In marketing, few words are as obscure & mystified as “brand”.
Everybody has a different version of it.
Most of them are wrong.
Your average 20yo freelancer will set up a website, a couple of social profiles, a bank account, and will call the whole thing their “brand.” This first example is naïve, but I do appreciate the optimism.
Likewise, you’ll find companies with 500, 1000, 2000 employees claiming they’re a brand, just because their size makes them feel big. This second case is endearing – much like watching your 8yo son wear a T-Rex costume and feel as big & powerful as the real thing.
The common consensus is that once you have a logo and a website you automatically have a brand.
Brand is a product of positioning, and it is what happens in the mind of your audience when they think about your company or see it. However, let’s elevate this concept into a more simple definition:
brand is what your audience thinks of you.
This debunks all the previous examples, because it takes out of the equation:
- How many clients you have: You could double your clients each year, but if those clients see you as just another, replaceable service provider, you’ll still have no brand.
- How big your company is: Having 2000 employees may sound powerful, but if they feel like they’re doing purposeless work that has no real impact, you have no brand.
- Having a social media presence: You can open a channel on every platform, and people could still not know who you are – which means they can’t have any idea of your business. Again, no brand.
- Getting the perfect logo: Imagine the Apple logo. Now that you have it in your mind, here’s the truth about it: It is valuable because of how strongly people feel about what it represents to them, not because of the design.
And yes, “brand” being what your audience thinks of you could seem scary.
It might make you feel like your brand is out of your control and, in part, it is – but not completely. And here’s where Brand Strategy comes into play.
What is Brand Strategy?
Brand Strategy is the process of defining & communicating the unique value and identity of your business to your target audience. It is the foundation of who your first hire is, and it should guide you even when you’re at employee #613 and beyond, because it also lays the foundation of your culture.
Brand Strategy is the business plan for your HR & Marketing departments. It is about creating a coherent and consistent story that connects with your customers and differentiates you heavily from your competitors.
A good brand strategy can help you:
- Increase your brand awareness and recognition
- Build trust and loyalty among your customers
- Attract and retain the right talent for your team
- Align your internal culture and values with your external image
- Increase your market share and profitability
When thinking about their brand, people forget that you never build houses starting by the window frames. Every successful brand you know, at some point, built a foundation meant to stand the test of time. Here’s how you can build yours.
Define your brand purpose
Your brand purpose is the reason why you exist beyond profit. It is the core value that drives your business and inspires your customers – your deepest why. It answers the question: What problem are you solving for your customers and society?
Your brand purpose should be clear, concise and compelling.
However, there’s a catch: It must be authentic. People want to care about brands that care, and all of us are getting so good at spotting disingenuous marketing ploys that having a fake purpose would just ruin your reputation.
To define your brand purpose, you can use the following formula:
Identify your target audience
Your target audience isn’t just the people you’ll make money from.
They’re humans, and they not only want to be treated as such – they want your company to feel human, too. They want to share your values, to support you, to see you win because your product or service helped them win, too.
If you’re reading this, there’s a chance that your ICPs (Ideal Customer Personas) are either non-existent or outdated. The best recommendation I can give you is to create a new one either by conducting market research, or by surveying your own customers.
Beyond the usual, old-school demographic data, your goal here is to identify their psychographics:
- Goals, dreams, aspirations
- Values, beliefs, motivations
- Struggles, pain-points, challenges
- Platforms they use, people they follow, magazines they read
- Language they use, causes they support, associations they joined
If you choose to do it alone, this will take you longer than it would to just create an average ICP. But branding is all about being far from average, and reading this article puts you above average, too.
Analyze your competitors
Knowing your audience as well as you know that childhood friend you’re still in touch won’t cut it. You need to conduct a comprehensive competitive analysis.
It should include:
- Products or services: features, benefits, quality, pricing, availability.
- Branding: name, logo, slogan, tone of voice, visual identity.
- Marketing: channels, strategies, tactics, campaigns.
- Customer service: responsiveness, satisfaction, retention.
- Reputation: reviews, ratings, testimonials.
The reviews are the most important part: Every bad review will contain the feelings of a let down customer, or something your competitors are not providing. These are your market gaps & your shots at finding an effective differentiator – which will help you craft your Conducting a competitive analysis can help you identify your unique selling proposition (USP) and competitive advantage.
Identify your positioning
This is where all the work done until now starts coming together to impact your final goal: Influencing your audience’s perception of your brand. Positioning is this – how you want your target audience to perceive your brand in relation to your competitors.
For clarity, Brand Strategy alchemizes it into a Positioning Statement.
It should be clear, simple, and relevant to your audience while describing precisely why they should pick you over your competition.
Here’s the formula I use with my clients:
Manifesting your strategy
Average businesses start here: Startups will hire freelancers to make them a logo & a simple design system. Establishedbusinesses will task their design team with renewing the brand identity with no strategy behind it, and post-merger entitieswill think hiring a design agency will be enough.
Starting by design is precisely like trying to build a house from the window frames. Design should be the cherry on top of your strategy, not its focus, and it should reflect your audience’s expectations while also making you stand out.
Your Brand Strategy, however, will go far beyond just design.
It will impact HR from how & who they hire to how they create culture.
It will affect Sales from how they pitch to how they treat customers.
It will guide Marketing from who they target in paid campaigns to the language they use in organic content. Other impacted areas will be packaging, customer service, events: A Brand Strategy is the business plan for your brand.
It is a long-term commitment, not a one-time project like a website or an event. As such, it will require constant monitoring & adjustment. In the end, however, it will pay off – after all, every successful business you know has a Brand Strategy.
If your does not, the right moment to develop one is now.