If you’re reading this, you probably believe in the value of a strong brand: a clear message, attractive image, and positive reputation. Yet, in some circles, the very concept of “brand” seems soft – superficial, tactical, emotional, squishy.

But a strong brand isn’t just something to feel good about. It can be a tangible asset with real equity. It means people know what you offer and stand for, how you’re different, and where you win. It’s also a competitive advantage you can capitalize on in the long term. In one McKinsey 14-year study, top-ranked brands outperformed the world market by 74% as measured by return to shareholders. 

So, if building your brand requires getting resources from others, you’ll need to prove your brand is an asset and not an expense (especially if facing a market disruption or possible recession). And that means making a business case for brand investment.

What does brand investment look like?

It takes a village to build a brand: people, hours, dollars, approvals. Even if you run the brand show at your organization, you likely need support from others – CEO, partners, investors, committees – in order to achieve your goals.

It’s not always easy to articulate what to ask for, or how exactly it’ll pay off. Also, these are people you sometimes work with toward common goals but compete with for resources, which can get tricky when soliciting help. (I’ve seen too many CMOs and Sales Directors fighting over what they see as a slice of the pie.)

Just spell out how a brand investment contributes to their goals. Do they want faster growth, higher profits, or operational efficiency? If you show it’s a win-win rather than zero-sum, you’re far more likely to get what you need.

Six ways it pays to invest in your brand

So how does a strong brand pay off? This varies by organization, though it likely involves some mix of internal and external benefits. Here are six popular ones:

1. Attract more of the right customers
A strong brand can help feed your sales pipeline, whether that’s measured in digital traffic or sales conversations. Depending on your industry, being top of mind may have a measurable impact on how the right people find you in the first place. Even just being in the right consideration set (the first page of Google results, shortlist of providers invited to pitch) can be a sales multiplier.

Who are the “right” customers? It could be those more likely to purchase, the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Or those more loyal over time, with the disproportionate impact of repeat customers on business growth. Or maybe potential partners and influencers, who can amplify your message.

If they’re in your target audience, the more (and more relevant) the merrier.

2. Close sales more easily
Speaking of pipelines: it’s not just about feeding the beast but keeping things moving forward.

A strong brand can help to close sales at a higher rate. Part of this is self-selection: clear positioning and messaging means prospects already understand what you’re about by the time they find you, so you talk with more qualified prospects from the start rather than using the first conversation to qualify them. (What’s a shorter sales cycle worth to your company?)

Strong messaging also helps to highlight key benefits, steer conversations, and overcome objections to improve close rates. According to one Millward Brown study, strong brands average triple the sales volume and 13% price premium compared to weaker brands. Speaking of which…

3. Command a premium price
All else being equal, people pay more for brands than commodities. A brand that establishes meaningful differentiation or instills peace of mind can justify a higher price over a comparable offering. And people happily pay.

What makes customers willing to pay more for some brands than others? According to one Forbes article, the answer is brand equity: “Developing your brand’s equity could help you increase your margins by increasing its perceived value in the eyes of your customers.” (See more on brand equity at the end.)

And greater margins can mean more than just higher profits. They also offer greater resilience to market fluctuations – brands perceived as premium experience less price elasticity, so they’re less likely to engage in price wars during an economic downturn.

4. Improve employee retention
A strong brand may also come with measurable benefits on the internal side.

For example, company culture is often tied closely to employer branding: your mission and values often reflect your brand positioning and persona, because your image and behavior should be in sync. That means a strong brand can impact things like employee recruiting, morale, performance, and retention, which may be particularly valuable during the Great Resignation.

Of all these employee benefits, retention is often a go-to factor to measure in a way that gets the C-Suite’s attention. Productivity may involve too many factors to attribute to an isolated brand investment; on the other hand, morale is often too intangible, unless you actually conduct internal research from time to time.

5. Reduce marketing costs
This one isn’t sexy, but trust me, it adds up.

A brand with clear, consistent messaging and clean design can run marketing initiatives with greater efficiency and fewer redundancies (less “reinventing the wheel”). An advertising copywriter in Canada may have a different job than a salesperson in Hong Kong, but if they’re working with the same brand, they should draw from the same foundation with similar outcomes in mind.

And when it comes to onboarding new content creators – whether in-house employees or outside agencies – the combination of clear brand guidelines with hands-on training can get a team up to speed faster and at a greater scale. This is particularly effective when brand stewardship is nurtured over time.

An ounce of branding is worth a pound of marketing.

6. Boost the value of the company
A strong brand always adds value. But this hits a whole new level during key events like raising capital, selling shares, going public, mergers or acquisitions – situations where people look more closely at the details, and otherwise intangible things are given price tags.

During these events, the brand itself may be listed as an asset with a number. More importantly, a strong, well-articulated brand can instill confidence in the company’s value proposition, competitiveness, and vision.

With M&A, this Forbes piece breaks it down nicely by phase: pre-M&A (when a brand can increase the value you bring to the table), mid-M&A (when it helps align on strategy and culture), and post-M&A (when completing integration and maybe preparing for future ones). A whole brand lifecycle in real-time.

Connect the dots between business goals and brand equity

There’s no one right way to measure brand equity.

Interbrand’s methodology involves a three-pillar structure that takes 10 brand factors into consideration, with both internal and external dimensions. A Qualtrics approach defines brand equity on economical and emotional axes and breaks down seven ways to measure it. There are many others.

So, how do you get the green light for brand investment? Pick the KPIs that matter to your business. Any of the six areas above can be quantified – a 5% margin increase here, a 10% reduction in marketing costs there. Define two or three and show how a stronger brand can help achieve them.

Because a strong brand has real value. But it takes real resources to bring it out.

Cover image source: Karolina Grabowska