Having been engaged in business development for over 16 years I had bumped into concepts of both marketing and branding on a regular basis without paying much attention to either of the latter two. I used to believe that these activities are a load of bollocks; that they were artificially crafted by verbose salesmen who tried to perilously smuggle their way into the bottomless pockets of corporations. They would burst with cheesy vague lines, empty promises and totally useless advices — anything that could get in front of the managers who were granted budgets and were in desperate need to justify their exorbitant salaries.
Suffice it to say that I was arrogantly ignorant and totally wrong.
When I had come across the Brand strategy, my initial reaction was — another flashy upsell, but I had decided to put my thick side on pause this time and allow myself to contemplate on the subject. Turns out, there is more to it than meets the eye.
In order to understand what a Brand strategy is one has to look at what it is not. Brand strategy is often times confused with marketing strategy and even with a business strategy. Let’s get this straight.
Business strategy is all about the decisions that would help the company stay in business for many years, preferably indefinitely. It addresses such questions as: which market to get into first, which country to open a subsidiary in, which company to partner with, which patent to file; how much to invest in R&D or talent acquisition and similar. Business strategy is responsible for setting clear targets — business objectives. It explores the means to support the measures that are required to reach these specified targets.
Marketing strategy (MS) tends to a set of actions developed to promote and sell products and services. It is all about the positioning of the product in the marketplace against the competitors: that is an orange and that is an orange but this is an Organic, Juicy, Hand-Picked with a Smile, Environmentally Friendly, Rejuvenating Orange on a mission. MS is responsible for creating a compelling marketing pull.
The Brand strategy
The Brand strategy is responsible for the alignment of Business and Marketing strategies. Their tactics, activities and processes have to adhere to a higher-order principle of TWIGSAP — The Whole Is Greater than the Sum of All Parts. (Yes, I made this one up and it sounds quirky but it doesn’t make it less valid, mind you.)
The goal of the Brand strategy is to design a differentiated yet compelling offering that will ensure profitable growth and ultimately facilitate the creation of something more than the offering itself — a Brand.
Imagine a not-so-uncommon scenario when the marketing department declares that their company’s intrinsic value and differentiation factor is environmental conscientiousness. They set the objective to create the next product catalogue around this theme. The design team develops a beautiful all-color 20-sheet brochure. The management appraises the work and decides that it is cheaper and fancier to print it on a glossy paper and deliver a hundred thousand copies by mail. That kinda undermines the whole idea of eco-friendliness, does it not? It also makes you as a consumer wonder about the integrity of the company in general.
Definition of Brand
The brand is a certain feeling, a hunch, imprinted in the minds of people about the product, service or a company. It’s an intuitive notion about expectations. The goal of having a brand is pretty much straightforward — continue selling more stuff to more people at prices higher than market's average.
No company wants to spend money on the same client acquisition; no company wants to prove the validity of their arguments over and over. Every business entity wants to make people believe that their solution is unique, true and valuable. The benefit of having a brand is rather intuitive — indisputable trust.
The reason in favor of a brand is having a solid loyal client base. A strong foundation is a guaranteed stream of cash flow. Without it all of the marketing and business strategy efforts would be pointless because there won’t be any money to support the enterprise.
When the company together with clients creates a meaningful brand, they become friends. And friends always have means to find each other. Friends don’t have to rely on SEO or SMM; adwords, keywords or buzzwords; sometimes they don’t even need words to persuade one another to drop by. Friendship assumes trust and care.
The value of the Brand strategy
In practice, TWIGSAP (I’m getting fond of this one) works this way: anyone doing their job should put on the brand spectacles and ask the following question — “Am I solving the business problem on a personal level in a way that will benefit me, make a positive impact on my department, while simultaneously producing a beneficial effect on the whole company and could potentially spread further to improve our clients’ lives and influence our target audience today and across time?” One of the Brand strategy tasks is to provide employees with the right brand lenses to filter their productive output this way.
Another unexpected positive effect it brings is the way it tackles the micromanagement issues a company might have. When employees are self-driven and adhere to the predefined framework and they understand the ultimate destination and motivations behind the pursuit, they wouldn’t need to be persuaded or tossed around especially if they share the same values and beliefs as the brand. After all, the employees are supposed to be a part of the brand.
Brand strategy helps with solving the problem of infinite opportunities that traditional business development strategies had always struggled with. “Why settle with one market when we can produce a little bit for every market?” — this idea usually backfires in the long run. The more established and renowned the company gets, the more opportunities come its way and it isn’t always that obvious how one is better over the other.
The Brand strategy deals with discerning the opportunities from distractions. Establishing a clear vision & mission, core values & purpose and aligning that with business objectives makes it easier to sieve out irrelevant things.
To narrow it down even further, Brand strategy is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff by focusing on the positive impact the company could have on the lives of their clients thus restructuring its core activities in favor of meaningful deeds instead of expedient actions.
What does the Brand strategy consist of?
The fundamental components discussed at a typical Brand strategy workshop are as follows. To dig deeper, read 9 elements of an effective Brand strategy workshop.
- Brand Core MVVP: mission, vision, values and purpose.
- Target audience and client personas.
- Competitive landscape and market trends.
- Positioning and Differentiation.
- Brand personality, tone & voice, look & feel.
- Brand naming.
- Brand messaging framework.
- Brand awareness plan and budget.
Most of these topics are discussed and attended to at typical marketing and business strategy meetings. The main idea behind Brand strategy workshop is to position the constituent elements represented by different company divisions into a cohesive agreement, develop common business objectives and put everything in its place.
The strategy to align them all,
The strategy to find them.
The strategy to bring them all
And then the brand will bind them.
But in a good, benevolent sort of way.
Who should get involved?
In order to ensure a fruitful collaboration across departments, there has to be an agreement among employees, C-level executives and key decision makers. It is vital to engage as many key stakeholders as possible, particularly from marketing, sales, customer service and business development departments.
It would be really awkward if marketing people who weren’t involved in the development of the Brand strategy would sabotage its implementation because their voices weren’t heard. Every division that has an influence over the final product or service that is going to impact clients’ lives should be involved in devising the Brand strategy.
When is the right moment to develop a brand strategy?
The perfect when is always yesterday. Just kiding. Honestly, it depends. Some companies already have a strategic plan in place and so they have to get back and reassess it from time to time; some companies are lagging behind but are coming on board as they see more value to it; small bootstrapped startups can’t afford it; some businesses won’t even need one.
Your team needs to run a Brand strategy workshop when:
- Your company has passed the 5-year threshold.
- You need to decrease the client churn and increase the number of regular (returning) clients.
- You feel you’ve lost focus.
- You are losing your market share.
- The company needs to reassess its values, mission, vision and purpose.
- Your value proposition isn’t that different and not that compelling as it used to be.
- Either the marketplace or the number of competitors are growing.
- You haven’t done any brand building activities in the past three years.
- The employee churn has increased or it’s becoming increasingly harder to attract great talent.
- The profitability is decreasing annually.
Brand strategy is instrumental in aligning client aims, desires and expectations with company’s values, purpose and business objectives. It provides a cohesive framework that encompasses main aspects of the business.
The key stakeholders and employees of the company have to embody the spirit of the brand to be able to filter their productive work through a pair of brand spectacles adhering to the TWIGSAP principle (I should really “TM” this one).
The brand is a symphony of individual feelings the target audience has about the product, service and company. It cannot be forced upon the audience, but they can be guided. The brand is a musical masterpiece that strikes a chord. The company is the conductor, the clients are the orchestra. Together they create the brand. Together they compose the music for their tribe to vibe to so that the whole wide world could listen too. They just need somewhere to write it down. The Brand strategy is the music notebook for your symphony.