A brand is an attempt to make the intangible real.
James Walter Thompson, considered to be the founder of modern branding
A brand is a simple concept with an almost infinite number of potential executions. And that’s why developing a brand strategy can become so difficult. Let’s take a look at an example.
Recently, we sat down with a firm that needed help with their brand architecture and strategy. They were a small group housed within a larger business unit that was part of an even larger company, and their job was to sell services that would be a potential client’s initial introduction to the company as a whole. The only problem? Their group was branded under a completely different name than their business unit, which was in turn branded separately from the parent company. Because of a convoluted brand strategy, customers had no idea who they were initially doing business with or why people from other companies were suddenly calling them. The company was having trouble increasing its customer value, because it was pursuing a failed brand strategy.
Clarity and Consistency are the most important brand hallmarks.
Developing a brand strategy requires clear vision, careful planning and detailed execution to avoid situations like our example above. And to get there, you’ll need to start with a brand strategy session. These exercises can seem mysterious, but we’re here to help you build your brand by answering your most common brand strategy questions.
1. How Long Does it Take to Create My Brand Strategy?
Apple, the largest brand in the world by revenue as of this writing
A brand can be developed in a few minutes, or a period of years. The real answer to how long it takes to develop your brand strategy is lies with how many stakeholders your brand will touch, and how quickly you can communicate your changes to them. Depending on the size of your business, you may need a number of brand strategy sessions over a significant period of time to address issues and decisions. Brand strategy exercises typically begin with a broader overview of your business and its functions in order to understand exactly how much of an effect any brand changes will be.
Consider Apple Computer, the world’s most valuable brand as of this writing. Apple is the standard for millions of technology consumers, and it employs thousands of workers all around the world. If Apple makes a change to its brand strategy, the impact will be massive. And so, the company spends significant amounts of time surveying its customers to understand their experience with its brand as it plots its product roadmaps.
2. To Whom Am I Selling?
This question typically arises when discussing how to identify your target customer, and many hours of meetings and calls have been spent on this particular subject. The answer lies in buyer personas. Buyer personas are research-based characterizations of your target customer that help you guide your brand strategy. Most brands have several buyer personas, and they are typically determined based on primary research of both current customers and prospective customers that uncovers different psychological need states and practical use cases for purchasing from the brand.
When crafting your buyer personas, consider customer demographics and lifestyles, buying behavior, motivations, and any other criteria that will help you make strategic brand decisions. Ultimately, creating these personas will help your business in having a deep understanding of you customer.
One of the most difficult aspects of brand strategy is distilling your company’s value proposition into key messages – brief statements that reflect the core of your business. These key messages provide guidance for everything your company does, from advertising executions to how your employees interact with your consumers, but creating them can take significant effort.
Young Marketing Consulting will typically approach a brand strategy session by asking a number of questions such as those below to help surface an organization’s core values:
What values do you want to portray to your audience?
What traits are important to your customers?
Why do people purchase your brand?
How should all of your employees perform?
The output of these questions is a rough draft of how you’ll talk about your brand. As discussed above, brand strategy will need to be vetted with a number of stakeholders, and they’ll often have input down to the amount of punctuation in your value proposition, but continually distilling what values you brand holds dear and revising your language will tell you exactly what to say to your market.
4. What Do We Do if We Don’t Agree About Our Brand?
When in doubt about your brand, ask your target audience.
It’s not uncommon for different stakeholder constituencies to disagree on various aspects of brand strategy. The key to solving these issues is to make decisions based on research that demonstrates what your audience wants, not what the room thinks your audience wants. Using both primary and secondary market research techniques will allow you to have the deepest understanding of your target audience. Conduct interviews, use surveys, and consider setting up focus groups with current and potential customers. Integrate your results with existing data such as government census information, market research reports, and any other material that has already been collected by another organization. Gathering this kind of secondary data is often quick and inexpensive, and can help solve business questions about things like market size, revenue potential, and other financial factors.
5. How Will We Know if Our Brand is “Right”?
At its core, marketing is always a leap of faith. You won’t really know if your brand strategy is going to work until you put it out in the market.
The key to evaluating whether you’ve got the right brand is to listen to your customers and market – they’ll vote with their eyeballs, feet, and wallet. If your messages aren’t resonating, you’ll see that reflected in your business metrics and will know it’s time for a change. Monitor metrics like web traffic, lead conversions, sales, and social media conversations to see if you’re gaining traction. And don’t fret if your sales aren’t flourishing immediately after you craft a branding strategy – it can take years to see market share increase. The best way to know if your brand is “right” is to listen to your customers once your brand strategy has been implemented and make small tweaks based on their feedback.