In this week’s addition to the Marketing Concepts Series, where we demystify common marketing buzzwords, we’re covering the great wide world of brand strategy.
If you haven’t come across this term before, prepare for a completely new way of positioning your brand as a whole. Brand strategy is a far-reaching, big-picture perspective that should factor into every way your brand interacts with the customer (and vice versa).
What is Brand Strategy?
Step one of understanding brand strategy is to not confuse your brand with your branding.
Branding is how your company looks. This includes your logo, color palette, and other brand collateral like custom boxes or mascots.
Your brand is made up of so much more than just its appearance. Your brand includes your products and services, of course, but also your website, blog, social media presence, newsletters, advertising campaigns, and marketing initiatives.
Brand strategy, then, is a long term roadmap that will lead your brand toward your specific goals with actionable sub-goals to keep you on track for success.
A comprehensive brand strategy effects everyone and everything in your company. No exceptions.
Here’s a quick list of brand strategy components to think about as you get started:
- Branding assets: logo, color palette, slogan, etc.
- Brand guidelines: what kind of images can be used where, how your office or store is designed
- Messaging: voice, tone
- Your brand’s promise to your customers
- Your brand values
- How customers interact with your employees
- Your internal culture
Brand strategy creates a consistent narrative thread that ties all aspects of your business together, with the goal of establishing a seamless experience.
When your customers visit your website, online store, blog, or Facebook page, they should encounter a unified visual experience. They should see uniform branding, imagery, language, and the same high level of service they expect from walking into your brick and mortar store.
But brand isn’t made up of just visuals.
When your customer interacts with your brand, they feel an emotion. This could be playfulness or trust or confidence, but it should never be frustration or anger!
Brand strategy can help fine tune the sometimes intangible, often hard to pin down emotional experience of your brand and bring it to every aspect of your company.
Why Your Brand Needs Strategy #1: It’s Not Just Water
Often, the overarching goal of brand strategy is to differentiate your brand from the competition.
If it really was just water, you would grab whatever bottle was closest to you. But it’s not. There is something else that influences your decision to purchase.
Maybe you like the label, but maybe it’s the brand you grew up with, or you like their commercials, or they have a component of social stewardship that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Whatever it is that catches your eye about a brand, there’s a good chance it’s not the product itself. It’s the lifestyle with which the brand associates itself.
All of these factors are part of that brand’s strategy to get customers like you to pick their bottle of water.
Brand strategy creates a lifestyle around your product and shares it with your customers.
Once they know what makes your brand special, they’ll recognize it on the shelves and even ask for it by name.
Why Your Brand Needs Strategy #2: Love, Actually
Creating an emotional connection with your customers is one of the best ways to build brand loyalty.
If you make them feel good and provide excellent service, they are more likely to trust you. If they trust you, they are more likely to come back again and again.
Loyal customers are the bread and butter of your business. When they are happy with your product or service, they will share it with their friends, family, and strangers on the internet through social media.
A comprehensive brand strategy can help you cultivate a relationship of trust with your customers that turns them into brand evangelists. A great example of an organically created brand evangelist is Matthew Inman, best known as the creator of the comedic site The Oatmeal.
Once upon a time, Matthew Inman bought a car. But not just any car; he drove home a Tesla Model S.
He was an immediate convert to the Tesla brand. As a hugely popular cartoonist, he shared his positive experience and love for the Tesla brand through a series of comics, which covers his favorite aspects of the Model S, the Tesla brand, and the historical scientist Nikola Tesla.
Brand evangelists like Inman don’t just like your brand, they love it.
And, in many cases, they start incorporating the brand into their identity. That love will grow your business.
Why should Tesla care about one cartoonist’s opinion? In addition to a massive online following, Inman’s review of the Model S appears on the first page of Google when you search for “Tesla Review.” That’s free publicity. I know Inman made me want a Model S.
Which brings us to reason number three.
Why Your Brand Needs Strategy #3: Basic Arithmetic
Differentiation + Customer Love = ROI
If your brand successfully differentiates itself from the competition and builds customer loyalty, then your business benefits. It’s simple math!
If customers can pick your product out from the crowd and they identify with your brand, then they are going to keep coming back to you, again and again.
Brand Strategy is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day business of running a company, but don’t let short-term goals and obligations distract you from the long-term brand strategy.
Ask yourself: does this new initiative, product, or service fit in with how you want your brand to be perceived? Does it make sense with your brand’s personality?
Often, the overarching goal of brand strategy is to help customers develop recognition and loyalty to your brand.
It should be seen as a comprehensive roadmap to how the many pieces of your business work together to create a cohesive brand experience for your customers and to accomplish your business goals.
This takes time.
But, don’t be afraid to adjust course and adapt your strategy in response to changing marketplace and customer needs.
Is there a new social media outlet that you want to jump on? Do it!
How about an opportunity to hop on trending event or hashtag? Go for it.
Brand strategy should be a guide for your campaigns, not a creativity-killing constraint.
In fact, a well-defined brand strategy guide can be helpful in deciding where to focus your attention when you’re evaluating new platforms or opportunities.
Are you marketing to 40 to 50 year-old professionals? Snapchat may not be worth your time, but LinkedIn could give you the boost you need.
Does your service speak directly to millennials? Having your customer service team use gifs in service chats and emails may be something to add to your brand strategy guidelines.
Brand Strategy and You
Creating and incorporating brand strategy into your business plan is a big task, but an important one to help define and guide your brand.
What’s your experience with brand strategy? How have you used it to guide your efforts while maintaining the ability to stay agile in this constantly-changing marketing world? Tell us in the comments.