones I mentioned at the top of the article. Expand on those if you need to.
- Interview your key employees / founders and some customers. It’s preferable to actually interview each one of them 1–1 for at least 45–60 minutes and to send them a list of key questions and themes so they come well prepared to the meeting.
- Gather all the feedback and input it into a “current state” document that you can present to relevant stakeholders.
- Set up an initial meeting where you highlight:
- What a brand pyramid is and why it matters
- A snapshot of your audit and what it reveals
- A calendar and overview of what’s needed to develop your brand pyramid
5. Conduct a brainstorm meeting with the same key stakeholders. The aim is really to get them all aligned in terms of what each core component of the brand pyramid is.
6. Develop your first draft based on the brainstorm and present this to the same group of stakeholders.
7. Get input and adjust the brand pyramid as needed.
8. Once you’ve gotten key people to sign off you should present the brand pyramid to the wider company (sales, engineers, customer support, HR etc.). Depending on the size of your business you’ll want to either do this at an all hands and possibly have members of the marketing team present this to all relevant customer facing teams and team leads.
9. With the brand pyramid finished and presented you should add it to your Brand Bible (if you already have one), upload it to the marketing page of your intranet and ensure everyone knows where it is.
How to keep the Brand Pyramid Alive
Congratulations! You’ve developed your brand pyramid. But to keep it going and make it a reality as opposed to just a pretty diagram and management exercise, founders and/or senior management should continuously reinforce your brand essence and core values publicly whenever they have the opportunity.
One way to do that would be to start off each all hands with a 2 minute recap of your brand essence and values. Another way I’ve seen this successfully implemented is to institute quarterly rewards for employees who exemplify your brand values and brand essence through actions and initiatives of their own. At Course Hero, the company where I used to work, they took this a step farther and actually developed Slack emoticons that people would use in conversations whenever someone did something that furthered the company’s core values. Pretty cool if you ask me!
Hope this helps. Building a great brand pyramid is essential in getting your senior management on the same page. The brand pyramid is a great tool to set the foundation for your company’s brand strategy and can become vital, when used properly, for consistently living up to your brand’s promise. But remember, it’s just a tool and building a great brand is all about consistency, focus and patience.
Patrick ‘Mad’ Mork