Whether you're a multinational manufacturer launching a new product, or an amateur fashionista bringing a new look to the neighborhood, your brand needs a plan if you want people to care about what you're doing.
A muddled brand won't make the cut in a world that's short on attention — you need smart targeting, a clear voice, a stellar product, and snappy visuals to stand out. And underneath that, a defining purpose to drive it all. Put together, all of these make up a strategy.
Essentially, brand strategy is the rationale behind the decisions you make. It's the glue that holds your plans together, giving you the focus you need to bring long-lasting success.
So whatever your aims are, here are the five elements you need to consider when building your brand strategy.
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1. Discover Your Purpose
Building a brand without a purpose is like building a house on sand. Without purpose, you might make some waves initially, but later down the line, your decisions will suffer. They won't have that driving force that brings unity to everyone involved.
You don't have to think too abstract or ambitious. Some of the world's greatest brands are minimalist, simple, and friendly. If you're offering a simple solution to make lives easier, there's no need to hype yourself up like Supreme. Just state why you want to help the people you'll be helping.
Defining a mission statement solidifies your intent and gives you something to stick to, especially if you share it publicly. Something simple can do the trick:
"We work every day to improve people's vision so that they can see their loved ones even better."
"Our core mission is to make web development easier and faster, so online creativity becomes open to everyone."
Getting any more specific might limit your options in the future, so keep it nice and brief.
As the creator of your brand, you should know deep down why you're doing it, but it might take a little self-questioning to crystallize it into a sentence. When you take the time to laser-focus your brand purpose, you'll have a much stronger foothold on your organization's journey.
2. Get Your Positioning Right
After looking within, it's time to look outside and figure out where you fit.
Brand creators usually have an innate idea of who their target audience is but don't always look for data to back it up. Making the wrong moves here can be seriously expensive, though, so it pays to be diligent and methodical in your approach.
In this step, you need to define your target audience specifically: their demographic criteria, personality attributes, and purchasing power.
Where do they hang out? Online, you'll identify social networks, forums, discussion groups, subreddits, hashtags, Discords, Telegram groups, and so on. Offline, you'll want to determine which stores they frequent, where they spend their leisure time, and the legacy media they consume.
Measure some approximate numbers for each and figure out how many people per month you can reach. Then, prioritize which channels and actions will get the best return for your efforts.
Then there are their psychographic attributes: What causes do they care about, can you figure out their life goals? What's their lifestyle like? Think critically here — your topic might have a lot of conversation around it when you search key hashtags. But is it from people you can reach and convert? Or is it going to be awkward if you try to join the conversation?
The more specific and clear you can be during your audience segmentation, the better it'll equip you to serve your ideal customers when they encounter your brand.
3. Make Sure Your Product Speaks for Itself
We've all seen brands that whip up fans into a frenzy before crashing and burning on launch day. A hyped-up disappointment is hard to recover from: think Google+, Crystal Pepsi, or Cyberpunk 2077.
Launch day is when the lights come up, and you can't hide behind smoke and mirrors anymore. The thing behind the brand — your product, service, or event — has to stand up to scrutiny on its own. So is it actually any good?
It better be.
Remember the vision you crystallized in your mission statement? The problems you pledged to address can only be solved with quality products, outstanding service, and genuine innovation. A brand that offers real value to the world needs to deliver on those promises, so you simply have to get this right.
A single person can rarely shoulder this burden by themselves. For example, if you're the visionary "ideas person" behind your brand, you might not have the ideal skillset for quality control or efficient manufacturing. So now's your chance to team up with people with complementary abilities to yours and hand over some control.
4. Nail Down the Voice and Face of Your Brand
At this point, you'll have a much more holistic picture of what your brand stands for — it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out how you're going to communicate with the outside world.
There are two main focus points here: how you communicate and what you look like. Whether you're branding a small side-hustle or a multinational mega-brand, you'll have to creatively combine ideas from the world around you and make something new.
Let yourself be inspired by other brands. If you're a business, increase your innovation by considering other voices: art, music, activism, film, fashion, and beyond.
The result should be a catalog of ideas, culminating in a concise guide on how your brand is presented internally and externally. For written comms, you'll need a "tone of voice" guide: nothing too detailed, or else it won't sink in. And for the visual side of things, a brand identity booklet that can instruct your web, print, packaging, and media identity is essential.
Bringing on the right branding agency or creative copywriter can make all the difference if the project calls for it. There can be an adjustment period if you've not done this before: designers can't read your mind, so it can be frustrating when things don't look exactly as you imagined. But creative experts can spin your raw ideas into beautiful, market-ready work that you can use for years, so they're often worth investing in.
Remember: you might have the most unique, controversial, or desirable product in the world, but if you look like all the others, you just won't attract any attention.
For more on developing a brand style guide:
5. Focus on Building a Brand That Will Last
It's all too easy to hype up your brand while you have that beginner's excitement and drive. But is it going to fizzle out faster than it all began?
This final step is all about the consistent, regular actions that make your brand strong over the long term.
Evangelizing your brand ethos throughout everything you do is the name of the game here. This means building harmony between your internal and external branding. Internally, it has to permeate through your actions as well as your words. So if sustainability is essential to your brand, should you be using disposable plastic spoons in the office kitchen? If you don't allow remote working, is your company's carbon footprint at odds with your product's environmental credentials?
If you're a vibrant, pioneering brand in your space, you'll want to show open-minded consumers how thrillingly avant-garde you are. But running a top-down hierarchy that discourages creative thinking and experimentation won't do a brand any favors. Strong leadership with a focused vision can help, but if you're a micromanager with an iron grip over the company's direction, your brand strength starts to look a bit insincere.
Externally, this part involves keeping your voice consistent over the short, medium, and long-term. It's only after cementing the above fundamentals should you start seriously communicating with the broader world. Ryan Holiday, writing in Perennial Seller sums up why:
"Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one."
With a rocket-fueled purpose, a clear vision, and a killer product, it won't be too hard to figure out what to say. And having things to say week in, week out happens much easier with the right foundations.
Originally published on November 3rd, 2021, last updated on November 17th, 2021.