Living and Breathing: Branding Beyond Marketing

January 15, 2019  |  Paula Serios


Leveraging Power of Brand as Business

Living and Breathing is a five-part series that explores the framework of brand activation and operationalization as a core differentiation strategy. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into internal and external brand activation and its application to purpose-driven industries such as Healthcare, Education and Finance

Part 1: Establishing an Experience Framework for Brand Activation

The term “Brand” is often misunderstood and frequently mischaracterized as being simply a symbol, a tagline, or a trendy style that helps you stand out. And while these are all vital elements of branding, the long-term value of a Brand must be nurtured from within to realize its full potential. The fancy artwork and clever phrasing may help get you noticed, but the most lasting impressions come from people’s experiences with your Brand. Think about the emotional connection that consumers have with Harley-Davidson or Apple – their Brand experiences are so well designed that not even premium prices or comparable alternatives can keep their loyalists away.

The key to illuminating this type of emotional resonance is to understand your Brand as something that needs to be both communicated AND operationalized. This distinction creates a holistic platform that can exponentially maximize the value of your Brand.

Start by defining your north star

As competition increases, many Brands tend to overly focus on promoting features (what) and benefits (how) which can lead to a sea of sameness in any category. This also creates an underlying opportunity for savvy Brands who can answer one simple question: Why are you the best choice to fulfill your audience’s wants and needs?

When confronted with this question, many give into the temptation of reciting key features and benefits (most of which are easily replicated). But Brands that position themselves on shared human values transcend their competition by becoming the antidote for what their audience believes is missing from their life or even better, something they crave. Again, think back to Harley-Davidson positioning itself on the value of freedom instead of gas mileage or Apple’s positioning itself on irreverence for the status quo instead of computing power or interface.

Activation Tip: whether you recognize it or not, the essence of your Brand is something that already exists. So, start by talking to smaller groups of existing stakeholders in order to get into deeper conversation about the intangibles of your Brand. And find ways to continue “peeling the onion” during these conversations until the singular value of your Brand begins to reveal itself.

Take an honest look in the mirror

Once you’ve defined your Brand value, it’s important to take inventory of all your Brand experiences – both internally and externally. Customer journey mapping is the bedrock to monitor your external experiences identifying key interaction points across the full spectrum of the customer lifecycle. Even a simple journey can map interaction as it links to emotional intensity, touchpoints and moments of truth – where expectations meet actual delivery. Often overlooked, internal brand touchpoints are an opportunity to deliver your brand to an impactful group of vital advocates: your leadership and staff. This is a foundational step in the activation of your Brand.

Activation Tip: develop internal touch point maps to help you understand the brand experiences across all internal audiences. Every interaction adds to their opinion and ability to express your Brand as a collective rebel yell. And, out of this mapping exercise, it’s important to design signature touch points that will serve as extensions of your organizational culture and Brand value.

Teach your choir to carry the same tune

Your internal audience is arguably the most important segment to consider when activating your Brand. Because, they not only have to understand your Brand, they also have to help bring it to life each and every day. Once you have established how to reach your internal audience within the touchpoints that matter most to them, it is time to create depth to your brand message.

Activation Tip: establish a team of Brand Advocates (Ambassadors or Champions) across the organization. And develop a structured program to promote and incentivize positive Brand experiences. By activating those naturally engaging, internal influencers (you know these people) at all levels of your organization, you can instill a shared culture that extends out into the day-to-day operations of your business. Your organization can begin to live your brand.

Promote engagement through shared experiences

The external expression of your Brand offers the perfect opportunity to create excitement across all target segments. Begin by developing targeted launch events that cater to specific audiences – clients and prospects, shareholders, the community-at-large and business leaders, and other relevant stakeholders. Because there’s nothing more powerful than a memorable experience to lock emotional loyalty, especially when it’s on ‘Brand’.

Activation Tip: host experience-driven digital events that bring your Brand value to life. Be creative and find ways to align yourself with like-minded influencers, movements, or causes that can help elevate the message of your Brand. Now more than ever, consumers crave meaning connected to their purchases, particularly when it comes to life changing categories like higher education, healthcare, and financial services.

Keep digging to uncover deeper insights

As you embark on a developing a living Brand, you will begin to understand that operationalizing your Brand value unleashes the power of Brand as business, well beyond advertising and communication. Stay tuned for a deeper examination and key insights on internal and external activation across the life-impacting categories of education, healthcare and finance.

Brand Lever is a consultancy that helps leaders create and align brand, business and operating strategies. A subsidiary and partner company of BVK—a top 25 independent marketing and advertising agency—Brand Lever was created to help companies navigate these important questions of strategy, structure and function. To learn more about our brand as business approach, please contact Paula Serios at or 949-677-8814.


is a Senior Vice President, BVK Health

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