Getting people to know and trust your brand requires more than a great logo. You need a focused brand strategy that defines what your brand believes in, who your customers are, and how you plan to engage with the world.
Once you’ve developed a strategy, you have to infuse your brand in all your marketing collateral, distribute it across every channel, and ensure it creates a consistent brand experience. Sound intimidating? It can be but it’s also entirely possible to design and execute a successful brand strategy when you break it down into manageable parts.
Whether you’re a new organization looking to make a mark or an established company going through a brand relaunch, many of the same principles and steps to a successful brand strategy apply. This guide includes the most important components of brand strategy and tips on how to get started.
What is brand strategy?
Brand strategy is a collection of brand values, audience profiles, usage guidelines, voice and tone direction, and a long-term vision on how to consistently build your brand. It’s everything from your highest-level value proposition to the details of how you present your brand visually. Brand strategy contains the why behind your brand and all the instructions for how to communicate with your audience.
When companies talk about branding, goals can get blurry and hard to measure fast. It’s easy to think you can get by without creating a clear brand strategy, but valuable brands don’t grow with just luck (although they are occasionally boosted by “lightning strikes” of momentum). Memorable brands have clearly defined strategies that help establish them in an industry, grow their market share, and adapt to stay around for generations. Coca-Cola may have had a stroke of luck being first to market, but they’ve been evolving their brand strategy for over a century to stay relevant.
Your brand strategy is what you refer to when someone asks “is this on brand?” And it’s an evolving approach as much as it’s a collection of information. Remember, it takes years of consistent execution to grow a brand like Nike, Apple, or Google.
Brand strategy isn’t just your product, your logo, or your name. It’s how your company presents itself, its personality, and how you want people to feel when they interact with your brand. Your brand strategy is ultimately what helps people trust your company and build a lifetime relationship with your product, services, or solutions.
Why is brand strategy important?
Whether your company is B2C or B2B, enterprise or small to medium, your brand strategy brings your products and services to life in the mind of your customers. For example, your brand might be most visible in your company’s excellent customer service. If people know you for consistent, clear, beneficial interactions they’re more likely to come back and buy from you. If they know you as slow, hit-or-miss, and unreliable, they’ll find somewhere else to make their purchase.
Your brand strategy not only displays and communicates who you are, it brings your competitive market position to life. What comes to mind when you think of Starbucks? Coffee. That took years of focused effort by their company and millions of investment dollars in branding and marketing. Of course they started with a great logo, an amazing product, and initial grassroots support, but they also used a brand strategy to grow and become synonymous with coffee in people’s minds all around the world.
Let’s try another example — when you think of electric car manufacturers, who comes to mind? Tesla. They established a dominating brand position and now, globally recognized brands like Ford and Mercedes have to catch up to even begin to compete for market share. People buy Tesla cars because the product has a great design and functions well, but they also buy it because it’s often the first electric vehicle that comes to mind when shopping for something that’s proven and well-loved. And that’s no accident, that’s brand strategy.
B2B companies can do this too. Who comes to mind when you think of networking equipment? Cisco. Industrial chemicals? DuPont. Airplanes? Boeing. Computer processors? Intel. When people think of you first, this type of brand association also comes with “brand equity.” This is the amount people will pay for brand-name products or services. People or companies will pay top dollar for your products when you have top-tier brand recognition.
So how do you get to this position in a market? It takes investment in brand assets, technology, talented teams, and time — lots of time for cycles of interactions with customers, media recognition, and product life cycles to grow together. But becoming top-of-mind in an industry always starts with developing a clear brand strategy.
Tips for launching a brand strategy
A solid brand strategy helps you capitalize on opportunities and gain a competitive edge. It’s clear, detailed, useful, and organized as simply as possible. And every brand strategy needs space to evolve. So where do you start? With understanding the people who are most likely to interact with and buy from your brand — your audience.
1. Define your audience
Think about your audience first when building your brand strategy. Get clear about who you’re speaking to, how you can help them, what inspires them, and how your brand serves them. Whether it’s a consumer product or an enterprise solution that makes someone’s life easier — you need to define who you’re building a relationship with.
Start with identifying an individual. Are you talking to C-suite decision makers? What channels do they use for research? What problem are they trying to solve? You can develop customer personas, but remember to keep them simple to begin with and avoid trying to create advanced psychographics before you have more data. Once you have a handful of individual personas, take a step back to define the audience segment.
These details will help you personalize content delivery down the line and choose what marketing channels to invest in. Is your main customer more likely to read an email newsletter, browse Instagram, or look on LinkedIn? Knowing the answers to these types of questions — or at least identifying them for discovery — early on will help you build and grow a strong brand.
2. Establish your purpose
Your purpose is crucial to identify, simplify, and communicate clearly. Why does your brand exist? What does it believe in? These are the connection points that create real relationships with your customers. If you want to get this right, revisit Simon Sinek’s inspiring TEDx Talk on why great brand leaders inspire action.
When your brand has a strong purpose, customers buy from you because they identify with what you stand for. It could be a social purpose like Toms, an environmental purpose like Dr. Bronner’s, or the desire to make technology beautiful and easy to use like Apple. If you’re in information security or network services, your purpose could be to protect communities and families by building secure networks for government and public agencies.
Your brand’s purpose needs to put the “why” first. It can’t just be a running list of features and benefits. Find the emotional connection and tie those to the solutions your brand offers. Remember what Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
3. Set the tone
Define the tone of how your brand engages with its audience. Are you professional and straightforward with a conversational tone? Or strictly business? The best way to think about this is to imagine the people you do business with and the conversations you have in real life. How do you talk with each other? Identify the qualities that stand out and list them in short order.
This can apply to everything from copy to your visual communication. Define what kind of imagery you will use for your website and other channels. Get clear about what you want to communicate through your choice of font, brand colors, and logo presentation.
Tone is a subjective experience and can be hard to explain but some companies are doing this well. Mailchimp is one great example. Take a look at their content style guide to see how they approach maintaining a consistent tone and voice.
4. Maintain consistency
Brand consistency is one of the most important elements of any brand strategy. The Nike swoosh is a famous logo, but people didn’t start off knowing who Nike was or what they stood for. It took years of consistently presenting that logo alongside recognizable brand assets, on products, and on famous athletes, to develop the recognition they have today.
Once you know your audience and have a clearly defined brand purpose and tone, stay true to it in everything you do. Your customers will get to know and recognize your brand through every interaction they have with you. With consistency across every channel — including social, ads, emails, and product packages — you create strong brand recognition.
When someone asks their friends or colleagues where they should buy their next “insert product here,” they’ll recommend your brand without thinking twice. That’s the kind of trust that only comes from maintaining brand consistency.
5. Develop brand assets
With everything above defined and a commitment to consistency established, you can start to create and update your brand assets. Logos, marketing and campaign images, social media material, and videos, you’ll need every type of asset — and then some — in today’s digital landscape.
You’ll also need a central library to store all the latest versions and make your brand assets available to global teams. This is where a digital asset management (DAM) system comes into your brand strategy. In order to create the omnichannel consistency your brand requires, you’ll need technology that’s purpose-built for brand management, which includes storing, organizing, and publishing these brand assets.
6. Track and measure results
If you invest all this time into brand strategy you need to track key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure it’s working. How do you measure a brand strategy? It depends on your goals. Your method will include some combination of content engagement on all channels, conversion, and customer metrics.
Although you can take into consideration some common content metrics to get started, you’ll want to develop your own unique formula — just make sure you bake this into your brand strategy from the beginning.
Differentiating between various brand terms
There are many terms under the wide umbrella of brand strategy — brand identity, brand guidelines, and brand positioning are three of the most popular. Let’s break these down and explain what they are so you can see how they’re different from brand strategy, but crucial to include.
Brand identity is everything that makes up your brand — from brand colors and voice to customer support. Your brand identity helps people recognize you, resonate with your brand, and trust that your company is their best purchase decision.
But ensuring your brand has a strong identity in the minds of your audience isn’t easy. There are dozens of factors to consider, including how you communicate with customers on social media, how you’re perceived in terms of quality and price, and what messages you send about your business overall.
There are lots of different components that build up your brand identity — like logos, copy, and the homepage of your website — and they all have their own purpose in reinforcing your company's core message. With a fully-equipped brand identity kit you can easily share everything that’s essential to creating your brand identity with any internal or external stakeholders.
Brand guidelines provide specifications for how a brand should be presented. They include instructions for how to use elements such as logos, colors, typefaces, taglines and much more. Organizing these details saves time when creating and reviewing new marketing materials, working with new agencies, or communicating with global teams. They help to ensure that your brand is represented consistently across all platforms and projects.
Almost no detail is too small for this component of brand strategy — logo sizes, brand color HEX codes, and do’s and don’ts for taglines. Your brand guidelines will be used by internal creative teams, external agencies, and other partners, so make sure it’s clear and detailed and answers common questions (hint: include an FAQ section).
This is the part of your brand strategy that helps your teams and audience understand where your brand is positioned in a market against your main competitors. If you’re new in a space, you’ll position yourself in comparison to the major players. If you’re a major player, make sure to look at the startups who are changing the market landscape.
Your brand positioning is a detailed understanding and exploration of how your brand’s purpose, product, and identity compare to other companies. For example, if you’re trying to sell glasses online, how does your brand position compare to Warby Parker? If you don’t hold the space that you want in the market and minds of your customers, define your brand position and use your brand strategy to get there.
Bring your brand strategy to life
No brand starts with the recognition that companies like Apple, Nike, and Amazon have built for themselves over their lifetimes. To get anywhere close to these valuable brands, it takes a clear brand strategy backed by resources, teams, and an unwavering commitment to a long-term vision.
When it comes down to it, brand assets are the building blocks of every brand on the planet. Logos, videos, images, product packaging, visuals, strategy documents, etc. — these are the components of your brand identity, the subject of your brand guidelines, and the foundation of your market position. The right technology can help you bring your brand to life across every channel — and a DAM system acts as a place to store, organize, and publish all your brand assets.
At Widen, an Acquia company, we help hundreds of influential brands like Hootsuite, Laura Mercier, and Crayola with the software that they use to manage their brand assets. with our experts to learn about how the Widen Collective® can help to bring your brand strategy to life.