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Creating a successful brand strategy can catapult your business from a scrappy challenger to a leading industry champion. Here's how.
The easiest way to think about brand strategy is to consider your own personal answers to these kinds of questions:
What do your favourite brands say about you? Why do you buy, for example, Nike trainers rather than Hi Tec? Why do you take your morning coffee over your MacBook at Starbucks?
Is it because you see yourself as a motivated go-getter? A free-thinking digital nomad? Do you have great taste? Are you “cool”? Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, we’re making statements through our purchases.
The image a brand possesses does not (usually) come about by accident – it’s been carefully crafted by marketers and targeted at a specific set of consumers.
Whether overtly pushed or subtly implied, this brand messaging filters through, causing consumers to experience certain emotions when interacting with a brand. Clearly, being a Starbucks customer makes people feel good about themselves – you only have to look at the countless images of people posing with the ubiquitous green and white cups on Instagram to see that.
So how has Starbucks succeeded in tapping so deeply into consumers’ psyches? The answer is the company’s brand strategy. The company set out a vision for its brand that wasn’t about profit forecasts and expansion plans, but about creating a concept customers could buy into.
Says Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman and former CEO, Starbucks:
“A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.”
In this article, we will look at exactly what brand strategy means, how to create a brand strategy for your business and how it should affect every aspect of your work.
Brand strategy is a long-term plan for the development of a brand in order to increase brand equity and subsequent company value. It entails creating a unique character, ethos and culture that permeates all aspects of a business and is directly related to consumer needs, wants and emotions.
According to Investopedia, brand strategy: “encompasses the consumer’s complete experience with both the product and the company, making it a powerful tool for gaining market leverage. An integrated strategy for marketing and branding is the most effective at increasing market share.”
Business Dictionary adds that brand strategy is: “long-term marketing support for a brand, based on the definition of the characteristics of the target consumers. It includes understanding of their preferences, and expectations from the brand.”
A consumer brand that goes to market without a brand strategy is comparable to trying to sell a book with no cover and no blurb. If you don’t give customers a reason to choose you, you’re likely to get overlooked.
In a world overpopulated with products, consumers are crying out for guidance; seeking brands that speak to their ideals and aspirations. Brand stories, provenance and authenticity are playing increasingly important roles in buying choices. Hence why more and more small brands are being bought out by big corporates (if companies can’t create character, they buy it).
Justin K Small, Chief Strategy Officer at The BIO Agency, believes brand strategy has become so important today, that it’s essentially a new religion: “Brands perform an important service in our modern Western societies – they allow us to define ourselves, differentiate ourselves, and better ourselves in ways that were never available to previous generations.
“More than voting, more than philosophy, more than fighting – brands define the human experience. History will no longer be written by the winners, it will be written by the brands – bite-sized ‘rational’ encapsulations of our ‘irrational’ emotional thinking. Our inner subjective worlds formed and packaged for us to experience as objects in order for us to feel ourselves effectively mirrored and held.”
Indeed, some of latest research shows that brands are more trusted sources of information than politicians, celebrities and even mainstream media.
When brands have come to mean so much to us, it’s vital that any newcomers have their identity nailed. Those companies that treat their brand as a way of life – think Apple, Nike, Harley Davidson – are the ones with the biggest following.
Brand strategy goes way beyond your company name, logo and colours; it’s the guiding principles of your company, the way you do business and your distinctive voice. Even if you do not have these formally established, don’t panic, oftentimes they are present – you just have to tease them out and give them recognition before you can amplify them.
Through this process you will also uncover any conflicts within your brand identity, which you can iron out. For example, if an important part of your brand is supporting small business owners through your products, you may decide this ethos should also be reflected in your supply chain.
In this way, your brand identity and strategy becomes holistic; it’s evident in all you do.
1. Define Your Mission
Start by asking yourself a question – why have you created this business, product or brand? What is your driving purpose? Of course,making money may be one reason, but looking beyond that, why are you doing what you’re doing? After all, there are many ways to make money, so why are you choosing this particular business to work on?
Perhaps you’ve designed an innovative product for babies – what led to you do that? Is it because you’re a parent and you saw a need for this product to make life easier or improve the safety or comfort of your child?
Or perhaps you’re passionate about helping other parents save money or be environmentally friendly? Whatever it is, this is your mission. Once you’re clear on your core mission, it can direct everything from your marketing messages and sales channels to your future product development and strategic partnerships.
Ikea, for example, states it exists to provide well-designed, functional furniture at prices so low that as many people as possible are able to afford them. “We are constantly trying to do everything a little better, a little simpler, more efficiently and always cost-effectively,” the company says in its mission statement, and this can indeed be seen in everything Ikea does.
2. Define Your Business Goals
Many startups don’t think too far into the future; especially kitchen table enterprises that have grown organically without external investment. However, it’s helpful to set out long term goals in order to create a framework for your brand strategy.
It might seem unrealistic at the outset to say you’re going to break into America, or challenge a dominant brand for market share, but building a brand that’s scaleable from the beginning gives you a greater chance of achieving these ambitions. If you are clear about where you want to take your business, your brand strategy will help you get there.
Your business goals and your brand strategy should be symbiotic – each helping support one another. For example, let’s say one of your business goals is to get your brand of sanitary products into emerging markets, and a pillar of your brand strategy is improving the lives of women globally; these two go hand-in-hand. Carrying out your mission should ultimately lead to successful completion of your goals.
3. Identify Your Customer
Focusing in on a particular segment of target consumers is something companies often struggle with. You might say, “Everyone buys shoes, so everyone is a potential customer of my shoe brand.”
While this is true, it becomes very hard to hit the bullseye with your marketing without a target to aim at. Therefore, it makes sense to carve a niche and focus on it – it’s what will set your brand apart.
An example of this is Bio-bean, winner of Richard Branson’s Virgin Voom competition (the prize being £250k of advertising spend). According to The Drum, while Bio-bean, which recycles used coffee granules into fuel, had ad budget it lacked any semblance of a brand strategy. Tom Bage, Head of Marketing at Bio-bean, said: “The business just hadn’t had the time and resource to think about what its brand should be.”
Initially the brand was looking to tap into the broad market of “anyone with a stove or wood burner fire.” Hired to help with strategy, Studio of Art and Commerce abandoned attempts at segmenting by age and instead sought to appeal to what it dubbed ‘the flat white generation’.
“People who are more discerning, spend more time thinking about their decisions; people who like their coffee but want to know what happens after they drink it,” explained Bage.
In other words, they focused less on demographic segments, and more on understanding their target market’s ‘Jobs To Be Done’ – a signature focus of most successful brands.
Getting to know your audience in this way and being able to define specific customer personas means you can appeal directly to them. Ultimately, this will help drive sales; according to Hinge Marketing, firms that conduct regular research on their target markets grow 3X faster and are up to 2X more profitable.
4. Create Strong Messaging
Once you’re clear on your brand positioning, the next step is to translate that into a series of messages. Every campaign you create should communicate a strong message that spreads your beliefs while resonating with your target consumers consumers. Good brand strategy endeavours to make the brand’s mission relevant to customers by tapping into current trends.
To understand the issues on your customers’ radars, it’s necessary to stay in close contact with them. An example of a brand using their customers to direct strategy is Vodafone. Its new brand positioning strategy and related advertising campaigns were developed after extensive research and concept testing which included qualitative and quantitative responses from 30,000 people in 17 countries.
An additional survey was carried out among 13,000 people across 14 countries to determine how people felt about the future. The study found that, overall, people are more positive about the future. Nearly half, 48%, think that today’s children will have a better life.
As a result, vodafone is repositioning its brand on the theme of future optimism and has adopted the new strapline: “The future is exciting. Ready?”
“Our new brand positioning is intended to embody Vodafone’s mission and purpose to help our communities adapt and prosper as new trends shape the world,” Serpil Timuray, Chief Commercial Operations and Strategy Officer told Campaign.
Attest can help your brand reach 30 million consumers in up to 80 countries, so if you need a global expression of your brand or an understanding of international consumers, we’re here to help.
5. Ensure Consistency (But Adapt to Local Culture)
A cornerstone of good brand strategy is consistency. Your brand should be easily identifiable wherever a consumer encounters it. This means ensuring the same look, feel and experience runs through your physical products, bricks and mortar stores, offices, online retail channels, social media, advertisements and marketing communications.
This consistency translates into brand equity. And the CEOs of successful companies care a lot about brand equity, as evidenced by their annual investor reports.
That’s not to say brands can’t display any variety at all; they should – within defined boundaries – especially when entering new markets. Brands that show respect for local culture by adapting are more likely to experience success. A good example of this is the aforementioned Starbucks; as well as routinely localising elements of its store design, it also flexes its offering to suit the customer base.
For its expansion into China, Starbucks introduced beverages that included local tea-based ingredients. Brand strategist Martin Roll says: “How did it manage to launch so successfully in a culture of primarily tea drinkers? The key was market research. Market research revealed that the Starbucks experience appealed to those aspiring to Western standards or those climbing the social ladder in their own culture.
“Additionally, the company also found out that the Chinese market was not a homogenous one especially in terms of spending power. Responding to this, Starbucks initiated partnerships with local coffee companies to better understand the intricacies of local tastes and preferences.”
As we’ve seen, good strategy must be informed by solid research and quality data – that’s where Attest comes in. The entire process – including each of the five steps above – should be backed up by market intelligence. Here are the different ways Attest can help you can do that:
Not sure where to start? Ask your target customers. They can tell you who they are, how they live their lives and what’s important to them. What do they look for when selecting a brand in your space? What brands do they buy currently and why? What would make them swap?
This intelligence can inspire your brand purpose and principles, help you understand how your brand should be positioned, guide your product features and generate ideas for your marketing. Essentially, it is the foundation of a customer-led business.
To make this easy for you, we’ve even developed a ‘Jobs To Be Done’ survey template so you get the answers you need to make a start on your brand strategy.
Perhaps you already have strong ideas of your own about what your brand is about and how you want to communicate? That’s great, however it’s important to know that these match the wants, needs and beliefs of your target customer or your messages could fall on deaf ears.
No matter how strongly you feel, or how well you know the market, the biggest reason new businesses fail is that there was actually no market need in the first place.
Before you sink thousands of pounds into your new venture, don’t fall into the trap of ‘survivorship bias’ and follow the likes of Steve Jobs. Take the time to ask your market and valid your beliefs.
You can use simple surveys to validate your ideas or help you select the strongest ones if you’re not completely clear where you should focus. Always seeking feedback before you commit to any important strategic decision will ensure you’re headed in the right direction.
A brand strategy is a constantly evolving thing. If customers are not responding to your messages, it’s no good to keep on banging the same drum. You need to make adjustments, either by changing what you’re saying or the ways you’re saying it. That’s why it’s vital to continually track your progress.
And remember, even if everything is clicking, no brand operates in a silo. New competitors will emerge, consumer trends will change. So it’s important to keep an eye on brand within the context of the wider market.
Attest can help you confirm brand messages are getting through, and “take your brand’s pulse” in order to understand both brand awareness and current customer opinion. You can keep tabs on overall satisfaction by regularly measuring Net Promoter score (NPS). Keep this strong and you’ll know your brand strategy is a winning one.
For any business serious about their brand strategy, our Brand Intelligence products will help you measure, manage and maximise your brand’s strength so you get ahead, and stay ahead in your target market.
Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members.
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