First, what do we mean when we say “brand strategy?” Branding represents every tangible element of your business, from your logo, to your interaction with customers, which, all together, creates an image of who you are and how you want people to see you. Brand strategy is how you plan to deliver all of those branding messages through a long-term plan. This encompasses all of the who, what, when, where, why and how – from where you advertise, to how you distribute your products.
Brand strategy is an art and a science. It should aim to achieve specific goals, and, done well, contribute to the longevity and ongoing success of your business. It is, therefore, an essential part of a business plan. Developing a well thought out, written brand strategy is one of the best things you can do to get your business off to a strong start.
A strong brand strategy which applies consistent, effective branding over the long term will add value to your company, as well as your products or services. Nike is a perfect example: their branding aligns them with sports heroes and establishes their shoes as the favorite choice for style icons. Customers are willing to pay a higher price for a pair of Nike sneakers, because of the perceived quality and emotional attachment to the brand. That is the power of a successful brand strategy.
There are plenty of examples like Nike; Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, Dyson, and Rolex, just to name a few. If you’re looking to develop a brand strategy as strong as these, there are some critical elements to consider. Here are the things to keep in mind, think about, plan for, and focus on when you are creating the vision for your brand:
Defining your Brand
At its essence, a brand strategy should embody one or two main elements of your product or service. What is your company’s ultimate purpose in the world? Who is your target audience? Answer these questions. Where the answers overlap is where you’ll find what should be the blueprint for your brand strategy.
Finding your Purpose
Think about why your company exists. What is your purpose for getting out of bed every day? What are you trying to achieve? Defining your company’s purpose not only creates a framework for future business ventures, recruitment, and product development, it’s also critical in how your customers view you. Every brand makes a promise to a customer, but it might not be unique compared to your competitors. The purpose of your brand can be that point of difference.
Obviously, the purpose of every business is to make money. If we weren’t making money, we wouldn’t and couldn’t be in business, right? But this is not what we want to communicate to customers – it’s not appealing at all, however truthful it may be! Finding your company purpose should go beyond the bottom line and add value to the customer beyond the point of sale.
Setting yourself Apart
Finding your purpose has got you half the way there, now it’s time to really set yourself apart. Find what your point of difference is against your competitors and capitalize on it. This is an important part of your brand strategy because your unique qualities will be the reason that new customers will try you out. This is particularly useful if you’ve identified a gap in the market and are solving a problem of your target audience.
Your branding, then, should aim to own that position in the customers’ minds. Are you “friendly?” Are you “powerful?” Whatever your focus, aim to embody that in people’s minds. Strong, successful brands do this, like Volvo now being synonymous with “safe.”
The way you set your company apart from the competition should be reflected through the entirety of your brand strategy. And this doesn’t just pertain to the intangible aspects such as color scheme and logo. It should be reflected in the staff that you hire, the way that you operate your business, and so much more. Take, for example, a beauty salon which positions itself as the “quick” option. Offering services which tie into this ethos is essential, i.e. “express” services or “lunch break” treatments. Staff should be hired who are capable of performing services quickly and efficiently.
Consistent images and messages are key to establishing brand recognition and identity. A strong brand strategy needs to prioritize consistency across all aspect of your business, from your Facebook page to your product packaging.
Everything you release, from advertising to Tweets, needs to align with your branding message. Ask yourself, what does this mean for my company? Does this match my brand strategy? If it doesn’t slot in seamlessly with your branding, it’ll only serve to detract. Brand recognition leads to brand loyalty. You don’t see Coca-Cola posting anything that doesn’t match the red color scheme and the “life is good”, happy, refreshing message they send.
Creating a style guide can help you to stay on track over all aspects of your branding. This can help to inform everything from color schemes chosen to product packaging.
Hiring Based on Brand Strategy
The employees who you hire represent the brand when dealing directly with customers. Whether this is face-to-face in a store, or via text in an email or social media, that employee is a key part of your branding. The way they interact, the tone of voice (in person or in writing) – it all should be in line with your branding strategy. You should be considering all of this before it even gets to that exchange between customer and employee – it begins at the hiring process.
Communicate your brand strategy in your job advertisement, interview and hire based on your brand strategy, and provide employees with a copy of your brand strategy. Set expectations of employees based on your brand strategy and continually communicate those purposes and values to them. Remember Dan from Optus? He’s a perfect example of an employee representing a branding and solidifying a brand positively in people’s minds.
Sure, this seems very contradictory after the emphasis on consistency, but a brand strategy needs to accept that the world is an ever-changing place and there may come a time when you need to rethink your approach. The needs of your target audience may change, your target audience may have changed completely, or the industry might have been shaken up by a new development. Your company and your brand strategy need to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes, or you’ll be left behind.
Consistency sets a standard for your brand and makes it identifiable. Flexibility enables you to maneuver your efforts in other directions to respond to changes and maintain the distinction you want between you and your competition.
The most successful example from recent times has been the updated marketing campaign from Old Spice. Old Spice leveraged their already strong brand identity to advertise to an entirely new target audience. Their flexibility allowed them to create a whole new marketing campaign with a new focus, without completely undermining their established brand identity.
Developing a comprehensive brand strategy is a key element of your business plan. Defining your brand, finding a purpose, and setting yourself apart from the competition are the first places to start when planning who you are as a company and how you want to portray yourself. Keeping your branding consistent through every aspect of your company, even in your staffing, is critical in fostering brand identity, recognition, and, ultimately, loyalty.
A strong brand strategy will provide the blueprint for how you move forward with your business, with the inbuilt ability to be flexible to respond to changes in the industry. Taking all of these things into account will ensure that your brand strategy is a solid platform from which to not only launch your business but to grow it for years to come.
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