Brand activation without brand strategy is like hunting for treasure without the map. Sure, you could set sail in a random direction and hope for the best but wouldn’t it be a hell of a lot easier if you knew where X marked the spot?

For organizations looking to grow, build awareness, rebrand, or market themselves the right way – brand strategy and brand activation are essential. But it’s important to note that brand strategy and brand activation function best when paired together (like yin and yang).

brand strategy brand activation

Implementing a proper brand strategy and then executing that strategy through brand activation sets an organization up for long-term success from the very beginning.

What is Brand Strategy and Brand Activation?

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of it all, let’s kick it off with a vocab lesson:

Brand strategy is a brand’s long-term plan to outmaneuver it’s competitors and the conditions in its market. It does not include any executional items, like brand identity development, marketing campaigns, or website development (read more about brand strategy here).

Brand activation is the action of carrying out a brand’s long-term plan developed in the strategy phase. It solely comprises of executional items, like the ones mentioned above.

Defining the Relationship

brand strategy starts discovery

Now that we know what brand activation and brand strategy are, it’s time to DTR (that’s “Define the Relationship” for anyone over the age of 30). To help illustrate the relationship between these two terms, we’ll look at an example of two competing construction firms – “Construction Firm A” and “Construction Firm B”.

Construction Firm A

Construction Firm A is looking to rebrand themselves in an effort to refresh their identity and to drum up excitement. They’ve been around for several decades and feel that the existing identity is in need of an overhaul. Because Construction Firm A is so excited to get started, they decide to jump right into brand activation (thus skipping brand strategy) in the form of developing a new logo, new identity, and new messaging to match.

After several months, Construction Firm A rolls out their new branding! The only problem? There are dozens of other firms out there who do similar work and in similar ways. Because Construction Firm A didn’t account for the competition – they look, feel, and sound like every other construction firm out there (not fun when competing to win RFP’s). Sure, the fancy new logo may be nice to look at but they have failed to take advantage of the full opportunity of rebranding.

construction firm rebranding failure

By skipping brand strategy, they have:

  • Failed to identify ideal clients
  • Failed to identify the key pain points of the aforementioned, undefined ideal clients
  • Neglected to analyze the competition and their positions in the market
  • Overlooked multiple opportunities to bolster customer experiences (touchpoints)
  • And ignored the opportunity to identify key KPI’s to measure design success (sentiment scores, NPS, brand perception, etc.)

From blending into the mix of contenders in RFP responses to marketing dollars not going as far – Construction Firm A will continue its struggle to reach the top of its category, let alone widespread recognition. In other words, they will win less.

Construction Firm B

Now enter Construction Firm B. They have similar experience to Firm A but, unlike Firm A, they have decided not to cut corners and understand that brand strategy must come first.

Firm B starts with brand strategy. Brand strategy allows for discovery – to learn about the perception of the brand, understand why clients choose who they do, and to have a thorough understanding of the playing field and where to play ball.

Throughout brand strategy, Construction Firm B defines their ideal client as being of the multi-family housing variety:

Customer surveys showed that 84% of respondents felt that their specialty was multi-family projects.

In-depth interviews revealed that many of their clients chose them for their expertise in multi-family work.

Market research showed that no other firms specialized in multi-family, and that most took a more generalist approach.

And ideal client design unearthed that multi-family projects were most profitable, ranging between 6% – 8% on average.

This invaluable, indispensable information was impossible to refute. Construction Firm B responded by positioning itself as the only construction firm that specialized in multi-family projects within its locale.

construction firm rebranding success

By specializing in multi-family projects, Construction Firm B developed its branding to appeal to those in multi-family: logo, identity, messaging, etc. They learned that those in multi-family appreciated the use of high end content and new technologies that could be implemented both on their site, their marketing, and in their processes. Furthermore, Firm B was able to dial-in its marketing efforts to only target those in multi-family, and began attending multi-family-specific events and networking groups.

After several years, it became clear that Firm B was at the top of the multi-family construction category, which meant higher profit margins, more effective marketing, and ultimately a higher win percentage with RFP’s.

In all, by starting with brand strategy, Construction Firm B was able to outmaneuver the competition by niching into one category. Those in need of multi-family expertise were most often paired with the industry-leading expert, renters experienced the best housing experiences, and Construction Firm B went on to become nationally-recognized for its specific work.

When brand strategy and brand activation work together – it’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Summary – the relationship between brand strategy and brand activation

While creating a shiny new brand identity or creating a funky new website may be fun, it won’t get a brand very far if there is no strategy behind it. When it comes to developing a successful brand there needs to be brand strategy in place before any brand activation can happen.

Brands like Construction Firm A, that skip the strategy and go right to activation aren’t necessarily bad brands. But it’s clear that brands, like Construction Firm B, who do take the time to strategize and formulate a plan – win more. It’s that simple.

So, which brand will you be?

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