What is brand strategy?
Every business exists to make money and to what degree they do so is determined by many things. Demand, competition, profitability, and location all play a role in whether an organization obtains ordinary or extraordinary levels of success.
- create new categories
- corner markets
- become universally recognized
- remain one option of many
- and compete on price alone
Some companies have a plan in place to become more “extraordinary” by outmaneuvering the competitors and conditions in their market – we call this “brand strategy”. Oftentimes this is the difference between the many and the few.
In this episode of In the Know, Andrew interviews Andy Starr – co-founder of Level C (a top branding course taught by Marty Neumeier) on what brand strategy is, how to apply its concepts, and how to measure it over time.
Defining Brand Strategy
There are a lot of different definitions for the term ‘brand strategy’ but in essence:
It’s a brand’s long-term plan to outmaneuver the competitors and conditions in its market.
Beyond understanding market opportunity and where a brand can and should play, purveyors of brand must also engineer a way to win (check out AG Laffley’s book “How to Win” for a deep dive on these points).
It’s a combination of all of these elements that go into creating and managing a winning strategy to corner markets and drive organizational growth.
A few key points taken from the episode…
There is no one-size-fits-all framework for strategy.
Frameworks apply, but strategy is more so a method of thinking. In other words, understanding strategy is less important than being a strategic thinker or thinking strategically over a period of time. Strategy favors agility, just as the free market does.
Brand strategy is not just a roadmap from point A to point B.
Andy touches on how some may view it as this, but goes on to say how much more complex it really is (how you get there, what’s encountered along the way, what can be anticipated, etc.).
The end goal is to win.
In other words, the whole point of strategy is to give your brand an unfair advantage in the marketplace. “Winning”, however, looks very different for each organization and must be determined in order to measure the effectiveness of strategy.
Strategy is never a straight line.
There are obstacles and barriers that need outmaneuvering – some can be predicted, and some arise after beginning. It’s important to remember that an effective strategy is one that is implemented over a long period of time and adapts with the goals and challenges of the organization.
Why is it important?
In a world where accidental brands are the norm, brands with a strategy occupy an unfair advantage when it comes to understanding their category and outmaneuvering the competition.
A lot of times companies have difficulty with advertising only to find out in strategy their messaging was turning their audience away instead of converting them. Getting to the root cause of an issue saves valuable time and resources instead of simply treating symptoms.
By looking at a particular market (consumers, competitors, etc.) as well as trends, brands can make better decisions about the development of their offering or overall place in the market.
With a solid understanding of the brandscape (competition and conditions), brands can come up with innovative ways to stand out in a category or to create a new one.
- Why differentiate
- How to differentiate
- When to differentiate
It confirms and denies suspicions.
For example, more often than not companies think of themselves as one thing, while their customers think of them as something else. Gathering these insights and deciphering them allows the organization to bridge the alignment gap and create more effective marketing, messaging, and relationships.
Applying Brand Strategy
There is no framework for strategy as each brand has its own unique challenges and goals. However, starting with discovery is essential to learn more about those challenges and goals and to put together scope and a best case scenario to aim for.
Start with discovery
- What questions need answers?
- Who do you need to talk to?
- What are the biggest challenges?
- What are the company goals?
- What does the brandscape look like (comp and cond)
With these vital questions answered, purveyors of brand can take this information and create the rest of the strategy.
Here are a few key areas brands typically end up working on…
Design your customer.
Many brands simply observe who buys from them instead of thinking deeply about who they actually want to buy from them. Personality, longevity, profitability, and quantity are all things to consider.
Adapt your brand identity.
Oftentimes brands will learn their identity (name, logo, design) resembles others in their space or doesn’t reflect where they are going as a company.
Improve customer experience.
After speaking to customers and other stakeholders brands can close any experience gaps, or at least make them more different or memorable.
Correct sales/marketing initiatives.
With customers now designed, sales and marketing techniques face fewer obstacles as the audience is more defined and more understood.
Use competitor strengths against them.
As an example, the prevailing montra of content creation is ‘more is more’. Perhaps it’s to the organization’s benefit to take a ‘less is more’ approach if their newly designed clients would prefer it.
Measuring Brand Strategy
Once the brand strategy activities are complete (discovery, designing customers, etc.), you should walk away with a clear picture of what needs to be measured over a period of time.
It’s essential this is understood as leadership teams often question the value of such activities.
To simplify it, think of measuring brand strategy like measuring your own health – there are many key metrics that can indicate movement in the right or wrong direction and brand meetings (check ups for our health analogy) ensure appropriate action can be taken.
Common key performance indicators (KPI’s) could be…
- Lifetime value of a client (or LTV)
- Conversion rate
- Profit margin
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Purchase intent
In all, brand strategy is a brand’s long-term plan to outmanoeuvre the competitors and conditions in its market. It is the gateway to overwhelming success for the brands that adapt its principles and apply them scrupulously over vast stretches of time.
- There is no one-size-fits-all framework to strategy.
- Brand strategy is not just a roadmap from point A to point B.
- Profit margin
- The end goal is to win.
- Strategy is never a straight line.