What Does It Mean to Invest in Brand?

Last week I keynoted the Inbounder in Valencia, which was a remarkable experience all around. The venue, the level of dialog, and the community of passionate digital thought-leaders was impressive. The two-day event covered a broad sweep of provocative topics like what the future of digital marketing is and what role humans will play in it (if at all). Fascinating to say the least.

Btw – Valencia is freaking gorgeous. If you ever get the chance to go…please do. Teaser for you (and yes this is a real building…it’s crazypants beautiful):

I debuted a new deck around the Business of Building a Brand where I walked through pretty much every model or framework I’ve ever used in building and supporting brands. It took weeks to build and culminated into one of my favorite decks because it covered something so insanely critical for today’s brands – how to operationalize your teams, resources and budget to build a brand that truly impacts your revenue.

Enough with the “isn’t is fun to build a brand” type stuff and let’s instead turn to the truth – building a brand is mandatory if you want to remain relevant and capture the heart of customers in today’s customer empowered world. They choose if you get to participate in their lives, and “64% of those customers make that decision largely based on whether they have shared values with a company.”

64% people. Sixty-four freaking percent.

One thing I covered that I haven’t shared with you all before is the way I approach investing in a brand. While I’m not about to share my current brand budgets and itemized operating plan (sorry!) I wanted to share the general way I break up brand investment and perhaps more importantly for all of you – how that changes as your company grows over time.

There are really four categories I consider when investing in a brand: assets, vehicles, distribution, and management.

Let’s break these down so we can all be talking about them in the same way.

Assets: These are actual pieces of content that help share your values, mission, product UVP, etc. This could be something as tangible as your brand identity work (logo, slogan, wordmark, etc.) or it could be something more like a brand guide that is downloadable off a press room on your site. Any asset that you think should be made for customers, prospects, partners, or other stakeholders would be accounted for in this bucket of investment.

Vehicles: This would be the way you package all of those assets. So this could be a video, a website, a poster for an event. These are the vehicles that you productize your brand you can share them across platforms, on the web and offline.

Distribution: This would account for any investment you make into the amplification of those vehicles. So this could be boosting a post on Facebook, or any OOH buy on the side of a bus. If you pay to feature your story anywhere online or offline, this would get accounted for in your distribution bucket.

Management: This is the most traditional of buckets, it accounts for any hires, vendors, or tools you spend on that help you manage your brand. Often times this is invested in way too early, and it can be a huge sunk cost. Make sure your brand operations are in order before you go too deep here.

But how do you know how much to spend on each? The truth is it has a lot more to do with the stage of your company than it does much else. No matter if you have $500 to spend on brand or $5M, you’ll want to carefully think through the distribution of each investment.

For example, if you’re an early startup you will want to spend far more on distribution. You can make assets in house and manage across a small cross-functional team but you’ll want to make sure you’re applying budget against any campaigns you’ve got running. Whereas if you’re an enterprise, you might have matured enough in brand operations and tracking to invest more evenly.

For the sake of convenience, below is the general rule of thumb I use when comparing the distribution of brand investment for a (a) startup/early stage company, (2) mid-stage/growth, (3) enterprise, and (4) for a personal brand (think consultant, or independent).


Whether you agree with the exact allocations or not, is a little less relevant than all of us aligning on the fact that depending on what season your company is in you will and should be investing in brand differently. There is no one size fits all when it comes to investing in brand. Let’s be real – if you don’t have product market fit you should barely invest in brand at all, whereas if you are a Fortune 500 competing on an international stage, things change.

Hopefully this is a helpful primer for all of you digital marketers championing the investment of brand at your companies. I’m excited to hear how you model out your investments, leave your thoughts/feedback in the comments below.

Brand on friends, brand on.

1 Comment
  • 7 Mile Marketing

    Hey Joanna, you are right. These four categories you’ve mentioned are the important things to consider when investing in a brand. We all believe that putting up your own brand is risky but with these four categories namely assets, vehicles, distribution, and management, you can definitely plan ahead, organize thoughts and do a unique way on how to introduce your own brand to the market. I love how you make people (especially people into business) get confidence by your helpful articles.