Before we answer the “what is strategic branding?” question, let’s get our understanding of strategy out of the way so we’re on the same page
In simple terms, a strategy is a plan to achieve an outcome.
Like anything, from a journey to a sport, you need to have a good idea of what you want the outcome to be before you set out to achieve it.
Journeys are a lot easier today than they were 200 years ago when you needed an actual map and some actual thinking to go with it.
Today you just pop where you want to go into the GPS and follow the arrow. No need for a plan. No need for thinking.
If only branding was that easy. Just pop in “Leading brand in industry” and follow an arrow to the destination.
But it’s not.
Branding… (Successful branding anyway), still requires a plan and still requires thinking.
If you’re building a brand for which you aspire success for… you’d better be strategizing how you’re gonna achieve it.
What Is Strategic Branding?[The Video Breakdown]
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Strategic Branding vs Visual Branding
Visual branding is what 100% of all brands do.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brand without a logo, but brands without a strategy are a dime a dozen.
These are what I call “Blind Brands”.
Aimlessly wandering in any direction without ever defining where they want to go, let alone planning for it.
They dress the part in order to attract suitors, but without a strategy to engage, resonate with and nurture those suitors, nothing sticks
Visual branding as a solitary strategy is what the early brands in the 1820s used to do.
Sticking a logo on a crate of the product was enough to stand out back then.
Today it’s a different world and the consumer is a different beast.
They have high expectations and if you’re expecting them to be bowled over by the beauty of your visual brand, brace yourself for the inevitable thud.
Why Brand Strategy Is So Important
When addressing the question “what is strategic branding?”, we need to start with brand strategy.
Brand strategy is the cornerstone of modern branding.
It’s a plan for a brand to achieve its intended outcome… but it’s more than that.
Strategic branding brings a brand to life in the mind of its audience so they see the brand as a living entity and subconsciously engage with it.
A brand with a belief, personality, a familiar tone of voice, and a message that speaks on an emotional level to your pain points will make a connection with you.
Visual branding has a job.
Its job is establishing brand recall to lead back to the living entity that makes connections.
If all you have is a visual brand with nothing in place to make connections it’s on a lonely road into the abyss.
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Types Of Branding Strategies
A single brand exists which acts as the entity for all of the company’s products or services. They are promoted under the same overarching messaging strategy and positioning strategy.
Apple is a perfect example of a branded house
Although all of their products are individually branded with their own branded names (Macbook, iMac, iPhone, iPad), they all fall under the branded house that is Apple.
House Of Brands
A house of brands is an overarching parent brand that houses individual brands, which run as their own entities with their own strategies.
These individual brands have their own target audiences, positions and messaging strategies along with their own visual identities.
A perfect example of a house of brands is Unilever.
Unilever has a unique brand identity, market position and messaging strategy though it has over 400 brands that fall under its banner including Dove, Lynx, Lipton & Lux
Though the brands operate independently, they should align from an internal brand perspective (beliefs, values, etc)
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#1. Internal Branding
The internal brand is the guiding compass of the brand which is a core element in bringing the brand to life as a human entity.
It includes human characteristics such as beliefs, aspirations, commitments and values.
#2. Audience Persona
The Audience persona (buyer persona/buyer avatar) is the profile of the audience the brand wants to connect with.
An effective persona is full of detail which goes beyond demographics and psychographics and uncovers pain-points and emotional connections.
#3. Competitive Analysis
A solid competitive analysis provides the brand with a clear outlook on the options its target audience already has.
This analysis uncovers the differentiation strategies of the competition and outlines their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
A comprehensive analysis should provide enough information to be able to identify how the audience feels about the options they have and where they may want something more or something different.
#4. Differentiation Analysis
A differentiation strategy is the cornerstone of the positioning strategy and the overall brand position.
It aims to set the brand apart from its competitors by offering their shared audience something different when compared to all of the other options in the marketplace.
A unique differentiation strategy can be the distinction between a brand that is remembered or forgotten.
#5. Human Brand Persona
Brands need more than a visual identity to make connections.
The brand must come alive as a human entity to engage its audience on a human level and make real human connections.
A brand with a human persona is far more likely to resonate with their audience given the human personality at its disposal.
Just as important as what you say to your audience is the way in which you say it and an effective tone of voice allows brands to communicate on the right frequency.
Whether your tone of voice is sophisticated, witty, professional or reassuring, the audience, in their moment of need, will appreciate and resonate with a tone of voice that intends to help them in that moment.
The tagline is not just a catchy set of words.
It’s a brand element with a job to do and that job is to work alongside the logo to achieve brand recall.
The tagline acts as a shortcut in the mind of the audience and the right tagline can help a brand to solidify its position in the mind of its audience.
#8. Core Message Framework
The “core message” as most brand builders understand it is not the tool you use to connect with an audience.
A traditional core message is a distilled message, which encapsulates the brand offering though it lacks effectiveness as a tool to guide ongoing communication.
The core message framework outlines all the key elements the audience needs to understand about the brand to help the brand connect though all of the audiences’ relevant needs.
#9. Storytelling Framework
We as humans remember story-based information 22 times more effectively than we do facts and a compelling brand story can draw an audience in to want to hear more.
The critical aspect of an effective brand story is who it is about.
It’s not about the brand or its founders. It’s about the audience, their struggles and their path to success.
#10. Brand Identity System
The brand identity system (or the visual brand) is most easily identifiable element of the brand due to its visual aspects.
We are visual beings and our brand allows us to recall visuals more easily than complex information.
Though it plays a critical role in brand recall, it needs far more behind it for the brand to connect.
Using The Modern Brand Strategy Template
If you were planning a journey in a time before the GPS, you’d need to tick off a few items before you left.
An actual map
A means to rest
If you failed to plan any one of these items, you’d be far more likely to run into trouble on your way, which might impact in reaching your destination.
Such a checklist is a template for success and that’s exactly what a brand setting out for success needs.
Here is the modern Brand Strategy Template:
STEP 1: Develop An Internal Compass
Your brand needs to know where it’s going before it can set off to achieve its goals.
This is the birthplace of the human brand as this is where the internal human characteristics of the brand come to life including its
- Commitments and
Developing an internal compass helps you to identify the “Why” behind your brand.
The reason the brand exists beyond the commercial benefit.
This taps into who your brand helps, and the impact that help has in their lives.
When you are crystal clear on why your brand exists, you can develop solid beliefs to follow.
Once your beliefs are clear you can uncover the impact you want your brand to make and how you envision the brand in the future.
The mission then lays the path for how that vision will be achieved through the commitments your brand makes to itself, its customers and the wider world.
Finally, how your brand will behave in the marketplace can be defined through the values it holds dear throughout its day-to-day operations.
STEP 2: Identify Your Target Position
Your internal compass will provide a solid foundation and internal direction for where your brand is going and what you want it to achieve.
The next item that needs to be checked off is how you want your brand to be remembered which is determined by the position you’ll occupy in their mind.
To earn a place in the mind of your audience requires creative thinking and an effective strategy.
The positioning strategy comes together through three of the core elements, which we covered earlier
Having an intimate understanding of who your audience is and who your competitors are is the only way to identify an effective target position.
It’s through these key elements that you find the critical aspects that can lead to a unique differentiator including:
This clear understanding of the market landscape uncovers the gaps in the market, which are left unfilled by your competitors.
These gaps though, often aren’t enough alone to make your brand stand out from the competition.
Usually, creative thinking is needed to really develop the gap into a truly unique idea.
If it’s creative and unique enough, it can transform an ordinary brand into an extraordinary brand.
STEP 3: Forge Your Brand Character
As I covered earlier, a visual brand might have been enough to set your brand apart in 1820, but today, there are literally billions of logos.
The world has changed a lot since 1820 and the relationship between brands and consumers in completely different.
In fact, there has been a greater change in the relationship between brands and consumers in the last 30 years than there’s been in history.
The modern generation (led by The Millennial), have far greater expectations on the brands they choose.
If your brand isn’t connecting with your audience through human engagement, it’s nowhere to be found in their mind.
Brands today must don human characteristics from a personality to a tone of voice in order to meet their audience on the digital front-line.
Using archetypes, brands can first identify the personality of their audience and second, a personality designed to appeal to their desires.
Using archetypes as the personality foundation, they can then expand to develop ideas, attitudes, beliefs and opinions to really engage the audience on a conversational and human level.
What you say to your audience has always been paramount but the way in which you deliver your message has never been more important in this hyper-sensitive environment.
Forge a brand character and open up those human connections.
STEP 4: Establish An Effective Route
With your internal compass, your market position and your brand character in place, you need the means to get your brand from obscurity to the brand of choice.
The best way to do that is through solid communication.
Your audience needs to know who you are, why you’re speaking to them, what it is you do, how you do it, what’s different about it and why they should care.
A traditional core message requires you to trim 80% of that information in order to develop a concise single paragraph of text.
But what happens to all of that other information?
Where does it go and what do you do with it?
Well if you’re like most brands, you might get around to covering some of it on your website or on a social post here and there.
This is not information you can allow to just fall down the back of the couch.
This is vital information your audience will call upon when it comes to making buying decisions.
The Brand Communication Strategy Is The Front Line
Your brand needs a core message framework that captures all of these critical pieces of information to ensure you consistently communicate what they need to know again and again and again.
Knowing what message you need to deliver, however, is only one half of the whole pie…
If you want your audience to relate, to connect to be drawn in to the messages you’re delivering, then you need to deliver these through story.
If you have done the work properly in developing your audience persona, you’ll have an intimate understanding of the lives they lead, the struggles they have, the challenges, pain points, emotional connections and the impact all of this has in their lives.
You’ll also know where they need to go and what obstacles they’ll need to overcome on the journey to success and what that success looks like.
This is the story your audience wants to hear.
If they see themselves in the stories you tell, they’ll be emotionally invested and they’ll resonate with what you have to tell them.
This is how you deliver an effective message.
STEP 5: Execute Your Plan
Once your brand strategy is in place it’s time to introduce it to the world.
This is where your brand manifests into a visual identity, which is the shopfront and visual entry point to your brand.
But this is just the beginning.
Catching the eye of your audience with visual appeal is what 100% of brands attempt to do but only a very small percentage of brands that pull it off, have anything behind it to open up a relationship and achieve the end goal of the brand.
From here, resonating is all about execution.
If your identity is unique enough, your tagline memorable enough and both lead back to a brand that has an idea, difference and position at the core, a human personality with a tone of voice and a consistent message delivered an engaging story….
Only then your brand is in with a shot of claiming a position in the mind of your audience…
When all of these key elements are aligned based on who the audience is, then it becomes a game of consistency…
Delivering the same message though every combination possible again and again and again.
If the brand does earn the opportunity to deliver the customer what it promises, the internal brand compass comes front and centre and prospects are nurtured into lifelong customers…
Strategic branding is a game of the mind
Understanding the mind of your audience, what they want and how you can give them what they want in a way they’ll remember.
Once that’s clear, then every other element of the strategic brand is developed with helping that audience to associate the brand with that big idea.
Are you building a brand now or in the future?
Do you plan on building a strategic brand to make connections?
Which of these steps resonated with your goals the most?
Developing a personality? Creating a story your audience can resonate with?
Let me know in the comments Right Now!
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