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The Branding Pyramid

by Vizual

One of the many reasons why I love branding and working with our clients is that we get to know a lot of people in a lot of different industries. We spend a lot of time learning intimately about their products and services to help serve them well. And, we enjoy helping them understand what we do as a firm and, more importantly to them, how branding can serve their organizations.

In general, we’re a pretty visual (no pun intended) bunch here at Vizual. But branding isn’t just about the visual experience. It’s also about communicating your message and giving your audience their desired experience to achieve a higher purpose. Many of our clients are very visual as well, so we enjoy spending time gathering the requirements, interpreting their ideas, and understanding their needs in order to come up with effective solutions that help us meet their goals and objectives.

When we meet with potential clients, one of the questions that comes up often relates to the process of branding. We usually explain the branding process through the use of a branding pyramid. There are different types of branding pyramids out there and many of them are for specific types of branding such as personal branding, corporate branding, and product branding.

The branding pyramid we prefer most was developed by Kevin Lane Keller, the E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. The reason we like it is because his pyramid is a consumer-based brand equity (CBBE) model. Keller defines CBBE the following way:

“Customer-based brand equity occurs when the consumer has a high level of awareness and familiarity with the brand and holds strong, favorable, and unique brand associations in memory.”

Keller also refers to his pyramid as the “brand resonance pyramid.” The pyramid itself is divided into four levels: Salience, Performance and Imagery, Judgment and Feeling, and Resonance. One the best features of this CBBE pyramid is that it matches the levels in the pyramid with the stages of brand development on the left and the branding objectives on the right. See below.


From the brief descriptions and keywords included in the CBBE model pyramid, you’ll be able to get a good sense of their meanings. In general, the important characteristics of the pyramid to note include how the foundation involves achieving brand salience with the ultimate goal at the top of achieving brand resonance.

Salience: It’s important to understand how critical brand salience is to the branding process. Brand salience relates to awareness of your organization and its importance to your audience. This, of course, translates to the importance of marketing, advertising, and public relations in your ongoing communications efforts as they help generate awareness and communicate an organization’s relative importance, value proposition, and differentiation.

Performance & Imagery: This level of the pyramid is all about features and visual representation. That is, everyone who experiences your brand, regardless of whether it’s a product, service, individual, etc., will experience and evaluate it based on a variety of characteristics. These include its reliability, durability, efficiency, style and design, value, personality and values, experience, etc. From these experiences, users will begin to form judgments and feelings about your brand, which is the next level up on the pyramid.

Judgment & Feeling: We call this level the transition level. It’s a critical one because it’s the bridge between the feature and resonance levels. In this level, users of your brand form important judgments and feelings about your brand based on its performance and imagery. If your brand’s performance is sub-par, your users’ judgments and feelings will reflect that, never allowing you to achieve brand resonance in their minds. From a branding, marketing, and public relations standpoint, much of what you do is based on helping those who experience your brand to form the judgments and feelings you desire to help achieve brand resonance.

Resonance: One of the ways I describe this level of the pyramid is by relating it to how an athlete feels when s/he is in the zone. When that happens, s/he is totaling focused on results and being in the moment. They are at one with their athletic performance and are totally connected to what they’re doing and the environment in which they’re doing it. A key difference, however, is that brand resonance involves two entities, not just one. It is characterized by incredibly strong connections with a brand, resulting in intense loyalty by a brand’s users and a stronger ability of the brand to resist competitive actions taken by another brand, whether they are financially-based, related to advertising and marketing, etc. In essence, brand resonance is like achieving brand nirvana.

When I think of organizations that have achieved brand resonance with me, Apple comes to mind most. Those of us who use Apple products are generally very happy with them on a variety of levels, including their features, their capabilities, and their style and design. We’re also happy about how the company keeps innovating and how the products and our experiences with them help us to feel empowered and free.

Of course, knowing what you would like to achieve is very different than knowing how to achieve it, so developing a detailed plan to address all aspects of the branding pyramid is critical in order to achieve brand resonance. And, once brand resonance has been achieved, constant vigilance is necessary to maintain that position in the minds of those who experience your brand. At that point, the payoff can be significant.

About Vizual:
Vizual, Inc. is an award-winning branding communications firm that specializes in strategy, branding, marketing, design, and web. Since 1994, Vizual has established an outstanding reputation for providing award-winning services, results-oriented strategic consultation, and exceptional client service. To find out more about how Vizual may be able to help your organization, visit or call 703.437.8018.

Media Contact: Jeff Lupisella, 703.437.8018

Congratulations to you and your team on the award… the Bob Mathias (decathlon reference) of brand strategists!

S. P., Nuclear Energy Institute

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