Whether you’re a brand new company or an existing brand with well-established customer loyalty, having a winning brand strategy is integral to sustainable business success.
Whether it’s to grow, own the category, or disrupt the market, a strategy to do this will help you to reach those business goals, and keep you on the right path.
But before we outline how you create a brand strategy and the benefits that come with it, let’s discuss exactly what brand strategy is.
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What is a brand strategy?
Think of your brand strategy as your north star. It guides your decisions about what you do, and just as importantly, what you don’t do. Strategy is informed once you decide where you sit in the market, whom you want to go after, and how you’re going to target them.
Grounded in market research, your brand strategy helps give you a direction of travel, along which you can set goals to judge and track progress.
The name of the game is then about making the right choices to bring an effective brand strategy to life. Ask: What are we going to do, and why are we going to do it? The research will then help you to inform that choice.
These choices (the decisions that you take) should be in line with your strategy; choices such as How much money you’re going to spend, how you’re going to split the budget, and what tactics you’re going to use.
As your north star or compass point, your strategy is your why and how you’re going in that direction. To make a distinction, tactics are what you’re going to do to get there.
A great brand strategy takes time to implement. A strategy isn’t for a day, a week, or a month. At the very least it should run for a year so you can set goals and evaluate where you are at the end of that year – and adjust and adapt as needed.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Why is brand strategy important?
Strategy has one particular purpose: ensuring you don’t lose. In that sense, strategy can be seen as a form of art – and when thinking about brand strategy as part of modern-day business, the same principles apply. Having a brand strategy will prevent you from losing customers to competitors.
Your brand strategy will help you to play to win, and it will guide what you do. But importantly, it will also guide what you decide not to do as you follow your north star.
Of course, business isn’t always plain sailing, but a well-researched brand strategy can help to mitigate the risks. So, if and when your business is affected, you will know how to react and you can adjust and adapt as needed to keep moving forward.
Core components of a brand strategy
Your brand strategy will vary depending on your industry, brand size, and where you want to sit in the market. But what will not vary is the components on which your strategy is built.
When you take away your company’s name and logo, what’s left? Brand purpose should be the answer: it’s the reason you exist – and we’re not just talking about selling products or making money. Your purpose is what motivates employees and what incentivises customers to choose you.
Once you’ve nailed your purpose, it becomes part of your brand strategy by doing whatever you can to fulfil it and to let people know that that’s why you’re in business.
A brand positioning statement is like an elevator pitch for your company, which is incredibly useful to have, as it can align staff, help you focus your efforts, and avoid wading into unnecessary areas of business. The traditional template for this is as follows:
“For [target clients], [company name] is the [market definition] that delivers [brand promise] because only [company name] is [reason to believe]”.
As part of your brand strategy, it’s an ironclad way to set out what you do and why.
Branding is an exercise in persuading people to choose, trust and come back to your company over any others. Increasingly, that decision is influenced by the values a brand stands by.
Gone are the days in which simply making compelling products will do – customers now want to choose brands that have values aligned with their own, whether they’re based on environmentalism, human equity, or simply the enablement of something more aspirational than your competitors can offer.
Audience analysis and awareness
Understanding your audience, and getting geeky about it, is a crucial part of the brand strategy process. That means using intelligent, always-on analytics suites that can track audience behaviour and trends, and which can help you hone in on the most relevant audience groups for your business. In turn, that’ll help you craft deeply-targeted brand messaging and marketing materials.
A massive part of any winning brand strategy is making people recognise and remember you. Brand recall is hugely important in decision-making for any potential customers, and consistency is the best way to achieve it.
That means consistency in your company logo, colours, tone of voice, visual treatments, and online output – wherever they appear. Think about Coca-Cola red, Apple’s short, pun-heavy copywriting, and Nike’s iconic ‘Swoosh’. Keeping your branding consistent is an integral part of any strong brand strategy.
Together, these components are fundamental because they determine how and why your brand strategy exists. Strategy requires a specific focus so keep in mind whom you’re targeting and how you’re going to target them.
7 tips for a winning brand strategy
1. Define your brand purpose
Brand purpose defines what your brand represents. But the role it plays as part of brand strategy divides opinions. 50 years ago, it was rare to see a brand with a purpose-driven mission. But today, taking a stance and leading the charge on important societal issues is a role many brands look to assume.
But is it central to a successful brand strategy?
Your purpose should align with, and complement, your strategy. Having a purpose alone isn’t enough because it’s often broadly defined (rather than having a defined target), so it’s important to have goals that can help you track your progress.
The rise of “fake purpose” has muddied the water in recent times i.e. brands not backing up their messaging with real purpose-driven action (e.g. greenwashing), because brands have lost sight of what purpose is, treating it as a standalone marketing campaign.
This approach undermines the impact that purpose can have on your business when approached correctly.
As more brands seek to define their roles more broadly, it’s important to align that messaging with the underlying brand positioning and an analysis of the competition, or the segment that one wishes to serve, to reinforce it. If you’re not careful, the brand could end up standing for nothing.
For others, aligning on purpose would appear to bring positive business outcomes, e.g. on June 11th, 2019, Unilever announced that its purpose-led Brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth.
As a result, Unilever’s CEO announced that the firm will dispose of brands that are not able to stand for something more important than “making your hair shinier, your skin softer, your clothes whiter or your food tastier”.
In July 2020, Jope reiterated this stance, outlining their intention to double down on marketing that is “explicitly purposeful” – which coincided with 2020 Q2 financial results that showcased the “true strength” of Unilever. Their approach is working.
An alternative view is that ‘purpose’ is something much simpler. This view focuses on the simple truth that every business was created to solve a particular need or problem – that is its purpose; the reason for being.
And as brands go in search of a higher state and try to solve society’s ills they often forget why they began in the first place.
They might be better suited going back to basics – as Jenni Romaniuk once stated, the only purpose for brands is to sell.
2. Position your brand
At the heart of brand strategy is a brand’s positioning. How your brand is positioned in the market ultimately determines how consumers view you and your ability to meet their needs.
It determines whom you compete with in your category, and if positioned right, it determines how much people or businesses will pay for your products or services. All of the above information is a brand’s strategy.
You need to ask yourself:
Who – you are targeting
What – is the need you are serving
Why – your audience should believe you
- Communicate it internally – Send it to your product, marketing, and communications, customer, and HR teams. It needs to be reflected in every business decision you make, in every department.
- Communicate it externally – You have created a product or service for a particular need, now how are you going to market it?
3. Build your brand messaging
We’ve talked about building out things like your brand values and brand positioning; now it’s time to bring them all together. Your messaging is all of these things combined and becomes part of your brand strategy when everything is locked in place.
Many companies use the same formats and methods for this. Aside from visual identity and design work, brand messaging will likely comprise a few things:
A messaging house is a framework built from ‘layers’ of brand messaging, starting at the highest level and working down. At the top (the roof of the house) is your overarching umbrella statement. That could be “we sell the world’s best sneakers,” for example.
That statement is propped up by (typically) three ‘pillars’ that go into detail on core concepts or messages. Beneath that is a ‘foundation’ made of supporting evidence, stats and proof points.
This is the ‘elevator pitch’ for your company, explaining what you do, whom you do it for, why, and what sets you apart.
Tone of voice
If you’re going to communicate with customers across a range of touch points, you need to do so consistently.
This is where ‘tone of voice’ documentation comes into play. A truly comprehensive brand strategy will have fully fleshed out ToV guidelines that anyone in the business can turn to, whether they’re writing an email to a customer, a Tweet to the masses, or a targeted ad.
4. Design and audience-focused strategy
A successful strategy puts the audience at the heart of it. It will use market research to make audience-led decisions that will also benefit the business. But how do you create an “audience-focused” strategy?
Through segmentation and targeting.
Market segmentation is where you determine which of your audiences is most likely to buy from you, and the most in need of your product/services. Once you have determined this, they become your target audience – this is where your priorities and actions will primarily focus and is called targeting.
There may be times when you look to expand this target audience and appeal to a wider demographic of people.
5. Align your marketing efforts
A strong branding strategy requires everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet. That means aligning sales and marketing with data, and planning your marketing efforts over the long term, rather than as an ad hoc exercise.
The ‘strategy’ part of brand strategy means making sure you’re not undermining the hard work you’ve done in focussing your company’s identity with wayward marketing and advertising output. Everything your marketing team does should always have your values, messaging and audience insights front of mind – otherwise those resources are a waste of time.
6. Run competitive analysis
Keep an ear to the ground. Use analytics suites, social listening, and experience management tools to find out what your competitors are saying, what your customers think, and what the next big trend in your market will be.
That’s not to say that you should flip flop any time the wind changes, but being agile and flexible – while staying within the framework of your branding – will allow you to spot windows of opportunity that your competitors might miss.
In terms of brand strategy, that might mean identifying that there’s a gap in the market for a certain type of brand profile – one that you might be able to fill.
7. Keep a long-term perspective
A well-executed brand strategy affects the here and now as much as it does the long tail. Everything you do to bolster your brand voice and presence is a positive step for your business, but you shouldn’t be disheartened if you don’t see huge changes in the short term. Brand strategies are marathons, not sprints.
So, with that in mind…
How long should my brand strategy last?
It’s entirely dependent on what you want to achieve from your brand strategy. There is no single, correct approach, and in fact, as you check in with your goals to judge your process it may be that you have to adjust and shift your strategy to reflect changing conditions in the market or your organisation.
Typically, branding strategies should last for 12 months as a minimum (short term). That way you can set your goals, implement your strategy to reach these goals, and then review your success towards the end of that 12 months.
It’s important with your strategy that you’re working towards something, and that may take longer than 12 months. A long-term brand strategy might be in place for 3 years (reviewing every 12 months).
You need to be able to measure the success of your strategy through goals and objectives because that way you can see if you’re moving the needle as intended. Just like a rudder of a ship, shifting your strategy will take time, it shouldn’t be governed by the latest trend or news story, but instead your research-led targeting and positioning.
When evaluating the success of your strategy ask yourself:
- Is the audience receiving the message we intend?
- Is the audience responding to the message as we intend?
- Are the right metrics moving in the direction we would expect?
Tips on how to display your brand
Be distinctive. Be different. Or both. Historically this has been key to a brand’s success. The decision to be distinctive or different guides your tactics and your decisions as you strive to bring this positioning to life.
Your tactics, identity, brand promise, and brand story should all support and connect to your strategy and be reflected in your day-to-day actions as a brand.
How you show up as a brand is equally important. How you look, what you say, and what you do all need to be aligned. This is why you should pay particular focus to your brand identity.
Elements of a brand’s visual identity that you should focus on:
- Language (tone of voice)
Your identity should reflect your messaging and visualise how you stand out from your competitors and in the market.
Getting these elements right will help to portray the image you want for your brand, across any channel or medium, including:
- Advertising (TV, OOH, Print)
- Social media
For example, Innocent Drinks want to appeal to a wide audience, and parents in particular, who value a healthy lifestyle – so the language they use is human and relaxed, their images are often drawings or animations and their front is comic sans. That way they can appeal to the right audience.
This leads us to a really important point: not everyone is going to like the positioning of your new marketing campaign or brand identity. And that’s fine. As long as the people you set out to target are happy.
Nike’s “dream crazy” campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick is the perfect illustration of how good positioning won’t appeal to everyone.
While many considered the ad risky given the criticism that it drew (including those who set Nike apparel on fire in protest), the campaign was credited with a 31% sales increase. Its success stems from aligning the message (believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything) and purpose (protesting police violence) with the brand’s DNA and positioning: “Just do it.”
It might have infuriated many viewers, but Nike knew it would strike a chord with its target customers. And that’s what matters.
Is brand identity a strategy or a tactic?
The short answer is: it depends. But over time, a strong brand identity will become synonymous with an established brand. Think about the Nike tick; the famous Apple logo; the famous McDonald’s golden arches. In these instances, the consistency of brand identity is a brand strategy.
But things get complicated when marketing gets involved. One of the most recent successful marketing campaigns in the UK was the “Missing Type” campaign for the NHS to increase blood donations in England.
The campaign saw brands and organisations that removed letters from their logo or name to raise awareness of a lack of certain types of blood. For example, the famous Downing Street sign had the “O” removed.
To begin with, many brands declined to get involved – a strategic decision not to change their brand identity, until momentum shifted and more brands got involved, so a “no” from brands soon became a “yes” – a tactical decision to help out as enthusiasm from other brands grew.
Goodwill or a PR win? Either way, the campaign was one of the most inventive and successful the NHS has ever done, attracting 30,000 new blood donating registrants during its first week, around eight times the normal number for a typical week.
Compare that to Mastercard, which recently removed the name of the brand from its logo. The reason? To remove the prominence of the word “card”, because the future of payment is digital. This is a branding strategy designed to better position Mastercard in the years ahead, as opposed to the tactic employed by brands participating in the NHS’ campaign.
One thing’s certain: whether a strategy or a tactic, the decision to tinker with your brand’s image shouldn’t be taken lightly – it should be backed up with research, and the pros and cons diligently weighed up.
Building a winning brand strategy
All told, building a winning brand strategy relies on defining and nurturing a wide range of your company’s characteristics – there is no silver bullet, and branding is never a ‘solved problem’. Rather, it’s an ongoing mission.
Your visual identity is one of those characteristics, but so is your brand’s mission, your brand voice, your messaging, your target audience, and your online output. Aligning all these core facets is what wins potential customers, cements your brand in their minds, and ultimately, is what builds a successful business.
Most importantly of all, any truly effective brand strategy needs to evolve. To do that, you’ll need to monitor how your branding is landing with customers, and keep an eye out for areas in which you can double down on your messaging.
Qualtrics can help. Our Brand Experience tools are built from the ground up to help companies turn disparate branding touch points into a true branding strategy.