All you need to know about a brand strategy: what it is, its phases, and why you need it
A business is defined by its values. What you do, how you do it, and why – these are the questions that should shape a business. The answers to these questions are the foundation for the future of your business. They constitute the core of your brand strategy. In lack of a brand strategy, there is no business personality to communicate. As we well know, facts tell, but stories sell. Branding weaves, thread by thread, the story of your business.
What is a brand?
We might be tempted to think that any business is a brand. But it’s not. The brand is the fusion of several elements that spawn a product, a service, or a whole company. This fusion makes the company unique, different, and recognizable. When we talk about a brand, we need to differentiate two aspects:
- the “real” brand – what it is, what it does
- the “perceived” brand – how people see the brand, how they perceive the company.
A brand is not just a logo or a slogan. Its definition will prove more complex than you have imagined. To define a brand, you have to face and recognize your mission and clarify what you are prepared to do to make your target audience’s life better. A brand is shaped, in its early stages, by some questions that give it direction:
- What is the mission of the company?
- How does the company make a profit?
- What are the company’s competitive advantages?
- What values would you like your company to be associated with?
It is not enough to tell your customers what you have to offer. You need to really investigate how your product helps them and how it makes their lives better. A brand is not about you, it is about your clients and their needs.
What is a brand strategy?
The brand strategy identifies and consolidates the personality of your business. It is a vertical imprint of its values and qualities. Far from being exhausted by its visual identity, a brand strategy helps you to differentiate and bring real added value to your business. The brand strategy is like a pilar for understanding the business yourself: once the answers to the above questions begin to appear, your business ads its human and emotional layers. A brand strategy is grounded in who you are, how you look, and what you do as an enterprise. All connected brand assets, from mission to chromatics, define the brand.
Why is a brand strategy necessary?
The way your brand communicates is decisive for whether your client’s experience will be positive or not. And the term ‘communication’ has an infinite range of meanings because everything – colors, tone of voice, and so on – is part of the brand. A brand strategy is necessary for taking the business to the next level, adding value, and setting out the business’s main lines of development.
Consistent brand strategies ad value for your services and products, and position you as a voice of authority. Most of all, the brand strategy fosters communities, which are brought together by shared values and causes. Their common ground is that they can relate to your brand’s story and vision.
What you should know before starting to work on your brand strategy
The brand strategy is usually conceived by a branding and rebranding agency, one that specializes in defining the target audience, analyzing the competition, setting the benchmarks, and creating names, logos, and other brand assets.
Implementing a brand strategy is like weaving the story of your company. That is why it is important to see it as a long-term process, not a one-time thing. You may even find it intimidating and uncomfortable at times, because it requires a lot of transparency and honesty. So be prepared!
Working on the brand strategy means defining your company and the team behind its operations. It is an honest and intimate process, so you should be prepared to answer complex questions about your vision and long-term mission
When do you need a brand strategy?
No matter the size of your company, or the notoriety of your product, the brand strategy is the link that connects your business to your story. It links your brand to a purpose, to a higher end. By definition, a brand strategy is required especially when you launch a new product.
To offer a new product in the market usually means to move into uncharted waters. People don’t know your product yet, so they don’t know what to expect. What should you do? Introduce yourself! This is when your brand strategy takes charge. Your brand presents itself, states its name, mission and vision.
Just like in a meeting, we don’t go over the top, talking too much about ourselves. We simply tell the other person what we can offer. A good brand strategy relies on discrete seduction. The naming, the tone of voice, the mission – these are all rounded off by the visual identity. We think visually, and images are worth more than ever. We value the stories that we can picture in our minds before actually reading them.
Aside from launching a new product, there are other relevant situations when having a clear brand strategy will help the business to prosper. For example, the product doesn’t reach its potential and it has to set a new target. Or the business grows slowly and with a small profit margin, which is unsatisfying. This usually means that the needs of the target audience fluctuate, or that some part of the brand story is not authentic and does not work out. But there could be some other reasons too:
- insufficient market penetration;
- unappealing, unpractical package;
- a new competitor in the market;
- the client is not attracted to the information your brand communicates.
In all the above cases, you need a rebranding strategy. If your brand strategy was developed years ago, it may be the case that the fundamental questions and rationales have changed in the meanwhile. Maybe your purpose is different now, or maybe your mission and vision have changed. You need a new branding strategy to breathe new life into your brand and help it reach its full potential, and target new objectives.
When two companies merge
When two or more companies merge, it’s just like marriage: will you change your name or not, will you move in or your partner will, will you adjust to your partner’s routine, or will the other person do it? Some brands build a new identity altogether when they merge. They keep nothing from their previous separate identities. The logo, the visual identity, the tone of voice, the brand materials, all these are rebranded to correspond to the new business needs.
A PR crisis is difficult to get by. It causes a lot of unwanted noise, especially online. The energy around it is not exactly positive. But the buzz generated by PR crises makes us reconfigure our route, and maybe helps us avoid communication errors on our part. A healthy brand architecture will lead to developing and implementing a consistent branding strategy, that will accurately convey the business values.
The brand is no longer a reflection of the company’s values
Our vision changes. The way we perceive the world, our businesses and our goals, these change with age, as well as our ambitions and objectives. To be heard and understood by the right people, our story has to adapt and innovate, so that it truly mirrors the company values.
What are the most important elements of brand strategy?
A branding strategy is erroneously perceived as just the visual identity of the company or product. Besides the visuals, other crucial aspects of the brand should be grounded in the brand strategy:
Assessing the brand’s key assets: mission, vision, values
At first, there was the brand story. That is why the brand strategy will answer a lot of why’s. Why are we here, why do we do the things we do? At this phase, we define our vision, mission and values. So we need to answer questions like:
- Why are we in the market?
- What do we want to become in the future?
- What do we do now for this future?
- What are our governing values?
- How can we offer more, better, with more honesty?
Finding our target audience and understanding the customer journey
is like a love story that slowly unfolds. Like in love, you really need to understand your partner and speak the same language.
You go out of your way for your significant other. For your clients, you need to know what function of your product will make them feel special, or even change their whole life for the better. The branding strategy is not about your commercial offer, it is about what you have to offer that may change people’s life.
Competition and market research and analysis
Market and competition research is vital for building a healthy branding strategy. Based on a thorough analysis, we identify the brand’s guiding principles, main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then we state what we need to change in order to make the customer journey a more appealing and meaningful experience.
Naming, verbal identity, and branding elements
The name of a brand is an emotion. For the client, that emotion makes the difference and triggers the buying decision. The naming is based on a creative process, but also on research, methodical brainstorming, and selection. The name is the first contact of your audience with your brand.
Your branding strategy should also be in sync with a brand manual (or brand book) that guarantees consistency and clarity for your commercial communication. The brand book is based on the visual identity and the brand story. Its function is not to restrain the creativity of designers and copywriters but to mark a safe space for the manifestation of this creativity.
We don’t buy things, we buy stories. So, after having identified your brand’s core (mission and vision) we need to verbally articulate it. In this phase, we decide the tone of voice and brand personality. In the words of Dan Wieden, “the guys from Nike haven’t discovered the power of advertising, but the power of their own voice.” What you say and how you say it will define who you are in the market.
Brand platform, brand essence, brand promise, brand vision, brand mission, and brand personality – or, in other words: who you are and what you do best. How you make yourself useful for your target audience defines you. It constitutes the main driver of any business. What and how you communicate elicits emotions and that is the true purpose of branding.
A tagline (often incorrectly used interchangeably with ‘slogan’) is another vital branding element. It is short, concentrated, it has pulp and juice, and it needs to be a catchphrase that summarizes the concept of the brand. The branding strategy connects the brand message to the brand essence. The main features, values, and personality of a business lay the ground of any USP – unique selling proposition. This is a term that refers to your unique added value, that completely different something that you bring to the table and your competition does not.
Technically speaking, formulating the USP as clear and concise as possible strengthens the relevance of your brand positioning. Besides the USP, also check on your ESP – emotional selling proposition. It is a statement that connects your brand with the human and emotional side of your customer, conveying that unique emotional vibe that separates you from your competitors.
The visual identity
We think visually. For this reason, in the age of speed and digital information, good design works like a silent ambassador of your business. When we talk about the visual identity of a brand, we mean the logo, typography, colors, imagery, supergraphic, and all the other visual assets of your brand. What makes for a strong visual identity? It has a sense of purpose and it has a certain feel that it will continue to serve the brand in the future.
These are the signs of a good visual identity:
- it’s flexible because it grows with the brand;
The visual identity is the sum total of the following elements:
- logo – made of a logotype (the typeface used in writing the brand name), or logotype plus symbol
- typography – the typeface used on various brand materials
- supergraphic – usually extracted from the logo
- main and secondary colors
- brand imagery – the photography style used most of the time to express the brand attributes
- tagline – if applicable; don’t mistake the tagline for the slogan, which is associated mostly with campaigns and may change every so often, whereas the tagline is associated with the brand and accompanies the brand permanently.
A good logo is a memorable logo, and studies show that memorable logos are simple. Typography is in a way the extension of the logo. But we take in different words in different contexts in various ways, so a font should be used in relation to its medium. A font that suits your package may not necessarily suit your website.
Ultimately, colors are among the most powerful and mysterious brand elements. Studies show that the chromatic palette influences everything from brand perception to buying intention, so you better figure out the chromatic math or let us do it for you.
Different types of branding and their importance
Branding is not only about how your company looks online or offline. It is about how your brand is perceived by the whole world, starting with your employees, who walk in to work every morning. The visual expression of a company is not limited to brochures, websites, or stationery. It comprises a wide range of applications and constantly spreads the brand story in manifold directions.
Environmental branding is an extension of the brand personality to the working space. A continuation of the visual identity of the brand, it reminds everybody of their mission and vision. Environmental branding applies both to exterior and interior space. Its applicability comprises receptions, offices, meeting rooms, and shared spaces.
The look and feel of the working space influences not only productivity but also exterior perception. Space influences moods and feelings. A meeting might turn a lot more positive, should the meeting space encourage creativity through its design.
A good name and an appealing logo are not enough for the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods). Your brand needs to tell its story when you’re not around. That is why the product package should be treated as a crucial asset for the growth of your product.
We are attracted by colors, designs, and innovative solutions because we want more from our products. It is not enough for the chocolate that we eat to be tasty – you also need a package to make people pick it up right from the shelf. You need a package that convinces people to pick it up again and again.
Brand engagement or employer branding
The internal branding culture of a company means how your employees act while working for your company, and how they assimilate the company values. You should base your whole recruitment process on these values.