In 1998, Google was the 21st search engine to enter the market. Look at it today.

In 2006, none of these products existed yet:

  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Kindle
  • 4G
  • Uber
  • Airbnb
  • Android
  • Oculus
  • Spotify
  • Nest
  • Kickstarter
  • Stripe
  • Square
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • WhatsApp

What did these brands know (and apply) that the rest of us missed?

26 Secrets to Branding Smarter

I looked over many of these top-performing brands as well as clients of my own and discovered key (and recurring) patterns.

Using these patterns, one city saw a 500% growth in 12 months, an NYC skincare company saw an 800% increase in new customers in 3 months, a Napa Valley startup saw 900% in sales growth in 24 months.

That’s some serious growth.

That kind of growth doesn’t just happen. It’s made to happen, with specific insights and core fundamentals in place.

Why Did This Suddenly Come to my Attention?

As I near the completion of my new book on branding, my “spidey senses” have been on high alert on anything branding related. And as the noted English theoretical and physicist Stephen Hawking said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Being obsessed with the final chapter of my own book, I started summarizing my list of what worked with branding and what didn’t.

Here are 26 of the core branding principles I found:

  1. Launching a brand is not for those with thin skin. It takes courage, intelligence, foresight, and tough skin that as could double as Kevlar.
  2. One can always sell something by offering the lowest price. But this does not create loyalty to your brand; it never did and it never will. It only creates “loyalty” to that price point. As soon as your guest or visitor is offered a better price, he or she will jump ship, leaving you like a scorned lover in the middle of the night.
  3. “Cookie cutters are for baking, not branding.” Unforgettable brands apply that principle to the last crumb.
  4. Your brand exists to differentiate. “Same crap, different day” doesn’t cut it. A day that goes by without breaking some sacred branding rule is a day a brand has lost to rise above the status quo. By breaking those rules with insight, intelligence, and innovation, your brand can get heard in a world that’s simply too busy to listen.
  5. We’ve all seen it. A startup begins with a dream, a passion to do or offer something others have either missed or overlooked. The ones that become businesses and brands never lose that flame.
  6. We know there are thousands of ways to solve any branding problem a company faces, yet the only valuable solutions are the effective ones. Doing something ineffective in half the time–or “more efficiently” or “more economically”–isn’t progress. It is bad business.
  7. Social media isn’t a brand strategy, it is a channel. While it’s important for a brand to develop something to say, it’s more important to create something that will be heard. And these brands either share something valuable or not at all.
  8. History is filled with inferior brands outselling superior ones (thanks to more effective branding). Only superior branding has the power to overcome and reverse this (and superior products and services deserve superior branding).
  9. Customers have a first moment when they discover a brand. If you were to look at your brand today with a fresh pair of eyes, as a customer and witnessed your brand for the very first time, what would you see? What impression would it make? Or fail to make? Would your brand blend in? Would it stand out? Would it be memorable, or would it be the leading cause of amnesia amongst shoppers everywhere? Facing the truth of this and fixing it as needed will determine whether your brand thrives or merely stumbles along.
  10. FACT: People never got passionate about mediocre and average. While consumers and clients can find stores or sites with areas devoted to “best deals” or “natural foods” or “artisan goods,” one doesn’t find an aisle or a website menu tab offering “average stuff” without actually excelling (and differentiating) in something worthwhile to the customer. This explains why even though vanilla is necessary for the ice cream sundae, it’s the hot fudge we all crave and talk about.
  11. Every great brand seems to have a sixth sense: If your brand is a cliché, it’s losing sales and growth. Why? Because if your brand is using clichés to promote itself, you end up promoting your category, not your unique, individual brand. Painful? Yes. Solvable? Absolutely.
  12. Brand growth and dominance are created by having the highest brand value, not the lowest price tag.
  13. While a brand is so much more than a company’s logo, the logo is one of the key ambassadors to any brand. It is the most used and most seen aspect of any brand, has a lot of responsibility to the brand and how it’s perceived.
  14. Every great brand goes back to a courageous individual who dared to say “NO!” to the status quo.
  15. Brands are either built on reruns or coming attractions. The future has no roadmap while the past does. Creating a brand that blazes new trails can sometimes be bumpy but will also allow you to be the first to discover something new, something meaningful that makes others ask, “Why didn’t we think of that?” Be very scared of “old tricks” and instead, build a spirit and culture of innovation. The “old tricks” have the highest risk, not doing something bold and new.
  16. Consumers today have become a cynical mob of buyers who believe the reviews and ratings of complete strangers much more readily than your brand’s promises and distinctions.
  17. When it comes to branding and the ever-changing social media phenomenon, you’re not a mushroom. In other words, you shouldn’t be kept in the dark and fed a pile of… well, you get the idea.
  18. Great brands adhere to this important detail: A great sports car that goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds is just a fact. To the wrong audience, it’s irrelevant. But to the right audience, it’s a passion. Find your right audience.
  19. Be meaningful. Great brands ask, “Who are we, and how do we relate this idea in a way that’s meaningful to our customers and the values they hold dear?” In other words, one must define something meaningful. To do that, identify to whom this matters.
  20. The biggest mistake too many brands make is trying to “sell their stuff” rather than clarifying the problem or convenience people are actually buying.
  21. Traction starts when a brand asks, “How do we convey our differentiation instantaneously?” and answers that question. A strong brand drives a wedge between any apparent (or assumed) sameness in the marketplace.
  22. Differentiation rules. Everything else follows.
  23. Never fail to deliver value. The opposite of value is a commodity item with little or no perceived value. It means that people are not seeking your brand out and if they do, it’s disintegrated to being merely one of the many choices (and, in this setting, very likely the cheapest offering will get the sale).
  24. Look at every “revolutionary” brand or category killer. It had an app or a feature or a functionality or a user experience nobody else at that point could offer. I refer to this as “the Killer App” principle.
  25. The power of scarcity is when one product or service has qualities you won’t find everywhere, or ideally, anywhere. It’s the job of every brand to seek that out as their standard, their stamp.
  26. Items, brands, and services have more value in direct proportion to the degree we feel we lack the exact freedoms, joys or conveniences that product or brand offers.

Using Your High Octane Branding Fuel

There’s some powerful branding rocket fuel in that list.

The most effective way to leverage this information is the following: Each day for the next month, take just one of the above points and tackle it. Use it. Make it happen. Work it out.

It may take a day, maybe several days. But DO IT. Then move onto another one.

And in 30 or 45 days or so, you’ll be more on top of your brand than you ever thought possible.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Ranked #3 Worldwide on Klout for Branding, David Brier is a Fast Company expert blogger whose work has been featured in ADWEEK, Forbes, INC, Business Insider and Huffington Post. Shark Tank investor Daymond John only states, “David Brier is brilliant with branding” and presented David with the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship medallion. A native New Yorker, David is a highly sought-after internationally award-winning designer and rebranding specialist.