A branding strategy (a.k.a. brand development strategy) is the long-term plan to achieve a series of long-term goals that ultimately result in the identification and preference of your brand by consumers. A successful branding strategy encompasses the brand’s mission, its promises to its customers, and how these are communicated.
What goes into a successful brand strategy?
The main goal of a successful branding strategy is to let the world know that your brand exists, what purpose it has, and what defines it. A branding strategy is a fluid, long-term strategy that often requires being revisited over time based on its success (or lack thereof).
The success of a brand development strategy is not always easy to measure. Branding strategies often involve intangible, not-easily-quantified elements and–when planning this kind of strategy–it is important to decide from the onset how success will be measured.
Every organization will approach how to measure success differently, but all will generally include the same elements in their strategies. Answering the following questions can be the first step in drafting a successful brand strategy:
What are your brand’s objectives and how do you communicate them?– What problems will your brand solve and how will it benefit its intended customers?
How do you identify your ideal customers?– who will benefit from the brand? How do these customers feel and how would they like to feel?
How do you identify your competitors– who is already giving your potential customers what they want and how?
How do you engage potential customers?– What personality and tone of voice will your brand have to achieve its goals?
How is content effectively managed?
Digital content is usually managed through specifically developed content management software (CMS). CMS help individuals and organizations streamline workflow processes and collaboration throughout the content lifecycle.
Every category of digital content has a corresponding tool for managing it. These categories of content generally include social media content, web content, mobile content, and enterprise content (also in the form of data).
Regardless of the category, industry, or organization, most CMS share some common features. These features revolve around milestones in the content lifecycle and are aimed at eliminating bottlenecks in processes. From format management to version control and publishing functionalities, the best CMS support organizations at every step of the content lifecycle.
As you develop a brand strategy, it helps to start at the beginning. In other words, begin by setting your business goals. Why are you creating a new brand? What do you hope to achieve by launching the new brand? Use those long-term objectives as a basis for all of your strategic branding efforts.
For example, are you trying to reach a new audience? Your brand strategy for achieving that goal is likely to be quite different from a business that wants to steal market share from a category leader, and that’s why goal definition is a fundamental starting point for any brand strategy. The first question you have to answer is, “Why?”
Avoid the Short-Term Trap
It’s easy to get caught up in the short-term activities and tactics that drive business today, but when it comes to building a brand, that’s a big mistake. Brands aren’t built overnight, so your brand strategy shouldn’t be focused on short-term tactics but rather on long-term goals and sustainable growth.
Admittedly, it’s hard to stay strategic when executives are weighed down by data and demand measurable growth and positive ROI right now. The best brand leaders, however, fight against short-term focus, because they know being short-sighted is a brand killer.
Thomson Dawson, Managing Partner of PULL Brand Innovation described this problem well in an article written for Branding Strategy Insider earlier this year. He wrote:
“Brand managers and agency account planners are tactics driven. That’s because 80% of the daily processes within marketing departments and ad agencies are based in project management. Creative Briefs tend to be control documents, rather than a forum for gathering inspirational ideas. Brand managers and their communication partners focus on the best way to manage process and the tight budgets they have been allocated. They usually aren’t thinking long-term when at the crossroads of strategic and creative decision-making. They’re focused on getting a job done (on-time and on-budget). Add the changing priorities of executive management into the mix, and it’s easy to see how messy creative briefs become.”
Instead of focusing on short-term tactics, Dawson urges people to become brand architects which enables teams to design a lasting structure “to bridge brand strategy and brand messaging.” He’s absolutely right. Without a strong brand foundation built on a well-defined strategy, brands have little chance for success. However, it’s hard to stick with that strategy rather than be tempted by the allure of short-term focus.
Of course, the best brands stick with their strategies, but those strategies leave room for flexibility as the market, consumers, and competitors change. Think of it this way:
- Just as your goals in life might change over time, so might your brand goals.
- Similarly, just as you might modify your plan to achieve your goals in life, so too might your brand marketing plan change.
- Finally, just as you seize opportunities to move closer to your goals as they arise throughout your life, you’ll also seize short-term opportunities to grow your brand and move closer to achieving your long-term brand goals as those opportunities are presented to you.
The 16 Rules of Brand Strategy:
OK, well maybe not scare you, but definitely make you a little nervous. If you look at this list and think, “Oh yeah, my brand is totally on it,” then you’re not trying hard enough and your company is leaving money on the table.
Brand strategy is a moving target and no matter how many strategies I create for clients big or small, new or established, I always get nervous at the beginning of the process.
Finding the hidden truth — that one giant opportunity in the landscape —
These two things that perfectly connect consumer behaviors, beliefs, trends and time to your company’s core competencies while making competitors irrelevant feels like fitting a key into a lock. Finding that key is rarely an easy process.
14 Rules To Guide You
If you’re developing your strategy, use this list to guide you. If you already have one in place, use this list to test it.
Most importantly, read this through a brand lens. When I mention companies below, measure them by their brand identities, not their product offerings.
1. Don’t play in someone else’s backyard.
Strong brands are unique. They say and do something different than other brands. They take a unique tone, follow a controversial belief or see the future through a different lens.
Many spaces with two major players fall into a “better” trap. Box’s brand is a better version of Dropbox, but that does nothing to differentiate them. Better is actually worse. Different is what matters.
2. Be specific.
This is truer than ever. In such fragmented and noisy markets, you can either speak loudest (a huge marketing budget) or be the most resonant (the right message for the right audience.) For 99% of companies, being the loudest is not a viable option.
3. Lead with the story, not the product.
Even when it’s about the product there needs to be an emotional narrative. Otherwise you’re just another branded company with a smart product, but no real brand vision.
Even tax software can give you the feels.
4. Answer the why.
Simon Sinek pioneered the concept of answering the ‘why’ and it’s worth your time to watch.
This will seem deceptively simple, but once you get it, you’ll see branding very differently.
I’ll admit even I brushed this off as overly obvious marketing jargon when I first watched it, but there’s a great deal of depth to this simple concept.
The why is not your vision, not your mission, and not your promise. It’s your reason for existing, and it answers the question, “Why should I care?”
5. Look for triggers. Speak to the subtext.
What your consumers say and what they mean are oftentimes two different things.
She says: “I try to cook 3x a week. I just don’t have time.”
Untrained ear hears: “She’s busy. She really wants to be healthier. We need to emphasize convenience and low-cal in our marketing!”
Trained ears hear: “She wants to cook because she thinks she should, but honestly she doesn’t give AF. It’s not a priority for her. She just feels guilty about how much she orders take out. She’d be happier if she allowed herself to not feel like shit about how much she orders out.”
12. Force hard decisions.
A good brand strategy will force you to make difficult decisions. Having a point of view means you won’t please everyone. It also means you’ll be pushing your core consumers to continuously walk into the future before they’re 100% ready.
Snap’s Spectacles, Tesla’s pre-orders, 23andMe’s story of human connection — all of these brands had heavy narratives that pushed consumers to take a leap forward. They were hard decisions for both the company and the customer.
13. Create tension.
Tension earns attention. Being specific, taking bold risks, speaking your secret language… all of these things create tension. They captivate your core audience and keep secondary audiences on the sidelines.
No one explains this better than seth goldin. Different brand narratives create different levels of tension and engagement:
The tension of how it might turn out.
The tension of possibility.
The tension of change.
Stories work because we’re not sure. We’re half there, half not.
This might work.
This might not work.
The tension of maybe.
Tension comes from juxtaposing what is, with what could be.
14. Empathize with your customer.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Everyone is a hero in their own story.” Your customer is trying to be the best version of themselves that they can. You must empathize with them if you expect to uncover the triggers, behaviors and beliefs that will underlie your brand strategy.