Are you starting a new business or scaling up? A brand strategy is your blueprint. It’s the plan that guides every brand decision you make.
What is brand strategy?
A brand strategy, often called a brand development strategy, is a long-term plan formulated to achieve a series of goals, leading to consumers' distinct identification and preference for your brand. It goes beyond mere visual elements; it's the very core of your brand, encompassing its values, mission, and the perception you aim to instill in the market.
With a robust brand strategy, you set the stage to captivate your audience and distinguish yourself from competitors.
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve worked closely with hundreds of entrepreneurs, marketers, and agencies to help them refine their brand strategies. The insights in this guide aren’t just from client projects but from engaging discussions at major conferences, webinars, and deep dives on our blog.
This guide distills our experience. Inside, you’ll find practical steps, insights, best practices, and advice to help you build a brand that stands out in today’s crowded market.
Brand Strategy: The Ultimate Guide
- Why brand strategy is important
- What happens without an effective brand strategy?
- The elements of a brand strategy
- Branding methods
- Crafting an effective brand strategy: a step-by-step guide
- Five critical rules for effective brand strategy execution
- Great examples of a successful brand strategy
Why brand strategy is important
A brand strategy acts as your company’s DNA. Just as DNA defines every facet of a human being, a brand strategy intricately weaves the characteristics and direction of your business.
A brand without strategy is like a body without a blueprint—aimless and undefined.
Why does this matter? Here are ten reasons why it’s critical to have a robust brand strategy:
- Establishes trust. A consistent brand helps build trust. Customers are more likely to return when they recognize and can anticipate a brand’s qualities. For example, a local bakery that consistently uses high-quality ingredients and maintains a cozy ambiance will ensure, over time, that locals trust it for their daily bread and coffee. An e-commerce store that sells eco-friendly products and consistently communicates its sustainable practices can make itself a go-to for eco-conscious shoppers.
- Creates brand recognition. Unique branding elements increase brand awareness and make a business memorable. For example, a neighborhood bookstore with a distinctive blue cat logo can become the talk of the town. A digital design agency with vibrant animations on its website can differentiate from competitors.
- Drives business value. A strong brand often commands higher prices due to perceived value. A cafe with a known brand of organic coffee can charge a premium over a generic cafe. A branded online course platform can charge more than a non-branded peer.
- Guides marketing efforts. A clear brand strategy directs how, when, and where a business should advertise. A yoga studio focusing on mindfulness might choose local magazine ads with serene imagery. A tech startup could leverage targeted LinkedIn ads to reach professionals.
- Fosters customer loyalty. People love belonging to a “tribe.” A clear brand can create a community of loyal followers. A vintage clothing store can host monthly 90s-themed events, cultivating a regular clientele. A streaming service with exclusive fandom forums can make subscribers feel part of a community.
- Attracts talent. A recognizable brand can attract the right talent that aligns with the company’s vision. An eco-resort known for sustainable practices can attract employees passionate about the environment. A popular online magazine can attract writers who align with its edgy tone.
- Sets you apart from the competition. In crowded markets, branding can be the differentiator. A salon offering a unique “hair spa” experience stands out from standard hairdressers. A SaaS tool offering AI-based predictions differentiates itself from basic analytics tools.
- Encourages brand advocacy. Happy customers can become brand ambassadors. Patrons of a local organic juice bar often rave about it to friends and family. Users of a project management tool can refer to it in online forums due to its standout features.
- Informs product development. A brand’s identity can guide the development of new products or services that align with its ethos. A health-focused restaurant might expand into offering cooking classes (one of my favorite restaurants in Naples, Florida, did this and created a unique way to stay in touch with customers). A website builder platform could introduce new design templates based on its user-centric brand promise.
- Provides clear direction for growth. A robust brand strategy sets a clear path for scaling operations and entering new markets. An artisanal cheese producer known locally can use its brand to penetrate neighboring cities. An e-book platform with a clear brand can leverage it to introduce audiobooks and courses.
What happens without an effective brand strategy?
Imagine setting sail on a vast ocean without a map or compass, with waves pushing you in unpredictable directions.
Navigating the business world without an effective brand strategy can feel much the same: directionless and fraught with pitfalls.
While a strong brand strategy is a guiding light, its absence can steer your business toward choppy waters.
- Inconsistent brand image. Without a clear strategy, businesses can portray a patchy, inconsistent image that confuses customers. A restaurant switching themes and cuisines monthly may struggle to retain loyal patrons. An e-commerce store with constantly changing website designs can deter repeat visitors seeking familiarity.
- Diluted brand value. Without a strong brand foundation, businesses risk weakening their value proposition in the market. A boutique offering luxury and bargain items can confuse consumers about its positioning. A premium subscription-based content site that suddenly floods with ads can tarnish its upscale image.
- Missed marketing opportunities. Lack of a brand strategy can result in sporadic marketing, missing out on key audience segments. A gym not targeting local residents with special offers may miss a huge potential client base. A digital course platform neglecting SEO might miss out on organic growth opportunities.
- Reduced customer trust. Inconsistent branding can erode trust as customers prefer businesses they can predictably rely on. A coffee shop with fluctuating coffee quality can lose its regular morning crowd. An online retail shop with inconsistent shipping times can push customers towards more reliable competitors.
- Struggle to differentiate. Without a unique brand identity, businesses can fade into the background among competitors. Larger chain stores might overshadow a local craft store without unique offerings. A generic music streaming platform can struggle to stand out in a market dominated by giants like Spotify or Apple Music.
- Fluctuating target audience. Without a defined brand strategy, businesses might aimlessly target different demographics, leading to inefficient resource use. A toy store marketing to kids and corporate professionals can spread its resources thin and confuse its primary audience. A wellness blog oscillating between teen mindfulness and senior health might struggle to retain a consistent readership.
- Inefficient resource allocation. Without clear branding, businesses can waste resources on endeavors that don’t align with their core objectives. A theater spending equally on all genres might find musicals are their main revenue driver but waste funds on unpopular genres. An online shoe store investing in tech upgrades might overlook the primary demand for a wider shoe collection.
- Unclear company mission and vision. Internal teams can lack direction without a brand strategy, reducing motivation and alignment. Without a clear brand image, a bookstore might struggle to curate books that resonate with its community. A tech startup without a defined brand may have product teams developing features that don’t align with the company’s core mission.
- Decreased employee morale. Employees prefer working for a brand with a clear identity, and a lack of it can lead to reduced motivation. A hotel chain without a clear brand ethos might experience higher staff turnover due to a lack of brand pride. An online media company without a clear brand voice might see decreased writer enthusiasm and inconsistent content quality.
- Limited growth opportunities. Businesses with a poorly defined brand can struggle to recognize or capitalize on potential growth areas. A craft beer brewery without a defined brand might miss the chance to collaborate with local eateries or events. A digital design tool without clear branding might overlook partnership opportunities with online education platforms.
The elements of a brand strategy
Here are fifteen essential elements of a brand strategy:
- Brand purpose. This explains why the brand exists beyond making profits. It’s the driving force and the difference the brand aims to make in the world or its customers’ lives. A local organic grocery store might exist to promote and provide healthy, locally sourced foods to foster community wellness. An e-commerce platform could have a purpose to make unique handcrafted items accessible globally, promoting artisans from remote areas.
- Brand Promise. The value or experience a brand commits to delivering consistently to its audience. It’s a brand’s commitment to its stakeholders. A cafe can promise to serve only ethically sourced coffee. A digital streaming service can promise ad-free viewing.
- Brand positioning. How the brand differentiates itself from competitors in the market. It’s the unique space the brand occupies in the minds of its target audience. A boutique hotel might position itself as a luxurious escape from the bustling city. A fitness app positions itself as a personal trainer in your pocket.
- Target audience. Clearly defined segments of the population that the brand seeks to serve. It includes deeply understanding their behaviors, needs, challenges, and aspirations. A skateboard shop might target teenagers and young adults interested in street culture. A subscription box service focuses on working professionals interested in gourmet home cooking.
- Brand personality. The set of human characteristics attributed to the brand. For example, a brand might be youthful, fun, serious, or trustworthy. A local bookstore can exude a calm, reflective, and knowledgeable personality. A finance management app might have an innovative, proactive, and confident personality.
- Brand voice. The consistent tone and style in which a brand communicates, both in written and spoken forms. It could be formal, casual, playful, or any other manner that aligns with the brand’s identity. A high-end jewelry store can use a sophisticated and elegant tone in its brochures and advertisements. A blog about sustainable living might adopt a friendly, informative, and encouraging tone.
- Visual identity. The visual elements that represent the brand, such as logo, typography, colors, and design principles. A craft beer brand can use rustic, earthy colors and hand-drawn illustrations on its labels. A cloud storage service can use a minimalist design with cool, airy colors to reflect the idea of ‘cloud.’
- Brand story. The narrative that connects the brand to its audience is often rooted in the brand’s history, mission, or values. A family-run bakery tells the story of recipes passed down through generations. A photography website shares its journey from a college project to a major platform for photographers worldwide.
- Brand touchpoints. All the platforms and mediums where the brand interacts with its audience, including websites, social media, advertising, packaging, and in-person interactions. A car dealership can offer branded merchandise, loyalty cards, and after-sales service touchpoints. An online retailer can introduce touchpoints like order confirmation emails, newsletter updates, and retargeting ads.
- Brand values. The core beliefs and principles that guide the brand’s behavior and decisions. A fashion boutique might value ethical sourcing, eco-friendliness, and timeless design. An online news portal could value transparency, inclusivity, and grassroots journalism.
- Brand experience. The sum of all customer experiences with a brand, from initial awareness to purchase and post-purchase interactions. A spa can ensure a serene ambiance, personalized treatments, and impeccable customer service for a holistic experience. A music streaming service can provide personalized playlists, high-quality audio, and easy device synchronization for a seamless experience.
- Brand loyalty strategies. Initiatives and programs designed to encourage repeat business and deepen the relationship between the brand and its customers. A restaurant can offer a loyalty card where frequent visits lead to a free meal. An e-book platform can offer a points system where reading leads to discounts on future purchases.
- Brand extensions. Ways in which a brand might diversify its product or service offerings, branching into new categories while leveraging its established brand reputation. A famous sneaker brand can introduce clothing and accessories to its product line. A job listing site can launch career counseling and resume writing services.
- Feedback mechanisms. Systems in place for collecting feedback from customers and stakeholders, allowing the brand to evolve and stay relevant. A gym can introduce a physical suggestion box and conduct monthly feedback sessions. An online gaming platform can include an in-app feedback feature and encourage reviews on app stores.
- Competitive analysis. Understanding and monitoring competitors helps a brand to differentiate and stay ahead in the market. A home decor store can survey competing stores to ensure its offerings are unique and competitively priced. A travel booking website can use tools to monitor the deals and features offered by competing sites.
All these elements work in tandem to form a cohesive brand strategy. When executed well, they help build a memorable brand that resonates deeply with its target audience and stands the test of time. We’ll cover each element in detail below.
While branding might seem like a modern marketing buzzword, it has been a cornerstone of successful enterprises for centuries.
Today’s businesses, whether they operate brick-and-mortar stores or digital platforms, employ various branding methods to distinguish themselves in saturated markets.
Each method has its unique approach and potential impact, tailored to fit specific business needs. Here are six fundamental branding methods:
Attitude branding focuses on invoking a particular emotion, feeling, or attitude in the customer rather than emphasizing the product itself. It’s less about what the product does and more about how it makes the customer feel or the image it projects.
Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan is quintessential attitude branding. In their stores and advertisements, Nike doesn’t just sell shoes; they sell the spirit of athleticism and the drive to overcome obstacles.
Nike’s digital campaigns often feature inspirational videos of everyday people pushing their limits, emphasizing the “Just Do It” attitude across their social media platforms.
A local gym might brand itself as the place where “Every workout makes a champion.” Customers feel like champions whenever they walk through the gym’s doors.
A digital fitness app could use a slogan like “Conquer Every Challenge!” encouraging users to view every completed exercise as a personal victory.
Here, different products or services under the umbrella of a larger company are given their unique brand identities. This allows each product to have its own market presence without being overshadowed by the parent company.
Unilever’s multiple product lines, such as Dove, Axe, and Lipton, each have distinct brand identities and marketing campaigns. Each brand under Unilever operates its social media channels and websites, catering to its target audience.
A family-owned conglomerate with diverse interests – from a bakery to a boutique hotel to a car repair shop – can each have a distinct brand identity even though the same entity owns them.
A digital consulting agency can have different brand names and websites for its SEO services, graphic design, and content creation. Each service operates and is marketed as its unique brand.
This is about giving a distinct identity to a specific product through elements like logos, names, colors, and designs. It magnifies the product’s uniqueness and differentiates it from competitors.
Apple’s MacBook series, with specific branding like ‘Air’ and ‘Pro,’ signifies different product tiers in physical stores. Apple’s website and online advertisements highlight each MacBook variant’s unique features and design, tailoring the product’s digital presence.
A local craft beer brewery might have a signature pale ale, a stout, and an IPA, each with its name, logo, and packaging design.
A digital marketplace can sell unique software tools, each with distinct branding. For instance, one tool for graphic design, another for video editing, and a third for data analytics.
In co-branding, two or more brands collaborate to create a product or campaign that combines their strengths and market presence. This strategy leverages the reputation and customer base of each brand.
The collaboration between Nike and Michael Jordan resulted in the Air Jordan shoes available worldwide. Collaborative digital marketing campaigns or limited online releases, like the Air Jordan launch events, generate buzz on social media platforms.
A local coffee shop and a bookshop can collaborate to offer a special “Read & Relax” deal, wherein buying a book gives a discount on a coffee.
An online course platform can collaborate with an e-book distributor. Buying a course gives access to certain e-books for free, and vice versa.
As the name suggests, this approach focuses on simplicity and subtlety. It’s about stripping the brand to its essential elements, making it clean and easily recognizable.
Mastercard’s simple logo of two overlapping circles in red and yellow is instantly recognizable on credit cards or payment terminals. Mastercard’s digital advertisements often focus on the logo, emphasizing the brand’s global acceptability without cluttered design or content.
A boutique might opt for a simple, understated logo and a single-color theme throughout its store, exuding an aura of simplicity and elegance.
This strategy involves leveraging the reputation of a well-established brand to introduce a new product or service. It relies on the existing brand’s equity to foster trust and receptiveness in the new offering.
Initially known for its soap, Dove extended its brand to produce lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products. Dove’s digital campaigns might introduce a new product like a conditioner, highlighting the same core values of gentleness and skin nourishment that the original soap is known for.
A restaurant can launch a line of packaged gourmet products under the same brand, leveraging the restaurant’s reputation for quality.
A popular online fashion blog can launch a clothing line. They can use their brand name, relying on their established reputation in fashion commentary to market their products.
Arming yourself with a keen understanding of these branding methods can be pivotal in sculpturing a brand’s image, both in the tangible offline world and the expansive online domain.
Crafting an effective brand strategy: a step-by-step guide
You don’t need deep pockets to build a winning brand strategy but clarity, intention, and understanding.
A solid brand strategy is your competitive edge, impressing investors and partners while paving your path to success.
The roadmap to effective branding is a three-step journey: Discovery, Identity, and Execution. Let’s look at each phase in detail.
Phase 1: Discovery
For those with a budding business idea, your slate is clean. There’s no past identity to decipher, letting you move swiftly to the Identity phase (Phase 2). However, if you’ve been in the game, don’t rush. Understand the foundation before you build upon it.
1. Revisit and reflect on your brand’s existing identity
Your brand’s DNA is encoded in its vision (its purpose), mission (its role), and values (its ethics). Some brands proudly display these on their walls or websites, while others might keep them implicit.
But over time, things change. Reflect on:
- Cultural resonance. Aspects of the company’s culture that now align (or misalign) with your vision, mission, or values.
- Outdated elements. Parts of your vision, mission, or values might have become obsolete or irrelevant in the present context. If this happens, you may need to evolve your brand and rebrand.
- Brand essence. The core essence or feeling your brand evokes now compared to its inception.
- Marketing consistency. Whether your present-day marketing efforts and campaigns align with your core identity.
- Customer perception. How your customers perceive your brand now, and if there’s been a shift in their opinions or feelings toward your products/services.
- Market evolution. How has your target market changed over time? Are there new trends, needs, or preferences you should know?
- Operational shifts. Changes within your company operations or business model might have indirectly influenced your brand’s identity.
- Competitive landscape. Have there been significant entrants or exits in your market space that have altered your competitive stance?
- Feedback loops. What kind of feedback have you received from customers, stakeholders, or partners that might provide insights into your brand’s strengths or weaknesses?
- Innovation and expansion. How have these moves impacted your overall brand identity if you’ve introduced new products and services or expanded to new regions?
2. Conduct market research and perform a competitor analysis
Dive deep into the current market scenarios and your standing in them. Among other things, consider the following:
- Customer behavior analysis. Understand how your customers interact with your brand. This includes their buying habits, feedback, and pain points. A retail store can conduct in-person surveys or observe how customers navigate their store. An online business can use analytics tools to understand customer journey maps on the website and see which pages or products have the highest engagement.
- Demand forecasting. Predict future customer demand to ensure you’re well-prepared. A restaurant might study reservation trends before significant local events. An e-commerce platform can analyze historical sales data to anticipate future product demand.
- Competitive analysis. Identify and evaluate your competition to determine their strengths and weaknesses relative to your brand. A local bakery can check the offerings and pricing of other bakeries in the town. A digital service platform can use tools like SEMRush to analyze competitors’ online strengths.
- Market share analysis. Understand your brand’s share of the total market. A bookshop might assess its sales against total book sales in its city. A digital streaming service can compare its subscribers to the total number of digital streaming users globally.
- Pricing strategy assessment. Review your product or service pricing in relation to competitors and perceived value. A fitness gym might review its membership fees compared to other local gyms. A SaaS product can analyze its subscription pricing against similar online tools.
- Feedback and reviews. Regularly review customer feedback and ratings. A spa might keep a feedback register or conduct customer interviews at its exit. An online retailer can monitor product reviews and ratings on its platform.
- Market trends. Stay updated with the latest trends influencing your industry. A fashion retailer can attend trade shows or read industry magazines. A tech startup can keep track of the latest advancements through online tech news platforms and forums.
- Supplier relations. Understand the dynamics with suppliers and the potential risks or opportunities therein. A cafe can review its relationship with coffee bean suppliers for potential discounts or premium varieties. An e-commerce store can assess its dropshipping partners’ terms and delivery speeds.
- SWOT analysis. A structured planning method to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A hardware store can list these elements considering local demand, competition, and potential opportunities. An online learning platform can conduct a SWOT analysis considering its content quality, tech infrastructure, market demand, and online competitors.
- Brand image perception. Determine how your brand is perceived in the market. A boutique hotel can assess guest feedback and online reviews and get feedback from walk-in visitors. An online influencer platform can use social listening tools to monitor mentions and sentiment around its brand on social media.
If you’re looking for help on how you can understand your market better, watch the following video:
How to better understand your customers
The foundation of a solid brand strategy lies in truly understanding your customers. Their preferences, behaviors, and perceptions shape their interactions with your brand. Here’s how you can delve deep into their psyche:
- Who are they? Is your target audience primarily male, female, or diverse? Are they Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, or Gen Z?
- Where are they from? Are you catering to locals, nationals, or a global audience?
- What do they do for a living? Understanding their professions can help you tailor marketing messages.
- Why are they buying? Unearth the motivation behind their purchases.
- When are they buying? Identify seasons, times, or occasions that drive their purchases.
- What’s their budget? Tailor your offerings to match their spending power.
Perceptions & expectations
- What do they expect from brands? Speedy delivery, top-notch customer service, or eco-friendly packaging?
- How do they perceive your brand? Use feedback to identify strengths and areas of improvement.
- What’s their take on your competition? This insight can help you differentiate better.
- How do they buy? Online, in-store, through apps, or maybe a mix?
Deep-dive questions for customer feedback
You should consistently converse with your customers to further refine your branding approach. Here are ten in-depth questions to consider:
- How likely would you be to recommend our service/company to others?
- How would you rate your last experience with us?
- If you could change one thing about our products/services, what would it be?
- What words come to mind when you think of our brand?
- Describe your ideal shopping/purchasing experience with us
- What other options did you consider before choosing us?
- What makes us stand out from the competition?
- How can we make your next experience even better?
- Do you feel we truly understand your needs and preferences?
- Anything else you’d like us to know?
Acting on the feedback
It’s crucial not just to collect feedback but to act on it.
Whether refining your product range based on customer input or overhauling your after-sales service, every piece of feedback is an opportunity to enhance your brand strategy.
Feedback, both praise and criticism, is a goldmine. For instance, if multiple customers highlight delivery delays, consider revisiting your logistics partnerships or offering various delivery options.
Understanding customer sentiments
How likely would you be to recommend our service or company to others?
Often referred to as the Net Promoter Score (NPS) question, this is a pivotal gauge of customer loyalty and brand perception.
A recommendation, especially to close friends or family, is a powerful testament to your service quality. The willingness to recommend is directly linked to overall satisfaction and trust in the brand.
Ask in two stages for a comprehensive view:
- “Considering your latest purchase experience, would you recommend us to a friend?”
- “Reflecting on your entire journey with us, would you advocate for our brand?”
How would you rate your most recent experience with us?
Every interaction with a customer leaves an impression. Knowing whether it was positive or negative can be the difference between retaining or losing a customer to competitors.
A negative customer service experience spreads quickly and can tarnish your brand reputation. Conversely, understanding and amplifying positive experiences can drive brand loyalty.
Proactively seek feedback post-purchase or interaction:
- Send a brief survey or feedback request after a transaction.
- Use this opportunity to gauge satisfaction, rectify issues, and show customers they’re valued.
At crowdspring, every interaction is a learning opportunity. Whether it’s a simple customer question to our support team or a completed project, we actively ask for feedback. Such dedication to understanding the customer experience has resulted in a stellar satisfaction rate, ranging between 97 and 99%. Moreover, the proactive approach ensures we address issues before they escalate.
If you could change one aspect of our products/services, what would it be?
This question uncovers potential blind spots. You have your roadmap, but customers might see potential enhancements you haven’t considered. Remember, listening doesn’t equate to implementing every suggestion. It means being receptive and discerning about the feedback.
For example, crowdspring offers core design and naming services in many areas. This includes logo design, web design, print design, product design, packaging design, and business names.
When we started fifteen years ago, we asked only a few questions to help customers draft a creative brief to look for design help. For example, we initially asked some general questions in logo design projects.
However, the answers didn’t provide much direction to designers, and we received lots of feedback about our questionnaire.
This feedback was precious. We changed our questionnaire to be more specific and informative, and this improved the experience for everyone.
It was a win-win-win.
Whatever service or method you use, make sure you’re not only listening but responding, too.
No one likes feeling like they’re yelling into the void, and your customers are no different. Make your feedback process a conversation so your customers know their input is valued.
Customers will often take the time to give you input on ways to improve if you ask, but if the exchange feels one-sided to them, they may give up.
What other options did you consider before choosing us?
This helps identify unseen competitors or realize why some apparent competitors aren’t direct threats.
What makes us distinct from the competition?
This question delves into your unique selling proposition (USP). Sometimes, the USP isn’t just a product feature but an emotional or thematic differentiator.
For example, Charles Revson of Revlon believed he sold hope, not just makeup.
Your goal is differentiation. Apple and Samsung, for instance, are distinct brands with loyal customer bases, not necessarily “better” than the other.
How do you perceive our brand identity?
Understanding if customers recognize and resonate with your brand’s visual and thematic elements can guide future marketing strategies.
Which aspect of our service/product do you value the most?
Pinpointing what customers love most helps reinforce those strengths in future offerings.
What would make you choose our competitors over us in the future?
A glimpse into potential vulnerabilities allows for pre-emptive strategies.
How do you view our growth and adaptability in the market?
Perceptions about your brand’s evolution can provide insights into future positioning strategies.
How has our product/service impacted your daily life or business?
This question can uncover intangible benefits and success stories you can share in marketing campaigns.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Leaving the floor open to unexpected responses or feedback is always good. You can’t ask every question, nor can you know in advance what might be top of mind for your customers.
Asking this question allows your customers to mention anything they feel is essential. It also gives you insight into what’s important to them.
And it gives your customer the last word and clarifies that you’re not just interested in your questions.
Ways to gather customer responses
There are many different ways to collect answers to these questions.
Which one you choose depends on your goals, who your customers are, and how you can reach them, but here are ten ideas to consider.
- Customer feedback surveys. Why it’s vital: A structured approach to gather specific insights. An online company can use platforms like SurveyMonkey or TypeForm to gather feedback on a new website feature. Make sure you keep surveys as short and easy to respond to as possible, and don’t forget to embed elements of your brand identity (color palette, logo, etc.) in those surveys. Also, keep this important fact in mind: every question on a survey will reduce the number of people who respond to the survey. A restaurant can hand out feedback cards to diners in a restaurant to assess their dining experience.
- Email and customer feedback forms. Why it’s vital: It provides an accessible and consistent method for customers to provide convenient feedback. An online business can embed a feedback form on their e-commerce site. An offline business can place feedback boxes near the checkout counters in a retail store.
- Direct contact. Why it’s vital: It allows a deep, personal connection and understanding of context. An online business can host a video chat session with selected loyal online shoppers. An offline company can host a focus group session for regular patrons of a coffee shop.
- Usability tests. Why it’s vital: Directly evaluates user experience and functionality. You can use QA services to test these things and more (including elements of your brand identity). UserTesting.com is one of the better-known services that help companies run usability tests on their websites, and many companies specialize in testing how usable software or a site is. Once you identify friction points, you can tweak your web design to smooth out the process. An offline business can observe shoppers’ behaviors in a new store layout to identify potential bottlenecks.
- Social media engagements. Why it’s vital: Capitalizes on spontaneous feedback and reaches a broad audience quickly. An online business can run a Twitter poll to determine the most popular product color. An offline business can post a photo of two potential new dishes at a restaurant on Instagram and ask followers which one they want to try.
- Customer service interactions. Why it’s vital: Leverages existing touchpoints and gathers feedback during or after a service encounter. An online business can ask for feedback after an online chat session. An offline business can ask customers for feedback after an in-store consultation or service.
- In-app Feedback (for online businesses). Why it’s vital: Captures feedback at the point of interaction within digital tools or platforms. A company can use in-app prompts to ask users about their experience with a new feature.
- Comment cards (for offline businesses). Why it’s vital: Offers a traditional, straightforward method for customers to provide input. A restaurant can leave comment cards at tables.
- Online forums and communities. Why it’s vital: Taps into engaged user communities for detailed feedback. An online business can create a forum for customers to share product usage tips and feedback on its website. An offline company can host a community town hall to discuss services and gather public opinions.
- Review platforms and websites. Why it’s vital: Harnesses existing platforms where customers naturally leave feedback. An online business can monitor feedback on platforms like Trustpilot or Yelp. An offline business can encourage and monitor customer feedback on local business directories or Yelp.
No matter what method you use, ensure you’re engaging with your customers in a conversation. As we mentioned, let your customers know you’re talking with them, not just at them.
Analyze your competitors
To create a strong brand strategy, a competitive analysis is essential. This not only helps you understand your position but also highlights the brand identities of competitors. Here’s a step-by-step process:
- Define metrics. Establish relevant metrics (e.g., revenues, unique visitors). Be wary of choosing irrelevant metrics; they may mislead your analysis. If you’re an e-commerce platform, track metrics like conversion rates or average cart value.
- Look at recent trends. Understand the current happenings in your industry. For a newly opened cafe, check if the coffee trend in your area is leaning towards specialty brews.
- Evaluate historical trends. Review past data to predict future patterns. A fashion retailer should look at past seasons’ best-selling items.
- Track growth. Examine both monthly and yearly growth figures. If you run an online fitness program, track sign-ups when people have fitness resolutions after the new year.
- Challenge assumptions. Regularly re-evaluate your chosen metrics. Different perspectives can yield more holistic insights. Apart from tracking foot traffic in a store, assess the average spend per customer.
- Cross-reference sources. Use various sources to validate your data. For a skincare clinic, apart from online reviews, use social media sentiments and direct customer feedback.
Don’t settle for basic information. Look at all available information to confirm or disprove your conclusions. Use any or all of the following:
- SpyFu: This is a great way to discover keywords and Adwords your competition might use.
- Google Trends: Want to stay on top of the latest trends? Need to know where customers go after they leave your site? Try Google Trends.
- Google Alerts: Set up alerts so you know what customers are saying about your competition. Set one up for yourself and get easy access to the water cooler gossip on your business.
3. Develop personas for your target customers
Personas help you figure out the following:
- Who your customers are,
- What their goals and frustrations are,
- Where they spend their time,
- When they’re the most active or available,
- Why they make certain decisions, and
- How they interact with your product line or buy your services.
What is a user persona?
User personas, also called marketing personas or buyer personas, are made-up identities that provide a detailed description of your target customer. A well-thought-out, completely formed user persona should include plenty of personal information. It should include demographic information, career history, and hobbies.
To learn more about personas, read how to grow your business through persona-based marketing.
4. Evaluate how people perceive your brand
Understanding how people perceive your brand internally and externally is vital. Analyze the feedback and sentiments of both employees and customers. Positive, neutral, or negative reactions to your brand provide valuable insights that guide any necessary brand image enhancements.
Phase 2: Brand Identity
The second phase focuses on establishing and refining your brand identity, ensuring that it aligns with your vision, mission, and values while setting you apart from competitors.
1. Define your core brand identity
Your brand pillars include vision (purpose), mission (actions), and values (beliefs).
An online eco-friendly store’s vision could be a sustainable future, its mission to provide green alternatives, and its values centered on ethical sourcing and transparency. A local organic cafe might have a vision of promoting healthy living, a mission of serving organic foods, and values emphasizing community well-being and sustainable farming.
2. Articulate your brand positioning
Highlight how you stand out from the competition.
An e-learning platform might position itself as the most interactive and community-driven platform. A boutique might position itself as the go-to destination for handcrafted, unique fashion items.
3. Articulate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Your USP (also known as a unique value proposition) represents what your brand embodies or offers that competitors don’t.
For example, you could say that Apple’s USP is found in “user experience.” The value proposition of everything Apple does is meant to have the user at its core. Google’s USP might be in the way they connect people with information. Amazon’s USP might provide whatever product you need efficiently and at as low a cost.
A digital magazine’s USP might be its focus on in-depth investigative journalism. A local bakery’s USP could be its century-old family recipes.
4. Develop brand identity design assets
Collaborate with designers to create visual representations of your brand, such as logos, packaging, and websites. An e-commerce site must have a user-friendly interface with brand colors and a memorable logo. We cover these issues in detail in our definitive brand identity guide. A restaurant might incorporate brand colors in the decor, menu design, and staff uniforms.
Develop your brand voice & communication
Maintain consistency in how you communicate about your brand across all platforms. A fintech app might adopt a professional and reassuring tone in its content and ads. A children’s toy store might use fun, playful, and engaging language in its promotions and in-store displays.
Phase 3: Execution
After establishing your brand’s foundation, it’s time to communicate this identity to your target market actively.
Brand strategy lays the groundwork, while marketing strategy utilizes various channels to relay this identity effectively to the audience.
In the execution phase, your key focus is the actual representation of your brand in the market, ensuring the strategies outlined in the previous phases come to life consistently and effectively.
1. Align branding with business strategy
Ensure your branding supports your overarching business objectives. A luxury watch brand would not benefit from portraying itself as an affordable, everyday wear. A mismatch can confuse consumers and lead to reduced trust and brand loyalty.
2. Ensure brand consistency
A uniform visual presentation enhances brand recognition. Ensure synchrony in colors, styles, and fonts across all platforms. For example, Apple maintains consistent aesthetics across products, websites, and advertising campaigns.
You must ensure you present a unified brand narrative and identity. Inconsistencies can dilute the brand’s power and might indicate unreliability to consumers. A gym promoting wellness should consistently emphasize health, fitness, and well-being across all promotional materials.
This helps guarantee that the brand delivers on its promises.
For example, Chipotle faced backlash for failing to consistently adhere to its non-GMO promise, tarnishing its brand image. Execute a quick Google search for “Chipotle admits to using GMOs,” and you’ll find a list of critical articles and lawsuits levied against the fast-food mega-chain. They’ve hit on a compelling branding position but failed to deliver it reliably. Their brand image has suffered.
Brand authenticity and follow-through are vital.
3. Resonate with your target audience
Ensure that the brand identity strikes a chord with your intended demographic. Utilize brand health metrics like branded impressions, internet search volume, branded keywords performance, and more.
Monitor social media interactions, online reviews, and feedback from customer service teams to gauge brand reception. A brand targeting Gen Z might track TikTok engagement or trends on platforms frequented by this demographic.
Once the brand’s health and resonance have been confirmed, it’s time to roll out marketing strategies, ensuring that every campaign and interaction bolsters the brand identity and connects with the intended audience.
Five critical rules for effective brand strategy execution
Branding is more than just a logo or a catchy slogan; it’s a promise, an experience, and an emotional connective tissue that links customers to companies.
As you venture into the execution phase of your brand strategy, consider these five golden rules to make your brand’s presence stand out:
- Story over products. People resonate with stories. While quality products and services are essential, what sets top-tier companies apart is the power of their narrative. Consider brands like TOMS Shoes, which center their brand story on giving back.
- Embrace distinction. In a sea of competition, swimming in a different direction is vital. Merely being better might not cut it, but being different creates recall. An excellent example of this is Apple’s emphasis on user experience rather than product specifications.
- Craft consistent narratives. Amidst the clamor of countless brand messages, you might not always be the loudest. However, a consistent, resonating message will be remembered. Prioritize quality and consistency over quantity.
- Customer-centricity is key. Successful brands pivot their messaging around the benefits and successes of their customers rather than their achievements. CRM platforms like Salesforce highlight customer success stories as a testament to their product’s effectiveness.
- Step into your customer’s shoes – with empathy. Empathy differs from sympathy, requiring you to understand, resonate, and connect with your customer’s needs, desires, and pain points. Regular feedback sessions, surveys, and community engagement can help understand your audience’s needs and sentiments.
Great examples of a successful brand strategy
Nike’s branding, with its iconic “Just Do It” tagline, centers on inspiration, motivation, and empowerment. They have consistently framed their brand around the ethos of perseverance, determination, and achievement.
By collaborating with high-profile athletes, they further position themselves as the brand for champions.
Nike’s digital strategy emphasizes storytelling, focusing on athletes’ journeys and Nike products’ role in their success. Through this, they inspire their customers to see every hurdle as an opportunity, making them not just a sports brand but a lifestyle.
Airbnb differentiates itself from conventional accommodations by promoting a “home away from home” experience, allowing guests to immerse themselves in local neighborhoods.
Their brand strategy revolves around sharing real stories of hosts and guests across digital platforms. From interviews on YouTube to anecdotes on Instagram,
Airbnb underlines the unique and authentic experiences it offers. Tapping into actual stories fosters trust and creates an emotional connection with users. Their consistent red and white color palette further solidifies their brand identity, symbolizing warmth and belonging.
Apple’s brand is a testament to innovation, simplicity, and premium quality. Their strategy emphasizes a curated product lineup, targeting the high-end market, and ensuring profitability.
Apple evokes emotions, focusing on creativity, innovation, and user empowerment. Their minimalist design and user-centric approach have resulted in an intensely loyal customer base.
On the content front, Apple prioritizes high-quality, informative content highlighting the user experience, ensuring their brand remains synonymous with excellence and innovation.
The brand turned its very name into a synonym for soda. Coca-Cola’s branding is all about sharing joy and creating moments of happiness.
Their campaigns, such as “Share a Coke,” where individual names were printed on bottles, brought a personal touch to a massive global brand. By focusing on shared experiences and evoking feelings of nostalgia, they’ve established a timeless brand that resonates across generations.
Starbucks isn’t just about coffee; it’s about the experience. Their brand strategy revolves around creating a “third place” between work and home where people can relax, catch up, or work.
In the digital realm, their loyalty program and mobile app keep customers engaged, offering personalized deals and making the purchase process seamless. The green mermaid logo signifies a coffee cup and a whole ambiance.
Tesla, under Elon Musk’s direction, redefined electric cars. They aren’t just environmentally friendly; they’re luxury, performance vehicles. Tesla’s brand focuses on innovation, sustainability, and the future of driving.
They rarely spend on traditional advertising instead of relying on word-of-mouth, media coverage, and Musk’s influential online presence.
In music streaming, Spotify stands out with its personalized playlists, user-friendly interface, and platform for new artists.
Their brand strategy hinges on understanding individual listening habits and curating experiences. With features like “Discover Weekly” and “Wrapped,” they engage users by showing them insights into their behavior and tastes.
In luxury fashion, Gucci reigns supreme by balancing its rich heritage with contemporary pop culture.
Their strategy involves blending traditional Italian craftsmanship with modern designs and aesthetics. They engage younger audiences online by leveraging influencers, creating compelling digital campaigns, and even diving into the world of memes.
Originally a DVD delivery service, Netflix became the world’s top streaming platform by understanding changing consumer habits.
Their brand is about entertainment freedom—watching what you want, when you want. Investing in diverse, original content and catering to global audiences, they’ve created a brand that stands for innovative entertainment.
Lego’s brand strategy centers on fostering creativity and imagination. While they are toy bricks, Lego emphasizes the countless possibilities they offer.
Their marketing often showcases intricate Lego builds, emphasizing the limitless creativity the toy inspires. They’ve engaged users online with video content, games, and even movies that echo the same imaginative spirit.
Branding is an art and a science, intertwining emotions with strategy. By taking the time to craft and execute a robust brand strategy, companies set the foundation for sustainable growth, strong customer loyalty, and long-term profitability.
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