Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. For a software company, that means when they’re not using your product. But what about all of the people who have a say in the purchasing process but may never even log in?
Those people, often senior leaders at an organization, need to feel confident in your partnership, authority in the industry and understanding of their business needs and goals. In other words, you can’t rely on the “room” that is your product’s efficacy to impress them. You have to build a structure around that room so that your customer, prospect or industry feels at home with your brand—even if they never use your product.
Lay the foundation: Brand positioning
Like any structure, your brand “home” needs a strong foundation to build upon—one clear, easily understood phrase that anyone in your company can use to make sure the decisions they make or the work they execute is “on brand.” But first, you have to figure out what that phrase is.
For Sprout, that meant doing several months of research to understand why prospects choose (or sometimes don’t choose) to do business with our company, what needs or pain points our product addresses and how our company is perceived in our industry.
If you’re anything like we were, you might not have the time or budget for traditional qualitative research with focus groups. But the good news is that you likely have a solid contingent of people within your four walls who can answer many of those questions for you. For us, it was our sales and success teams. We were able to tap into the thousands of conversations they’d collectively had with our prospects and customers to understand what was motivating them to buy Sprout or why they were choosing not to. All of this anecdotal data helped us answer several key questions:
- What are the functional reasons our customers choose Sprout? How does our product make their jobs easier?
- What are the emotional benefits to choosing Sprout? How does our product make people feel about themselves?
- What is different in the above two areas compared to our competitors?
From the answers to those questions, we identified a position in our market that only Sprout could occupy: an intuitive, easy-to-use software product that was powerful enough for most use cases, and a company that was a joy to do business with on a human level.
In just three words, the heart of our brand is ease, efficacy and humanity. Now all we had to do was to translate those three core tenets into one easily understood phrase to solidify our brand positioning. We landed on Elegant solutions to power human connection, and we use it to make sure everything we do lives up to that promise of being easy to use, powerful and with relationships at the center.
Build the walls: Integrate brand into your product story
In some ways, it’s been easy to integrate our brand into the product story itself—we’d already been prioritizing ease of use and a pleasurable, elegant user experience. What we needed to do now was make sure the other core tenets of our brand came through in how we marketed our product.
The biggest challenge for us was the idea of “human connection.” We knew we’d built a wonderful user experience, but were we talking about that user experience on a level that felt human? The honest answer was “not really.”
Like most SaaS companies, we were highlighting functionality and product features without a lot of “greater purpose” beyond efficiency and efficacy. We realized that what made Sprout special was the care we put into maximizing the value of our product for the people who use it, not just the businesses.
So we started asking ourselves what positive outcomes our product provides to the people who use it every day, as well as their colleagues, teams and customers. Instead of focusing our product story on the bells and whistles, we focused it on the value Sprout brings to the everyday experiences of our customers—which then extends to their customers. You can see our solution-minded product story all over our website, where the value Sprout brings to the real people behind the businesses is front and center.
Decorate: Develop your brand personality
One we understood our brand’s core positioning and how to integrate it with our existing product story, it was time to start thinking about our brand’s personality. Brand personality is the personification of your brand and it includes a set of human characteristics and qualities that help inform who you are and how you show up in the world—including the voice, tone and style of your communication.
At Sprout, we chose to characterize our personality through archetypes and personas. Brand archetypes are modeled after the 12 primary character archetypes theorized by the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. They represent fundamental and recurring human themes and motivations that are easy to recognize and connect to. Brand personas are then the unique, fictional embodiment of your brand archetype.
Much like a real person would, your brand’s personality will change and evolve as your company’s priorities, goals and challenges change (and the industry changes around you). Our primary consideration for evolving our brand personality at Sprout was the way in which our audience had grown.
When we launched in 2010, our audience of decision makers were primarily mid-career social media professionals. To reach and connect with them, we assumed the Sage brand archetype through mentorship and education—which we eventually brought to life in our brand persona, “The Passionate Professor.” The voice of the Passionate Professor (aka Sprout) was smart, confident and compassionate.
But as I said above, brand personas need to change as your goals for your company and the priorities of your industry shift. For us that started to happen in early 2020—we saw our audience maturing even further to be inclusive of senior leaders across multiple departments, from marketing and sales to customer care and analytics. These business leaders didn’t need us to mentor and educate them, they needed us to inspire them to see social as the catalyst for real business progress.
Through that lens of inspiration and innovation, we landed on a new brand personality: The Visionary archetype—characterized by forward-thinking and innovation—made tangible in our brand persona, “The Luminary.” The Luminary’s voice is different from The Passionate Professor’s. Instead of “smart, confident and compassionate” we now aim to sound “bold, inspiring and authentic.”
Add the landscaping: Launch a brand campaign
Once we’d done the work and gleaned the learnings from building a brand positioning, product story and brand personality, we were ready to bring all of those elements together in one cohesive message about what we stood for (outside of what our product does).
Being the research nerds that we are, we went back to our UX team for support in understanding what some of the most pressing pain points were in our industry and how we could affect change. One of the things we heard over and over again was the idea that social media professionals know how powerful the data, insights and conversations happening on social could be for every area of their company, but they were having trouble selling leaders outside of marketing on this big idea.
So we leaned into this insight and applied our well-established brand to address how the impact of social media can extend across all areas of a business. We were particularly interested in how our Luminary persona would inspire leaders to think beyond their assumptions about social media and see how transformative it could be to everything from product development to crisis management.
Whereas the Passionate Professor, might have encouraged our audience to “do more (than marketing) with social,” the Luminary seeks to inspire rather than instruct. We wanted our senior leader audience to see possibility and feel curiosity. In short, we wanted them to think differently about what else social can impact across their entire business. We wanted them to see social differently.
The art of home maintenance
Brand is a powerful differentiator when done right, but the process is neither quick nor easy. And once you build your brand home, you have to maintain it. It takes research, observation, measurement and maintenance to make sure your brand is keeping pace with your company’s growth and your industry’s evolution.
At some point, you might even undergo a major renovation of your brand home. But if you keep your focus on the needs of the audience you strive to serve, and anchor your brand in creating real, tangible value for them, your brand will be one of your most valuable business assets. It is for us, and it can be for you too.
Looking for more insight into brand management? Read more about five ways to bring your brand persona to life on social media.