Want to learn what brand strategy is but every article on the web feels like a reading marathon? Don’t worry–the following pocket-sized guide has got you covered.
Let’s get some facts straight.
Great brands do not spring to life overnight.
Many companies are registered every day, but few of them will live long enough to catch people’s attention. And even those who make it have no guarantee of lasting success.
We often ask our clients: “can you describe your business offering in a sentence” or “what is your brand proposition”, and they can’t answer. This is simply because they don’t have a solid brand strategy which would cover these elements.
It doesn’t matter if your company has been around for some time or is still an idea waiting to sprout. A solid brand strategy will pair your business goals with the experience your customers expect and make your brand rise above the noise.
“So, where do I start?”
What Exactly Is Brand Strategy?
Imagine that your friends and family struggle to remember your name. Worse still, when the day’s over, they don’t even know who you are. Each time you hang out with them or drop by for a chat you have to introduce yourself anew, like a complete stranger.
How’s that for a nightmare marketing scenario?
There are many companies that operate under similar conditions. You know they exist but you’re not exactly sure what they do, and why they do it. Even if you obviously happen to use their products from time to time.
They don’t know how to communicate with their customers.
This is exactly where the magic of brand strategy comes into play.
If your brand stands for the customers’ complete experience when they interact with your company, brand strategy is the glue that holds it all together. In other words, It’s a long-term plan for developing your brand and shaping the perception of your business. It helps you tell people what your company is all about and why they should care.
Conventionally, brand strategy comes in the form of a concise document that includes elements like brand values, mission statement, target audience or brand positioning (more on that in a moment). The document details the complete branding journey of a company, from point A (current perception) to point B (desired perception), including the measures necessary to get there.
The Elements of Successful Brand Strategy
There are a number of core elements you should consider when designing a brand strategy document. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should serve as a good starting point for your branding efforts.
Brand values are usually nested deep within the company structures. They are the backbone of the work you deliver. They also tell people what kind of experience they can expect when doing business with your company.
For some businesses, brand values can mean “stellar customer service” or “innovative approach”, for others the focus may shift towards “ethical business practices”, “care for the environment”, or all of the above.
Brand values can also affect the decision-making process. For example, if your direct competitor offers a product that is strikingly similar to yours– has the same price and quality–people will look for something to tip the scale before making the purchase. Brand values can be that assisting factor and help customers connect with your brand on the emotional level.
Here’s a summary of Lloyd’s purpose and vision, complete with their core values. They are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. They say: “we care about our customers, don’t overcomplicate things and play along like a team”.
If you need more inspiration, 6Q compiled a mahoosive reference list of world-class brands and their values, so be sure to check it out.
Mission statement is a crisp and sweet description of what your brand strives to achieve. It can blend in brand values, business goals and state who your products and services are intended for.
You can think of mission statement as an all-in-one introduction for new customers and an affirmation for the existing ones.
Stripe, PayPal’s top competitor in the world of online payments, have managed to capture their mission statement in a mere six lines of text. They leave no room for ambiguity about what they want to achieve and who they work with.
If Stripe says they want to increase the GDP of the internet, who’s going to argue with that?
Chanting the name of your brand over and over again makes no sense if nobody listens.
Do you know who your customers are? Where do they hang out? What are their pain points? What tickles their muse?
Narrowing down your branding efforts to a select audience will keep you from watering it down along the road. Your branding plan should be crystal clear about the group of customers you want to attract.
Here’s how we did it for one of our customers in the music industry, Amplify the Anthems.
The concept of brand positioning is closely tied to that of target audience, but with a twist.
While the latter is all about getting to know “thy customer”, the former is more focused on direct business competitors. It defines where your brand stands relative to others in the niche.
Would you like to position your offer in the premium tier? Maybe you want to squeeze in between bigger competitors and take over the untended middle? Answering these questions will help you to establish the field your brand will play in.
Another purpose of brand positioning is to assist customers in their choice. It’s in human nature to seek a sense of belonging, so your positioning should be crystal clear whose needs it’s meant to satisfy.
Here’s another example from our work for ATA.
If you’d like to learn more, the full case study is available here.
Brand proposition (or statement) highlights the unique benefits customers get from using your products and services. In essence, it’s a promise that your offer is unrivalled in its category.
Your brand statement tells customers how you’re going to solve their problems and why you’re the best party around for the task.
Salesforce has been rocking the corporate world for over 20 years, and it’s unlikely to get dethroned anytime soon. Their brand proposition clearly reflects and announces there is only one king when it comes to CRM platforms.
Why Should You Care?
By this point, you know what brand strategy is. You also know its core elements and where they sit in the branding puzzle.
Now, let’s take a closer look at ways in which a brand strategy can help your company grow.
For starters, brand strategy facilitates smooth and uninterrupted communication with your customers. Think of it as a branding hotline that automatically answers all the questions people might have about your brand.
Customers want to know if your company exercises a sustainable business model? Your mission statement and brand values can tell them just that.
Not good enough?
You can always create a video explaining the process, just like Starbucks did.
Your branding efforts shouldn’t be limited only to interacting with buyers but also nurture the existing relationship between the company and employees.
That’s why Branson’s Virgin puts so much emphasis on employee wellbeing. Your employees should feel they are a part of something bigger and understand what that “something” really means.
Handing out batches of branded pens and t-shirts is not enough to achieve that.
More Efficient Marketing
A solid brand strategy will help you better understand who your customers are, where they hang out and what they expect from you. Marketing-wise, that’s an invaluable advantage.
When you carefully plan out your marketing efforts long-term, you’ll be less likely to go for a hit-and-miss approach. In other words, you’ll avoid catapulting your marketing efforts against the wall to see what sticks.
Conversely, a brand strategy helps your customers to get to know your brand without the need to ask too many questions. It’s like having a flashy name tag pinned to your clothing. It only takes a glance and your customers instantly know who you are–they don’t have to guess.
You’re not a stranger anymore.
Last but not least, brand strategy will give you consistency across every level of your business operation.
Take, for example, the bright yellow letter “M”. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the McDonald’s logo will also look the same (with one exception).
The company has managed to compress the complete experience of their brand into a singular letter and make it so memorable people instantly recognize it, in every corner of the world.
Even if your approach is different and you want to customize the brand for particular markets, brand strategy will streamline the process and make it much easier to handle. Consistent branding approach will also save you some quids as the marketing budget will not be spread too thin.
So, should you care? Definitely!
How to Create Your Brand Strategy
When it comes to designing a winning brand strategy, the best approach is to start with a clean slate. If your company has been around for some time, it’s essential that you drop any assumptions or preexisting bias and design your strategy win an open mind.
What do you want to achieve through the branding process?
Where is your company now?
Where do you want it to stand on the market in five or ten years?
What do your customers think about the brand now?
How do you want their experience to be different in the future?
These are only some of the questions you should discuss as part of your brand strategy (jump over here for some inspiration).
At Impression, we believe that complete immersion in the living and breathing environment of a company is the prerequisite of a successful brand strategy. In essence, creating a brand should feel like an adventure.
It means asking the right questions of stakeholders, employees and customers to see what the brand experience feels like to all the people involved.
The following video by Design Study wonderfully captures the nature of the process.
If you feel adventurous, you can try to design a brand strategy yourself. If not, give us a shout and we’ll tackle it together!