Building Your Brand

A brand is a “collection of associations in the mind, both conscious and unconscious.” In other words, the thoughts, emotions, or feelings that a brand conjures up. The conscious associations may include your product or service; its features, price, and name; and your ads and marketing. The unconscious side is the underlying feeling connected to your brand. This feeling is built over time by every interaction people have with your brand – where they see it, whom they see it with, and the emotions that the name inspires. This means that every part of your business a consumer is exposed to – from how your products are distributed, to your company’s culture and people – will influence a consumer’s overall expectation of your brand.

Everyone associated with a business or service is integral in building the brand, but marketing departments lead the charge in creating brand strategies and crafting the messages needed to refine and build their brand’s image.  Learn more from local marketing VPs as they address the question: “What are the most important steps a marketing professional should take when building a brand?”


Greg Presley

VP of Marketing & Business Development, Vision Hospitality Group

Building a brand starts with people. A brand is made up of the values and culture of the company and the customer service that it provides, and that all depends on people. We have a training university for our associates that teaches our values and expectations. Our people are our brand ambassadors, and they illustrate the brand through their customer service and through their involvement in the community. Start with people, define your values, your culture, and set high expectations. Finally, intentionally communicate that brand to build recognition in your target market.

Sales&Mark.SantucciDave Santucci

VP of Marketing, Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau

People don’t come to Chattanooga unless they’ve heard good things about it. Those positive messages can happen through word-of-mouth, social media, news, or advertising. Until they’ve developed a positive feeling or brand association with Chattanooga, they are highly unlikely to visit. As Chattanooga’s branding agency, we work on brand building every day. Brand building, especially for an entire city, takes time, patience, and persistence. The unconscious feeling you get from a brand comes after many interactions with a brand and those interactions don’t come without someone focusing on brand building every day. Brands must earn every positive review, every referral, and seize every opportunity to grow in order to be successful in the long run.

Sales&Mark.SpencerAnne-Marie Spencer

VP of Marketing & Communications, PlayCore

Define how you will differentiate – in your customer’s eyes, not yours. Too often, companies take an insular approach to brand building without considering if their value proposition is unique in the customer’s eyes. If you can communicate the ways your brand solves a problem or makes a process easier from their viewpoint, you give them reason to engage with and be loyal to your brand, and ultimately refer others to it. Next, build a rich company culture. Don’t just say it, live it. Branding efforts aren’t effective if the people involved in creating the brand experience, employees, are not bought into the culture and message. Creating a company culture takes carefully executed strategies that form the roadmap of how you function as a company. Invest in making the brand come to life for employees, and they’ll deliver that same vitality to your customers.

Sales&Mark.McCluskeyLisa McCluskey

VP of Marketing & Communication, CHI Memorial

The most important number a marketer needs to know in order to build a brand is the customer loyalty score. In most industries, it is the net promoter score. In health care, it is “likelihood to recommend.” Net promoter simply calculates a score based on subtracting the percentage of customers who say they are unlikely to make a recommendation from the percentage who say they are extremely likely to recommend the company to a friend or colleague. There is a strong correlation between a company’s growth rate and a high net promoter score. Research across all industries has proven that companies that focus on those who are most enthusiastic about their brand significantly outpace competitors in terms of growth. When focusing on creating enthusiastic customers, a company is more likely to pay attention to the experience of using its product and the emotional connection its customers have to the brand.

“A brand is a distinguishing name or symbol intended to identify the goods or services of either the seller or a group of sellers, and to differentiate those goods and services from those of competitors. A brand signals to the customer the source of the product, and protects both the customer and the producer from competitors who would attempt to provide products that appear to be identical.”

David Aaker

American organizational theorist, consultant,and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

Sales&Mark.MarstonJ. Ed Marston

VP of Marketing, EPB

Start the branding process with a ruthless competitive analysis. What are the best options for distinguishing this brand in the making from other offerings? Second, understand the market. What customer segments and real-world problems can this brand address in a distinctive way? Third, engage the company’s leadership in developing a brand promise that will appeal particularly to the consumer desires you’ve identified. Be sure everyone understands that the brand promise must be underwritten with all of the company’s resources, from financial assets to training programs. Fourth, work with the company to integrate the brand promise into every aspect of its operations. Fifth, communicate the brand so compellingly that potential customers won’t be able to resist. Lastly, deliver on the brand promise for every customer, every single time. Repeat steps 4-6 as often as necessary.


Carla Raynor

VP of Consumer Experience & Brand Management, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

In the digital age, many consumers are heavily influenced by social and online media sites. This online use helps build perception of your brand by integrating the consumer experience and what “people like me” share based on their experiences. This environment is driving several major shifts in brand marketing. The first important one is adapting to the “person to person era,” which means brand communications need to be as relatable, clear, and personable as possible. The communications need to read as if one person is writing to another person – even if a system is generating them. Communications must move away from authoritative and automated to insightful and conversational. To adapt the desired personal approach to communications, brands must create a strong, distinctive brand voice that can be used consistently across all channels. This sounds easier than it actually is, especially since the voice has to adjust – just like a person would – based on the scenario. That’s where having a specific brand persona helps. Then, you can create specific approaches across your communication intents that writers can use to apply the voice in a consistent tone – making each conversation sound authentic, not scripted.

Sales&Mark.MesconJed Mescon

VP of Public Relations & Marketing, Erlanger Health System

To build a successful brand, your team needs to speak with one voice and be relentlessly focused on building your brand.  Our team understands that sustaining Erlanger’s position in our region requires an approach that is unwavering in its message yet nimble enough to implement ideas that ensure Erlanger’s vision is alive and relevant. In other words, the Erlanger brand must be able to respond to the ever-changing, highly-competitive world of health care. Loyalty is a must. We must each day engage our customers and gather insight and direction.  This means inviting fresh thinking and creative ideas among our colleagues. Giving employees a voice provides them with a sense of ownership in the brand. Building this type of team motivates everyone to deliver the same positive message. It’s a single voice that produces great results.

Sales&Mark.ToddCindy Todd

VP, Chief Marketing and Development Officer, Tennessee Aquarium

It’s important to do the foundational work before you ever start thinking about being creative. You have to really understand what makes your brand different and better. Know why you matter and what would be missing if your business or organization wasn’t here. Be prepared to make some explicit choices so that you can be uniquely positioned within your industry. In our case, we made a strategic choice to focus the Tennessee Aquarium brand on freshwater, even though Ocean Journey is an amazing part of our experience. When placed in a competitive context, our saltwater exhibits are not what give us a sustainable and compelling competitive advantage. They add tremendous value to the aquarium experience, but brand building isn’t an exercise in assigning value.


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