Guide to corporate branding, a lever for improving SEO as well

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Branding means so much more than caring for the colors and logo of the company: being recognized (and recognizable) as a powerful brand is a point of arrival for every type of company and can have a great impact on our target audience, also from the SEO perspective. Strengthening the brand can indeed be a valid strategy to counter attack the zero-clicks trend in Google SERPs or the evolutions of the Search Generative Experience (which is already “scaring” analysts and experts in the United States), to increase the chances of being found, recognized and remembered by users and customers.

What it is and what corporate branding means

Corporate branding is a complex process that aims to create and maintain a company’s strong and consistent corporate image within the marketplace and in the minds of consumers.

It is a discipline at the intersection of marketing, communications, and corporate strategy, not limited only to the creation of a visual identity, such as a logo or website design, or a catchy slogan, but aimed at creating a coherent set of values, experiences, and expectations that define the essence of an organization.

It therefore encompasses the management of all aspects that contribute to the overall perception of the company by all its stakeholders, from customers to suppliers, from partners to investors-from the quality of products or services offered, to corporate behavior and ethics, from internal and external communication, to social and environmental commitment.

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At the heart of corporate branding is the narrative of corporate identity: who we are, what we do, why we do it, and how we differ from others. This narrative needs to be consistent and reflected in every aspect of corporate activity, because it represents, so to speak, the promise our brand makes to its customers, employees, and partners, and also the way this promise is perceived and experienced, which we can curate through customer experience optimization to ensure that every interaction with the brand is positive and consistent with corporate values.

Who needs this activity and why it is important

Working on corporate branding is not just reserved for large companies, but is something that all companies must prioritize if they are to build a solid and lasting reputation, going far beyond the visual surface of colors and logos and getting to the point of forging a memorable first impression and leaving a lasting impression in the minds of consumers from the first moment of interaction.

A strong brand is an invaluable asset that can differentiate a company from its competitors, attract and retain talent, and create an emotional connection with customers, influencing their purchasing decisions. For stakeholders, a well-defined and managed corporate brand is a guarantee of quality and reliability; moreover, a strong brand can increase corporate value, facilitating access to new markets and creating opportunities for strategic partnerships.

Thus, we are talking about a strategic lever that can elevate a company from a simple business entity to a distinctive icon in its industry, because it enables the brand’s personality, characteristics, values, and purpose to be defined. This can lead customers to choose our product or service over others because they admire its purpose, believe in the cause, and share similar values.

This clarity of identity distinguishes the company in a saturated market, but it also amplifies awareness of the company’s products, value and mission, aligning products and services with the organization’s core values. In addition, a consistent corporate brand can nimbly navigate through market fluctuations, bringing value to customers, increasing the company’s credibility and trustworthiness, and positively influencing consumer decision-making.

Even more, this activity becomes a pillar that supports organizational development, human resources, business functions, and marketing and sales strategies, while creating more sustainable relationships with customers and prospects, reinforcing brand value, and facilitating new product introductions. In times of uncertainty, such as an economic crisis or pandemic, a strong corporate brand can serve as a shield, protecting the company’s reputation and maintaining the trust of stakeholders.

Relating to a company in fact allows you to use the strings of emotional marketing, which prompts customers to trust, rely on and commit to the company: building these strong connections through corporate branding can lead to strong customer retention rates, impressive referrals and increased revenue.

The challenges of corporate branding

In short, corporate branding goes beyond the product or service: it is the corporate identity manifested at every point of contact with the public, from institutional communication to corporate culture, from corporate social responsibility to customer service.

It follows that it is not a static activity, but a dynamic and constantly evolving one, requiring active listening to the market and the ability to adapt to change, because to compete in the digital environment a company must be able to effectively communicate its identity and manage its online and offline reputation.

In this sense, corporate branding thus becomes an ongoing process of alignment between the image that the company wants to project and the public’s perception of it, a tool to capture a user attention that is increasingly fragmented also due to an increasingly intense competition for visibility. Therefore, having a strong, well-defined self-representation can make all the difference, turning every interaction, even the briefest or most indirect, into an opportunity to build and consolidate one’s brand identity.

The challenge is to be able to build a digital identity that is consistent with the company’s values and mission, that can tell a compelling story, and that is optimized for new forms of online interaction. This means thinking about how the brand expresses itself through multimedia content, the voice it uses on social media, how it positions itself vis-à-vis current issues, and how it responds to consumer needs in real time.

Corporate branding, then, takes the form of an ongoing journey in establishing corporate identity, a journey that requires keeping up with changes in technology and consumer expectations.

How to do corporate branding and develop a strong brand identity

In practical terms, doing corporate branding is a strategic process that requires a holistic and multidisciplinary approach that follows a path involving every aspect of the company and is based on consistency and authenticity.

First, it is critical to clearly define the company’s mission, vision, and values, which must then be communicated consistently across all channels and touch points with the public. The brand narrative (storytelling) must be authentic, engaging and resonate with the target audience, establishing an emotional connection, while also taking care of visual consistency: the logo design, color palette and typography must reflect the brand identity and be easily recognizable. Once the brand identity has been defined, it is important to communicate it effectively through the website, social and all forms of content.

It is then clear that the customer experience must be optimized: every interaction with the brand must be designed to reinforce positive perception and trust in the brand. This includes everything from the website’s ease of navigation, to the quality of customer service, to the purchase and after-sales experience, because every touch point is an opportunity to solidify the brand’s reputation.

Perhaps less obvious, however, curating the employee experience is equally important, which should be aligned with the brand to ensure that staff are the brand’s first ambassadors; as such, investing in corporate culture and employee engagement can have a significant impact on brand strength. Finally, monitoring and analyzing brand performance is essential to understand how the public perceives the company and to make necessary strategic changes. This process of listening and adapting must be continuous and can include monitoring brand mentions on social media, analyzing customer reviews, and measuring overall sentiment toward the company, using the data to refine and adapt the branding strategy to ensure that the brand remains relevant and resonates with the audience.

Do not mix up brand and logo

For an effective strategy, first of all, you need to have clear ideas: many people still confuse the brand of a company with its logo. When they hear the word “brand”, says Julia Mccoy on Search Engine Journal, they immediately imagine “designers at work to choose the perfect shades and pattern for a new logo”.

In fact, a logo is part of the brand but does not represent “the entire package”. To be precise: the logo is a graphic element that symbolizes a brand, a creative image that people can recognize and connect to the product.

Wider the conversation about branding, which means (also) finding out who our audience is, knowing what they want and how we can help them achieve their desires means being consistent and promising consumers that we will always give them what they expect.

The weight of branding for consumers: key statistics and key numbers

The world of branding is huge, going beyond marketing and advertising by combining among other things design, communication, online reputation management and more.

Some numbers can quickly give us a sense of how much this component actually “weighs” in the broader race to gain prominence in one’s industry-and also how much consumers’ attitudes toward a brand matter.

  • 81% of consumers need to trust a brand in order to consider a purchase.
  • 77% of consumers prefer to shop with brands they follow on social media.
  • 65% of consumers say a brand’s CEO and employees influence their purchase decision.
  • 55% of brand first impressions are visual.
  • There are over 10,000 branding and positioning agencies around the world.

In recent years, these elements have become even more relevant, especially following the e-Commerce consolidation caused by the Coronavirus emergency. For example, as early as April 2020 Survata published survey results showing that people were becoming even more polarized in their choices, tending to rely even more sharply on the brands they know and trust rather than going for their generic alternatives, no matter how much more cost-effective.

In that chaotic phase, consumer behavior and their purchasing preferences were moving in a trend seen before, particularly during phases of economic uncertainty: 61 percent of consumers were likely or very likely to choose branded products, compared to only 39 percent who did not care about the name or would choose generic brands or stores.

Thus, for categories such as packaged or frozen foods, coffee or beverages, and personal or household hygiene products, Americans looked first to the brand name for safety, efficacy, or otherwise trust-related issues. In contrast, U.S. users were less concerned about brand when choosing alcohol to drink or cosmetics and skin care products; moreover, the audience was evenly divided at 50 percent towards over-the-counter drugs, an area where clearly for Americans brand had not such a predominant weight.

The relationship between corporate branding and SEO

In the age we have called the attention economy, first impressions are even more important to “hope” to win over consumers – and today more than ever the first touchpoint is usually virtual and digital, and therefore the image you project must be immediately recognizable, evocative and able to convey trust.

This is also why corporate branding and SEO must go hand in hand in digital marketing: while branding focuses on corporate perception and identity, SEO deals with the online visibility and relevance of that brand through search engines. That is, corporate branding aims to build a strong and recognizable corporate image, while SEO ensures that this image is visible and accessible through Google and other search engines.When these two disciplines work in synergy, the result is a powerful and consistent online presence that can drive business success.

Simplifying, an effective corporate branding strategy can significantly improve SEO performance, because a recognizable and respected brand naturally gains inbound links, as well as can positively influence CTR (Click-Through Rate) in search results and, more broadly, local SEO, with companies becoming landmarks in their community and industry.

A key aspect of this relationship is precisely brand recognition: a company name that resonates in the marketplace and is associated with positive values tends to be searched directly by users, increasing brand searches, which sends signals to search engines that the brand is relevant and of interest to the audience, boosting its authority and improving its ranking in search results.

As the above statistics highlight, therefore, it is worth investing in corporate branding, or better yet, in building an effective brand identity and related optimized brand awareness with which to present itself to the public and stand out from competitors. We said that brand identity is the promise that the company makes to its customers through each of its activities, including its website, and corporate branding is then one of the ways to tell our story, excite the user and establish a deep bond with them, creating a “brand ecosystem” that lives and breathes through every pixel and every word online.

Strengthening the brand to meet the challenge in SERPs

In the current scenario of search marketing we are probably facing yet another “revolution” or expected one, this time caused by Search Generative Experience, the new system powered by Artificial Intelligence with which Google provides even more direct answers to users.

We might call it a kind of “super featured snippet with AI,” which can generate a response that includes a summary of the topic, generated by drawing on multiple sources, relevant facts, and links to additional resources. The size of the SGE response box can vary depending on the answer to the query, even taking up an entire screen.

Launched for a few months now for some markets-but not yet in Italy-SGE has recently been the focus of some analysis, which revealed that 94 percent of the links provided in response from the screen are different from organic search results. To be precise, the Authoritas study-focused mainly on commercial keywords-noted that 93.8 percent of the time the AI-generated responses in Google’s Search Generative Experience do not match any links from Google’s top 10 organic search results.

A possible consequence of this trend is therefore the reduction – even significant – of organic traffic to websites working on “classic SEO,” because users will be able to get the answer directly in the screen generated by Google’s artificial intelligence. Although, other side of the coin, websites that fail to reach the top 10 of Google’s organic results might get clicks thanks to links within SGE.

This aspect adds to the so-called zero-click trend in SERPs, which has been emerging strongly for some years now: to summarize, this expression refers to the fact that people using Google do not always click on the results shown (the old 10 blue links), but may find answers in featured snippets, fact sheets, ads and so on. This also ties in with the transformations in the layout of SERPs, which, in the wake of the introduction of various features and products, has completely changed from the past, prompting (forcing) users to adjust their gaze-which now moves like a pinball, as theorized by the famous pinball pattern-and consequently their behavior as well.

This produces two effects: inconsistent SERPs from one query to another (in some cases, not even the 10 blue links appear, but a reduced number) and precisely zero-click trend, with the user journey being concluded and fulfilled directly by Google without any clicks to the placed results.

The branding for SEO and organic search

The rise of zero clicks and the evolution of generative search experiences is a real concern for many industries, and companies that want to remain competitive on the search engine must work to minimize the effects of this trend and to beat (even) Google.
It therefore becomes essential to invest in branding strategies that go beyond simply driving traffic to one’s website, focusing on how the brand can also be present and influential within the featured snippets or immediate responses provided by search engines, as well as in the conversations and interactions that occur in social platforms and online forums.

With this approach developing and strengthening the brand can also give new perspectives to strategies in organic research, and an article by Nicolas Vargas on Search Engine Watch recommends us the four key steps in order to create a solid brand.

  1. Mapping of brand and user journey values.
  2. Development of an omnichannel experience.
  3. Optimization of entities
  4. Topic clustering and keyword optimization for branding.

Vargas asked several experts for an opinion on this issue, and they all confirmed the central value of this activity on organic performance. For example, Brad Smith (CEO and founder of Codeless) is convinced that focusing on “branding for the SEO plays a key role in allowing a company to enter the lucky group of 60 percent of businesses that get clicks on Google,” and that “brand recognition is a crucial factor in getting clicks, powerful enough to skip Google’s top-ranking posts”.

Jeffrey Krantz explains instead that “it is unlikely that most users will complete a conversion at the first visit to a website: it is therefore necessary to pay attention to stuck the brand in the user’s memory rather than focus only on conversions”. And Irina Weber argues that “having a strong brand presence ensures that Google will promote your corporate website”, calling branding for SEO “the foundation of a marketing strategy”.

Four concrete interventions to strengthen the brand

The first step in this work is actually preliminary, because we must first understand the customer journey and the role of organic channels. Our goal is to understand when and why people use organic channels as part of their purchase journey, identifying the unique motivations and attributes of our audience.

Our customers and potential customers don’t look at the brand in isolation, but we leave an impression every time we share something on social media or reach the first page for requested keywords.

This means that our potential customers can come (and be reached) from numerous channels, so it is extremely important to understand the role of each marketing channel in the customer journey.

To reinforce ourselves on the search engine, we can try to leverage other marketing channels to get people to search for our brand on Google: “Brand + Keyword” queries are extremely useful, as real users are telling Google that our brand is relevant and important on a particular topic or vertical topic.

Another practical strategy to strengthen the brand is to try to be recognized as an entity by Google, so that we activate a knowledge panel and appear in Google’s Knowledge Graph that groups and connects all entities with each other.

These tools can facilitate the discovery of our business in brand-related search terms, such as brand name, and to stand out when people search specifically for the brand. Moreover, it is a tangible sign of Google’s trust in the company, which is considered a legitimate business entity.
The last step is hands-on work on branded keywords, which can improve conversion rates, CTRs and visibility of the company in search results. The goal is to try to control as many results as possible by identifying relevant topics and keywords for our users at different stages of their buying journey, starting small.

Vargas also points out some specific actions to take to achieve this goal:

  • Identify relevant topics and develop a topic cluster with the brand in mind. The easy way to start this process is to study alternative occurrences to “Competitor Name” and act accordingly.
  • Get people to search for the brand on Google. One technique is to add a search CTA on all your marketing assets.
  • Collect, segment, and track branded queries by user journey.
  • Look for new ways to improve brand performance in search-there is always new content and/or competitors trying to gain market share, so it is important to know your market like no other.

5 steps to an effective branding

Other practical tips come from a McCoy’s article, which outlines a path in five stages to build a stronger and more recognizable brand.

This also means being able to unify the message on each of the marketing platforms we use and reflect this specific style even on all pages of the site.

The first suggestion is “be consistent”: what would happen if Mcdonald’s suddenly started serving gourmet food or packed hamburgers in shiny, expensive bags? The lovers of the fast food chain would be confused, baffled by this inconsistency, because Mcdonald’s does not have as its goal the refinement or a sought after meal experience.

In order not to fall into error, we must dig deep into the who and what of our brand:

  • Who are you as a company?
  • Who do you serve?
  • What is your main promise for customers?
  • What is the purpose of your brand?

Answering these questions simplifies some actions, and for example allows us to:

  • Eliminate the confusing elements present on the website.
  • Stay consistent with the tone of social media posts.
  • Be consistent with color, images, packaging and other brand elements.

It might then be useful to create a style guide, a simple reference that all team members can use to promote the brand and that they can implement by adding tips and creative ideas. Mccoy also describes the process of creating this style guide, which begins with making a story for our brand.

Running a business is not just about making money, it is about making the world a better place and enriching people’s lives. In what special way can our brand achieve or contribute to achieving this goal? The answer is our unique story.

On the practical side, it is also necessary to import the color and the fonts of our communication, avoiding to resort to a wide range of tones and sticking, as a general rule, to the colors of the logo. We can then use a combination of these colors on the website, in promotional materials, in packaging and in merchandise, and it would also be better to stick to a single font in each written content.

The result will be that people will associate a color and a style to our brand, as in the case of blue for Facebook, green for Starbucks or yellow for Snapchat.

Equally important is to choose the voice tone and use it properly: it is not advisable to be light and frivolous (the specific term used is goofy) on one social media platform and professional and serious on another. More useful is to determine the company’s voice tone and add it to the style guide.

Do not overlook users, aiming to feelings and loyalty

People buy things for emotional reasons, not rational ones, says Mccoy, who gives us a practical example: “think about cakes. The cake has no benefits, because it is rich in calories, it makes you fat, it is not healthy”. So why do people buy the cake? “Because cakes are synonymous with celebration, happiness and special occasions, make people feel good, evoke an emotional response“.

And so, when we work on the brand, we can’t forget this aspect and we have to ask ourselves how we can get in an emotional contact with people: can we make our audience feel safe? Or loved? Or still part of a special closed and reserved group?

Our current and existing customers are people who already love our brand: “why not reward their love?”, suggests the author, inviting to make special the most loyal customers.

For example, we may offer special promotions and discounts to people who regularly buy our products, make targeted social media communications or organize competitions and offer unique and valuable prizes.

It is important to remember that the way of rendering should be strictly consistent with the brand’s voice: for example, a fun and creative company can celebrate reaching 10,000 customers by releasing 10,000 balloons in the sky. This will not only attract attention, but will also be another piece of the branding strategy’s puzzle.

The ever sound advice: take a cue from competitors

The last step starts from a consideration: what we are offering is not unique, we are not alone in the market and there are hundreds or thousands of opponents who offer the same products or services.

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Again, studying competition is a practical way to improve our strategy, trying to analyze and answer questions such as:

  • How are they working on their brand?
  • Is their brand powerful, recognizable and emotional?
  • What are they doing right?
  • What are they doing wrong?
  • Can we improve their best practices?

Il branding, elemento centrale del marketing odierno

In past years, the winning key of marketing was to find a moat, the unique sales proposal of a company that created a clear distinction from the competition.

Today it is almost impossible to be able to emerge in this way, because whatever our moat, it can be copied by another company in a minute.

That is why the brand becomes the element to stand out and grow our business: if we have a successful corporate brand, we will have a constant flow of loyal customers that we will meet on the way, because we will be memorable and we will also impose on Google, regardless of clicks (or zero clicks).

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