A Comprehensive Guide to Whole Brand Thinking

Four employees talking to each other in an office.

As the number of businesses continues to expand, leaders are rightfully concerned about competition. How can you successfully communicate your organization’s value in a congested market? The answer is branding.

Branding builds rapport with your prospects and clients. It creates a memorable impression while communicating what they should expect from your company. Your brand is also an opportunity to differentiate from the competition and share why customers should choose you.

But branding is also influential outside of prospecting and retention. Advances in measurement and martech continue to improve marketing’s impact on business outcomes. Marketers have the power and responsibility to understand their brand’s impact on every area of the business.

How can you do this? By leveraging whole brand thinking.

What Is Whole Brand Thinking?

Whole brand thinking is defined as the way companies see everything they do as a brand. It includes building holistic brand engagement to create meaningful customer experiences. Whole brand companies strive for consistent content and action toward employees, stakeholders, customers and prospects, and measure outcomes by balancing profit, performance, culture and societal impact. 

There’s a reason why companies strive to incorporate whole brand thinking, including higher market share, increased revenue and stronger employee engagement. In this guide, we’ll dive into whole brand thinking so you can walk away with a better understand of its benefits ⁠— and how to put it into action. 

4 Benefits of Whole Brand Thinking

1. Win Buy-in From Stakeholders

Any successful marketing strategy needs C-Suite buy-in. This takes credibility, trust and financial support. It also means breaking down silos within the leadership team that prevent shared vision.

For example, McKinsey data shows that 83% of global CEOs see marketing as a major driver of growth, but only half of CFOs believe marketers deliver on growth promises. Additionally, 40% of CFOs surveyed reported the belief that marketing investment should not be protected during a recession. This puts marketing leaders on the defensive. But thankfully, branding can help.

A strong brand that positively influences customers’ thoughts and feelings toward your company correlates to increased sales. This impacts commercial outcomes, like revenue. Marketing teams who can show how their strategy directly supports brand and performance outcomes are more likely to gain C-Suite approval.

To make these benefits known, reduce your use of marketing jargon and relate the brand’s influence on the business. Asking questions like, “Can we translate our brand strategy into KPIs?” or “Can we prove that our brand contributes to sales?” will help you tune into signs of business success.

2. Inspire Internal Teams

Internal marketing is frequently overlooked by business leaders. Yet, it is one of the most important ways to gain employee support and connect them to the products and services you sell. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that when employees believe in the brand, they tend to work harder, be more loyal and feel inspired by a common purpose.

Company culture is also influenced by branding. Whole brand thinking keeps leaders aware that their internal teams are human. When a brand is based on human needs, company culture flourishes. Once a strong internal culture is established, companies can leverage their brand to guide messaging and marketing strategies that communicate company culture to prospects.

Branding also helps with hiring. A purposeful brand helps connect prospective employees to something larger than themselves. As recruiting has gotten more competitive, it’s not enough for a company to share their brand as a list of core values. Instead, candidates are looking for companies who are truly living out their values and reflect them in their messaging, creative attributes, people experience and customer support. 

This is especially true for Gen Z and millennial employees. Randstad’s Workmonitor 2023 report indicates that 42% of employees think it’s imperative for their company’s values to match their personal values and that they wouldn’t take a job if those values didn’t align.

3. Win More Customers

Having a strong brand helps increase the number of people who want to choose your product or service. When your customers are bought into your brand’s purpose, they’re also likely to pay more for your product, too. Extensive data supports that whole brand companies outperform their competitors. Research from Zeno and the Whole Brand Project reveals:

  • Whole brands are 60% more likely to be labeled a “brand on the rise.”
  • Consumers are 3X as likely to pay a premium price for a whole brand’s product.
  • Consumers are 4X as likely to purchase from a brand they think has a strong purpose.
  • Consumers are 35% more likely to recommend a whole brand than a fragmented brand.
  • Whole brands have 2X the average market penetration compared to fragmented brands.

4. Improve Business Resilience

Though a company’s brand and reputation go hand in hand, they’re not the same. The main difference is that branding involves the vision of how you want your products or services to be perceived by customers, while reputation reflects how your organization is actually perceived. Whole brand thinking merges the two, creating resilience and impact.

Research shows that strong brands consistently overcome challenges more easily than fragmented brands. According to MarketingWeek, during the financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic, companies with strong brands declined less severely and recovered faster.

Per Zeno data, if consumers believe in your brand purpose, they are more likely to protect you in the face of adversity. Organizations with a compelling brand purpose receive six times the consumer support during a challenging time compared to brands with a weak purpose.

How To Build a Better Brand

Now that you know how branding benefits every area of your business, it’s time to do your branding legwork. Many organizations are eager to launch branding campaigns. But they usually don’t have a strong brand foundation capable of driving results. Here’s how to build one.

The first step is to consider your purpose, audience, emotional impact and personalization. Take time to collaborate with your leadership team, stakeholders and employees to understand who you are, what you do, why you do it and what you believe in. You can also ask these key questions:

  • How does my brand currently show up in the world?
  • How do we want to show up in the world? 
  • How are we different?
  • Who do we help, and how do we want to help in the future?
  • Where do we need to create consistency in messaging, tone and creative?
  • How do we unite our purpose on online and offline channels?

Whatever your purpose is, it needs to be something your leadership deeply believes in that can be sewn through the fabric of your organization. For more tips, check about these brand building best practices.

Go Beyond Performance Marketing for Your Whole Brand Strategy

Developing a whole brand is no small feat. Whether you’re confident in your brand or are fragmented and working toward a whole brand, there are digital strategies to help build awareness and drive growth.

When crafting your marketing strategy, it’s important to remember that your campaigns don’t run in a vacuum. In today’s uncertain economy, marketers should optimize all of their advertising channels to balance brand and performance strategies. In other words, go beyond performance marketing metrics like cost per click (CPC).

While business leaders will continue to feel pressure to prove ROI goals, lower-funnel tactics like paid search, social, retargeting, display, video and audio are proven methods for driving conversions. However, brand awareness strategies like paid search, SEO, content marketing, programmatic and PR shouldn’t be overlooked in your long-term strategy to promote your brand.

Designing distinctive creative, fine-tuning your message and producing breakthrough content will help drive engagement for your whole brand strategy.

Ready To Grow Your Brand?

While you build a whole brand, connect with us to learn how we can successfully drive growth for your company across the customer journey while balancing brand and performance marketing strategies for our clients.