What’s the point in marketing if no-one knows it’s you?

Being distinct helps you stand out, get remembered, and chosen more often. But did you know that only 15% of brand assets are distinctive? Surprising, right? It really makes you think about the sheer volume of content, ads, marketing and branding that either isn’t recognised as being from your brand or is misattributed. In the cluttered B2B tech world, grabbing attention is tough. So when you do, you don’t want to fluff your lines.

The art of branding: Your unique signature

There’s a beautiful phrase that says branding’s role is the marketing equivalent of signing your painting. And distinctiveness is your style. I love it. It articulates the point so well. When anything you produce is out in the world, the acid test is someone seeing it and instantly making an association with your brand. Whether they have seen an advert, logo, colour, font, piece of narrative/copy, mascot, or graphical treatment.

Some B2B brands that are masterly at this. Think of Salesforce and their mascot. Think of Drift and their brand icon, their use of human imagery to sell technology. Intuit Mailchimp’s icon, their tone of voice. HubSpot’s association with orange. Zapier’s distinct use of motion – the list goes on. Differentiation is relative; you can’t ever really own a colour, but you can own the association of it in the minds of your consumers more strongly than other brands – and that’s what you’re shooting for.

Being remembered isn’t as easy as awareness

Building a B2B brand depends on how memorable you are. Drew Leahy, Head of Product Marketing & Competitive Intelligence at HockeyStack, emphasised the shift in B2B buying behaviour. People start their research with a small number of businesses they recognise and recall. Your brand should make you the automatic no-brainer for shortlisting.

But being remembered isn’t as easy as awareness – part of the solution is having a distinctive brand. Your brand and everything associated need to be obviously yours to build that familiarity and trust. Assets act as a mental shortcut meaning we can decode without having to think about them. It creates new opportunities to be chosen over your competitors and moves you away from being a commodity. And after all, awareness without association is a waste of money.

Crafting your unique boldness

At Shaped By, we’ve been beating this drum for a while. It was the core theme at our two day virtual summit last year – Bring Your Own Bold. To thrive as a business – you need to embrace a bold that’s authentic and unique to your brand. There are different ways to approach this – but they need to come from within.

In the session on Difference makes the difference: Standing out by finding your bold, Ling Koay, Chief Brand Officer at Oneflow nailed it, suggesting looking back into the company to see the DNA. When you think about finding your bold, yes, it’s about being different, but it’s about your company’s DNA, and how brand marketing can help you express it. There’s no point in being ‘look at me courageous’ if it’s not your vibe – people will be turned off.

But if that is part of your brand, heed the wise words of these two brand leaders. Buck Choate, VP Brand at Lacework says, you can be category-defining rather than merely category-inspired. Look for inspiration outside of your category, and at non-traditional competitors. Or go down the route Island did with Ari Yablok, Head of Brand. Their product sprang from a desire to build something that didn’t exist before – so they challenged themselves to be unconventional with their brand.

This is what we mean when we talk to clients about finding their bold. Something from your core that is ownable by you.

The delicate dance of brand consistency

Consistency is the goal with distinctive brand assets. Define them, hone them, make them uniquely yours, and then use them consistently everywhere. All the time. Even when you’re bored of them. Because by the time as a brand leader you’ve had enough of them, they are just starting to land with your consumers.

But there the potential tension between innovation and brand consistency is real. Andrea Carillo from Drift emphasises the “non-negotiables”- the drift logo, icon, the colour palette, and the bold art. These are the core distinctive assets that trigger the Drift brand in people’s minds – and they are not to be played around with. And this is bang on. When people are out of market, the goal is to build up and freshen their mental structures. Constantly tweaking your brand identity too much creates a slow death by a thousand cuts.

Balancing consistency and adaptability

Outside of that, there is room to flex. Tap into the feeling you want to land rather than how you’re using certain elements. This is especially important in tech where showing your product or service in connection with humans is crucial. Sub-brands offer adaptability without losing consistency. Taking similar pieces, looking at the angles, or the colour and applying them in a new way. It creates a new design system, without losing consistency and recognition. Drift did exactly this with some of their sub-brands for GTM Labs. We’ve done it with Lacework for a bunch of campaigns, and also Rubrik for their thought leadership reports.

It allows for some more excitement and less pressure on pulling away from your core distinctive brand assets, and gives you that flexibility within the brand with more options of where you can take it.

Tips for building distinctive assets:

  1. If you’re at the start, audit what you have – logos, shapes, patterns, colours, fonts, sounds, characters etc.
  2. Consider measuring your brand assets quantitatively – what’s associated with your brand? How strong is the linkage?
  3. Pick your strongest assets – aim for high fame and uniqueness and hammer their usage.
  4. Once established, don’t be afraid to flex them – invert, flip, play to keep them fresh – but not at the expense of losing your established assets.
  5. Explore sub-brands, content and campaigns that give you an exciting flexibility within your brand.