5 Steps to check if you are building a strong brand

A strong brand is clear, compelling, memorable, unique, and trustworthy, but most importantly, this set of characteristics will lead to the organization’s most desirable wishlist, such as: set price position, move away from competition, and increase profitability. Well, this is easier said than done, but it is possible with consistent work that begins with understanding what makes a brand strong. This article will easily help you to check that and adjust course when needed.

First of all, let’s clarify what we are considering as a brand. There's a common misunderstanding between brands and logos. The logo is not a brand, it’s a symbol for the brand, nor the product, or the company. We commonly say that we are going to buy the brand X, when we are actually referring to “product X”. 

Imagining the beginning of a new venture: someone has an idea and works hard to transform it into a product or a service, that will be improved over the years, again and again, until it’s shaped like a final version of the product. After that, a new journey begins, to transform it into a business, to define the best model to take the product to its target audience, attracting partners and talents, adjusting systems, and creating a culture. Those are stages for the business creation, but even if this company has a name and a logo, it’s possible that it doesn’t have a brand yet.

The most well known definition is from Marty Neumeier, who defines brand as “a gut feeling about a product, a service, or a company. It's a reputation. Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is”.

Every touchpoint of the business with its audience leaves a perception. From the service, until the building facade, from the voicemail message until the uniforms, everything communicates. It’s true to say that there are many brands as consumers because each one of us will have a slightly different idea about Nike for example. 

And that’s the beauty of it: the more uniform and consistent this mental image, the better the brand-building work is. If the image is not consistent, a red flag can be pulled out.

In that sense, branding is the ongoing process to help businesses to build that.

It’s a process that helps organizations to uncover their essence, defining values, mission, vision and how exactly they are helping someone, and who these people are. And when it’s all clear it’s possible to define a brand proposition, make it tangible with a set of materials that manifest the brand core (one of them is the logo, for instance), and most importantly, keep guarding the brand in all manifestations, to make sure that all of them are all in tune, playing the same song.

In a nutshell, what does a strong brand do?

A deep design thinking process leads to a strong brand, that:

  • Set pricing position;
  • Improves the business model;
  • Attracts and engages like-minded people;
  • Retain and attract talents;
  • Moves away from competition;
  • Set a position where anyone else could be;
  • Increases business longevity and profitability.

How could I know if I have a strong brand?

Branding could be a complex and intangible subject to discuss. Answering how much money the brand will bring to the organization next month or how much that marketing activation will sum into the brand value could be a heated discussion (at science fiction level sometimes) between marketing and finance. The big institutes have of course their methodologies to value the brand’s market value (you can see for instance the Forbes list here), but that’s not something available for small businesses.

Fortunately, there are other ways to check that with a simple analysis and that’s what we're gonna do right now through those five main criteria from The Brandling

Is it your brand:

  1. Clear?
  2. Compelling?
  3. Memorable?
  4. Unique?
  5.  Trustworthy?

1. Is it Clear?

There’s a saying that goes more or less like this “The one who knows less about water is the fish”.  Of course, it knows tons about living in the ocean and every specific about it, but being so immersed makes it almost impossible to see it in perspective. Sounds familiar?

Could be super obvious for you what your company does, for whom, and what problem it's solving. But is your offer super clear to others in a glance? We don’t have much time to make our point, so clarity is the first asset of a strong brand.

One common doubt about clarity is how specific we need to be because inspirational taglines are much more interesting than literal ones. When thinking about that, we all recall Nike and its famous “Just to it”, but we forget that they didn’t just start “doing it” right away when no one knows about them and their amazing proposition. This is something that the brand will build along the way, and there are plenty of ways to keep the communication inspirational. 

The main point is: if your brand is new and you are in the first stage (building brand awareness) you’ll want to be as clear as possible, saving your customer's time. If your audience needs to put some effort into understanding what you do when having contact with your ads, it’s a clear sign that you need improvement in that area.

Quick check for Brand Clarity: 

5 seconds test

  • Choose a small group of people that still don’t know your brand and are a true representative of your target (it all depends on the size of your business, geographic distribution and market complexity, but for a small business, 10 to 15 people will be enough for your first test). At this point we want to do a quick check;
  • Choose one advertisement that represents your business. Could be for example the first fold of your website (where usually people spend a couple of seconds before choose if they will buy from you or not);
  • Show it to them for only 5 seconds and after that ask some questions, such as: What does this brand sell? For whom? What problem are they solving? You can use professional tools for that, one good option is Usability Hub;
  • The answers from this simple test will show you exactly how your audience perceive your offer and  what you need to adjust. You are not looking for 100% of success, but at least 6 from 10 should be able to describe what you are offering.

2. Is it compelling?

In other words, it makes people engage and want to be part of it? After seeing your brand materials do they wanna know more? 

If you have a brand already established you probably have a pretty good idea about how compelling you are from your conversion rate and engagement rates on Social Media. But if you are creating something new, you're gonna need to test your brand argument first.

Lot is said about creating a magnetic irresistible proposition, but the way to do that is absolutely not by triggers and emotional pedantic sayings. The only way of being really compelling is offering what your audience is already looking for, and to do so you need to know your audience.

You can use research for that, like qualitative interviews and other kinds of surveys. After gaining lots of insights in the interviews, I love to use The Hero’s Journey as a tool to immerse myself in the audience's needs, fears and the ways the brand could turn into their mentor. Storytelling is therefore an amazing way to create a compelling brand.

Quick check for Brand Compelling:

Qualitative Interviews: 

  • Set up a couple of qualitative interviews. As mentioned before, the number will vary with the complexity of your offer (how many different target groups, geographies, etc). But if you run a small business chances are that you can collect accurate insights with 5 to 10 interviews;
  • Invite the people (your target group) in advance for a 30-minute talk where you will listen more than talk. Your goal is to leave your interviewee comfortable to share  their thoughts and raw perspectives about the brand, that you can distill later;
  • You can choose someone to do it for you as well. It would be easier for your clients to be total honest when you are not in the room, and we are looking for useful feedback here;
  • Again you will choose one advertisement that represents your business. Could be for example the first fold of your website (where usually people spend a couple of seconds before choose if they will buy from you or not), and let your interviewee check it out for a moment;
  • After that you can explore the perceptions about it with some open questions, such as: What do you think this brand does? Would you want to know more about it? What part caught your eye? Why? 
  • The answers would give you some hints about what needs from your audience are being met and the ones that don’t, and why.

Website Prototype

This option is less informative about the reasons (why some consumers find this branding proposition more attractive than others), but it really emulates a real-life experience, checking if your client will actually take action on it, ultimately proving if your proposition is compelling. It works like this:

  • Create a simple website page or a social media ad to show your new brand proposition. There you’ll display your brand promise, your offer and your look & feel. Don’t over elaborate it, keep it simple for the test;
  • Add one bottom with one simple action to check the attractiveness of your offer, such as: click here to know more, subscribe to our newsletter, book a free session, and so on;
  • Share it with a representative group of consumers. You can use social media groups to help you spread the message;
  • Check the results to evaluate how compelling your offer is, and if needed make adjustments and check again.

3. Is it Memorable?

There are no official figures about it, but it is estimated that we are impacted by an average of 10,000 advertisements per day. Imagine if we add tons of social media content + news + series + movies, that are not necessarily selling something but are definitely battling for our attention every single minute. So, memorability is quite important.

Thinking about that, how much of a CEO speech are you able to remember and retell to your family on the dinner’s table? If we are talking about an amazing speaker, maybe you're gonna remember a joke he or she said, or perhaps a family story used to explain a complex matter. Why do you think that happens? 

Our brain doesn’t like complexity (truth is that we are becoming more and more lazy over time and do not tolerate complexities). And what remains from new information that we receive is what we can process, in other words, what our brand already knows (neural pathways) and can relate with, (universal matters: subjects, feelings and emotions that we all experience). And a great way of doing that is by telling Stories.

A memorable brand is the one that has an amazing brand story, one simple enough that anyone can retell using a few simple sets of words. There’s too much to say about Brand Storytelling but for the purpose of this brand check let’s keep it simple. We just want to know how people tell our story, how they reframe it.

Perhaps your brand doesn’t have a story yet. But remember Marty Neumeier “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is”, so your audience already has some thoughts about it. What do they say about you? What do they remember from everything you have been saying? Let 's check!

Quick check for Brand Memorability:

Referral Test (for brands already established)

  • Make a list of characteristics that your brand has and you have been working to communicate for the last years (values, virtues, benefits);
  • Choose a couple of customers that already know your brand well;
  • Ask them to present your brand as if they are giving a recommendation to a friend. Under this circumstances they will probably just say the good part, but you can ask for some help from a peer and record the conversation;
  • Check the list of words they used to describe your brand and how many are in some way related to the perception you are working to convey;
  • If you find alignment in it means that you are doing a great job in terms of creating memorability to your brand.

The principle above works the same for ad tests, when a group of people needs to remember some specifics after watching a TV commercial, for example. A common problem is to remember everything from the film, but not the brand name :(

Story Test (for new brands)

  • Write down your brand story. A short one (2 or 3 paragraphs) that summarise the following: the problem your brand see in the world, who are you, how you solve it, and why it matters;
  • Give it to someone from your target group and let them read;
  • After that, ask them to retell the story;
  • Notice how accurate they are when giving you the gist. Strong brands are of course the ones that create the possibility for their audience to retain more information;
  • To repeat that with more people will give you the possibility to notice what parts of your story are more memorable (the good storytelling) to use in your brand building process.

4. Is it Unique?

A strong brand is one of a kind. You are probably thinking that it’s almost impossible to create something completely unique, as anything had already been touched somehow. But strong brands are like interesting people, authentic, distinctive, original. We can have similar characteristics from other people, but it is the combination of a whole set of it that makes each of us different. 

A good brand is interesting because it’s not completely predictable. To be consistent is important, for sure, (we don’t want to create a bipolar brand), but adding a bit of tensionality makes a brand unique and more appealing, just like people.

The uniqueness of a brand is built from inside out. It starts with its essence, its genetic code, aka: the values, mission statement, vision, positioning, etc, and comes to life by it’s expressions: visual and verbal identity (name, tone of voice, design system - logo, typeface, color palette, graphic elements, etc).

So here we want to discover if our brand is really authentic in our client’s eyes. If all they are seeing is an ocean of similar brands fighting for their attention presenting themselves almost the same, we have a problem.

Quick check for Brand Uniqueness:

Visual Inspection:

  • Getter in one place (like a slide, a Miro board or a table) samples of all your promotion materials. Put together prints from your website and social media posts, ads, packages and so on. If you are creating your brand you can use a mood board with references that you are using to create your visuals (photographs, typeface, color palette, etc);
  • Look at all that and evaluate first what you are communicating. That’s an unique opportunity to gain perspective and ask yourself: Is this consistent? What kind of story am I telling here? What feelings and emotions my brand is conveying?  Is there any “noise” that needs to be adjusted? What do I want people to perceive from it? Write it down.
  • After that, display it from a group of people from your target group and ask open questions such as: What feelings do these images convey? What do they make you feel and think? What kind of adjective would you use to describe it? Do they remember another brand?
  • Record your conversations or keep notes. Then compare your notes (your objectives in terms of what makes your brand authentic) with the answers. This will surely help you to uncover the unique set of characteristics that makes your brand one of a kind, and to make adjustments if needed.

5. Is it Trustworthy?

This is probably the most important asset from the list above. The question here is: Can we trust this brand? It delivers its promises? 

Trust is something that we’ll build over the years, through real actions: How do we answer our client’s needs? What kind of value do we deliver? And how do we behave when things do not go well? But that’s something possible to measure even for small companies in early stages, once the people who're building the business always bring their repertoire and credibility from someplace else. We all have a professional background or some kind of trait that can communicate to the people that they can (or can not) rely on us.

Quick check for Brand Trustworthiness:


  • The test here is super simple. You can use any opportunity from the tests above and add the following question: Do you recommend this brand for a friend or an important professional partner, and why?
  • That will give you a pretty clear image of how much your target trusts the brand. It’s easier for us to accept an eventual buyer's remorse feeling than to jeopardize our relationship with an important client. We only recommend the ones we really trust.

Want to keep digging on it?

If you are building a soulful brand you'll probably will want to check some insightful content about Value-based Pricing or Beautiful Strategy.

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