Is yours a compelling brand? Here are 9 ways to tell

We are all happy to get good-quality products at great prices, but if that is all that there is to it, then that’s as far as it goes: “We are happy, and thanks”. No loyalty, commitment, and the next moment the competitors’ also-good alternative gets a little cheaper or faster, off we jump the ship.

On the dream side to be, admiring a brand in a powerfully irresistible way (which defines the ‘compelling’ attribute), takes that—good quality—and a whole lot more, especially the following;

  • An evolving yet consistent big story (and small stories) people can relate to.
  • A consistent and connected expression of that story—in look and feel, ads, environment, and more.
  • A people-first ideology that comes to life in action and communication—thereby inspiring a community that includes but goes beyond the direct users of the product/service.

The more competitive an industry gets, as in the tech startup space across the world, the higher the bar on quality is, and hence it is surely ineffective to build a brand solely on that.

Now that we have highlighted some of these key brand components, let’s look at some pointers (9 of them) to look out for as you evaluate how compelling a brand or your brand is. (Disclaimer: the list is not exhaustive but they surely get you somewhere, and we may update them over time).

1. The tales told

Call it storytelling but you are looking at it more from what people are saying to each other outside the company, and less about what the company is saying, even though the former is mostly inspired by the latter. What stories are being told? Are they solely about the quality of the service (which is great) or do they also include other things people do not directly ask or pay for? Stories of an incredible culture, a unique background story to the establishment, acts of unbelievable level of commitment to excellence, or inspiring acts to make the world a better place all suggest a brand that has successfully inspired people to care about its mission in a way that goes beyond its everyday offering, and that’s the point.

2. The labels assigned

When people (especially neutrals) compare Marvel Comics and DC, or two football clubs like Liverpool and Man City, they are mostly able to say “City is more about this, while Liverpool is known for that”. In the football example, it may be about their style of game, or history, or management, or locker room culture, but there is usually a label to stick on each side. It’s called attributes in branding, and a brand’s attributes—best pre-determined in the brand strategy, expressed in action and storytelling, but ultimately confirmed by people—in comparison with competitors, culminates in its positioning. The question is what attribute/label do people assign to your brand and how relatively consistent is that among many people, and with what the company intends it to be? Also, how strong is that attributed label in driving choice among potential users/customers?

3. The density of bias

Bias is real, and it’s a part of the fabric of our humanity. You probably think your siblings, parents, or spouse are the kindest people ever (for those blessed with an amazing nuclear unit of people). No matter how truly kind they are, they are not as amazing, relatively, as you estimate it. The proof of that is we all think our family is the very kindest, and surely can’t all be right at the same time. It is bias, good bias, and in this case, it’s influenced by our proximity to their kindness and how much of their true selves we have seen. Surely there is nothing wrong with that bias, and the most compelling brands have beautifully made the most of it. A question here is how far do people go to make excuses for your brand in the case of a failure or error? How much of a benefit of the doubt do people lavish on the brand?

4. Competitiveness beyond pricing

While many businesses claim to be “competitive on pricing”, the best examples of brands compete more on several other things before price—from quality to perception of quality (two related but different things), and more. What happens every time a competitor lowers their price or offers a big discount? Do you immediately lose a huge percentage of patronage? That’s something to look into. Compelling brands earn loyalty and while it does not mean that they never lose customers, it’s mostly not at the smallest shift in market forces. This is because people have come to associate with them on a deeper level beyond the logical, rational figures of price, speed, and so on.

5. Pride of association & belonging

A wise man, whose name I know not, once said that people refer your product to their friends not just because they want to help you or help their friends, but because it makes them feel good to do so. The indicator here is in how eagerly employees and customers speak about you on social media, and when they meet new people in ‘real life’. If your brand rates poorly on that, the primary answer is not to ask for it (even though you can, respectfully) but more to inspire it.

While salaries make the most obvious factor people want to work and stay in a company, there is a lot more beyond the money, and people will gladly take some cut if it means working in a place they are proud to be a part of, instead of a place where all they get is good money and an ID card.

6. Clarity of belonging

The strength of a brand comes to life in the clarity of what lies at its core, and what it stands for. Where there is clarity, especially within, employees feel more energized and equipped to be ambassadors of the brand. Compelling brands rate high on this. Beyond seeing pointers to it in the environment, you can feel it in the air. A good way to check this is simply to ask, and hear what people have to say. How unanimous is the opinion and understanding people have about what your company is up to and what it stands for? Whether it’s a survey or a set of interviews, you may want to prepare for some surprising answers. It’s always a good place to start.

7. Share of consciousness

When businesses think about competition, they are mostly looking at their ‘rival’ companies, i.e the ones offering a similar product or service. In today’s hyper-connected world, a business/product is competing with everything that gets the attention of the people whose attention they care about. Next to family and faith, the strongest brands come next, and sometimes, especially with sports brands, one could say sadly, they are in fact, number 1.

This is difficult to measure but it surely comes to life in how much, and how passionately they talk about the brand.

8. Speed of identification

How fast do people identify your brand? Compelling brands are unmistakably present and easy to identify in a crowd of brands. Brand identity does not only go beyond the logo, but also beyond the visual system. It includes everything, from the service approach to tone of voice, style of writing, the smell of the product, feel (physical and psychological), sound, and a lot more, all towards imprinting that signature as effortlessly as possible. When people think of identity these days, they understand that it helps people to quickly spot and recall their brand but one less talked about benefit is in how everything that is close to the brand, even when it is not, brings the brand to mind. When a brand is strikingly memorable and deployed across multiple touchpoints so that it makes a strong mark on people’s minds, they begin to see it in many other things. How many times do you remember MTN when you see a building painted yellow? You have the answer.

9. Oneness of expression

One thing we have been emphasizing a lot recently, especially when onboarding clients at FourthCanvas, is our war against “random acts of branding”. We all know companies with billboards on every corner, jingles on every station, and events week in week out, but we still don’t get that one idea that captures who they are and why we should care. One big test of a compelling brand is that every part of it breathes the same thing. Whether you are walking into a physical office of the brand or visiting its website or listening to an employee speak on a Twitter Space, the connection between the several parts needs to be evident to a good extent.

The brand has always been a major driver for trust, choice, and retention, with customers/users, employees, and investors, but this is even more true now as we move into an increasingly diverse world of options and things fighting for the mindshare of every single member of your target audience. If you don’t take the brand seriously now, then you must have stronger reasons, and that’s fine.

By Victor Fatanmi

(A reference: our Africa Challenger Brands report from 2021).

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