What are “Ironclad” Brands and How to Maintain Them

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published June 17, 2019

In her new book, an experienced brand strategist identifies the essence of powerful brands and offers ways to maintain and strengthen them.

The book is Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide by Lindsay Pedersen, a brand strategy and leadership coach with experience with powerhouse brands such a Clorox, Starbucks and T-Mobile. The book is published by Lioncrest Publishing.

Pedersen defines an “Ironclad brand” as one that unleashes your competitive advantage. An Ironclad brand differentiates your business in an enduring way, she writes.  Products can be copied. Patents expire.  Features become obsolete. What cannot be copied is a relationship, according to Pedersen.  “What does not expire is the trust you earn by particularly and consistently solving a customer need. That never gets old.”  Loyal customers will not only stay with you – they will follow you as you evolve, she writes.  They will love you – and encourage others to engage with you, too.

“Ironclad brands occupy the single best position in the hearts and minds of their customers,” Pedersen writes. “Precisely identifying this optimal position enables you to create value, maximize scale and lead with purpose.”

What are “Ironclad” Brands and How to Maintain Them


Pedersen identifies a nine-point criteria for the “most value-creating brand strategies” that set Ironclad brands apart. Here are those nine points:

Big. “Your brand positioning is the space you own in your customer’s mind. Make it a big space,” Pedersen says. She then points out that the customer receives value when the benefit exceeds the price that was paid.  She explains the Ironclad brand, like Tylenol, focuses on the big benefit of “making you feel better” rather than lesser benefits such as “lessen headache” or “easy to swallow.”

Narrow. “As much as your brand must be big enough to matter, it also must be narrow enough to own,” writes Pedersen, who urges brand strategists to choose a position the brand can dominate. “ONLY is far superior to BEST,” she writes. The “four levers of positioning” she presents are: (1) target customer; (2) frame of reference or product category; (3) specific promise, and (4) the character or pitch person you select to deliver that promise.

Asymmetrical.  “Effective strategy identifies an asymmetric advantage and then uses that advantage to achieve a goal,” she writes. “Asymmetric” strength gives a brand lopsided, disproportionate strength that far exceeds the rest of the market and gives the brand major advantage over competitors, she adds.

Empathetic. “Ironclad brand strategies reflect the emotional life of their target customer,” she writes, urging brand managers to “listen to your customers and find what essentially matters to them.  “This is a hallmark of ‘Ironclad’ brands, which seek to first understand the customer before the customer understands the brand,” according to Petersen. She cites Harley-Davidson, as an example of an empathic brand which has huge meaning to customers with its connotation of freedom and breaking boundaries.

Optimally Distinct.  This involves pushing away hard from the rest of the category, according to Petersen.  It also involves a combination of firmly establishing the difference yet also establishing the familiar.  “An ‘Ironclad’ brand strategy strikes a balance between old and new, familiar and novel.”  An example is skinny jeans: they are similar because they are jeans, but different enough to be perceived as a breakout product.

Both Functional and Emotional.  According to Pedersen, “functional benefits bring credibility and a foot in the door, while emotional benefits lead to competitive differentiation and ultimately a more attractive P&L.”  She cites Amazon Prime as an example – fast delivery that leads to almost instant gratification.

Sharp-Edged.  This quality enables a brand to acquire an essence in which customers will describe it in similar ways.  “Ironclad brand strategy is spare, simple, sharp-edged,” writes Petersen, adding, “think of some car brands whose position you instantly could articulate.”  She further explains that the ability to be perceived for who you are and who you are not “breeds trust.”

Has Teeth.  “Your brand strategy not only needs to be true; it needs to be demonstrably true,” she writes, adding that the brand needs to have the power to create belief and trust by offering compelling proof that it will live up to its promise.  “A treasured brand consistently delivers on its promise,” she writers using as examples Netflix, who delivers limitless entertainment, and Volvo, whose cars are actually safer.

Pedersen sums up by writing, “The purpose of an ‘Ironclad’ brand is to create enduring value.”

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.