What is Brand Strategy?

"A brand is a customer's gut feeling about a product, service, or company." from Marty Neumeier's Zag

Before we get into the process of developing a brand strategy, let's be sure we're clear on what a brand strategy is, why it's necessary, and how it's used.

Your brand strategy defines what you stand for, the promise your brand makes, and the personality your brand conveys. These are all facets of your company which are intentionally designed to influence people to feel something specific, often subconsciously. That feeling will influence them to make specific decisions that benefit you. If you make great products and services, it'll benefit the customer too.

Some designers can just create amazing work without knowing one thing about a brand. Just imagine how more effective their work would be if aligned to a brand strategy. Your brand strategy is the single source of objective truth in our work, guiding decisions that inform the creation of all the daily experiences that customers, prospects, and employees have with the brand. Brands have direct control over the images and messages distributed, product packaging and shelf display, even store design and floor layout. If it's a digital business, the brand strategy may even guide decisions on whether or not to expand the business into the physical environment. It determines the way employees interact with customers, in person and remotely, such as from a call center. The brand is instrumental in determining a customer's opinion and emotional connection to the brand, both in general, and versus the competition. Your brand is something that will live in the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects.

Click here to read our article on positioning to appeal to our ideal customers.

The brand strategy is your reference point, the guiding force that will light the path of the delivery of a consistent experience across multiple touch points. Consistency will allow you to develop trust and familiarity among your customers. That's the only thing that will guide their hand towards your tube of toothpaste on a shelf of 30 others. It's the only thing that will determine a person downloads your app amongst all others on the iTunes store.

The brand determines the moments of truth any time a customer comes into contact with a business:

  • When the customer is looking at a product next to its competition. Do they choose yours? What influenced that decision?
  • When the customer actually purchases the product and uses it, to what extent does it meet the expectations set earlier?
  • When the customers provide feedback about the product and share it with the company as well as their friends, colleagues, family members, et cetera. What did they share and why?

Every time someone experiences your brand, intentionally or not, is an opportunity to reinforce who and what the brand is. If the experience is inconsistent, people will struggle to identify the brand. The inability to identify or remember the brand in a positive light, will limit your success. It's why having a solid and continuous brand strategy is important for design and is what enables design to be an effective and lasting business solution.

So, is Business Strategy a Brand Strategy?

They're kinda the same. Very often, people insist they are completely different. In my honest opinion, they SHOULD be the same. They're just different articulations of the same idea for different purposes. (Hopefully the same idea.) Your business strategy is usually the brief for your staff and the pitch for your investors. Your brand strategy is usually the brief for your product, sales, marketing, and customer service teams.

Harvard Business Review describes business strategy like this:

"A business strategy is a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the organization should make decisions and allocate resources in order to accomplish key objectives. A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take and not take and the things they should prioritize and not prioritize to achieve desired goals."

Wharton, the business school at University of Pennsylvania, describes brand strategy like so:

"Brand strategy is a plan for sustaining or building the meaning of a brand in consumers' minds. This includes determining which consumers would most like the brand and how best to communicate what the brand is all about and what it can offer to those consumers."

The Big Mistake

As I hope you can imagine, if what you're telling your staff about how to behave is different from what you tell your customers about how your company behaves, there's going to be a big mismatch in what the customer is told and what they actually experience.

Click here to find out why we determine brand strategy first before any creative work begins.

Business Strategy Informs the Brand Strategy

Once you have your business strategy in hand, you need to create your brand strategy. There are many ways to go about developing a brand strategy but it essentially all boils down to answering four questions:

  • What does your brand do? Also known as the value proposition.
  • Who do you do it for? Define your *Ideal* customers. Remember, they're not all the same.
  • What does the competitive landscape look like and how do you stand out?
  • How do you do it?

Click here to get a glimpse into our brand strategy discovery process.

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