Is your brand simply one option of many similar options? Do you compete on price alone to get a leg up on the competition? Does your brand fade into the background instead of leading the charge?

If any of those sent a shiver up your spine – you may have an ‘accidental brand’ on your hands.

brand strategy the bull of perception

Brands happen whether you intentionally cultivate them or not. People will form associations and perceptions of your brand: good, bad, or worse – indifferent. Accidental brands may see some success over time but tend to miss the mark on being truly significant or particularly memorable. Strategic brands, on the other hand, see long-term success as they control their own narrative and take “the bull of perception” by its metaphorical horns.

Brand strategy is a brand’s long-term plan to outmaneuver the competition and conditions in its market. 

Brand strategy, or ‘strategy’ for short in this article, has the power to ensure long-lasting success – when implemented properly. Unfortunately, there is no formula or one-size-fits-all strategy that organizations can apply to their brands. With that said, this article depicts several key aspects of any brand strategy worth its salt (in our opinion, of course).

To avoid falling into the dreaded “accidental brand” trap, you need to have a solid strategy propelling your brand forward.

Don’t hope for a happy accident with your brand – take control of it.

Start with Discovery

brand strategy starts discovery

In order to do strategy right, you need to start with discovery. In other words, to uncover what you want to accomplish, you first need to discover who you are and what you’re up against. Before you start panicking about soul searching and meditation retreats, relax, it’s not that kind of discovery.

Discovery affords companies the ability to look inward. It allows them to determine what they do and don’t know, what gaps and opportunities exist, and ultimately what matters need addressing. Reflect on the current state of your company to learn more about specific challenges and goals – let discovery guide your next play:

  • What are our biggest challenges right now?
  • What are our goals?
  • Do we know our purpose, mission, vision, and values?
  • How is our brand perceived?
  • What is our competition doing?
  • What are the market conditions right now?
  • Do we know why our clients are choosing us?
  • Is our messaging resonating with our audience?

The questions you ask and who you talk to should be strategic. Oftentimes it’s leadership, or a few within leadership, that spearhead strategy – these are the folks that need to be answering these “depthy” questions as only they can direct the overall vision of the organization, along with mission, purpose, etc.

In all, discovery allows everyone involved to get on the same page about what gaps and opportunities exist. From there, a scope of how to move forward to bridge those gaps and how to take advantage of those opportunities can be created.

Educating employees on the rebrand will depend on their role in the organization and how involved they will be with branding. For example, the new business development team will need to be fully briefed on the new messaging and may want an in-depth presentation containing the new brand guidelines. The IT department, however, might only need to update their email signatures. Graphic designers may need one-on-one workshops detailing everything they need to know about the rebrand. This process will be unique to each organization’s rebrand.

Part of the internal launch should also include new swag (yay!) and any other elements of ‘shock and awe’ to drum up more excitement about the brand. Make sure everyone internally is up to snuff  before the external launch.

Design your Ideal Customer

After discovery, you should have a solid idea of what problems you want to solve with strategy. Here are a few common examples:

  • Expand into new markets
  • Improve sales and marketing initiatives
  • Bolster user experience
  • Adapt brand identity
  • Mold brand perception

The next step is to design your ideal customer. Why, you may ask? Because everything in your business should be built around the customer and their experience.

business built around customer experience

While your competition is busy designing other things, you can outmaneuver them by designing your ideal customer. The most common thought process is that brands should design their offering, then market it and hope the right people see it. But that’s not very strategic, is it?

Instead of simply observing who is buying from you, design the ideal customer you’d like to be buying from you (more on that here).

In designing your ideal customer, you should be able to identify:

  • Who you are talking to (roles / industries / verticals)
  • What their needs are (pain points)
  • How they like to be spoken to (voice)
  • Where to reach them (social media, email, message in a bottle)
  • What makes them tick (their raison d’etre)

Once you’ve got that information figured out it’s much easier to craft meaningful messaging that will resonate with your audience. And the more you resonate, the more your audience interacts, the higher the likelihood of perceived expertise, and ultimately – conversion.

Use your Competitor’s Strengths Against Them

Most companies follow the path of least resistance in order to provide a product or service and to make a profit in doing so. The result? A lot of companies offering identical products and services that end up looking the same. When you apply elements of brand strategy, you can challenge the status quo and set your organization apart from the rest.

And that portion starts with competition…

Which brands do you need to watch out for? How easy is it for them to mirror our new move? What tactics have and haven’t worked for them?

Throughout strategy, more specifically market research, you will be able to learn more about your top competitors both with quantitative and qualitative data. Once you’ve got a lock on that portion, focus on where they’re headed, then ask yourself how you can outmaneuver.

judo brand strategy

This is also defined as judo strategy, as referenced by Mr. Andy Starr of Level C.

For example, let’s say that your main competitors are very active on social media. They tend to subscribe to the notion that “more is more”. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon and posting to numerous social media platforms multiple times a day, what if your brand decides to go in the opposite direction?

If your brand were to post on selective channels at strategic times throughout the week or month – that content could pack more of a punch. Your audience can focus on the substance of your messages rather than the quantity. You’ll stand out and resonate more effectively within the space you have carved out for your brand.

EXERCISE:

  1. Jot down all of the assumptions about your competition (example: most in our field provide services for many verticals).
  2. Reverse the assumptions (example: specialize in only one vertical instead of multiple).
  3. Apply the six hats method of strategic thinking to determine which assumption reversals to apply to the brand.

Summary – how to apply brand strategy

While it would be nice (and certainly easier) if there was a playbook outlining how to apply brand strategy – it just doesn’t work that way. There’s no instruction manual, there’s no framework, and there’s no how-to guide – every brand is unique and, by proxy, every brand strategy is unique. 

These principles, however, are effective. Applying them allows organizations to build their brand with intent not dissimilar to how they’ve built their business with intent. Strategy is the vehicle that moves brands more towards purpose and recognition, and away from haphazardness and obscurity.

How will you use brand strategy to move your organization forward?

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