8 brand strategy steps that aren’t about creating a logo, values or purpose
A guide for how you can create an effective brand strategy to better connect with your consumers.
If you’ve followed me for a little bit now you’ll know I’ve had a gripe with this phrase ‘brand strategy’. A total farking buzzword in any branding person’s vocabulary and I dare not speak its name when I rattle off my services with clients. Why? Because I’m not a brand strategist, I develop brand identities.
Here’s the difference:
A brand strategy is about what you’re going to be doing in 2022 (and beyond) to connect with a specific group of people to buy into what you have to offer. It’s the game plan behind passing the basketball (your offering) from your end of the court, into Michael Jordan’s hands (customer wants/needs) and giving him the space (positioning) to let him get the ball in the bucket (your customer) so your team scores (sales) time and time again to win the game (profit) and be known for it.
A brand identity is just that, an identity. It does have strategic components baked into the process of developing a brand identity that is going to connect with your consumer. But it is the identity that represents you, your team and what you have to offer so that it’s just the one identity a specific group(s) of people need to connect with. It’s the team philosophy, the logo emblazoned on the stand out red shirts and shorts, the team music played while on offence and the home court feel and atmosphere.
Basketball analogies aside, here’s a handful of hard truths I’ve come to learn:
- A brand strategy is not done with the sole purpose of developing a brand identity, if at all.
- I would not confuse developing your brand values, purpose, mission, vision, tone of voice, etc, as being your brand strategy that informs a better logo/visual identity (sometimes just referred to as the brand identity). A brand identity is indeed the values, purpose, voice, message, look, feel, sound and smell of a brand.
- The third is that a brand strategy is better to be revisited in the short term. A set and forget brand strategy does not keep your brand relevant.
- Developing/refreshing/rebranding a brand identity (also known as ‘branding’ — the act of brand building) is a tactic to achieve the objectives of a brand strategy.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, do you need to be doing brand strategy for your business?
Not necessarily because it’s not for everyone. But can it help create an impact? Quite simply, yes.
The broader answer is that a brand strategy is much the same, if not the same as a marketing strategy. It might just be semantics depending on if it’s coming from a branding person or a marketing person. That said, you may already do brand strategy or parts of it without even knowing it because much of it is an inherent part of business. So no matter what you call it, the benefit of this effort is a plan for everyone involved to know what the hell you’re going to be doing in the next 12 months or thereabout.
So your plan is simple:
- Set objectives
- Get tactical
- Put a $ figure on it with a Budget
At the end of all this, we just want a clear plan everyone understands and can get behind to be successful by the end of it all and when we come full circle to start from the beginning in a new year’s cycle of brand strategy.
A quick caveat before I dig in. There is another step in a brand strategy process is a step called Market Orientation. It’s a process of identifying the needs/wants of the customers who are likely to benefit from and be satisfied by your offering. Though if you’ve already got a product/service customers are buying, this step may not be needed. However, if you’re developing a new offering or updating an offering, this is the step you should be taking first.
I talked about reviewing what your brand’s 2021 looked like in my last blog post of this ‘All about Branding’ series. So to quickly rehash this one again, ask yourselves these questions: ( If your brand is just starting out you can in most cases skip this bit)
- What objectives did we not hit?
- What objectives did we hit?
- Is there anything we’ve learned of value that needs to be considered this year?
- Could anything be done better this year?
- How are we tracking with brand awareness, sales, referrals, leads, market share, consumer sentiment, etc?
Speaking of tracking in that last point, research is the step where you gather that data. It can be quantitative data: your sales figures, click-through rates, social engagement, etc. Or qualitative data: customer testimonials, interviews, surveys, etc.
The purpose of this is using the data is to find potential outliers that signal what is or isn’t working to set out a plan of rectifying those problems and creating better outcomes.
Additionally, you can research what others are out there doing to find inspiration to innovate and improve or refresh and adapt. Be it competitors, businesses in other industries or territories and even trending consumer behaviours.
So this data can be used to identify the people we’re going to next be focusing on.
Market segmentation is about dividing up the groups of potential consumers (the market) that are available to your brand.
It’s not about segmenting the different parts of or people in your business. Nor is it about segmenting your competitors into groups.
To segment is to basically split up all the potential consumers into key groups that are relevant to your brand’s offering.
So these could be based on one or many categories, for example:
1. Buyer Behaviour — what makes them do things like making a purchase and the steps they take to buy
Based on time, money, convenience, their goals
2. Location where they are and/or go looking for you
Geographic (eg. local customer), the platform they use (eg. Instagram), shop type (eg. Shopping centre), shelf space (eg. Frozen aisle in supermarket)
3. Number of people
Are there a lot of likely consumers in that segment or a smaller niche of people?
4. Market share (if you have that data)
The likely or definitive amount of sales per segment compared to your competitors to identify if you dominate the market in that segment or not.
To give you an example of a market segment for a real estate agency based on these 4 examples of possible segment categories.
- Need to sell apartment fast to afford and buy a bigger home for growing family
- They currently live in the same suburb as the agency
- High-density apartment dwelling population of younger first-time homeowners
- Sold 58 of 140 apartments sold to 18–35 demo in 2021–41% market share Segment name: “Young Family Upsizers”
Other segment categories can include age, gender, relationship status, work status/job description, number of dependents or yearly revenue, which are Demographics. While you can use other Psychographic markers to segment your market like lifestyles, interests, hobbies, opinions, political sentiments, religious beliefs, values and even various life challenges like health conditions.
This is where it can get tricky when choosing the right segment to target or multiple targets. The truth is that you can target the whole market, which is called mass marketing and that can work in many cases like toilet paper…whether you’re in a pandemic or not.
Don’t worry as you can do both in a two-pronged attack when your mass marketing is more long term brand awareness just from being present and active in front of your consumers. But that’s getting tactical and we’re not even there yet.
If mass marketing is too big and you have a limited budget to spend or you wanna use the budget you have wisely, your best friend either way is going to be that data you rounded up in the first two steps. Now I said it gets tricky as you need to weigh up the benefits of these two questions concurrently:
- Can we be the dominant leader in this segment (awareness & market share)?
- Will this segment be the most viable? (ie. will it bring in the most money)
If we take that real estate segment of the “Young Family Upsizers”, and apply it to the first question. The agency has a 41% market share in the segment, it might be the majority share or it may not. There could be other segments like retirees selling their homes and you have a majority share of that market segment well beyond 75%. The benefit of this market share is that you’re most likely to be the known brand if you have the dominant share of business, which makes your life a whole lot easier when it comes to positioning.
But if we consider the second question that considers the viability of that market segment, market share may not be the hero on its own for a couple of reasons I can demonstrate:
- If one of your segments has the smallest comparative market share but that segment has brought in 80% of your revenue, this should send off alarm bells for what you should be doing next. TARGET THEM to bump up that share with an objective of increased sales (more on objectives soon).
- Let’s say you have a high market share and/or you’re the most convenient option for your consumers. If that segment only has a small pool of potential consumers you need to assess if this is viable based on the price they’re willing to pay or even repeat business. If it’s not enough, the sensible decision is to target elsewhere.
When it comes to positioning, as I said at the start of this, make this simple because this is about asking yourself:
What are you going to be known for most in relation to the competition, to be thought of when what you offer is needed?
Let’s break this down.
What you’re going to be known for most — is it your brand colours, customer service experience, meeting expectations consistently, faces of your brand (think of Steve Jobs and Apple), packaging, product shape, smells, sounds, feelings that are evoked?
In relation to the competition — if you’re the purple brand and the rest are either red or no other competitor in the target segment’s market is using purple, you’re differentiating your brand in relation to the rest to be known as that purple brand. It’s when consumers compare you to others if the offering is similar or if you offer something completely different to anything else out there. For example, we have two major supermarket leaders in Australia that are very similar in many aspects. Woolworths uses green in their branding, Coles uses red. Simple differentiation to know which store you’re going to go to and remember them by.
To be thought of when what you offer is needed — Firstly, is what you offer going deliver on what they want or at least need? And can you deliver? If if it can’t do that, well it’s back to the drawing board. Secondly, Is there a key moment in time that a consumer needs what you have to offer? And at that moment are you the brand they think of first? If you’re not, your objective that comes next will need to be identifying what that moment is and your tactics will be centred around how you occupy that space.
Again, use that data from the first two steps to identify these needs and moments or even take it straight from the horse’s mouth to ask your consumers what comes to mind when they think of you and decide to buy.
Lastly, you’re going to be known for different things by different people/segments. So the way you position your brand may need to be considered in multiple ways for different targets.
Any strategy needs objectives, otherwise, how do you know you’ve won the war or at least are getting closer to it?
This isn’t necessarily the number of sales or revenue you hope to make as that’s reserved for your business forecasting and becomes the happy result of an objective. So some types of objectives you can set to measure success might be:
- Increased awareness
- For consumers to think of you first
- Increase in consumers choosing you
- Repeat business
They’re pretty general so it’s up to you to make these objectives specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART goals for short).
Once again you may have 1–2 objectives per segment that differ from the objectives you set for the others, but don’t go crazy with a laundry list of objectives. I reckon a good number to give a good crack at is 1–5 objectives.
Now, this is where you can design or redesign your logo…if you need to. The tactics associated with the strategy are the actionable steps you’re going to take to successfully achieve your objectives. They may be specific to the target(s) or for the market in general to build brand equity. Some tactics include:
- Brand identity development to better engage your consumers with a more identifiable and memorable identity.
- Marketing campaigns that include advertising, content and promotional deliverables
- Changing your pricing
- Changing the placement of your offering or adding new placements
- Changing the packaging of your offering
- User testing new offerings
- Improved customer experience/journey
Then tie your tactics to your objectives so there’s a clearer association between them. Though tactical outcomes may spread across multiple objectives and targets.
But if you’re unsure of what tactics will help, focus on the four P’s of marketing (Price, Place, Product & Promotion) coined as the ‘Marketing Mix’ by Kotler & McCarthy. At the very least you’ll have a starting point for what can be done when thinking about the right tactics to achieve the objectives. Also, when I talked about positioning before, if a consumer has only just bought from you for the first time, don’t assume they’ve not had you top of mind, because they might just not need you yet. So just be mindful that if any of the tactical steps you take aren’t directly attributed to a sale, it may not mean they have been worthless pursuits. As it can take a consumer up to 7 impressions from a brand to buy or just the right time to buy.
Surprise surprise you’ve gotta put a dollar figure on your objectives / tactics / targets to set out a required budget. This last step is most likely to be the deciding factor of how your strategy plays out.
So of course, if you have the budget to target the agreed segments with the most impactful tactics, you’re going to be able to have that red hot crack at it and measure the results to know if you’ve hit the mark and spent correctly.
Either way, the measurable part of your SMART objectives is there to help identify the increase in revenue as a result of achieving your objectives, so that a budget can be set according to profit (ROI%) being made. Business 101.
So there are the 8 steps to set a plan in motion.
Now, one thing you might be thinking after all this is how did I learn this stuff if I don’t necessarily do this brand strategy process with my clients? My best recommendation is to look up marketing professional and marketing/brand consultant, Mark Ritson or simply refer to this great “Marketingland” illustration below to help you travel to ‘Brand Beach’. This process has proven success in real-world use from the biggest brands in the world, all the way down to small businesses.
But when it comes to the tactics and a brand identity refresh or rebrand is needed, say g’day and book a call with me, here.
So whether or not you’re just starting out, you’re going through your strategic planning for a new year or you’re assessing how you can better help your clients as a branding or marketing person, consider these 8 steps to develop a winning and reoccurring plan for developing a strategy that grows your brand at the same time as generating revenue and profit, rather than it be all about how your logo looks.
This article first appeared on my blog where you can find more about me and other content about branding.
I’m Reagan ‘Frank’ Mackrill, a brand identity designer from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia.
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