The three pillars of a credible brand

A credible brand. Sounds important when you say it. Seems like a worthy goal and all.

But ask what goes into creating a credible brand, and you get a cacophany of replies. Here are some I jotted down in my highly objective 30 second scan online:

  • Be (consistently) transparent
  • Build and create quality content
  • Keep your ears wide open
  • Offer quality products and services
  • Include customer testimonials
  • Look to industry-leading partners


Regardless what you think of these (And I don’t think much. Offer quality services? As opposed to crap? Brilliant advice, David Ogilvy.) the primary problem is that they live in the superficial land of tactics. Fall into the tactic trap, and you’ll find yourself executing on things without quite knowing why.

I hope this post goes a bit deeper for you, and illuminates the foundation a credible brand is built on.

Credible brand pillar 1: Relevance

This cuts to the core of what every brand should be: 50% understanding the expectation consumers have, and 50% delivering a promise that fulfills those expectations.

marc stoiber brand strategy

Sounds simple. But in my experience, brands often drive into the ditch right here. The problem is, they look at the world from the inside out. Instead of sitting back and listening deeply to as many consumers as they can, and truly pressing those consumers on their pain points, they get impatient, assume they know what consumers want, and charge forth. Their brand looks terrific to them. And very few others share the sentiment.

The solution is, well, listening. In fact, I’d refer anyone to the well-worn process of customer discovery to get a template for listening at critical phases of your product and brand development.

My personal preference: asking customers about their pain points off the top. Then circling back to share ideas on how you might help them with that pain. Then several more go-rounds as you bring them ever more refined versions of your solution, collecting their objective feedback along the way. Time-consuming? Yes. Rewarding? Very much so.

Credible brand pillar 2: Differentiation

If you have a halfway decent product or service that addresses a well-known pain point, you’ll be awash in competitors. This isn’t a bad thing, unless you believe that simply saying what you do will be enough to set yourself apart.

Truth is, consumers have a very small head, with a lot of very disparate thoughts crammed in. In order to lodge your brand in their brain, you need to push another thought out.

The way to stake your claim in the consumer’s brain is to differentiate your highly relevant product.

Volumes have been written on differentiation. My advice would be to go to the ur-document, Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. (in fact, you can watch my review of their book if you join my tribe at

Differentiation, like relevance, isn’t a tactic. It’s a deeper strategy that requires a bit of analysis and brainstorming. Again, the insights you gain along the way into how your competitors differentiate themselves (and try to position you into a place of weakness) is fascinating. Take your time. Observe and learn. The result will lend inspiration to not only your current brand, but the brand you want it to grow into.

Credible brand pillar 3: Legitimacy

Here’s where things get a bit funky.

Any brand builder will nod sagely when you talk about relevance and differentiation. But bring up legitimacy, and you start to step outside the realm of their reality.

That’s because legitimacy isn’t a brand attribute. It’s a corporate attribute.

You can create the most charming, differentiated brand in the world that does exactly what consumers want it to, but still lose if your company isn’t trustworthy.

Case in point. British Petroleum’s Beyond Petroleum brand. Remember the Alaskan pipeline spill? Remember the Deepwater Horizon spill? Yup. They were brought to you by the folks who famously claimed to be moving rapidly Beyond Petroleum. Here’s the full story, and it’s a good one.

Moral of the story. You need to back your brand with good faith actions and character. Anything less, and you’ll leave all those consumers feeling betrayed. Never good.

The balancing act

These three pillars are actually more akin to three plate jugglers. Each pillar can support a host of different ideas. For example, when you think legitimacy, that can mean the legitimacy of your executive team, the legitimacy of your production practices, the causes you ally yourself with, the time you’ve been in the market, just to name a few.

It always pays to approach each element, and try to gain as much insight and as many ideas as possible before moving onto the next. Don’t try to draw any hasty connections. And above all, spend an inordinate amount of time checking in with the people who should love, and buy your brand.

They may not understand the three pillars of a credible brand. But they certainly know a credible brand when they see one.

This story first appeared as a video on

Want more stories on brand building?

Here’s one on building a brand with soul.

Here’s how to build a powerful brand in a lowest-bid-wins world

And here’s one on effective brand positioning.

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