Brand strategy: what it is (what it is not) and our pragmatic six-step guide to creating one.
By Mandy Hall
I know what you’re thinking (if you’ve even made it this far into my article): how many times does a brand specialist write a blog to clarify what a brand is? Your brand is not your logo. We get it. Not even your colour palette. Preaching to the converted. Nor is it a social media campaign. Enough. Trust me, I feel the exact same way. But here I am. Again. But I assure you that this blog is somewhat different. I’m not going to hark on about brand, or even branding (much). Today I’m going to address the mother of both – brand strategy. The most unappreciated, undervalued third child in the family (who plays a pretty significant role in the success or failure of its emotionally charged, fun loving siblings).
So here’s what a brand strategy is, and what it is not.
A brand strategy IS:
An internal guiding document that provides a clear, actionable (I repeat, actionable) and measurable plan to achieve a future desired position for your brand.
It defines who you are, why you matter, who you matter to, and why you’re better than the alternatives (all of which comes from knowing your customer, capabilities and marketplace inside out).
It NEVER succeeds without the full support of the leader of your ship (whether that's yourself or another), and his/her merry men and women. And requires buy-in across the entire organisation. That’s right. Every. Single. Person.
It underpins the approach you take to your branding which is the external expression of your strategy that you use to appeal to, and create fruitful relationships with your customers.
A brand strategy is NOT:
Graphic design: your logo, colour palette nor look and feel.
A marketing tactic like social media. LinkedIn. Or even PR. (These are the things we use to bring your brand strategy to life).
A 50-page beautifully constructed document full of conflicting adjectives and feelings that's difficult to apply in the real-world, or that never gets used.
Okay, so you now understand what a brand strategy is, why all the hype?
Bear with me, because i'm about to get technical for a little bit, but I assure you it's for good reason. According to Kantar Millward Brown a global research agency (KMB), there are three critical components to driving brand equity (which is the holy grail of business effort) – salience, meaningfulness and difference. Before I explain what each mean, let’s look at KMB's definition of brand equity:
‘Brand equityis a commercial asset, the value of which is determined by the ability of the brand associations to predispose people to choose the brand over others or pay more for it, both now and in the future.’
In other words, the weight of your brand in influencing purchase decisions. Why so important? The more you become known (and liked), the less you have to spend (both money and effort) acquiring customers. Which leads to more sales. The ability to charge a higher price. Trust. Loyalty. Referrals. All in the name of more profits. Need I say more?
Back to the three components of equity, which by the way have been determined based on a study of the world's most successful brands in delivering results (that's right, tangible, monetary outcomes). In a sentence; saliency is how well your brand comes to mind; meaningfulness is how well you meet your customers’ needs and their affinity towards your brand; and difference is your unique value. (You can read more about it here).
So how do you achieve these three things effectively to increase brand equity (the pinnacle of success)? Start by having a brand strategy and plan.
To be salient you need to be distinctive, memorable and able to reach and engage your target audience.
To be meaningful you must understand the functional needs of your customers and how to connect with them on an emotional level.
To be different you need to carve out your unique space and separate yourself from the competition.
All of which takes understanding, alignment, and a concerted effort starting from inside of your organisation, out. Brands that lack purpose, risk becoming invisible. Consumers are the most connected and disconnected than ever before and trust levels are at an all-time low (I mean can you blame them? Donald Trump case in point). Brands need to be authentic. Make someone's life better. Offer a superior product. Consistently deliver positive customer experiences. Make a real difference in the world. To achieve this, your organisation needs to start by singing off the same hymn sheet (and then of course execute effectively, which is the NEXT big hurdle).
How we approach developing a Brand Strategy.
You may not have worked with an advertising or creative agency before, but if you have, you’ll know that a brand strategy can be heavily focused on all the fun, colourful stuff, often containing lots of statements and descriptions that start with the word ‘brand’. Essence. Promise. Manifesto. Purpose. Experience. Blueprint. Personality. Voice. Values. I’m not undermining these things as they can play a critical role (if you actually understand what they mean). Having left the big corporate rat race to start my own business, and now working with clients who don’t have a marketing budget that extends into the $Ms, I’ve had an awakening to the pitfalls of traditional brand strategies in delivering what they intend to achieve. To summarise:
Too much jargon = no action.
Too little focus on positioning = no difference.
All talk, no walk = superficial and short-lived.
Poor customer understanding + market research = you’re dead to me.
That’s why we take a very pragmatic approach made up of six steps. (Note: while the following example relates to an established business with a team, the principles can be applied to all).
Download the FULL GUIDE to learn more about what's involved in each phase
Mandy Hall – founder and Director – came up with the idea for Chiefs and Indians in response to a growing disregard for brand strategy in businesses (of all sizes) due to a perpetuating misconception of what it is, and what it entails. Having started her career 15 years ago at Virgin Blue and finishing her corporate employment as Head of Brand at Compare the Market (responsible for two talking Russian meerkats considered as lovable as the infamous m&m characters in just 4 years of existence*), Mandy knows a thing or two about how to use your brand to rally hearts, minds and wallets.