What is Brand Strategy?

Brand is the gut feeling people get when they hear your company's name. Branding strategy is what you want that feeling to be, and how you plan to get there. A good brand development strategy focuses on the long-term. While publicity stunts may temporarily shift public opinion, great brands are built on years of telling the same story and delivering on the same, great product. Not only this, a clear brand strategy helps aligns employees around a set of shared values. While the values themselves may be broad — integrity, creativity, transparency — they need to be baked into your company's practices and objectives in concrete ways.

How Brand Strategy Works

1. Define Who You Want to Be
Think of your company as a person. What is their personality? Are they funny? Idealistic? Open? The brainstorming can get even more granular: if your company was a person what type of clothes would they wear? What would their favorite color be? What type of music they would like? While the exercise may sound fluffy, it's important to bear in mind that branding runs on emotion, not logic. Most people's opinion of a company isn't based on hard facts, but things like childhood memories, snatches of conversation, the logo's color scheme, etc. Defining an emotional identity is the first step in aligning how others see your company with how your company sees itself.

2. Focus on the Points of Contact
Once you've have clarity on your identity, you need to figure out how to communicate this identity to your customers. The first step is to list the points of contact: where your brand and your customers' lives intersect. Clearly, the two touch every time a customer uses your product. But what about when they call up to ask a question (or just complain)? Or see you in their Twitter feed? Or on a billboard driving down the highway? Consistency in your points of contact is key. Your company can provide 99 positive experiences for a customer, but lose them as a loyal follower if the 100th is not what they expected.

3. Stay Flexible
Consistency and rigidity are not the same thing. Your market is always changing, as are the tools you need to reach them. Great brands understand how to implement fresh campaigns around recognizable signals: remaining contemporary, but identifiable. Coca-Cola, for example, continually updates their packaging and product lines, while keeping core branding elements like logo and color-scheme.

1. Keep it inspiring
Every company goes through rough patches. Deals fall through, targets are missed, and the market just won't behave. If a company sees its brand as a tool for manipulating customers into making purchases, these storms become difficult to weather. A brand strategy that puts mission above revenue helps company morale when the latter is scarce. For instance, Ikea's brand strategy is to "create a better everyday life:" an achievable target even when sales are down.

2. Set expectations
A brand strategy breaks down into the promises a company makes to its customers, and to itself. While mission driven companies risk sanctimony, they also have lofty ideals to measure their practices and impact against. An absence of high brand expectation can result in moral entropy — the creeping increase of corner-cutting, unsavory culture, and opacity in areas that should be transparent.

3. Engender loyalty
A successful company breeds competitors. And unless you've got a patent on new rocket engine technology, these competitors will recreate much of what makes your product tick. Customer loyalty can keep a brand afloat even when product differentiation has flattened out. People who regularly buy LaCroix aren't thinking in terms of price and utiles; hence why you won't see a 'Croix Boy' sipping Polar Spring seltzer anytime soon, despite the cents they'd save.

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