Brand strategy ensures you create a long-term positive connection with your target audience and the public. It is the link between what you sell and the people who are buying.
Branding is just as important, if not more important, than what you sell. For example, Starbucks doesn’t sell a particularly great coffee, but because they are masters of branding, they sell about 4 billion cups each year (at a premium price).
A good brand connects you with your customers, differentiates you from your competitors, builds a favorable relationship with your audience, and creates loyal repeat customers.
In this article, we will learn what a brand is, what a brand strategy is, the elements that go into performing a brand strategy, the different types of brand strategies, and how to pick which one is best for you.
When learning about brand strategy, it’s best first to ask, what is a brand? Many people have different ideas of what a brand is, but it might be best to start with what a brand isn’t.
A brand isn’t a logo. A logo goes into creating a brand, but it is not the brand itself. It is a symbol that helps customers recognize the brand visually.
Other pieces that fall under the umbrella of a logo are the typeface, slogan, color palette, name, or trademark. These are all essential players in crafting a brand but do not create a brand on their own when put together.
A brand is not a product.
The brand will help sell the product, but the product alone does not make a brand. Nor does the company promise, culture, and values make a brand.
A brand comes from the culmination of these elements working together to create a gut feeling about your product, service, or company.
A brand is an intangible thing. It’s feelings and emotions.
Let’s do a quick exercise.
Think about McDonald’s.
The first things that usually come to mind are those golden arches and that distinct color of red.
Next will come a cheeseburger and hot crispy fries with an ice-cold fountain drink.
This makes me think of being a kid, riding bikes to get a Big Mac meal on a summer day, or stopping for a break on a family road trip.
These thoughts are comforting and nostalgic.
Okay, what are you feeling right now?
What sort of thoughts and emotions are pulled to the surface when you think about McDonald’s?
Those thoughts and feelings are McDonald’s brand.
A brand exists in the minds and hearts of everyday people, not just the people buying your products or services. So, in essence, we aren’t creating one brand but thousands or millions of brands because each brand is unique to the person experiencing it.
Now that we are familiar with what constitutes a brand let’s talk about brand strategy and its implementation.
A brand strategy uses several elements (we’ll get into those in just a sec) to purposely influence the thoughts and feelings people experience when hitting any touchpoint (a point of contact or interaction between business and consumer) of your company.
Launching a brand strategy means that you’re playing the long game.
The shortest time for a brand strategy is one year. However, building a solid brand campaign takes time, requiring constant care, revisions, and adjustments.
So what is the ultimate goal of a brand strategy?
The long-term end goal is to make a positive emotional connection with not just your target audience but with people in general.
A brand strategy becomes the foundation of all of your marketing. You’ll reach the right people at the right time the right way, ensuring you’ll never waste another marketing dollar.
A brand strategy will need to use three pillars that hold up any branding campaign to pull this off.
These three pillars work together to create a platform for your brand to rest on in the public’s mind and eye.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these pillars and the elements that make them a leg to stand on.
Every successful brand strategy is different, but they all comprise these essential elements. Taking the time to build them equally will serve you for years to come.
Once set in place, these elements work together to create the brand you intended in the minds of not only your target audience but for anyone who happens to come across your company.
Core values are what people will connect with when you're trying to build a long-term relationship. It tells people what you stand for and how your beliefs will affect your company’s direction as it moves into the future.
Keep your values simple and easy to understand.
Of course, you can’t just write them somewhere for everyone to see and hope they read them.
No, they are best seen through your company’s actions and achievements. People who resonate with these actions will become lifetime customers.
So, what are the elements of brand core values?
Beyond making money, what is your brand’s purpose?
Purpose is what people rally behind, connect with, and to what they dedicate themselves to.
One of the most outstanding examples of wildly successful purpose is TOMS shoes.
TOMS shoes had a motto, One for One. The idea is that for every pair of shoes sold, another pair is donated in a part of the world that requires shoes. A very generous offer and a purpose that people gathered behind quickly.
Customers get a cute pair of new shoes while at the same time feeling good about the contribution they are making to someone in need.
By no means do you need to do something on this grand scale.
For example, when Apple launched its “Think Different” campaign, it created a brand that made people feel like they were experiencing the cutting edge of technology, and they didn’t want to miss out on the excitement.
Apple produced a sense of purpose for innovation and creativity. When a person bought an Apple computer, they were inspired to create and push the boundaries of what they previously thought was possible.
Purpose is the foundation for your messaging in a brand strategy, so make sure you clearly understand what that is before you begin.
Vision is your roadmap. Without vision, you’ll be lost in the dark. It’s a guide to keep your brand and company focused on the future.
Dreaming big is an integral part of the vision, but keeping your big dreams based on reality is necessary. In addition, it’s what your audience and team will look to when trying to keep the big picture in mind.
Amazon’s recent vision statement is, “Our vision is to be earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Amazon’s vision is simple, concise, and clearly states its intention.
Vision also helps with overcoming challenges when they arise. By asking yourself, what stays in line with our vision, you’ll be able to see what choices you have to make to stay on brand and overcome your difficulties.
Your values are the principles that guide you. They are the standards you set for your company and staff.
Values also connect you with your target audience.
If you value American-made products, be sure to use that in your messaging. Consumers who are averse to buying products made overseas will soon become repeat customers.
If you’re in a crowded industry, your values will help you stand out from your competitors. Listen to your customer’s pain points and see how your competitors aren’t addressing the issues.
For example, if customers complain about quality, state that you value a higher standard of production and material sourcing. If you provide a service, say that you’ll do the job right the first time, and if it’s not right, you’ll come back and fix it.
People want to know that they are investing their money in the right company and strong brand values ensure that they are making the right decision.
A brand promise is an extension of brand values. A promise lets the customer know what to expect when they decide to interact with your company.
Values set the stage, and a promise is what needs to be delivered.
Every time a customer has a positive experience with a company that delivers on its promise, it strengthens the brand in their customer’s mind.
A promise can be distilled to this straightforward question. What do you do, and who do you do it for?
Brand positioning is the position a brand takes in the mind of a consumer. When a customer has a problem or needs a service, are you the first brand that comes to mind?
Let’s do another exercise.
When thinking of running shoes, what is the first brand that comes to mind?
The brand that came up first in your mind has the best brand position with you as a consumer.
The competition for this position is tough, and it can’t be purchased with money. It has to be earned with a solid connection.
We all have a list of products that surfaces when we need or want something, and the trick is to make sure that your brand is at the top of that list.
Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, customers are always asking themselves, “why should I buy this product over this other product?”
Brand positioning will show them how your product stands out from your competitors and highlights why you are the better choice.
Market research allows you to understand your customer’s point of view better. It’s important not to make assumptions about your audience but to make decisions based on facts and data gathered from surveys, product testing, and focus groups.
Knowing how your target audience views your brand will help you adjust when necessary to fit their needs better.
Your target audience is the people who are most likely to buy your product or service.
Understanding your customer’s pain points is essential for the written messaging that connects with your buyers.
You need to know how old they are, what they do for work, what kind of entertainment they enjoy, where they live, how many cars they own, anything that will let you know your audience better so you can speak directly to them.
Planning for your target audience to be “everyone” can have disastrous results. However, the more you pinpoint who they are, the more effective your branding will be.
Understanding your audience and what they want is a big piece of the pie, but people need to see what makes you different from the other brands.
So, through market research, you’ll be able to understand your target audience better, meaning you’ll have comprehensive knowledge of their pain points.
With this knowledge, you’ll be able to highlight how your product or service does a better job of addressing their problems.
Differentiators make you stand out in a crowded marketplace.
If you think of your brand as a person, then brand identity is your brand’s personality. It’s all of the visual characteristics of your band, along with the tone and timbre you use when speaking to your target audience.
There are a lot of elements to a brand’s identity, and they all need to work together to give your brand the face and shape that the public will come to know and love.
Your logo needs to make a positive impression when being viewed for the first time. It’s your identifying mark and will go on everything.
There’s a lot that goes into creating a memorable logo and if you want to learn more, check out the deep dive we did on what makes a modern logo.
Most importantly, though, it’s what people look for when they are searching for your product. You might not always be able to stick your entire name on a product or asset, but a logo does that job for you.
Everything your brand encompasses can be compressed into a simple logo that gets lodged in the consumer’s mind. Once people trust your brand, seeing your logo will be like seeing an old friend.
A tagline should quickly, clearly, and succinctly sum up what you do as a business.
It needs to be memorable and straightforward while at the same time shedding light on your company culture, purpose, and mission.
As part of your brand identity, it should complement your company name and logo while setting you apart from your competition.
Since we are thinking of our brand as a person, this one is easy to identify.
People connect with other people’s personalities, not looks. I suppose you could, but no relationship lasts very long based on looks alone.
A brand’s aesthetic is what draws people in, but it’s the personality that seals the deal for a long-time customer.
Brand personality is the way that a company communicates with its buyers. When a brand speaks the same language as someone, it resonates with them, and they are naturally drawn to buy from them repeatedly.
Tone of voice is a reflection of your brand’s personality. Therefore, how you choose to talk to your audience has a significant impact on the engagement you’ll receive from your customers.
How you communicate with your buyers should match your brand’s aesthetic, values, and personality. It doesn’t matter what style you choose so long as it blends with the rest of your branding strategy.
Vans shoes and apparel, a company steeped in skate and surf culture, will have a very different tone of voice from Gucci, who specializes in high-end luxury footwear and clothing. They’re talking to different customers, so using language each audience connects to, is paramount.
Color palette is a critical element when it comes to your brand identity. Color influences mood, thoughts, and emotions in a very subtle way.
A study found that properly chosen color increased brand recognition by 80%. In addition, a staggering 85% of people make a selection based on color.
Every color conveys an emotion or feeling. For example, blue inspires trust, strength, and dependability, while red inspires excitement, passion, and boldness.
The color you choose should match the overall energy of your brand.
Color is the first thing a consumer will notice when they see your logo. Therefore, it needs to be different from your competitors, eliminating any chance of confusion with another brand.
Typography is the lettering style a company chooses to give an immediate impression of what they offer. The type of font you choose is another way for your brand to express its personality.
Since typography conveys meaning, the font must match your brand identity.
A home improvement center, like Home Depot, will choose block lettering to convey confidence, strength, and proficiency. It tells people that they are a hands-on practical company that gets the job done.
Companies like Coke or Disney choose to use script typography to inspire feelings of fun, whimsy, and freedom. Disney written in block lettering wouldn’t seem like an enjoyable place to vacation.
Now that we know what goes into a branding strategy, we need to discuss the different branding strategies.
When choosing a branding strategy, you have to look at what it is you offer. For example, a product strategy will be different from a cultural and geographical strategy.
When talking about branding, most people are probably thinking of corporate branding. It’s the branding used to show your companies identity to the world. Thus, focusing on the corporation itself as opposed to specific products or services.
Corporate branding is essential because it will influence how people receive new products and services created by that company in the future.
You might have a great product, but if a company’s reputation is on shaky ground, it might not be received with much fanfare.
Every new product will have a predetermined level of quality and reliability set in the consumer’s minds based on the bias of their experiences with the corporation’s previous products.
Personal branding will revolve around one person. So whatever it is they are selling, it leans entirely on who they are as a person. The idea is to shine a light on all the fantastic qualities an individual has, so when they push a product or service, you’ll want to emulate their actions.
People will also put a lot of trust in what a person is promoting as well. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an excellent example of personal branding that has built a tremendous amount of trust.
Everyone loves The Rock.
In the past only actors, musicians, celebrities, and athletes were able to have successful personal brands, but because of the internet, that is no longer the case.
Social media and YouTube have provided people with the opportunity to differentiate themselves as “thought leaders” and people of authority in any niche or industry.
Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, and Snoop Dogg are all great examples of personal branding.
When your company provides a service and doesn’t sell any physical products, the focus is on customer service.
Much like a personal branding strategy, the idea is to hype up the brand, but instead of a person, it’s the service that a team or whole company provides that needs to be in the spotlight.
73% of consumers say they love a brand because of helpful customer service.
Product branding takes place after you have your corporate identity in place. You’ll want to model the product brand after the style of your corporate brand, so the two are related to each other.
There needs to be a high understanding of customer pain points so the messaging can clearly state what problems your product will solve.
You also want to design the branding around your target audience’s preferences. For example, people who live in cities will have different tastes than those in rural areas.
It’s essential to be familiar with your competitor’s product branding so you know how to differentiate your product from the competition.
Online branding consists of using the internet to develop and promote your brand. No matter what other strategy you apply to your business, some of it will contain online branding.
Everything is on the internet now, and not leveraging the opportunity to speak directly to your consumers is out of the question.
81% of consumers perform some kind of research on a brand before making a purchase. So you don’t want to leave yourself out of that decision-making process.
You want to make sure you can get in front of the buyer to help influence their choice.
Social media and emails allow you to have more one-on-one interactions with customers than ever before.
This type of contact will enable you to make an even stronger bond with your customer, allowing them to become deeply ingrained in your company culture. As a result, they’ll no longer feel like an outsider and become lifelong shoppers.
The no-brand strategy appeals to an audience overwhelmed by advertising and doesn’t care about purchasing a big name.
The company will need to have an exceptional product since it will rely on word of mouth and reputation, not flashy marketing techniques.
Many consumers like this because the no-brand is almost always remarkably cheaper than their competitors, who’ll sport a comprehensive brand identity.
Not everyone wants to be a walking billboard for a large corporation.
The no-brand strategy is, of course, risky since people don’t have a logo and color palette to make a connection to immediately.
A great example of a no-brand brand is NO-AD Sunscreen. In 1962, NO-AD promised to provide twice the amount of sunscreen as other brands but at the same price. They are still a famous brand today and did all this with no advertising or promotions.
Co-brand refers to when two brands merge under one product. A lot of people would call this crossover.
The result of this strategy is that there is a lot of exposure to a newer audience for both companies. Everyone wins when two brands work together. It creates more brand awareness, builds business, and breaks into new markets.
A few examples of co-branding are Kayne West and Adidas (together, they made Yeezy), GoPro and Red bull, and Amazon and American Express.
Have you planned a vacation for next year, and when you start to research the best places to go, you get a ton of advertising from different places all over the world?
That is cultural and geographical branding. Of course, the two are exclusive, but the approach is essentially the same for this article.
The target audience is tourists who want to experience a new perspective of the world.
The strategy focuses on what a region or culture offers that people can’t get at home. For example, food, entertainment, culture, and many more features help pull people away from their daily lives.
One of the best examples of a highly successful geographic brand strategy was for Las Vegas. Their slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” encompasses what the city is all about.
Vegas promoted their city as the place to lose yourself and be a bigger, more wild version of who you are.
And as far as whatever out-of-character or dubious activities you found yourself participating in while visiting, the slogan impresses upon the visitor that it’s ok and your secrets are safe within the city. If you don’t tell, they don’t tell.
Now that we know what branding is, the elements that make up a brand strategy, and the different brand strategies, which one is best for you and your company?
The first step is to look at what you offer and what you are trying to achieve. What are the overall goals? Are you trying to build a brand for a product or a corporation? These questions will narrow down your options for a plan of action.
One of the best things you can do is hire a branding agency. A lot goes into a brand strategy, and trying to execute this plan while maintaining your normal day-to-day operations will be taxing and difficult.
The goal is to create a connection and bond with your audience- when you hire an agency, you’re buying their experience, knowledge, and techniques, so you don’t waste time and money hoping that your strategy will work.
Using your own business as a first attempt at branding is a terrible risk to take. An agency will give you better results, keep you on track, guide you, avoid roadblocks, and give you a much better ROI.