What is brand orientation?

TL;DR Brand orientation is a management philosophy that puts brands at the center. It sees the brand as a strategic device and a competitive advantage. Brand orientation has an impact on profits and brand performance in addition to providing a framework of behavior. It can be evaluated across eight different dimensions including implementation, relationships and identity.

Brand orientation is a strategic mindset that focuses on continually creating, developing and maintaining brand identity across consumer and stakeholder touch points. It means treating the brand as a strategic device central to the whole organization. It is a facilitator of processes across the organization. When implemented well, it is a source of significant competitive advantage.

In this article, I will explain better what this means. I will go into how brand orientation is different from market orientation and how to evaluate it. In addition, I will provide some examples of brand oriented companies in the end.

Brand orientation versus market orientation

Brand orientation and market orientation are both approaches to running a business. They are in many ways similar, yet distinct on a fundamental level.

Market orientation is a customer-centered management philosophy. It focuses on spotting customers’ pain points, needs and wishes. This is achieved through thorough market research. Market orientation requires humility on behalf of the marketer and an understanding that you are not the customer[1]. That is, you can not let your own biases blind you. What you think is true about your customers, often is not. Therefore, market research is at the heart of this philosophy

I won’t go into market orientation in more detail here. To find out more about it, I recommend Mark Ritson’s column.

While market orientation is an outside-in approach, brand orientation is more inside-out.

Brand orientation is an approach in which the processes of the organization revolve around the creation, development and protection of brand identity in an ongoing interaction with target customers with the aim of achieving lasting competitive advantages in the form of brands

Mats Urde[2] in Brand Orientation: A Mindset for Building Brands into Strategic Resources. P. 117

Brand orientation emphasizes the value of brand building. It is based around brand identity and treats the brand as a hub for strategy and an important resource to the firm. Though the objective is still the same; to satisfy consumer needs and wants. Brand oriented companies seek to do so within the limits established by the brand identity.

The main differentiation between the two approaches thus becomes: what should govern management? Should it be the consumer-owned brand image, or the firm-owned brand identity?

What does it mean to be brand oriented?

Being brand oriented means treating your brand(s) as a strategic resource rather than mere tactical marketing instruments. The brand identity represents the boundaries that reveal what is feasible and unfeasible behavior for the brand. It is within these boundaries that value and meaning is created[3].

Organizations that are brand oriented stand their ground and go to lengths to maintain a strong brand identity. In extreme cases of market orientation, short-terminism can be a threat to the brand. In the ambition to respond to every customer need, the brand identity will undoubtedly adapt and change[2] . But when this is not strategic, it will cause problems later down the road.

An individual who allows his or her identity to be shaped by the opinions and actions of those around, and who always takes on the popular side in all issues, will not be seen as credible. Seeking to agree with everyone and avoiding tough choices will not result in a strong identity. It will result in an unnoticeable one. The same applies for brands[2].

Thus, being brand oriented means having a broad back, taking the difficult choices and not trying to be all things to all people. It means listening to the market but not letting it guide the development of the brand by its own. Last, it means employing the entire organization towards the cultivation of a strong brand identity that creates value and meaning for consumers and other stakeholders.

The benefits of brand orientation

First of all, brand orientation establishes a code of conduct for the company. Setting the brand as the framework of strategic flexibility makes it easier to stay consistent and aligned with the brand values since it provides a common point of reference for all organizational units.

In the same vein, this better enables the brand to be authentic. This happens mostly through the development of a unique and strong brand identity. One that is unforgiving of any violations of its core values.

Studies have also shown that being brand oriented leads to financial and performance benefits. Gromark and Melin[4] examined the 500 largest companies in Sweden and found that those that were the most brand oriented were nearly two times more profitable as the least brand oriented group. An Australian study of 400 companies likewise found a strong link between brand orientation and brand performance[5].

Hirvonen and Laukkanen[6] then came to a similar conclusion in their study of 225 small brands in Finland. There, they found that brand oriented companies had higher brand performance and that this effect was mediated through brand identity. Thus, highlighting that brand orientation is relevant for smaller firms too.

How to measure brand orientation?

The concept of brand orientation can be a bit fluffy one. Therefore, evaluating whether your company is brand oriented is likely to be difficult.

In the absolute simplest terms, brand orientation can be gauged by pondering these five statements[5] :

  1. Branding is essential to our strategy
  2. Branding flows through all our marketing activities
  3. Branding is essential in running this company
  4. Long-term brand planning is critical to our future success
  5. The brand is an important asset for us

This is, however, rather limited. We have discussed that brand orientation encompasses the entire organization and all its processes. Thus, a more robust method is to look at the underlying dimensions.

Evaluating the 8 dimensions of brand orientation

Brand orientation can be evaluated across eight dimensions[4]. Those are:

  • Approach
  • Implementation
  • Goals and follow-up
  • Relationships
  • Identity development and protection
  • Operational development
  • Responsibility and roles
  • Top management’s participation

Together, the above dimensions present a holistic view of brands. Therefore, it is not a matter of picking out the low hanging fruit. Brands must incorporate them all, at least to some extent. The deeper the incorporation, the more brand oriented the organization will be[5].

The 8 dimensions of brand orientation
The brand orientation wheel of Gromark and Melin.

Here below, I will briefly explain each dimensions and the questions to ask in each of them. When answering the questions, avoid yes and no answer. Go into depth and score each one on a scale.


Approach captures the organizations’ overall management philosophy regarding brands. It evaluates whether brand management is considered a core competence and how integral brand building is to the company.

Questions to ask:

  1. Is the ability to build a brand is regarded as a core competence?
  2. Is an ongoing training and learning process within brand management seen as an important aspect that reinforces the firm’s competitive advantage?
  3. Do you believe that the development of strong brands is closely tied to increased profitability?
  4. Do you regard brand advertising more as an investment or as an expense?
  5. Do you believe that the development of strong brands is an integrated part of your business model?
  6. Do you place a higher priority than your competitors on branding as a means of improving your competitive advantage?


Evaluates whether firms actively enable employees to become brand ambassadors. It also examines whether there is a process in place to make sure the organization continually fulfills the promises it makes to the market.

Questions to ask:

  1. Do you actively use brands to create relationships with employees?
  2. Do you actively use brands to create a value-driven organization?
  3. Do you actively use brands to make committed employees?
  4. Do you have an ongoing implementation process for internal branding activities that accommodates both new and existing employees?
  5. Do you actively pursue the best opportunities to make your employees good ambassadors?
  6. Do you actively use brands to create relationships with potential employees?
  7. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for internal communication?

Goals and follow-up

Evaluates to what extent organizations are able to set clear goals for brand development and how good they are at monitoring.

Questions to ask:

  1. Do you regularly conduct surveys of your target groups to assess their familiarity with your brands and their attitudes towards them?
  2. Do you actively establish clear-cut objectives in order to assess the effect of brand building activities?
  3. Does the management team evaluate your branding strategy on a regular basis in order to ensure optimal implementation?


Examines how the brand is used in building relationships with customers and other external stakeholders.

Questions to ask:

  1. Do you actively use brands to create relationships with the media?
  2. Do you actively use brands to create relationships with the general public?
  3. Do you actively use brands to create relationships with customers?
  4. Do you actively use brands to create a positive media image?

Identity development and protection

Examines brand identity processes. Seeks to shed light activities such as developing a visual identity, registering trademarks and protection against imitation and counterfeiting.

Questions to ask:

  1. Have you registered your trademarks?
  2. Do you actively monitor your brands in order to prevent trademark infringements or dilution?
  3. Do all your brands have a clear-cut visual identity program?
  4. Have you developed a strategic foundation for the positioning of each individual brand?
Brand Identity is a business critical asset
Developing and protecting the brand identity important for all brand oriented companies. That includes visual identity.

Operational development

Evaluates how well the organization is able to use brand values as the basis of operations. For example, it may look at how values are integrated into the sales process, direct marketing or internal communication.

Questions to ask:

  1. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for market communication?
  2. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for other external communication?
  3. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for business development?
  4. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for internal communication?
  5. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for financial communication?
  6. Do you apply brand values as a guiding principle for product development?
  7. Do you actively use brands to create integrated communications?

Responsibility and roles

This dimension looks at how responsibility and accountability is addressed. It evaluates whether there is an organized approach to which brand management responsibility is allocated.

Questions to ask:

  1. Is there a designated official owner for internal branding processes with the responsibility of establishing core values among your employees?
  2. Have you clearly assigned the scope of accountability and authority with regard to branding development?

Top management’s participation

Evaluates the buy-in of top leadership personnel. Whether they are involved in strategic brand decisions and whether they are an ambassador for the brand.

Questions to ask:

  1. Are strategic decisions relating to branding issues made by the management team?
  2. Are strategic decisions relating to branding issues made by the CEO?
  3. Are the members of the management team your primary brand ambassadors?

Examples of brand orientation in practice

To wrap this up, I offer two examples of companies that are highly brand oriented: Apple and Patagonia. You will see that if you consider either of them for the above dimensions, then they’d likely score very high on most.


Like in so many other brand case studies, Apple is the go to one. After all, it is the world’s most valuable brand; and not without reason.

Brand orientation has been referred to as ‘market orientation plus’ [2]. This means that it takes a step further than market orientation. Apple has done a great job at this. The brand has time and a time again introduced products to meet needs consumers didn’t even know they had. For example, a market oriented company would have created a larger MP3 player. Apple created the iPod.

Apple iPod
The Apple iPod with its iconic scroll wheel is an example of a brand meeting a need people didn’t know they had.

At the same time it relentlessly strives to make everything as simple as possible. This is its identity and it behaves accordingly; even when public perception is not so fond of it. For example, people weren’t thrilled when the brand removed headphone jacks from the iPhone. The company could have easily folded. It could have apologized and fixed the product according to the demands. However, it didn’t. And it now appears to have been the best call for all involved after all.


Patagonia is a brand that places its values at the heart of everything. Communication? Yes. Business Development? Yes. Product Development? Yes … and so on.

It is perhaps the single best example of a value-led organizations. In turn, it probably scores perfectly in the operational dimension. Values, as it so happens, are usually a prominent factor in relationships. Patagonia uses the brand values to create intimate relationships with consumers, the public, the media and a broader group of stakeholders. This is true for employees as well and they often become fierce ambassadors of the brand.

In the whole, it all ties together to create a strong positioning: planet before profit.

  1. Ind, N., Iglesias, O., & Schultz, M. (2013). Building Brands Together: Emergence and Outcomes of Co-Creation. California Management Review, 55(3), 5-26. doi: 10.1525/cmr.2013.55.3.5
  2. Ind, N., Iglesias, O., & Markovic, S. (2017). The co-creation continuum: From tactical market research tool to strategic collaborative innovation method. Journal of Brand Management, 24(4), 310–321. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41262-017-0051-7
  3. Markovic, S., & Bagherzadeh, M. (2018). How does breadth of external stakeholder co-creation influence innovation performance? Analyzing the mediating roles of knowledge sharing and product innovation. Journal of Business Research, 88, 173–186. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2018.03.028
  4. Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.

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