Brand Strategy is a formal plan used by a business to create a particular image of itself in the minds of current and potential customers. When a company has created and executed a successful brand strategy, people know without being told who the company is and what they do. Companies as large and established as Coca-Cola, as well as small brands and even businesses that sell services to other companies, all benefit from a carefully created brand strategy. As a result of brand strategy, people develop a particular feeling or opinion about a company—a feeling that drives their buying decisions. This feeling equates to brand equity. The stronger people feel about a brand, the stronger the brand equity.
Brand Strategy is the long-term marketing support for a brand, based on the definition of the characteristics of the target consumers. It includes understanding of their preferences, and expectations from the brand. 
The Need for Brand Strategy
We live in a world that is driven by perception and brands represent customer’s perception of an company’s credibility, products, reputation and customer service. A brand strategy is essential because it provides clarity about competitive landscape, market position and customer expectations. This information is critical to develop effective marketing strategies and to fine-tune marketing messages to maximize your competitiveness and build strong brands. Branding significantly enhances the brand’s market performance and profitability by improving name recognition, builds credibility and trust, increases advertising effectiveness and inspires employees.
Keys Elements to a Brand Development Strategy
Here are the 3 key elements to a brand development strategy:
- 1. Who are you?: This seems like it would be an easy assignment, but for some companies, this is a hurdle they don’t even want to think about. Companies evolve over time and who your company is today may not be who it was at its inception, or who it may be in the near future.Companies evolve to improve efficiency, to increase their relevance with their target market, or to zero in on a totally new type of customer. Although it is essential for the longevity of a company for this evolution to take place, it is equally as critical that the brand reflects these changes.The first step in developing a brand is to clearly define your brand and what is stands for. After all, how can you communicate the value of your brand if you don’t have a solid understanding to base it on?
- 2. Who needs to know?: This is another way of asking “Who is your target market?”. I prefer to ask “Who needs to know your brand’s message?”.When I ask companies about their target market, I get far too many broad, all encompassing nets thrown out. “Everyone” is not an acceptable response to the question.Create a “perfect customer” profile. When developing a brand, it should be crafted to speak to this perfect customer. Write down every relevant element of this customer's persona. Age, sex, ethnicity, education, are all common attributes, but each industry will have a few additional criteria that may come into play. Don’t leave out any detail in your initial assessment. You can always refine it down later. Also, keep in mind that you are only profiling one perfect customer. It is ok and normal to have more than one customer profile, just be sure that you have separate profiles for each customer persona. Each different persona may be attracted to your brand for different reasons, and may be seeking different benefits from your offering. Knowing your different customer profiles will allow you to craft messages that speak directly to them, and will enable you to showcase the relevant valuable aspects of your offering to different customer personas.
- 3. Why should they care?: Well, now that you know who you are, and who your perfect customer is, it’s time to figure out the last piece to the puzzle; what’s in it for them? Take a look at your different customer personas. What motivates these people to buy? Write down every purchase motivator you can think of for each persona. These motivators should be at the core of every message to that group of potential customers. Some motivators are more powerful than others. Finding the most powerful motivators to focus on is paramount. The best way to find them is to use real data. Make a list of some of your best existing customers that match each persona. Create a survey for each group and let your existing client base lead you to what actually made them select you over your competition.
Components for a Comprehensive Branding Strategy
- 1) Purpose: "Every brand makes a promise. But in a marketplace in which consumer confidence is low and budgetary vigilance is high, it’s not just making a promise that separates one brand from another, but having a defining purpose," explains Allen Adamson, chairman of the North America region of brand consulting and design firm Landor Associates. While understanding what your business promises is necessary when defining your brand positioning, knowing why you wake up everyday and go to work carries more weight. In other words, your purpose is more specific, in that it serves as a differentiator between you and your competitors. How can you define your business' purpose? According to Business Strategy Insider, purpose can be viewed in two ways:
- Functional: This concept focuses on the evaluations of success in terms of immediate and commercial reasons -- i.e. the purpose of the business is to make money.
- Intentional: This concept focuses on success as it relates to the ability to make money and do good in the world.
While making money is important to almost every business, there are those brands that emphasize their willingness to achieve more than just profitability, like IKEA: IKEA's vision isn't just to sell furniture, but rather, to "create a better everyday life." This approach is appealing to potential customers, as it demonstrates their commitment to providing value beyond the point of sale. When defining your business' purpose, keep this example in mind. While making money is a priority, operating under that notion alone does little to set your brand apart from others in your industry.
- 2) Consistency: The key to consistency is to avoid talking about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand. Added a new photo to your business' Facebook Page? What does it mean for your company? Does it align with your message, or was it just something funny that would, quite frankly, confuse your audience? In an effort to give your brand a platform to stand on, you need to be sure that all of your messaging is cohesive. Ultimately, consistency contributes to brand recognition, which fuels customer loyalty. To see a great example of consistency, let's look at Coca Cola. As a result of their commitment to consistency, every element of their marketing works harmoniously together. This has helped them become one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Even on the surface of their social media accounts, for example, the seamlessness of their brand is very apparent.
- 3) Emotion: Customers aren't always rational. How else do you explain the person who paid thousands of dollars more for a Harley rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made bike? There was an emotional voice in there somewhere, whispering: “Buy a Harley.” But why? Harley Davidson uses emotional branding by creating a community around their brand. They began HOG - Harley Owners Group - to connect their customers with their brand (and each other). By provided their customers with an opportunity to feel like they're part of a larger group that's more tight-knit than just a bunch of motorcycle riders, Harley Davidson is able to position themselves as an obvious choice for someone looking to purchase a bike. Why? People have an innate desire to build relationships. Research from psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary best describes this need in their "belongingness hypothesis," which states: "People have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior." Not to mention, belongingness - the need for love, affection, and being part of groups - falls directly in the middle of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which aims to categorize different human needs. The lesson to be learned? Find a way to connect to your customers on a deeper, more emotional level. Do you give them peace of mind? Make them feel like part of the family? Do you make life easier? Use emotional triggers like these to strengthen your relationship and foster loyalty.
- 4) Flexibility: In this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible to stay relevant. On the plus side, this frees you to be creative with your campaigns. You may be thinking, "Wait a minute, how am I supposed to remain consistent while also being flexible?" Good question. While consistency aims to set the standard for your brand, flexibility enables you to make adjustments that build interest and distinguish your approach from that of your competition. In other words, "effective identity programs require enough consistency to be identifiable, but enough variation to keep things fresh and human," explains president of Peopledesign, Kevin Budelmann. A great example of this type of strategic balance comes from Old Spice. These days, Old Spice is one of the best examples of successful marketing across the board. However, up until recently, wearing Old Spice was pretty much an unspoken requirement for dads everywhere. Today, they're one of the most popular brands for men of all ages. Their secret? Flexibility. Aware that they needed to do something to secure their place in the market, Old Spice teamed up with Wieden+Kennedy to position their brand for a new customer base. Between new commercials, a new website, new packaging, and new product names, Old Spice managed to attract the attention of a new, younger generation by making strategic enhancements to their already strong brand. So if your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change. Just because it worked in the past doesn't mean it's working now. Take the opportunity to engage your followers in fresh, new ways. Are there some out-of-the-box partnerships your brand can make? Are there attributes about your product you never highlighted? Use those to connect with new customers and remind your old ones why they love you.
- 5) Employee Involvement: As mentioned before, achieving a sense of consistency is important if you wish to build brand recognition. And while a style guide can help you achieve a cohesive digital experience, it's equally important for your employees to be well versed in the how they should be communicating with customers and representing the brand.
If your brand is playful and bubbly through Twitter engagements, then it wouldn't make sense if a customer called in and was connected with a grumpy, monotone representative, right? To avoid this type of mismatched experience, take note of Zappos' approach. If you've ever been on the line with a customer service representative from Zappos, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, check out this SlideShare which details some of their most inspiring customer support stories. Zappos is so committed to ensuring that not only their brand, but all brands, remain consistent across digital and human interactions that they've dedicated an entire department to the cause called Zappos Insights. By holding all Zappos employees to their core values and helping other companies implement the same approach, Zappos has built a strong reputation for solid, helpful, and human customer service.
- 6) Loyalty: If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just sit there. Reward them for that love. These customers have gone out their way to write about you, to tell their friends about you, and to act as your brand ambassadors. Cultivating loyalty from these people early on will yield more returning customers -- and more profit for your business. Sometimes, just a thank you is all that's needed. Other times, it's better to go above and beyond. Write them a personalized letter. Sent them some special swag. Ask them to write a review, and feature them prominently on your website. (Or all of the above!) When hubspot reached 15,000 customers, they wanted to say thank you in a big way, while remaining true to their brand ... so they dropped 15,000 orange ping pong balls from their fourth floor balcony and spelled out thank you in big metallic balloons: And while it may have seemed a little out of the ordinary to some folks, for those who know their brand, the gesture made perfect sense. Loyalty is a critical part of every brand strategy, especially if you're looking to support your sales organization. At the end of the day, highlighting a positive relationship between you and your existing customers sets the tone for what potential customers can expect if they choose to do business with you.
- 7) Competitive Awareness: Take the competition as a challenge to improve your own strategy and create greater value in your overall brand. You are in the same business and going after the same customers, right? So watch what they do. Do some of their tactics succeed? Do some fail? Tailor your brand positioning based on their experience to better your company. A great example of how to improve your brand by learning from your competitors comes from Pizza Hut: When a pizza lover posed this question to his Twitter following, Pizza Hut didn't miss a beat. They playfully responded in minutes, before Domino's had a chance to speak up. If Domino's is keeping an eye on the competitors, they'll know to act fast the next time a situation like this arises.
The Value of Creating a Defined Brand Strategy
Branding is crucial for products and services sold in huge consumer markets. It’s also important in B2B because it helps you stand out from your competition. Your brand strategy brings your competitive positioning to life, and works to position you as a certain “something” in the mind of your prospects and customers (see figure below).Think about successful consumer brands like Disney, Tiffany or Starbucks. You probably know what each brand represents. Now imagine that you’re competing against one of these companies. If you want to capture significant market share, start with a strong brand strategy or you may not get far. In your industry, there may or may not be a strong B2B brand. But when you put two companies up against each other, the one that represents something valuable will have an easier time reaching, engaging, closing and retaining customers. Successful branding also creates “brand equity” – the amount of money that customers are willing to pay just because it’s your brand. In addition to generating revenue, brand equity makes your company itself more valuable over the long term.