I've never met a business that doesn't want to improve company branding or marketing. The best businesses in the world built great brands and marketing strategies by continually investing in both. They employ massive teams and hire the brightest professionals to continually identify ways to improve and grow.

Yet most of us don't have the same budgets as Coca-Cola. We need an edge, a way to hack the process of building a great brand and executing high-performance marketing campaigns. Fortunately, there's an easy way to do this that leverages all the investments of industry giants without making the same effort. This method simply involves observation and learning.

The biggest companies in the world have paved the way to success. They act as great examples to follow, and if you look carefully enough, you can identify a "playbook" that you can use in your own business. Here are three significant lessons you can use to boost your branding and marketing efforts, courtesy of some of America's biggest brands.

1. Stand for something (Make an impact)

We are entering a new generation in business in which impact and social good are becoming as important as profits. Consumers, especially millennials, want brands to stand for something, and they're willing to pay for it. Patagonia is perhaps the best example, but the list of companies making social good a priority includes Everlane, TOMS, Ben & Jerry's and Levi's -- just to name a few.

Nike is a great example of a brand that has the courage to take a stand on a polarizing societal issue, with billions at stake. Nike launched a video that featured former NFL star and activist Colin Kaepernick. In the video, Kaepernick asks the viewer to "believe in something." This was a bold stance in the conversation around athletes, racial inequality and police brutality. Shares of Nike stock rose more than 30% after the campaign.

Follow the example set by these big brands, and identify a way to make an impact that aligns with your brand or purpose. Find ways to become more sustainable or to use your platform to advocate for the change you want to see in the world. These companies prove that standing for something can also be good for branding, marketing and sales.

2. Data and context are everything

Data is a driving force behind sound marketing decisions -- and there's more of it than ever. Online marketing provides troves of data, empowering marketing and branding experts with the information necessary to improve their campaigns. Yet it's important to note that customers don't live in a vacuum. Great brands know that context is everything.

"Context is the rudder that steers your data in the right direction, helping you to identify opportunities when your actions can change user behavior," says Shravya Kaparthi, who leads strategy and decision sciences at RAPP. The lesson here is that brands should use context to identify congruencies between existing consumer behavior and demand for their products.

Domino's Pizza is a great example of using context to drive sales and marketing. As a leader in the smart home space, I noticed a creative integration between Domino's and IFTTT (a smart home platform). The integration allows users to automate the process of ordering a pizza, depending on context. For example, if a customer's favorite team is ready to play or the forecast predicts rain, the integration automates a text message to the user, suggesting she or he might want to order a pizza.

3. Don't forget about offline marketing

One big lesson I've learned as a business leader is that sometimes the best thing to do is to "zig" while others "zag." Whether it's Facebook ads or using influencers, there's no question that virtually everyone is focusing on online marketing. This presents an opportunity to tell branding and marketing stories via offline mediums with less competition.

Bluewater Technologies, a technology company that has worked with General Motors (GM), identified an opportunity to reach customers and engage them without their smartphones. By rolling out digital signage at local dealerships, General Motors can customize a global campaign to different regions, markets and customers. In many cases, current and prospective customers are spending idle time at dealerships. This medium helps reinforce GM's brand, connect with customers and market new products or services.

The lesson here is to look beyond online channels to reach and connect with your audience. Consider spaces and environments where your audience already exists, and find a way to reach them, even if it's offline.

Final Word

Don't reinvent the wheel. Instead, pay attention to the strategies used by industry giants. Each of these examples demonstrates how you can better reach customers and build a connection that will improve your branding and marketing efforts. ​a

Published on: May 17, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.