Why You Need a Brand Strategy - and How to Create One
Are you struggling to get results from your marketing campaigns? If your marketing ROI falls short of expectations, your first thought may be to change up your message and try another campaign. And then try again, and again — until something works.
The problem is, if you’re just throwing something at your customers to see what “sticks” and you don’t understand your long-term trajectory, you’re going to miss the mark. Every single time. We guarantee it.
The reason? Marketing doesn’t work without one key ingredient: the “why.” Why someone would buy from you; why a customer should be loyal to your brand. And you can’t have a solid understanding of the “why” without branding.
Branding is not the same as marketing. Branding is who you are — what your stand for, believe in and behave like, and how you are perceived. Branding helps you create and express a brand message and communicate it in a clear, concise and compelling way.
Marketing is simply execution, the short-term delivery of that message. It doesn’t work without branding as an underlying guide.
Three Steps to Branding
Intentional branding is about managing your customers’ expectations. And there’s both an art and a science to that process.
We apply a three-step method that helps uncover all the factors necessary to creating a successful brand:
Step 1. Plan your brand strategy: This is your action plan that will establish your positioning and your place in the market.
Step 2. Distill your brand essence: You need a core concept that explains your brand in the simplest, most single-minded terms and is fundamentally rooted in the basic customer needs.
Step 3: Create the brand expression: Integrating the brand strategy and the brand identity, the brand expression is the brand as defined and articulated by your organization through your communication and marketing messaging.
Planning the Brand Strategy
The goal of the brand strategy is to express your competitive advantage by leveraging your unique strengths and offerings so you can build sustainable relationships with your customers; create positive, lasting impressions; and build loyalty.
The strategy should answer three main questions:
- What is your positioning?
- How do you differentiate?
- Who are you?—or, what is your brand?
Positioning determines how you stack up against your competitors and what makes you different and better. By knowing how you’re different from your competition, you can tell you customers and potential customers what your position is in the industry relative to competing brands.
Customers use positioning to evaluate your brand. They’ll assign a position for you in their minds even if they don’t share this with you.
Positioning looks outward and is a customer-centric process. To evaluate and create your positioning, ask yourself:
- What niche are you filling?
- What need are you answering?
- What are your customers’ needs, concerns and pet peeves?
- What insights do you have into your customers?
Differentiation is what sets you apart from other brands similar to yours. You’re now turning inward to figure out what separates you within your category. Typically, a company will embrace a minor characteristic as its signature difference.
To choose your brand over another, customers need an obvious or expressed and declared differentiation. To determine this differentiation, walk through these questions:
- What are the current trends in your industry and what are the challenges?
- What makes you different and what are your strengths?
- What are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?
- What is your one unique thing?
Once you understand your positioning and differentiation, you need to dive deeper to understand your values and beliefs. This final step in the brand strategy will help you uncover the idea behind it all — who you are and how you’re perceived.
The questions you should be answering at this stage should include:
- What do you stand for?
- What are your core beliefs?
- What are the reasons someone should buy from you?
- How do you resonate with your customers?
Once you’ve gone through the journey of discovering who you are and why customers should buy from you, you have the solid foundation for your branding. You still need to dig deeper to distill your brand essence before you can start communicating your message to the world — but now you have a clear understanding of how you’re different and what you stand for.
Keep in mind that branding is not a fixed concept. Think of it like your personality. While the core values that shape you will stay with you for a long time — perhaps for your lifetime — how you express those values and put them into actions will grow and evolve. You may even develop new quirks.
Branding works in a similar way. As your company evolves and grows, your branding will evolve along with it. What matters is that this evolution of the brand is strategic rather than accidental. Your success depends on being intentional in everything you do.