Over the past week I have been thinking about brand strategy. After all, it is the first step in creating or evolving a larger marketing plan.
I always start at the same point when presenting a brand strategy to an internal or external team, which is emphasizing that a brand is not just a logo or a color scheme. I make sure they understand a brand is much more. It is every experience a customer may have with a company. It needs to be functional and emotional; intrinsic and original; active and intentional. Leading brands are championed by everyone and, therefore, meet compelling needs, create a premium, inspire loyalty and insulate against the competition. And more than anything else, leading brands are responsive. They respond to customers, competitors, the market and any other influence that can have an effect on the brand experience.
Creating a brand, and the strategy around it, is rife with challenges. Sometimes the biggest challenge is within the particular company itself. I have met with a lot of clients, as well as leaders at large, successful companies, who don’t get branding.
Why don’t they get it?
Because branding is anything but tangible. The process of building a brand can be extremely abstract and metaphysical. It’s the part of business development where perception reigns supreme. Consumers are not rational. They follow their instincts and are driven by a hundred different factors at once. Successful branding has to be one step ahead of consumer perception. And the leading brands are very adept at this.
Branding is a Business Process
Where some chief executives and business owners can’t see themselves spending more than a few minutes picking logo colors (the full extent of their brand strategy), others know that branding is a business process.
As a business process, branding needs to be planned, strategically focused and implemented throughout the organization. Above all else, branding establishes the direction, leadership and clarity of purpose for a company. It’s what we branding professionals like to call the brand promise, or what I consider the singular purpose.
The Brand Promise
When working with clients, especially those with small businesses, I always guide them in the development of a brand promise. It’s the easiest way to get them to understand the tangible components of branding. Put simply, a brand promise is all about turning every employee, product, service, piece of communication or client interface into a walking, talking, touchable reflection of the brand.
In order to develop a brand promise you need three things:
- A strong business plan with a clearly articulated view of scale and scope for the business.
- A clear understanding of the customer base, with special focus on target segments.
- A thorough understanding of how branding can (and will) make a difference.
Competitor analysis is another consideration that I normally include, even though it should be a formal part of the business plan (but I rarely find that it is). Knowing the competition is a key ingredient for success. That is why competitor analysis should always be included in the business plan, marketing plan and brand strategy.
Because of the specific information needed as foundational blocks from which a brand promise can be erected, I almost always fall back on a SWOT analysis to help me work through the points. It can be applied either individually to the three components listed above, or to the brand promise as a whole. SWOT stands for:
It is especially useful during the development of both the business and marketing plans. But I like to use it to help me breakdown everything I may, or may not know about a brand. It allows you to get your mind wrapped around all of the details and shaping these details into relevant information. Relevancy is a key part of crafting a brand promise. It is also the most important thing in developing a brand strategy.
In order for a brand to be strong and distinctive, credible and feasible, it must have relevancy. That relevancy translates into both past and future perceptions. It is what the company once stood for, currently stands for and will stand for in the future. There must be a consistency that acknowledges the brand history in conjunction with demonstrating a deep understanding of customer perceptions.
It can be very easy to lie to yourself when creating a brand strategy. You can think your brand is more well-known, or liked or trusted than it actually is. You can fool yourself into thinking that you have an accurate understanding of customers and competition.
Brand relevancy means stepping back and looking at the cold hard truth…then creating a positioning plan that allows you to plan for the future.
Brand positioning is building a strategy that clearly details where the brand is headed, how it will get there and what needs to be done to make it happen. It’s the development of a distinctive, differentiating and value-based positioning statement, key messages and customer value propositions. It can be defined as an activity of creating a brand offer in such a manner that it occupies a distinctive place and value in the target customer’s mind. It addresses specific niche markets, uniqueness, sustainability and financial goals.
When the positioning is completed, and I combine it with my previously uncovered data, and the brand promise, I now have a brand strategy that should intelligibly direct my market strategy.
While the marketing strategy will take into consideration variables such as budget, scope and reach, the brand strategy has the luxury of being slightly Quixotic. But it must always do so with relevancy as the rule and focus as the guide.