6 Branding Approaches They Forgot to Teach You in Business School


Do you have all the basics of branding in place, but you are still struggling to create even a dent in your competitor’s market share?

Most companies don’t get branding. And for the ones that do, it’s often not enough. But if you don’t figure out how to climb out of the clutter and ahead of your competition, your company will fail.

So, what can you do? Study the following six companies and the branding lessons they learned as they overcame the obstacles in their markets.

Lesson #1: Start with why

Too often, companies start their branding journey by building a product they hope will change people’s lives. They’ve spent thousands of hours in research and development on an idea, but when they ship, the product flops.

Let’s look at Apple to learn why that is. Instead of the typical what-how-why advertising message, Apple has always promoted the why first. They’ve promoted the reason behind why they exist. You can imagine them saying this: “Apple exists to challenge the status quo. We emphasize beautiful design. And we make computer devices.”

That’s totally different than if they said, “Apple makes computer devices. They are beautifully designed. We exist to challenge the status quo.”

One starts with the why…the other one ends with the why. This is one of the reasons why Apple stays innovative year-after-year and is one of the biggest companies in the world.

top 25 companies

In fact, it’s been trading places as the “world’s biggest company” with Exxon for the last several months.

Apple established a movement based on their why and created a following. They enhance the deal by creating beautiful and useful products…so, sales rush in year after year.

The lesson is that when everyone who is involved, from the founder all the way down to the customer, knows exactly why your company exists, then you create a meaningful way for people to see your brand, instead of just being another company wanting to make millions.

So, what is your company’s why?

Lesson #2: Never forget the past

In today’s start-up economy, most companies don’t have a lot of history since they haven’t been around for longer than four years. But if your company is ten years old, it’s dangerous to forget your past when you are planning for the future.

Let me show you what I mean.

The company Blinds.com tries to stay rooted in its history in a number of ways:

  • They hung street signs from the ceiling with the names of the cities and streets of all their offices. This even includes the addresses of companies they’ve bought.
  • They named one of their meeting rooms “Laura” since the business started as a brick-and-mortar business called “Laura’s.”
  • They named another meeting room after their first website they started back in 1996: NoBrainerBlinds.com.
  • They named yet another meeting room after their first real location. That meeting room is called “The Alley.”
  • They displayed all of the articles written about the company during its 16 years of being in business.

If you are part of a company with history, it’s important you understand that history and communicate it to all of your employees.

And don’t forget, that foundation includes the why behind your history—it reflects who you are. Neglect to communicate your history, and you threaten to weaken a powerful tool to strengthen your brand.

Lesson #3: Create your own market

Jumping into an existing market can be nearly impossible. If it’s a competitive or shrinking market, you may never succeed. If you truly want to succeed, you need to create your own market.

Way back when e-readers were nothing but a fuzzy concept, Amazon jumped into the market giving early adopters something to play with:

amazon ereader

A lot of people felt like they were stupid for taking such a risky move, but they aren’t saying that now with the rise of the e-reader.

And even though the Kindle Fire didn’t turn out to be as great as people hoped, and publishers and libraries continue to give Amazon trouble about their privacy and pricing policies, there is no doubt that Amazon, because they created their own market, will dominate it.

What’s the lesson for you? Look for markets like you were a value investor. Find markets that are under-valued but have promising growth.

Lesson #4: Rebrand to avoid confusion

When some companies branch out into two or more business lines instead of one, they often run into problems. The problem arises when their name doesn’t fit the new line of business.

This is kind of what happened to Formspring, a company that launched a popular social media product that attracted a different user base than its form-building product that is more geared to businesses.

It was easy to cause confusion between the two products, so the company decided to re-brand itself. That’s not an easy task since the former name was pretty popular among the costumers.

What the company decided to do was create an infographic that taught users how to create the perfect landing page with its new brand.


The key to success was that they made something that educated their customer. In the end, more than 100,000 people shared the infographic through StumbleUpon in the last year.

What can you learn from this lesson? Try to make your products as distinct from each other as possible. And if you do end up with brand confusion, don’t be afraid to re-brand.

Lesson #5: Create an awesome user experience

Most products will be so similar to each other that you need to figure out a way to make them very different. And one of the easiest and less expensive ways to do that is by creating awesome user experience. It doesn’t matter if you are selling mopeds or haircuts, you need to make your customers feel like every interaction with you is what makes you different.

Look at the iPhone and how it entered into a crowded market. Cell phones were all basically the same before Apple entered the market. Because Apple’s why is built around “challenging the status quo,” they created user experience that absolutely blew away the competition.

This all started with the iPod. Apple floated a minimum viable product out into the market to see how it would be responded to. People went crazy over the iPod, so Apple figured that the iPhone, which would cost more to create, wouldn’t be such a gamble. They were right.

How can you create an awesome user experience? Start by looking at the customers of your competitor and see what they are missing from their experience. The nice thing about user experience is you can go after big competitors without having their deep pockets.

Lesson #6: Stay edgy

You would never think that a 216-year old whiskey company would try to go after the women’s market, but that’s exactly what Jim Beam did.

The company wants to get more nimble and act like a start-up rather than a huge company. The key to making that change was looking into a market that most of their competitors were neglecting.

What was that market? It was women. Most of the big spirits companies didn’t give any attention to women, even with products like vodka, where women made up half of the consumers. The thinking was to advertise to the men, and the women will follow. In order to stay edgy, Jim Beam decided to treat women as a profitable market.

What the company ended up doing was adding more brands to its product lines, including a margarita variety called Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl Cocktails – a number one selling brand.

skinny girl

That isn’t exactly what you would think a company with a brand like Jim Beam would do, is it? But it’s helping them to stay edgy and, more importantly, very profitable.

The lesson is that Beam discovered what the customer wanted and gave it to them. In this case, it was flavor and lower-alcohol content.


Sometimes, just knowing the basics of branding isn’t enough to build a powerhouse brand. You need to look outside the box, take some risks and try something new like companies such as Jim Beam and Amazon did.

Other times, you’ll have to resort to re-inventing yourself like Formspring did or using your history to motivate you to greater heights like Blinds.com managed to do.

Can you share any branding approaches that are unconventional but have proven to be very successful?

P.S. If you want more help with branding click here.


  1. Ok Neil, I know this is off topic, but I just saw the ads, quicksprout pro on the top of the blog and I think all your listners want a answer. are you starting commerilisation of your blog??

    • I have been for a while… I wrote a blog post about it 2010 https://www.quicksprout.com/2010/10/07/7-lessons-learned-from-monetizing-quick-sprout/ and an updated one towards the end of 2011 https://www.quicksprout.com/2011/12/01/what-i-learned-about-you-through-5-redesigns/

  2. Thanks for this post Neil, very thought provoking. It’s nice to see some thinking-outside-the-box ideas rather than the same rehashed branding strategies. Love the example of the SkinnyGirl drink too :).

    • Thank you Tom, glad you enjoyed it. Today you have to be creative and unique in order to reach different markets. Sometimes to succeed you have to think-outside-the-box and get outside your comfort zone. 🙂

  3. Good insights Neil, especially the part about creating your own market – being first in a category is a sure-fire way to establish leadership.

    Would you care to share your branding strategy behind Quicksprout?

    • The strategy is to write really good marketing content and leverage Quick Sprout to brand myself as an entrepreneur who specializes in Internet marketing.

  4. I see someone saw Simon Sinek’s TED talk? Lesson #1: Start with why is his exact speech. Thanks for summing it up.

  5. Great read, Neil. Never realised how effective putting ‘why’ first was. Taking this on board for when talking about/pitching my startup.

    • Yep, putting the why first is a useful trick that shows the purpose or need, before presenting the product. Cool, let me know how it works out for you.

  6. Best Make Money Online :

    Nice job Neil, especially number 6, had not yet heard that story, it’s very classic, Jim Beam selling directly to women.
    And as for the guy who seemed offended that you might desire to earn money through this quality site, it’s not reasonable to think that you would not do that if you could.

  7. EntrepreneurKorner :

    But I didn’t go to business school? lol just joking, but I didn’t. It’s good that these companies are consistently thinking; what can we do too improve and make more money ? For example the whisky company. It’s something some companies forget and once they reach a certain recognition stage, I believe every company should interlink products as theres a sense of recognition and safeness there for the existing customers. Don’t know if you will understand what I’m fully saying, as I’m finding it hard to articulate it. 🙂

    • I get what you are saying and you make a good point. Each company should find a way to make their products versatile yet still interlinked like you said.

  8. You really should give Simon Sinek a little credit figuring you quoted him almost word for word….

    • I actually link to him within the blog post. 😉

      Here is the page I linked to: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

      • Aditya Singh :

        Hey Neil,
        been reading your blog & kissmetrics regularly now.. nice to see something here about branding. Yes, the golden circle is a great communication concept used leaders.
        Awesome UX – “start by looking at the customers of your competitor and see what they are missing from their experience.” – nailed it! 🙂 though I feel that you missed out on – finding Evangelists for your product/service. It is also a crucial part of branding & i`m sure it gets overshadowed in the MBA jargon. 😀

  9. Web Design Resource :

    Creating Own market is little bit hard because for that you will have to do deep research regarding current market, competitors etc. So on the basis of all things; you will have to create your own market which will give you and your business more benefit in short period of time.

    • If you manage to beat the competition you can create your own market easily. All you have to do is to be better than your competition all the time.

      • If you create your own market, you start off as the leader. And if your company is at the top, you’re worth a lot more to an acquirer.

        • Good point here Neil. By creating a new market you are definitely the one in charge there and the others that will come will try to beat you.

    • It is hard, but being first into a market is a huge advantage.

  10. Interntional Journal of Finance :

    Nice points, By showing people why you deal in your business, certainly makes a huge difference. We all know that business is way to earn money, but for getting success in your business you have to show your value… that’s possible by telling why you do business, only then you can succeed.

  11. Nice work here. I especially like the #1 point. Sometimes its easy to forget WHY you’re in business to begin with. And when we do, it’s not the FIRST thing we tell people.
    Also, I’m always looking back to see where I’ve been successful or learned from my mistakes. Looking back is very important. You can still look back and focus on the future.

    • Looking back is a smart idea. Sometimes you don’t notice things like your mistakes, until a future date… because as time goes on, the smarter you’ll get.

  12. Hi Neil, it’s nice to here you. I loved the first one most the Apple’s strategy of branding. Generally most of the people start with How, but it should be start with Why? How comes next to Why….

    Thank You for sharing……

  13. Gak! I guess I should look into who Simon Sinek is.

    Still, I like Neil’s voice and appreciate Quick Sprout, so I’m glad he shared ‘start with why.’

    Another good post — never a waste of time to read.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I’ve fine tuned my voice for the last few years… I think I’ve got it to a point where I am happy with it.

  14. Sometimes, school is overpriced and real life experiences is what it takes to make it.

  15. So basically it is true, one needs to put use first, think like him and then move forward.

    • That works, if you try and put yourself in your users “shoes” so to speak it could help you better brand your product. Marketing research would be the best way to do that. Ask your users what they want, and what they like to better understand what they will buy.

  16. G’Day Neil,
    Good stuff. It really helps to be first. And it’s absolutely essential to have a crystal clear business focus and a narrow, very specific target market.
    I’m no marketing expert. I’ve had to learn what works and what doesn’t in order to build my business. Thanks again


    • Yep, being first certainly gives you the advantage. I agree, to be successful you have to be focused and need to plan ahead. You also have to be flexible and realize change may be needed to due to unforeseen circumstances along the way.

      That is great, personal experience is the best way to grow and learn. Thanks for your comment Leon.

      Take care.

  17. Great post, Neil. Always teaching me something I did not know. Thanks!

    • Thanks Dragutin,

      I am happy to hear you were able to learn something new from this post. Let me know if you have any questions!

  18. Jeffrey Romano :

    An interesting blog post though after reading the first couple of points, the first question that popped up is…What is Neil Patel’s ‘why’? Would love to hear it 🙂

    • The why is a bit hard to answer, but the what can be summed up nicely by this post: https://www.quicksprout.com/about

  19. David | New Frontiers :

    Thanks Neil,

    Its funny how you talk about the user experience as part of the brand and I have been thinking about it over the last week.

    This is definitely a great post.


    • Yep, you have to consider what would best suit and work for your targeted market. Glad this article could give you some insight as to what you were already pondering. Hopefully these tips help you in your future approaches.

      Best of luck.

  20. Tito Philips, Jnr. :

    For me Neil,

    A Consistent message + A consistent Action = A Brand.
    This is what Apple achieved through the legendary leadership of Steve Jobs. They began with a consistent message [the why] and communicated that message through out all their products and services. These are what makes brands thick too in addition to the 6 you described.

    Thank you for the post.

    • Definitely, I like the way you put it. It is about taking action and conveying a message. Thank you, for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

  21. Aah.. Great to see an out of the box article from Neil. I totally agree Neil sometimes in order to achieve new heights you have to move out of your comfort zones and luckily you may get succeeded.

  22. Neil your articles are focused and with clear ideas.once again this one made me re-think d way for branding Thanks a lot.

  23. Hi Neil,
    As always great Food for Thought!
    Perfect example this week was Kodak.
    One farther back with be the Swiss Watch
    You always are Thinking Ahead….thanks for sharing!

  24. Good article and an important part of branding is making sure your publications reflect excellence. “Start by looking at the customers of your competitor and see what they IS missing…”
    You might want to make that correction.

  25. Great post Neil. Love the point about talking about the “why” in branding. Thanks for sharing.

    Laura 🙂

  26. mark harrison :

    I also think that you can do something far better than what is currently available. Ok, it’s not re-inventing the wheel but you don’t have to…Just be better and more customer focused than your competitors and if you are an online business, treat your customers as if they have come into your store and are dealing with you face to face. People really appreciate this angle as so many online businesses don’t offer the same customer service that you would get if you visited them personally.

    • Definitely Mark,

      You make some good points. You have to be able to connect with your customers especially when it is online vs in person.

  27. Mohideen @ Make Money Blog :

    I would like to thank you for giving an idea for branding our products this gives an clear view for our business

  28. Hey Neil,
    Great Posts ! I like Pt 5 of creating an awesome experience for customers. There is no doubt if you lack deep pockets but can provide rich experience to your customers, there is high probablity of they visiting you again and again !
    Keep going mate ! Thanks

    • Thanks Sachin,

      It is all about customer service. The better your service the more customers are likely to refer your services to others. So make your services not only simple and quick but unique as well!

  29. Thomas R. Reich :

    What would you suggest for a company that has 3 distinct brands within essentially the same market? It is better to re-brand all in into one, or update each to its market nitch?

    Great post by the way!

  30. Diane Corriette :

    Stay edgy… I am not sure how you make information on building self confidence edgy but I would love to know so I can make myself different to everyone else out there!
    Thanks for the informative blog post

    • Thanks Diane,

      I am not sure either. However, sometimes adding personal touches can make something edgy. You want to try new tricks and ideas to see what works out and what doesn’t.

  31. A bit of deja-vu when I read this article, Neil. Back in the 80’s and heavily involved in the consumer goods industry, two very prestigious manufacturing firms with very high profile products tried to outdo the other in churning out products that never even made it past the domestic market. Yes, after all, they had all the resources to do this and before manufacturing had the ‘made in China’ appendage to almost everything today. In retrospect, your 6 approaches would’ve made relevance then as the present. Thanks for this great article.

  32. EntrepreneurKorner :

    Awesome Post. Thanks for the insight Neil.

  33. Beverly Boston :

    Nothing gets a point across than real stories such as these Neil. Branding your “why” can be tough in the beginning, but I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth it. Maybe they’re just rationalizing, the way people who gone through a painful initiation say it’s worth it.

    But people who branded their “why” can tell you how their businesses have been enhanced. They can tell you about things and opportunities they have wouldn’t have had, and ways they feel now that they wouldn’t have felt.

    Did branding my “why” solve all of my business problems? No. But I now have a different business because of it—a richer, and fuller one. And that I’m a more alive, courageous, and open person because of it.

    Once I made the decision that the “status quo” in business positioning with a fixed mindset was no longer acceptable, and showed how a growth mindset blasts through all limitations everything changed for my clients and myself.

    • Thank you Beverly,

      You have some great insight. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and personal experience. It sounds like you have learned a lot and have grown strong from your experiences.

  34. Amazing advice.
    Create a stronger Brand is very hard nowadays

    • Thank you,

      I agree, it can be difficult. You have to be able to try new things and stay persistent.

      Best of luck.

  35. Nice article. No doubt, branding is a very powerful component in business. There are so many real-world examples, such as Apple, McDonalds , Nike, Adidas and PepsiCo.

    BTW, I saw something interesting. I think you should see this http://i.imgur.com/AzTy0.png . Its kinda funny, you two look a lot alike! 😉

    • LOL, yea I have ads all of the web with my face. But it’s a bit funny to see it next to another person who kind of look similar to me.

  36. Netsuite Developer :

    Thanks for posting this. I am off to a branding seminar in an hour. If i get anything interested ill be sure to comment

  37. Health & Fitness Blog :

    Interesting points, Neil… and very well written. I am beginning to enjoy reading your blog on a daily basis. I am sure there’s a lot more to learn in here. How do you find the time to write so many well researched and well written pieces? Awesome, dude!

    • Thanks,

      These post don’t take me to long actually. I would say anywhere from 2-6 hours to complete. Plus I work all day everyday, even weekends.

  38. Brian @ fashion :

    Great post again Neil,

    Your post as inspired me to take another look at my branding strategy thank you again.

  39. eCommerceFuel.com | Andrew Youderian :

    Sometimes we think so much about online branding that we forget about the old-fashioned branding opportunities, even if they are starting us right in the face.

    We sell radio equipment to off-road drivers, a community which loves to decorate their vehicles with stickers of their favorite brands. Yet for years we never thought to include a sticker in our shipments! Well, we finally created some stickers and are including them with all of our orders going forward. We have a pretty good reputation in the industry, and I anticipate many of them will find their way onto vehicles. If only we would have done this when we started.

    The moral? Make sure you think about creative approaches to brand offline with stickers, apparel and sponsorships. It can be a powerful way to expand the reach and reputation of your brand.

  40. Tapha at MyAppTemplates :

    Love ‘Start With Why’, the book is incredible.

  41. I rarely read all of a blog post. But I could relate to this one very well. I did make my mistakes when I build my first website. It was www.TheCustomerAdvantageinc.com What I’m looking for know is a coach or someone that can guide me. If you can please leave a message on my site, you can tell I need help…lol

  42. hey neil,
    your idea about the post’s topic is correct. you have taught us golden lessons. i will definitely follow these.



  43. Hello!,,Neil..

    Great post Neil,,especially step #2 I really appreciate your idea and its look very useful,,.Tanks for sharing!,,,,,

  44. We all know that business is way to earn money, but for getting success in your business you have to show your value… that’s possible by telling why you do business, only then you can succeed.

  45. Hello,
    Would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time deciding between
    BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask
    is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking
    for something completely unique.
    P.S. Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  46. Hello Neil,

    It was a learning experience going through the sharings. I would like you to help me as my company is planning to enter into branding segment into Indian market. How can I prepare for it? I am interested to take the project ahead,but have no relevant experience.What are the major keyskills required for establishing a strong root in Branding segment?


    • Neha, you should really focus on creating a presence on social and PR channels. Those two channels will do the trick when done right.

  47. I have been given the role of Marketing Manger this year to a small family business in a me too industry. I find that I cannot answer, or have to make up my own answers, to a lot of the points that you have made even though I have been working with them for 5 years now. I have decided that the best way to find out, so that I can build/articulate our brand, is by sending my bosses a questionnaire/survey. Then it will be a case of making sure our customers and our employees know it and believe it. So here goes! If anyone knows of any really important/insightful questions they believe should be asked I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

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