Corporate branding is all about leaving an impression.
True to the roots of “brand” — meaning “to mark” or “to burn” — corporate branding is the creation of a lasting brand image and related associations for a target audience.
Everything from the color of an organization’s corporate logo to how it succinctly summarizes its values and larger brand story make up its corporate branding.
How corporate branding works through names and colors
Consider the startup Shop, which offers parcel tracking, online payments and e-commerce recommendations. Its distinctive brand identity has three main components:
- The color purple.
- Typography with a stylized “O” in the word “Shop.”
- The tagline “Better in every way.”
First, here’s the top of its desktop website. Note the logo, colorization, tagline and “Carbon Offsetting,” a big part of its brand story:
Next, here are two grabs of its Instagram account, where the slogan takes on new forms (“Track better, etc.”) while leveraging the same purple hue:
Finally, here’s the settings page of its mobile app — a mundane forum, but one where Shop maintains its brand image through consistent colors, product-specific branding (title case for “Shop Pay,” its payment service) and a mention of its core commitment to eco-friendly business (“Carbon Offsetting”).
How is corporate branding used in content marketing?
As we can see, branding is predominantly visual. Check out this interview with Brafton’s own Ken Boostrom for a more in-depth explanation as to why.
But it also relies on words to convey a unified message across all communications channels. As such, it’s integral to content marketing and should shine through in every asset, from a social media update to a company blog post.
The intersection of corporate branding and content marketing is visible in the strong brand identity of 1Password, a Canadian firm providing cross-platform password management. In all of its content marketing assets, 1Password presents a clever logo combining the image of a physical lock with the numeral “1,” along with consistent fonts and distinctive blue.
Here’s an entry from its official blog, with clear brand identifiers like the keyhole logo, blue-and-white color scheme and words like “Families,” “Business” and “Security,” which between them describe its target audience as well as what it does.
The blog text itself fits the security-minded imagery, with a sentence summarizing 1Password’s mission as one to “create unique information for every service you use to keep your most important data as safe as can be.”
The video accompanying the blog sticks to the corporate branding script with the logo embedded into the company name, a solid blue background and the simple word “Privacy”:
On Twitter, the preview image for a linked blog is prominently and consistently branded, too — consumers will see the blue stripe centered between the smaller red and green ones:
Working remotely? We’ve shared our top tips from 15 years of being a remote-first team, including advice on getting started, collaboration, communication, and wellbeing. 💻🌍 https://t.co/o7BFKK6pF1
— 1Password (@1Password) September 2, 2020
Even the company podcast is on script, with blue background, logo and “security” language all intact:
Why is corporate branding important?
For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has said “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.” And nobody wants a bad reputation.
Just as reputations let people make impressions without necessarily taking any action (as embodied in the “their reputation precedes them” cliché), branding lets an organization tell consumers a lot with a very little — namely, just a name.
Branding is, in this way, a type of marketing shorthand. Simply hearing a brand name like “Apple” or “Costco,” or a product like “Coca-Cola Classic,” can send a lot of simultaneous signals to target audiences, since each of those brands has a consistent, coherent identity. That’s why companies and their marketers put in the legwork of ensuring unified messaging, coloration and typography across content marketing assets.
Accordingly, effective corporate branding enables companies to economically tell clear, consistent and unique stories about what they do and stand for. The resulting brand recognition and brand identity helps them break through in two main ways, via:
- Brand equity: How a brand is perceived and valued by consumers. Strong brand equity means a brand is important to its target audiences. It shouldn’t be confused with brand value, which refers to the concrete financial worth of a corporate name and trademarks.
- Brand loyalty: The consumer habit of repeatedly purchasing from the same brand. Corporate branding can create brand loyalty by making an organization seem unique or particularly trustworthy, cost-effective and/or ethical.
What does good corporate branding look like?
To see how corporate branding pays dividends, consider what springs to mind when you hear virtually anything about the company Bezos himself founded, Amazon, which is legendary for its brand loyalty.
No matter the context, you probably think about “2-day delivery,” “online shopping” and maybe some more niche parts of the Amazon brand experience, too, like “Twitch streaming” and “Prime Video.” But you’ll also likely remember Amazon’s distinctive logo, with the arrow literally pointing the way from A to Z.
It’s both a subtle reminder of Amazon’s wide product selection and a memorable form of visual identity. Across all of its properties, Amazon also uses the same colors — most prominently, orange — and fonts to accompany that logo and its variants, so that at every juncture, customers feel they’re getting the authentic Amazon brand experience and all that it entails.
Even the company’s preinstalled apps on its tablets, as well as its content marketing blog for its business-oriented Amazon Web Services division, have the orange-inflected visual identity (annotation added to first image to denote Amazon-made apps):
Through this consistent corporate branding, Amazon has cultivated amazing brand loyalty. In 2019, it topped Brand Key’s list of brands with the highest consumer loyalty, for the second consecutive year.
What does bad corporate branding look like?
Conversely, poor corporate branding confuses target audiences and lessens both brand equity and brand loyalty. No one would accuse Netflix of lacking a distinctive brand, but the streaming giant learned some hard corporate branding lessons when it tried to spin off its original DVD-by-mail business in 2011.
Rebranding the offering as Qwikster, Netflix quickly saw backlash from customers angry about the prospect of paying a different company for a service once included in their Netflix subscriptions. And the funny name “Qwikster” made the new offering seem rushed and perhaps tacky, putting it at odds with Netflix’s meticulously crafted brand image. Netflix didn’t even own the @Qwikster social media handle at the time of the unveiling. Qwikster was canceled before it even launched.
How do you create and evaluate a corporate branding strategy?
Graphic design, on-brand writing, social media presence and carefully coordinated advertising and content marketing campaigns all help manufacture a recognizable brand identity. Before any of that happens, though, an overarching corporate branding strategy is needed. Creating a strategy requires determining a brand’s overall purpose, exploring ways to connect it with audiences and then reevaluating and evolving the brand identity as needed.
Determining a purpose
What does a brand do or stand for? That’s the fundamental question that must be answered before corporate branding can even begin.
This straightforward example from Limited Run Games shows how clarity of purpose merges with visual identity to create standout branding. On its blog and elsewhere in its content marketing efforts, the company delivers this statement of purpose:
Via Limited Run Games
The same statement is incorporated into this colorful official design, which also uses heavy repetition of the brand name and a short tagline (“The future is physical”) to reinforce overall brand image.
Via Limited Run Games
Connecting with audiences
Substantial time and effort go into making any corporate brand memorable and unique in the eyes of its target audiences. Usually, you can’t just come up with a new name, emblazon it at the top of your content marketing blog and expect everyone to instantly have positive associations with it.
In other words, the brand needs to be defined by specific actions.
Amazon built its brand through production selection and consistent delivery, but even small gestures like a birthday email or membership anniversary commemoration can boost brand equity.
Marketing platform HubSpot showed another possibility by marking its 15,000th customer signup with a filmed drop of 15,000 ping-pong balls. It was a unique gesture to show gratitude for brand loyalty. Also, note the color consistency of the orange balls with HubSpot’s very orange logo.
Reevaluating the corporate brand
Sometimes a brand needs rebooting or outright rebranding, either to keep up with changing consumer habits or to clear up any confusion.
Launched in 2014, CBS All Access was intended as a premium combination of early access to on-demand versions of CBS broadcasts and exclusive web-only content. The name was always a bit awkward though, likely owing to the associations of CBS with age-old broadcast TV rather than with modern video streaming.
In 2020, it was rebranded as Paramount+. The “+” branding has proven effective for brands as varied as Walmart, Disney and Apple Plus (hah), it allowed for the “mountain of entertainment” tagline, based on Paramount’s mountain logo:
Via The Verge
What are some other types of corporate branding strategies?
The term “corporate branding” typically refers to branding associated with a corporation’s name, as in the examples above involving Shop, 1Password and Amazon. All three are corporate names and, in the case of Shop and 1Password, also the names of those brands’ main products, similar to how “Coca-Cola” is the name of both a company and its product.
The target audience of corporate branding is not only consumers, but also shareholders, governments and the public-at-large. Corporate branding is an attempt to tell these audiences what values and practices should be associated in the headline company name.
That said, corporate branding inevitably intersects with other types of branding that are more specific to products and services.
For example, “Apple” and “iPhone” are distinct brands with their own sets of associations, despite being trademarks of the same organization. This is an instance of individual branding, which along with private-label branding are two common ways that organizations extend their larger corporate brands.
Plenty of products have brands separate from the corporate brands of their makers. This individual branding lets products stand on their own, with emphasis on features and capabilities not available in other offerings from that brand.
Instagram itself is technically a Facebook product, with a separate logo and a different color scheme from Facebook’s austere blue-and-white configuration. Since it works entirely differently from Facebook proper, this separate branding makes sense. Renaming “Instagram” as “Facebook” would destroy its brand equity and accrued brand loyalty.
Still, the individual brand of Instagram is occasionally linked to Facebook’s corporate branding, as in this splash screen prior to logging into the mobile app:
Private label branding
Retailers attempting to tell brand stories about how they offer unrivaled value and savings to consumers often do so through private label branding. A private label brand is a low-cost product made by a third-party manufacturer for a retailer, but branded with a name associated with that retailer rather than the original maker. This is also known as white-labeling.
Costo, for instance, carries a wide range of products labeled “Kirkland Signature,” which is a Costco trademark. Notably, said products are not branded as “Costco” products. The Kirkland Signature brand has amassed a considerable following over the years for its relatively low prices and perceived high quality relative to other brands, even though the products themselves are often made by the same exact brands they’re technically “competing” with.
It’s the private label branding that makes all of the difference. The Kirkland Signature name has become associated with quality and affordability, in turn reinforcing the larger Costco brand.
Fuel your corporate branding
Through corporate branding, you can reach the right target audiences and set your company up for sustainable success by crafting a memorable brand image. We hope this guide provides a good starting point for thinking about how your content marketing efforts can really leave your mark and stand out from the competition.