What Is A Branding Strategy & How To Create Yours
We’re going to start our guide to brand strategy by getting the most difficult bit out of the way first.
Your brand is not your logo, not your colour scheme, not your product, not your website, and it's not your name.
Phew. It’s important to clear that up before we go any further because it is perhaps the biggest misconception around branding that there is. Many people assume that the associations of a brand, like its colours and its slogan and its end product, are all elements of a brand strategy.
Unfortunately, that’s not true and it’s that untruth that separates powerhouse brands from mediocre brands. The brands that lead industries, like Coca Cola, Dolce and Gabbana and Nike have one very small, very impactful, very important thing at their heart: An effective brand strategy.
But what is brand strategy? What does it do? And how can you make sure your brand has one? You’ve come to the right place to find out.
What is a brand strategy?
In layman's terms, your brand strategy sits above your tactical plan.
To get a bit more technical, your brand strategy is a blueprint that displays the specific, long-term goals that your company will achieve through creating a successful brand made from all the components which make your company identifiable from others.
Successful brand strategies are those that are well defined, well deployed, and directly connected to consumer emotions and needs, whilst staying aware of competitive environments. These strategies place great emphasis on enhancing brand awareness, making the brand easily recognizable and memorable for consumers. A high level of brand awareness gives the company an edge, as it increases customer loyalty and assists in weathering changes in the marketplace.
Your brand strategy is also separate from your marketing strategy, your content strategy, and your creative strategy, but it is responsible for driving those strategies by providing important information like the brands positioning, values and voice. More on that in a mo.
What’s included in a brand strategy?
A brand strategy is a fundamental pillar for anything tactical that your company (or brand) does in its commercial market.
What that means is that your brand strategy defines what the values of your brand are, conveys the promises it makes to your customers and shows off the personality your brand has.
So whilst your logo, colour palette, typefaces, and slogans are included when you define your brand, they are simply the creative elements that communicate all that information concisely to the rest of the world.
Where your tactics (and your strategy) will really make a difference is in your brand’s everyday interactions in its chosen commercial space. So for example in:
- The imaging it conveys, i.e does it identify itself as exclusive, or available to everyone?
- The messaging it delivers, i.e what is the value proposition of your brand, and how is your brand going about broadcasting that value?
- How your employees interact with your customers, i.e is your brand warm and approachable? Are your customers treated more like friends, and less like numbers?
- Customer opinions of you versus your competitors, i.e are your customers able to differentiate your USP? Do customers flock to your brand because they can see the value proposition you’re displaying and delivering over a competitor in the same space?
What are the five main areas of branding strategy?
To build a brand strategy, there are five vital ingredients that need to be defined and communicated before they can result in a recipe.
Only got 10 minutes? Then quickly biopsy your brand here.
Those areas (or ingredients) are:
- Brand Positioning
Brand positioning is this: Your company knows who it is, what it stands for, what it does, who it’s designed for and how to communicate all of that. Your company also knows who it’s competitors are, what they’re doing, and what they stand for. And lastly, both you and your company know who your clients or customers are and what they think of your company.
If you’re reading through that list and drawing up blanks to some of those statements, the bad news is that your brand may not be positioned very strongly at all.
Brand positioning ultimately describes what makes a brand different from its competitors, and cements how the brand sits in customers’ minds. So in brand strategy, brand positioning creates brand associations in customers’ minds which ensure they perceive the brand in a specific way.
If they’re not doing that, there will be a disconnect between the brand and customers wants needs and emotions. This will ultimately lead to customers not knowing what makes your brand different and why they should pay any attention to it over others.
On the other hand, successful brand strategies based on strong brand positioning will be able to communicate all of the above in either 25, 50 or 100 words, and will see that communication reflected in sales growth and brand recognition markers.
2. Brand Promise
Remember earlier when we mentioned the promises your brand makes to your customers? It may have sounded fluffy, but it’s actually a real thing.
A brand promise is what your client can expect from dealing with your business, products or services. On a surface level, it’s basically what your brand does and who it does it for.
Notable examples include BMW’s “the ultimate driving machine”, which promises customers that owning a BMW is not the same as owning any other car. And on that note of “not just”, take M&S’ food halls, “Not just any [insert your favourite food here], an M&S [your favourite food]”, which promises customers a better, higher quality and heightened taste sensation.
Brand promises play a significant part in a brand strategy, because a brand’s promise directly supports its positioning and helps to further differentiate it from the rest of the crowd. M&S customers are promised a better food experience, which appeals to them, and so they’re willing to choose the brand over a competitor who is failing to promise the same.
Failure to meet that promise however will result in your brand being known for all the wrong reasons, so ensure you can meet the deliverables you’re promising.
3. Brand Values
Brand values are the guiding principles that shape your business and guide its actions. They illustrate what your business stands for, what the mission of the business is, and showcase the businesses identity and personality.
Examples of brand values include values of quality like accuracy, consistency, craftsmanship, expertise, and excellence. Whilst customer service values may be things like approachability, care, communication and dependability.
Successfully communicating a strong set of brand values can help hugely with how your customers perceive your brand. If they perceive you as approachable and dependable, it may align with their own values and gravitate them toward your company.
This tactical alignment is just one part of what makes emphasising brand values so important for brand strategy: It entices customers by promoting what’s at the heart of the company to find middle ground.
One brand that has grown by embracing its brand value and effectively promoting them is Gymshark. Just check out what they did for struggling GB athlete Daniel Bramble:
Your brand and your business should align like birds of a feather. We ruined the lyric, but click here to make sure your brand and business are singing off the same hymn sheet.
4. Brand Voice
Your brand voice is the voice your business uses to communicate with its target customers and it channels your brand values.
Take us, for example. At Huddle Creative some of our brand values are approachability, trustworthiness and most of all: Friendliness. That means that the voice we use to communicate with you, the reader, can be light and zany. We can make jokes, because we like to emphasise that we’re a human on the other end: Not a machine. We also like to meet and work with people from all over the world, so we don’t necessarily need to aim our brand voice at a particular target audience.
However, if like one of our clients, we were a serious business involved in the purchasing and investment of start up companies, our brand voice would be a lot different. It would need to convey brand values of authority, trust, and experience. That would mean less jokes, and a lot more information. We’d also communicate in a way that targeted entrepreneurs, by using industry jargon and appealing directly to their needs and wants.
Hopefully you’re picking up on the connection between brand values, and brand voice. Your brand voice isn’t necessarily your company's personality - although it will influence your brand’s tone of voice - instead your voice relates to the identity of your brand and it conveys what’s at the centre of your business, and what you’re promising to customers.
Misalign your brand values and your brand identity, and your brand voice will start to sound as though it’s been on a stag do in Brighton: Hoarse and a little bit garbled. And that will seriously impact the brand strategy because you won’t be able to hold coherent conversations with your customers.
5. Brand Identity
Finally, you might be thinking! The fun bit! Yes, brand identity is everyone’s favourite because it’s the part where you can channel your inner Bob Ross and get creative with colour schemes and logos.
And that’s precisely the reason we left it last: Because it’s very easy to decide on a colour palette and draw a nice logo, and then have absolutely no idea how the brand values, promise, or voice supports any of it.
See - we never stop thinking strategically!
A brand identity is usually supported by its multitude of creative elements. The most common of which are usually:
- Its logo design
- Its website design
- The overall brand colour palette
- The overall brand typeface selection
- The overall brand stationery design (yes, really)
- The brands marketing materials (including any calendar slides, brochures, poster designs, or flyers on google docs)
- The brands digital templates (briefing documents, invoices, pitch decks)
- The images that go on the brands social media
- The brands tone of voice
- The brand’s presentation slides
In a brand strategy, the brand identity must still align with the brand’s values, voice and promises.
For example, it’s unlikely that a law firm would use a colour palette of bright pinks and greens, would select the dreaded Comic Sans as its typeface, and would post a plethora of kittens on its social media pages (we guess it could do this to lighten the mood - but definitely not the Comic Sans).
Why? Because its values are likely to be around authority, trustworthiness and dedication to achieving results for its clients who will be spending big bucks to get those results. A law firm that looks like it’s having a whale of a time is not going to give off an authoritative, or trustworthy air, and so clients will be less likely to entrust the firm with their money or custom.
Trust is a real thing. And if you want to build it, you need to build something real. Wondering what the hell we’re on about? Click here.
Make sure that your brand identity reflects all of the aforementioned points. Pick a colour scheme that gives off the right connotations, and a typeface that reflects the brands personality. A brand identity is the first thing people will see, and first impressions count. Your brand strategy will derail if your identity is unable to convey your values.
The beginnings of a brand strategy framework
Now that we’ve covered the five areas that will drive your brand strategy, you might be wondering if that’s it. It’s not. We’ve left out one other important element: Your customers.
Once you’ve identified your brand values, your promise, your voice, and decided on your identity, it’s time to get your brand positioned and the only way you can do that is by ensuring that your brand strategy aligns with the people it’s supposed to be reaching: Your clients or customers.
To give you a foundation that will check your strategy is doing that, we’re borrowing five quick W’s.
Perhaps the easiest box to tick if you have an ideal target market in mind. To identify your who, ask yourself:
- Who are your target audience?
- How old are they?
- What are they interested in?
Then go a little further:
- What issues do they face?
- Where do they live?
- What lifestyle do they lead?
- Where do they work?
- How do they get around?
- What is their family structure?
Why is that Facebook stalking-esque information important? Because it puts you ahead of your competition by investing the time into you getting a better idea of what your average customer’s day looks like. Then you’ll glean information such as what is the best way to target them, and when’s the right time to target them.
Perhaps the meatiest question of them all, the How relates to how your brand is going to capture your consumers interest.
To answer this big question, you need to develop customer personas. Customer personas will become the backbone of your brand strategy because they will give you a cheat sheet to your customers.
They’ll tell you what you need to know about your target market, how they spend their time, what the best channel to reach them on is, and how to market your product or service to them. Nice.
An example could be that if your brand is selling luxury swimwear, you might want to spend your time promoting your images on popular social media tags that feature exotic locations like Bali, the Maldives or anywhere where the sun shines and everyone walks around barely dressed (Note: Not Grimsby).
The What refers to the dream that your brand is selling.
Decipher your dream by drilling into what your brand is offering your consumers, and by identifying what problem your brand is solving, or what need it is fulfilling.
Selling your what means getting creative with emotive language and storytelling. Customers need something they can believe in in order to connect with and buy into your brand.
A great example of this is Waitrose. Waitrose sells a dream of higher calibre, better quality food. It does this through its messaging and branding by using words like “exclusive” “hand-reared” and “organic”, and of course by slapping on premium prices. Consumers then adopt the Waitrose paradigm and believe that higher prices coupled with hand-rearing must mean better quality produce, and so, they connect with, and believe in, the Waitrose dream that organic food is luxury food.
Your Why must answer this question: Why is your customer going to go with your brand over other brands in your market?
What answers that question is your USP, or Unique Selling Point.
It’s cool to be different, and now’s your time to show it off! What do you do differently? What does your brand do better, or more uniquely than your competitors? Why are you the key that your consumers have been missing their entire lives?
Go back to the storytelling of what and bring your brand values to the forefront. To find out what you do better than competitors, do some good old competitor research.
Finally, your Where relates to the very first brand strategy area we mentioned: Your brand positioning. Where is your brand positioning itself in the market?
Do you want to be a Mercedes, or do you want to be a Clio?
Be honest with yourself and own where you are in the market. You don’t even necessarily have to stay there. Take Lynx for example who moved away from trying to be a brand leader that transformed men into irresistible hunks, and became quite happy to become a stocking filler by ensuring they changed their positioning to appeal to men of all ages, orientations and ethnicities.
Your positioning shouldn’t stop you from aiming higher, but failing to be transparent with where your brand is in the present moment will harm your brand strategy by not producing a cohesive brand identity.
Now build out your brand strategy with the right agency
We’ve given you the basics, but ultimately the only people to help you fully build your brand strategy are a branding agency.
Far too many people try and go it alone on their branding strategy journey, and then end up tripping over themselves as the business either grows or evolves. It’s one of the areas clients struggle with the most - and that’s okay, because that’s what we’re here for!
Creative agencies like us at Huddle Creative make brand strategy our bread and butter for a reason. We can make your logo look nice and we can also politely tell you that Comic Sans isn’t the right font for a law firm, but we also have years of experience that we can bring to your brand in the shape of a third-party perspective. We can identify things you’re missing, help you realise your potential, and even help you fill in the gaps where your competitors are failing.
Don’t go it alone! Let us lend a hand and drop in on us today.