How to Build a Brand Worth Fighting For

By James Kwon

2020 is finally over (phew!), and as we dive headfirst into 2021, it’s a good time for businesses to begin gearing up for the “next normal.” Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a polarizing political climate, left many businesses hanging on by a thread as they were suddenly forced to navigate through lockdowns, tight health and safety restrictions, a struggling economy, and a newly supercharged cancel culture fueled by social media

Some companies succeeded, while others fell flat on their faces. And there were countless businesses stuck somewhere in between, just riding out the storm. But with a new year comes new hope, opportunities and a chance for businesses and their brands to evolve. According to the insiders at McKinsey, “2021 will be the year of transition. Barring any unexpected catastrophes–individuals, businesses, and society can start to look forward to shaping their futures rather than just grinding through the present.”

Five things you need to know about brand loyalty coming out of 2020: 

  • 90% of American consumers are equally or more loyal to a brand than they were the year before

  • About half of loyal customers switched to a competitor that was able to stay more relevant and better meet their needs

  • More than half of customers now trust companies less than they used to

  • Customers that have an “emotional relationship” with a brand have a lifetime value that’s 3X higher 

  • Loyal customers spend nearly 70% more with a business than new customers

As marketing experts, we’re always really into understanding the power that a brand can weild. And since 2020 was a bit EXTRA when it comes to what makes or breaks a brand, our crew is geeking out a little more than usual as we lean into 2021. From the local pizza shop that kept customers lined up for takeout to the big, national consumer brands that won big in 2020, consumers made it clear (and loudly) who their favorite brands were. 

So it got our team thinking–what really makes a brand worth fighting for? And what makes a brand the last one picked (aka the stuff of middle school gym class nightmares). Was it their branding? Their customer service? Products? Backstory? Value? Something else? Or all of the above? Over the next couple of months, our team is going to dig into some of the lessons winning brands taught us in 2020 (and continuing to teach us in 2021), and together we’ll explore how your business can piggyback on their successes in 2021. 

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a brand worth fighting for. 


1. A Strong Brand Foundation

Your company’s brand is one of your most important assets. It can give you an identity in the market, help make your business memorable with consumers, encourage purchasing, support marketing efforts, and even be a source of employee pride. And in 2020, we learned that consumers tend to gravitate toward brands they feel an emotional connection to…big time. 

In 2021, brands that are authentic, are winning. In fact, according to Hubspot, customers that “have an emotional relationship with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value and will recommend the company at a rate of 71%, rather than the average rate of 45%.” Customers are also opting to “vote with their dollars,” with 60% of consumers choosing to buy from or boycott a brand solely because of its stand on a social or political issue. 

Tell your brand’s story and let your personality shine

Your brand’s story is at the heart of your brand identity and is the secret to connecting with the right customers. Just like people, brands each have a unique personality, voice, and look. And this is often what makes a consumer choose one brand over the another, even when the products are similar. (Think iPhone vs. Samsung Galaxy: Similar product purpose and quality; totally different die hard, loyal customer bases.)

Finding your brand’s story is about putting your finger on the pulse of what makes your company tick and finding what makes your brand uniquely you. It’s about finding your ‘why’. As 2020 has shown us, customers are tired of doing business with nameless, faceless brands. They want to know not only how your product or service can make their lives better, but what your brand stands for, even when no one is looking. 

Real-World Example: Farm Girl Flowers 

Floral industry disruptor, Farm Girl Flowers, took hit after hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a 60% dip in revenue, major layoffs, the forced relocation of their San Francisco warehouse, and the loss of more than $150K in flower inventory. But when the company struggled, like so many other small businesses to secure a PPP loan, their founder worried they might not make it through Mother’s Day, their biggest holiday. So Christina Stembel, founder and owner of Farm Girl Flowers, took to YouTube and email to openly share her business frustrations and challenges with their customers. The result? An outpouring of support, love for the brand and record-breaking sales. 

Be an authentic brand, always

When defining your brand personality, it’s OK to let your freak flag fly and even buck the system. In fact, rooting your brand story firmly in what makes you different from your competitors might just give you the edge you’ve been looking for. Give yourself permission to let your brand feel like it fits your personality. It’s even OK to evolve it right in front of your customers. But remember, transparency and authenticity are key. According to Forbes, customers can easily sniff out a fake, and more than half of consumers believe that there are too many brands taking a stand on issues simply to sell more products. 

Real-World Example: Budweiser 

For the first time in almost 40 years, there weren’t any Budweiser Clydesdale ads during the 2021 Super Bowl. Instead, the beer giant donated its campaign spend to the Ad Council to help get the word out about the importance of the coronavirus vaccine. Budweiser CMO, Marcel Marcondes explains: “We don’t want to go back to normal. We want to get better, we need to keep the learnings, and we need to evolve.” And Marketing VP, Monica Rustgi, added “…we knew we had to do something bigger than beer. We realized we needed to lean in a bit more with heart.” 

Nail down your brand’s look and feel

The way you portray your brand is just as important as its personality. After all, it’s how you make a first impression. And consistency is key. In other words, don’t look like a hot mess. From your tagline and logo to your colors, font and other key branding elements, such as packaging and collateral, your brand has to walk the walk and talk the talk. This is how you build awareness and trust. If your customers can’t recognize your brand  when they come to your website or engage with other key touchpoints like your social media or a tradeshow booth, then how can you expect them to remember you, let alone continue to engage with your brand? Odds are, your competitors are doing a really great job with brand consistency and wow-ing their clients with every brand engagement. Don’t let your brand get left behind.

If you can’t remember the last time your brand went through a visual refresh or everything is mixed and matched and feeling a little ad hoc, it might be time for a brand makeover. Before diving in, it’s a good idea to take a look at how your brand image is currently resonating and how it jives with your brand story. What’s working? What’s outdated? What could use a little spitshine? What areas need a complete overhaul? Does your tagline still make sense? Does the brand still feel like you? What’s the competition up to? And what do your customers really care about?

Think about where your brand lives

A lot may have changed since you first started your company, particularly as you try to navigate a post-2020 world. Now is a great time to think about why your customers and future consumers should choose your brand. How are you reaching them and communicating why your products, service or experience are worth fighting for? And is your current brand on point or a little bit stale and in need of a refresh?

A brand refresh isn’t just swapping out colors in your logo and slapping on a new tagline, it’s about understanding how your brand needs to play across multiple touchpoints. Are the assets you currently have working hard enough for your brand? Do you need to add something new? Maybe you’re an eCommerce brand that has just opened up a brick and mortar storefront and now you need signage. Or maybe you’re a B2B manufacturer that suddenly finds themselves with a need to have a website where customers can order direct. Are you looking to amp up the volume on social media and considering what channels to add or how to make your content more engaging? Does adding TikTok make sense? Or should you focus more time and energy on building your LinkedIn? Make sure to intentionally strategize about platforms that are right for your brand’s personality.   

Take a look at all of the places your brand lives now and give some serious thought about what needs to be updated, overhauled, scrapped, or added. Remember, consistency is key, so if you update your logo or company name, you’ll need to make sure that your new look is carried across all of your assets. This might mean a new website, adding branded video content, new packaging, or even an outgoing voicemail that reflects your new brand personality. You might also need to meet new compliance regulations, such as the ADA compliance rules for website accessibility. 

And whether you’re a big, nationally known brand or a local brand well-loved in your community, there’s always room for improvement to refresh your brand, connect with new audiences and get back on track. 

Real-World Example: Burger King 

In 2021, Burger King went through their first major brand overhaul in more than 20 years. Staying in touch with their irreverent personality and tapping their past for inspiration, the fast food giant unveiled new branding that is a giant nod to their iconic 1960s logo. The new bold look can be seen across the brand’s logo, signage, food packaging and in-store graphics. It even extends to their social media along with the aprons and uniforms restaurant workers are now wearing. The result? An entirely new brand experience for Burger King’s customers that touches the past, but sets up the brand for success today. 

Partner with a brand expert

Thinking about changing your brand? While you can probably jot down a few good ideas, it might be helpful to call in a branding pro to handle the heavy lifting. Not only can they bring in some outside perspective, which is really helpful when you’re too close to your brand, but they also bring expertise to the table. Think of a branding pro like you would a mechanic. You may be able to sense that something is wrong with your car or even be a great backyard mechanic yourself but might not have the know-how, tools, or time to get the job done right. Working with a brand expert can help your brand get back on track and ready to battle the competition more quickly. 

So how does it work? An experienced brand expert may start with initial discovery workshops, designed to dig deep into your brand and help understand how you stack up against the competition. From there, they’ll likely put together new brand positioning and give you a new look. As part of your refresh, expect to update things like your logo, website, marketing collateral, and your social media. Remember, consistency is key! You can also usually expect your brand expert to provide some ‘how to’ tools to help you keep your brand in check moving forward, such as style guides, brand look books, and key brand messaging. Make sure you receive proper design files for any new logos and templates. And it’s good to also talk to your brand expert about any legal concerns you may have such as trademarking your new brand identity or website ADA compliance.  

Start Building your Brand Worth Fighting For Today