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Identifying Your Brand Pillars

The Startup
Published in
8 min readAug 21, 2019


Brand pillars are the points that set your company apart from competitors. You want to sum up your outlook on the things that matter most to your customers, and where it naturally fits, reinforce those ideas in content you produce. Theses can be any points that your customers feel are important- convenience, reliability, on-time delivery, innovation, etc. And you are not limited to just one thing, but I do recommend no more than three. More than that and A) it becomes harder for your customers to remember and B) dilutes your focus.

Why did you start your business?

Many startups are formed because the founders see a much better way to improve the quality of a product, an innovation that will be important to their customers, an entirely new product, or a way to greatly improve customers’ experiences.

The list of potential reasons is as numerous as there are businesses. The point is, you started your company for a reason. Know what that is. Be able to say it simply and clearly. If you are good at this, you may be able to say it so it becomes the hook for the story you tell about your company’s founding.

Once you have this clearly defined and phrased in a way that you are confident in saying, look at it from the customer’s standpoint. Present it as a solution to a problem they have in their business that you solve, or another benefit. Examples could include:

Your company founding should definitely be in your collection of stories that you tell to make deeper connections with your clients. I’m all about getting the most from every effort and expenditure, so you can help your marketing and sales by developing your brand pillars. This helps sales by providing stories they can tell in selling situations. These stories can generate blog posts, too.

Most importantly, you can use the brand pillars as a guide rail for your branding efforts. When you write or script something for your audience to see, be sure- where it fits naturally- you make the point in one way or another about a brand pillar. Well done if you have more than one and can mention them in an easy way that fits with the context of your blog, social post, news article, video or podcast. Think about the potential for making your brand pillars a tagline with your logo.

How do you see your industry?

Identifying those couple of characteristics that you want to convey to customers can often be effectively shared by describing your industry and how you see things differently. I worked for companies that never made any attempt to differentiate themselves or even call out those things that they are focused on in terms of a customer experience.

Identifying those couple of characteristics that you want to convey to customers can often be effectively shared by describing your industry and how you see things differently. I worked for companies that never made any attempt to differentiate themselves or even call out those things that they are focused on in terms of a customer experience.

For example, in the information technology business, there are resellers of separate manufacturers’ products, that typically have some specialization in putting complex systems together so they work well for the customer. As a seller, it was very helpful to be able to say to a prospective customer that we had great depth and experience in something relevant to the customer’s interest. Better still would be the ability to connect an example or story of a similar success to a different point of view on the IT reseller business. Something like “Because we think a reseller should help you not only to purchase equipment and software, but to stand it up and maintain it, we developed (or use) a tool to document the relationship of the relevant systems and the details of each component. We leave the output with you so you can incorporate it as you need in other systems, and get better help results from the various manufacturers if you need to work with them on something. We also conduct twice annual updates of this output, if you like, at no additional charge.”

It’s easy for an IT reseller that put emphasis on the customer experience after the sale could say one brand pillar is ‘customer care after the sale,’ and have concrete evidence of it. This pillar could originate from one of the motivators for starting the company in the first place, or something that clients have told them, or even a strategic initiative. Regardless of the source, know that you should definitely consider the reasons for starting your company as a great source for potential brand pillars.

Another company I have worked with was founded on an innovation that the wife of one of the founders needed. It seems the scientific instrument business at the time was pretty uninspired. By looking at the original effort to innovate, innovation became one of the brand pillars this company included in its branding strategy.

So take a look at your industry, and consider asking your customers how they view it. Listen closely for generalizations they would like to see changed, and especially new insights that might be something you can develop as a central theme.

Why do you do things differently?

This is really closing the loop with customers. Whenever you are making a point about what makes your company different, it reinforces the point to be able to say why you do things the way you do. You can point to studies for evidence, as well as experience- both yours and other customers’. Your why can resonate deeply with prospective customers. After you say what you see differently, it helps immensely to tell them why you do things differently than others.

To have this helps to raise the bar for competitors. Competitor reps in most cases won’t be able to differentiate their employers with a compelling statement of how their company sees things and why. They won’t be able to distinguish their employers and connect with prospects by explaining why they do things the way they do. You will.

Even if you don’t know what holes you could poke in competitors’ products, processes or people, this is a human-level thing to do. Make the connection with your prospects by being open with them about your approach. Listen closely for responses. You can learn a lot about actual and perceived differences, and which mean something to your customers. But in the end, be actively working to use the results of this preparation and listening to say why you do things the way you do. Hopefully, there will be a brand pillar or two in there, or at least you’ll learn which you should focus on.

Are you teaching?

In these times, finding information is not difficult for most subjects. What is it you likely do when you want to know something? You most likely do an on-line search. Depending on the search term you enter, you’re probably going to see pages links and descriptions of websites, blog posts, summary cards that can often show exactly what you were looking for, links to videos, news articles and scholarly research. You’re going to see ads for relevant products and services, too. Quick answers are not a challenge for most questions anymore.

Still, people are people and have a shortage of time. They may not have the context to pick the best answer from a sea of search results. They may not have the expertise to see a longer-term advantage you deliver.

One brand pillar that can make a difference is becoming the teacher, sherpa, mentor, guru, counselor to your customers. If you are inclined to help people talk through related considerations, this might be something that can become a tremendous difference maker in your business, and set you apart from your competitors. If your customers are often frustrated because no one is taking an additional 10 minutes to speak with them about their problems and goals, you might be in a stronger position to win more sales by helping them think through choices and sharing knowledge. Give it a try, and watch for the results. Depending on the nature of your relationship with your customers, this approach may be something to add to your overall selling. If you have sales reps, see what they think about this. It may make sense to regularly conduct product and competitive training to enable them to help guide customers, too.

What is the end result?

Lastly I would suggest you look at what it is, in the end, you are helping your customers achieve. Again, you can get double-duty from this effort. Look at what happens at a human level when your customers work with you. Do they benefit in any personal way?

In selling, take time to connect brand pillars and your approach to the customer’s desired result.
Photo by Vishal Shah from Pexels

How about relieving them of tasks they would normally expect to do, especially if your competitors are still requiring them to do it/them? Do they see, personally, a financial gain by improving a metric or two your company improves? Many managers at your customers are measured by key metrics. Improvements in those metrics might mean an incentive payout to them. Understand if this is likely the case at the accounts you work with. If you have the right relationship, you may be able to ask and know for sure. In fact, if this is the case, consider making a written guarantee of a key improvement you can deliver. Guaranteed results might turn out to be the brand pillar that is right for you.

Think about how your customers will benefit in terms of time savings, convenience, higher quality, improvement in their final product, lower labor costs, reduced shipping, etc. When your customers buy from you, what do they get in terms of business advantages and personal advantages? Put these in separate categories and see if you can boil these down to themes.

It’s something that helps you prepare for sales calls, too. So again, talk to customers you already have. Tell them what you are trying to do and ask for their help. Most will happily make some time to help you. Depending on your level of knowledge in this particular area, you may want to prime the conversation by providing a topic and asking if they agree, and if so, asking for an example.

This is a very personal effort. It needs to be personal because you want to be able to tell customers, as succinctly as possible, and with evidence when selling, what they will experience when they buy from you. It is also very personal because the outcome will help you tell your story, clarify your brand, guide your messaging in any copy you write or marketing help you may hire, and prepare for sales calls.

Finding your brand pillars is not difficult, and in fact you already likely have several points you can whittle down to a short list of the difference makers. Make some time to think about this foundational element of your business. It will save you time, expenses, and help you win more sales. There are no wrong answers, but be sure any you think are worthy resonate with your customers. The best ones will call out unique capabilities your competitors can’t match, especially if you can back them up with stories that tell people these are a significant reason they should buy from you.



The Startup

With over 20 years of sales and marketing experience, I want to help small businesses make the best use of low and no-cost resources to make lives better.