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Brands We Can Learn From

Now that we’ve established the basics for branding, we want to provide examples of brands that illustrate the importance of having a strong relationship with your target market. The following brands’ stories present excellent learning opportunities for how to maintain brand consistency – and mistakes to be wary of.


Harley-Davidson is a shining example of what the ultimate goal is with branding and how truly powerful branding can be. For over a century, the Harley-Davidson brand has built a reputation for quality and reliability. However, this is only a fraction of Harley’s branding success.

Harley-Davidson, Inc. maintains a firm grasp on the brand’s image through its involvement in community marketing such as participating in road rallies and sponsoring the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in order to fortify the connection it enjoys with its customer base. As a result, Harley-Davidson has become a robust lifestyle brand with a cult-like following that has come together to create a close-knit community that retains a strong loyalty to the brand.

This loyalty and definitive brand image was apparent recently when we asked a few Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners to put into words what Harley-Davidson means to them. Their responses were filled with language that included words like “authentic,” “brotherhood” and “family.”

The key here is that Harley doesn’t try to conquer the world by putting a chopper in every driveway. The brand appeals to a specific niche in the market and the company concentrates its message to that group.

Southwest Airlines

Like Harley, Southwest Airlines is an excellent example when it comes to brands getting it right. In Southwest’s case, the key to success has been superior service. Number seven on FORTUNE’S 2016 edition of World’s Most Admired Companies, Southwest has been steadily growing a reputation for employing an effective combination of affordability and convenience since its inception in 1967.

An important lesson to take away from Southwest’s success story is related to its long-lasting culture of efficiency along with the eagerness to please that is demonstrated by its employees. This persistent focus is the result of one of the benefits of branding that we spoke of in our first post of this series: clarity. Clarity allows your company to carve out a distinct character for itself that your employees can relate to and your customers can come to rely on. For instance, Southwest’s policy on checked baggage (“Bags Fly Free”) is completely inline with the airline’s image and is the perfect example of what Southwest’s customers have come to rely on.


Unlike Harley and Southwest, the following example is a branding move to be wary of. Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has been one of the fastest growing social media platforms. Just last year, the company reached its 400 million-member mark. However, it seems that this ever-popular brand hit a bit of a snag with users last month when the company changed its logo. This move immediately met with disdain from the online community. Some of the complaints we heard were that the new logo is “too basic” and “feels like Photoshop 101.“ Only time will tell exactly what consequences – if any – the logo change will have on the brand’s future performance. For the time being, it’s safe to say it produced quite the frenzy.

The major lesson to be taken away from these examples is the role trust plays in branding. Once your brand’s character is established, a foundation of trust can be built to form an emotional connection with your customers. Harley-Davidson and Southwest Airlines have been quite successful at developing that emotional connection with their target markets. Instagram got into trouble when it went against that trust and threatened to break that bond.

Can you think of more examples of brands to learn from – both good and bad? Leave a comment below.

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