By Denise Lee Yohn

If you’re reading this, chances are you own a business. And you’re probably doing a good job at it too. But you know your brand could be more than good. You just don’t know what it takes to build a truly great brand. A killer product? Brilliant marketing? Sure, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

In What Great Brands Do, Denise Lee Yohn breaks down eight key actions that separate good businesses from great brands. Some seem fairly obvious while others sound counterintuitive. That is, until she explains them, backing up her claims with examples from brands most of us would agree are great. Let’s go over the characteristics Yohn lays out. While we do, think about how you can apply them to your business, and of course, for a deeper dive pick up the book.

Great Brands Start Inside.

If you want the public behind your brand, start by cultivating a strong internal corporate culture. Align and integrate your company culture with your brand values. If you’re positioning your brand as one that treats people with respect but you’re rude to your employees or you don’t pay them what they’re worth, how can they reflect a respectful culture back to the public?

Even if you have a great internal culture, what are you doing to ensure that everyone in your company understands your brand’s vision, tone, and language? Do you communicate this through a quick email or a statement jammed into employee training? Yohn says that you should be doing more than routine communications. Get your staff to buy into your brand with Brand Engagement Sessions. For example, Starbucks has held “brand days” for managers, giving them a walk-through of their coffee beans’ journey from picking to roasting. This creates a visceral experience for the attendees and helps them truly understand what the company is selling. Way more powerful than a hastily sent email.

Great Brands Avoid Selling Products

 Wait a minute. Isn’t that the point of running a business? Well, yeah, if you want to be a run of the mill brand, just focus solely on your product. But think about Nike’s “Just Do It.” That tagline has nothing to do with shoes or athletic equipment. It’s about the customer and their feelings of accomplishment and self confidence. Instead of touting your product’s features, make an emotional connection with your customers by thinking about what they’re really looking to get from their purchase beyond your product. Emotional resonance creates loyalty, even if there’s a cheaper option somewhere else.

Great Brands Ignore Trends

Here, Yohn cautions business owners to avoid “er” positioning. “Er” positioning happens when a brand sends the message “We’re just as good as them but … bigger, faster, cheaper, etc.” This is a dangerous spot because it tells consumers that your brand only has comparative value. Your brand will always be tied to the industry leader.

Instead, aim for inherent value. Instead of reactively chasing trends, proactively anticipating them. Yeah, easier said than done, especially when you feel like you might be missing an opportunity by not riding the latest wave. But that’s short sighted. For long-term success, find new opportunities in unconventional ways.

This is where the book gets really useful. Here Yohn doesn’t just say that you need to innovate. She breaks down her process of running a Brand Diagnostic, which involves customer research, brand audits, and more tactics for uncovering your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Great Brands Don’t Chase Customers

If you’re constantly trying to attract customers with sales, you’re not building brand loyalty. You’re bringing in bargain shoppers who won’t come back until the next sale. Running discounts might be an easier approach, but it’s not as profitable or cachet-building as doing the hard work of developing a clear brand identity and focusing on positioning and differentiation.

By understanding your target audience and solving their problems better than anyone else, you’ll have customers finding and sticking with you.

Great Brands Sweat the Small Stuff

This isn’t to say that business owners should focus so much on minutiae that they lose sight of big picture goals. What Yohn means is that you need to think about how consumers experience your brand and its personality at every possible touchpoint. We talked about creating value at various touchpoints, so be sure to watch this video for more tips.

Great Brands Commit and Stay Committed

Resist the temptation of short-term profit or imitation or expanding your product offerings in a way that doesn’t make sense for your brand. Instead, focus on doing one or just a few things really well. Develop a core ideology and stick to it ruthlessly. Sometimes that means sacrificing things like mass appeal. But great brands know those sacrifices pay off in the long run.

Great Brands Never Have to “Give Back”

No, this isn’t permission to be greedy and focus on profit over people. What Yohn is saying here is that attention-grabbing donations or sponsorships are not nearly as impactful—for your business or your community—as running your business in a way that makes significant, sustainable, positive effects on society. Besides, as Yohn says, “giving back” implies that your business has taken something from society and is now repaying a debt.

Today’s consumers demand a more integrated approach to corporate responsibility. So instead of making big donations followed by press releases touting your generosity, take a more strategic approach to your social impact strategy. Consider your brand values and figure out how to operate your business in a way that seamlessly allows you to make a meaningful contribution to society.

Cohesive Brand Building

 None of these are stand-alone strategies. They should be integrated and indivisible. This “brand-as-business” approach isn’t easy, but it is what separates great brands from the rest. They know branding isn’t just about advertising an image—it’s about taking real actions. As Yohn says, “Your brand can’t just be a promise. It must be a promise delivered.”

This book dives much deeper into these principles with relevant case studies and actionable advice. If you’re looking for a thorough but easily digestible overview of how to take your brand from good to great, head to our Bookshop link to order Denise Lee Yohn’s What Great Brand Do.


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