Distinctive Brand Assets – Everything You Need to Know

Distinctive brand assets are awesome!

They help customers recognise and remember you. Use them correctly and they’re a great way of gaining an advantage over your competition.

In this article, we run through everything you need to know about distinctive brand assets. From what they are to how you can use them on your brand.

What Are Distinctive Brand Assets?

Distinctive Brand Assets, as defined by Ehrenberg-Bass, are ‘non-brand name elements that can trigger the brand into memory for category buyers.

Put another way – they are the visual or audio elements that when we see, make us think of certain brands. 

Things like…Cadbury’s purple, McDonald’s golden arches, or Tony the Tiger for Frosties.

You might also hear distinctive brand assets called brand codes. 

distinctive brand asset examples

Why Use Them For Your Brand?

A key part of your brand’s success is getting noticed. 

Before you can make any sales, people need to know you exist. Then they need to remember you when they are looking to purchase what you offer.

One of the best ways of achieving this is by being uniquely you. You do this by using distinctive brand assets.

Distinctive brand assets help people recognise you.

They help you stand out in crowded buying situations.

You can use them to reinforce positive messages about your brand.

11 Types of Distinctive Brand Assets

There are a wide range things that can be associated with your brand. The following list covers eleven main types of distinctive brand asset you could use for your brand.

1. Logo

brand codes - nike tick logo

Undoubtedly the most used brand code. Every brand has a logo. 

However, not all brands can use just the visual element of their logo to say who they are. 

This is the pinnacle you are aiming for. Perfect examples of this are McDonald’s golden arches, or the Nike tick.

2. Slogan

mcdonalds distinctive brand asset - slogan

Slogans are great because they are so catchy. The trick is to ensure they are associated with your brand. 

Slogans work particularly well when combined with audio cues.

3. Colour

tiffany blue brand code

It’s amazing if your brand can “own” a colour. This is an easy one to introduce into your brand too.

However, because it’s easy most brands do it. This results in “owning” a colour being incredibly difficult.

That’s said, it’s still an excellent starting place if you’re new to the idea of distinctive brand assets. 

4. Font

spotify font brand asset

Fonts are an important part of conveying who you are. Fonts, especially used in logos, are a great brand asset to have in your arsenal.

Work with a good designer and they can find the right fronts for your brand.

5. Shapes

distinctive brand asset - mastercard logo

Basic shapes on their own are not something you see many brands trying to own. However, they can be an excellent creative device for your brand. 

6. Package Shape

chanel bottle distinctive brand packaging

Packaging shape is a brilliant way to build distinctiveness. The main time you want people to recognise and think of your brand is in buying situations – so what better way to make you easy to spot that through distinctive packaging. 

Too many brands chop and change their packaging too frequently.

Along with this Chanel No 5 bottle, the Coca Cola bottle is another excellent example of distinctive brand packaging.

7. Creative Style

apple ipod campaign distinctive brand style

Creative style is all about bringing together several design elements. One of the best modern-day examples of this is the creative style apple used for their iPod campaign.

Done right, and used consistently, creative style can be a powerful tool to help your brand achieve distinctiveness.

8. Celebrities

zendaya lancome celebrity brand campaign

Celebrities are a brilliant way to build fame and positive associations with your brand.  They get massive reach and recognition.

However, they are not tied to your brand, so can work with others. You can’t “own” a celebrity.

There’s also the risk of negative press if they are a bit naughty…or you might want that for your brand?

zendaya valentino celebrity brand advertising

9. Characters

snap crackle and pop rice crispies brand characters

Characters are the best visual brand code you can use. Take a look at the Ipsos survey coming up for proof of this.

The crazy thing is they’re massively underused by brands. Perhaps they are seen as too cheesy or childlike?

Take a look at this Birds Eye research for more insight into the positive impact of using a character for your brand:

Frozen food company Birds Eye brought back its well-loved Captain Birdseye character and updated him for today’s consumers, making him more authentic and laid back, resulting in a media ROI increase of 24%.


birdseye research chart showing impact of captain birdseye brand character

10. Sonic Brand Cues

As the research by Ipsos shown below highlights, sonic brand cues are an excellent asset to develop for your brand. 

They are the most memorable distinctive brand asset by far.

They are catchy and stick in your head! 

The key is to ensure there is a strong association between the sound and your brand.

ipsos power of you distinctive brand asset research - best distinctive brand assets


11. Music

Music is similar to celebrities in that you can use popular tracks to capitlise on their fame and attributes. Again, it comes with the same problem in that music is difficult for your brand to own.

One of the best examples of a brand successfully using music as a distinctive brand asset is Coca Cola for their Christmas advertising.

How Many Distinctive Assets Should You Use?

You should aim for around three to four assets. 

You want enough to allow variety and creativity in your execution; and for different use cases. But you don’t want too many that it’s hard to link any one type of distinctive asset to your brand. 

You also want to use assets that work well together and work well for your brand. Characters are brilliant, but they might just not work for you.

Sephora is an excellent example of this in action:

sephora distinctive brand codes

How do You Use Brand Codes?

Basically, you need to codify everything you do.

You need to end up being a bit sick of seeing these assets. When you’re starting to ask if you’re overdoing it with the brand codes…you’re getting close to the right amount!

Again, don’t think of each asset in isolation. think how they’ll  work together and what are the best ones to use in certain situations.

For example, coke and the red truck and holidays are coming music only get used at Christmas.

Again, Sephora, can perfectly demonstrate how to use your carefully selected palette of distinctive brand assets. They’ve covered everything from advertising to interior design and in-store display.

sephora brand advertising
sephora branded store front
sephora branded store interior

How do You Measure Distinctive Brand Assets?

We relied on the Ehrenberg-Bass Institue for our definition of distinctive brand assets and we’re going to go back to them again for this part.

Professor Jenni Romaniuk’s (from Ehrenberg-Bass) has developed a framework for assessing your distinctive brand assets.

To do this you need to go out to your market pace and find out which brand assets have high uniqueness and fame.

As you can see in the grid, you are looking for assets that fit in the target point section – high fame and high uniqueness.

how to measure distinctive brand assets

How Long Until Brand Assets Are Associated With Your Brand?

This is the bit you probably don’t want to read!

It takes a long time for your customers to learn and associate your codes with your brand.

It will take years if not decades to build up these links. And you need these links before the assets can be used as a substitute for your brand name.

The key is consistent use over time. As soon as you start chopping and changing things you’re effectively going back to square one.

Just to be clear; consistency doesn’t mean boring. Just take the examples in this article, it’s all highly creative and interesting work. 

Look what Sephora are doing with just black and white stripes with a red highlight!

Your creative teams will likely prefer having this framework to operate with.

And if you’re in the privileged position to have developed some distinctive brand codes, you can have even more fun. Just take a look at these McDonalds examples… 

mcdonalds golden arches logo adverts
mcdonalds brand asset advert text
mcdonalds blurry brand packaging adverts

In Summary

  • Start using distinctive brand assets for your brand.
  • They are the perfect way to gain salience for your brand.
  • Choose a palette of 3-4 codes.
  • Use them relentlessly across everything you do.
  • Survey your customers to gauge your success in this area of brand management.