Creating a brand strategy doesn’t mean designing a logo and slapping a slogan underneath to fill the white space. Your brand strategy is how you interact with your customers, it’s the reason(s) why you went into business in the first place, it’s knowing exactly who your customer is and what they want.
By definition, a brand strategy is a long-term plan for the development of a successful brand in order to achieve specific goals.
And that doesn’t just mean hemming and hawing about the font on the logo. Brands possess the power to affect customers on an emotional level, whether those feelings are positive, negative, or even neutral.
When I was in elementary school, I’d run up and down the soccer field without ever actually touching the ball, my t-shirt jersey falling to my knees. For me, the best part of soccer wasn’t the game. It wasn’t the practices. It was the after party at Dairy Queen.
After our games, my teammates and I would beg our parents to take us to our local branch, where I’d order a vanilla chocolate swirl cone dipped in Nerds (because evidently, I couldn’t care less about cavities or my taste buds back then).
Now, my order makes me cringe, but I still associate the ice cream chain with positive memories. When I see their print ads or tv commercials, I remember how much I loved my vanilla chocolate swirl cone dipped in Nerds and it conjures up all the warm and fuzzies a good brand should provide.
45% of a brand’s image can be attributed to their message and how they present it. A positive memory or a bad memory sticks around a lot longer than an ad, and that’s why it’s important to nail your strategy.
I’ll run us through five factors that will streamline your brand from the inside out.
First, You’ll Want to Develop a Mission Statement
When you create your mission statement, you’re making a promise to your customers, while telling them who your company is and what you’re all about. Your mission statement conveys not only what the brand is, but how it’s run.
When you sit down with your laptop and cup of coffee at your side and begin drafting mission statements, a great place to begin is considering the company’s core values. From there, keep these questions in mind:
- What issues does your company solve or what opportunities does it create?
- How does your business solve these problems?
- How does the company approach customer service?
- What’s the core of the business or what are the main values you want to provide?
64% of people cite shared values as the main reason they have a relationship with a brand. If you don’t have values—or especially if you live up to them—you won’t have loyal customers. No one likes the person who has plenty to say about themselves, but doesn’t give one shred of evidence that they can back up their claims, and the same goes for brands.
Now, let me clarify something:
A mission statement is not the same thing as a slogan. The mission statement usually explains what’s going with the company internally, as opposed to its external derivatives, such as the slogan, logo, etc.
Here’s a real-life example of a mission statement in action: “The Adidas Group strives to be the global leader in the sporting goods industry with brands built on a passion for sports and a sporting lifestyle. We are committed to continuously strengthening our brands and products to improve our competitive position.”
Many customers (myself included) weren’t/aren’t familiar with their mission statement, but I’m guessing the majority of consumers are familiar with their slogan, “Impossible is nothing.”
Their slogan—while catchy—doesn’t really convey much of the above, but their mission statement? It spells out their values, goals, and what they offer their customers.
Now it’s Time to Get to Know your Audience
One of the first things you should think about when creating a brand strategy or a brand even (!) is your target audience. Are they 20-somethings who love to travel? Retired men above the age of 60? Stay at home moms?
How do they prefer to communicate? What are their interests, dislikes, and needs?
These aren’t just minute details invented to give marketers a raging headache. In order to market your products effectively, you need to know who you’re marketing to, and you need to know them well.
Here’s another completely unsurprising (and probably ubiquitous) truth bomb: if you don’t understand who your customers are and what they want, your customer service will suffer.
“Any CMO worth their salt is looking after the customer experience,” Mark Evans from Direct Line Group said.
And, if those aren’t big enough incentives for taking the time to physically or virtually meet and greet your consumers, understanding your target market is also critical for your branding efforts and the company’s success as a whole.
Your target audience will help you decipher the tone and reach of your marketing campaigns, and help create a human connection between a business and its audience.
Familiarize Yourself with your Competition and Finesse your Offer
What sets your company apart from the competition? Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are both grocery stores, but given the task, I’m positive their customers could rattle off some major differences between the two.
Do some digging. Who’s your main competitor? What can you provide that’s missing from the market? Become experts on their product. Study how they interact with their customers and then forge ahead with your branding strategy.
For those of you who have never ‘facebook stalked’ anyone before, Entrepreneur published a helpful guide on scoping out the competition.
But back to differentiating yourself as a brand. In the days before Nike battled it out with adidas, Phil Knight’s brainchild openly waged a competition with Reebok (which, ironically, adidas now owns).
In the mid-1980s, Nike’s popularity spiked when they began targeting male customers and fostering a “jock” culture, however, Reebok noticed that Knight’s brand left out millions of customers; women.
By 1997, Reebok beat their competition by marketing their shoes to both men and women joggers—the fitness craze at the time.
Although their victory was short lived, for a time, Reebok got ahead of their competition by understanding exactly who their competition was and what the market was missing.
So now that you have your mission statement, know who your target audience is, and you’ve analyzed the competition, what’s next?
To Really Streamline your Brand, you Must Insist on Consistency
26% of consumers mention the terms “trust” and “consistency” as an important element of brand loyalty.
Your company doesn’t solely comprise of your logo and slogan, but that doesn’t mean you should allow discrepancies when printing your design.
Stick to the same design across all merchandise, products, and materials so customers can easily recognize your brand.
You could be abroad in a city with completely unrecognizable street names, eating food you can’t pronounce, but when you see those familiar yellow arches, you know you’re near a McDonald’s.
And while you’re thinking about logo design, this list of the most recognizable logos (and why they work) could get those creative juices flowing.
You’ll want to apply this basic rule to your brand’s tone, as well. Whether you choose a more lighthearted voice or one that’s more formal, keep it consistent. Customers expect brands to ‘behave’ in a certain way.
Think about how off-putting and downright awkward it would feel if NPR started throwing around raunchy remarks or publishing sleazy content. It’s not in their DNA, it’s not what customers have come to expect from them, and at best, it’s plain inconsistent.
Not really something you look for in a brand.
When streamlining your company’s outward appearance, the important thing to remember is that you’re creating a message with all these components, so yes, make sure it’s consistent, but also that it’s one you’re committed to telling.
Lastly, Stamp your Brand, Story, and Logo onto Everything you Produce
Branding isn’t a one and done kind of thing. It’s an ongoing effort. Danielle Snyder and Jodie Snyder Morel, sisters and creators of jewelry and ‘lifestyle’ brand Dannijo, use storytelling in all aspects of their business from digital media to live events.
Their instagram reads like colorful, lighthearted, jewelry-themed dream, and although they don’t explicitly use their logo on their designs or in their instagrams, their tone, brand, and story appears in every post.
Stamp your logo across everything you produce. You can take that in the literal sense, or more figuratively, like the Synder sisters. When they wanted to show off their designs, they felt a pop-up wasn’t enough to get their story across to fans, so they created an experience.
“Consumers are really smart now…“We’re in the day and age where information is at everyone’s fingertips through the Internet, social media and apps–as a founder, you have to be smart and creative and get people excited in a fresh way.” Jodie and I were not excited about just doing a ‘pop up’–that wasn’t enough. We wanted to evoke a childlike sense of playfulness, creativity, and excitement,” Danielle Snyder said.
That experience included a jewelry showroom, a café, a retail section, installations, and hosted talks. But how does this qualify as branding you ask?
Here’s the thing, when a brand provides customers with an experience, they’re branding themselves through all of the speakers, installations, showrooms, retail, and cafes associated with the event.
That’s what the customer will remember anyway. It’s standard practice to include your logo/slogan on all of your products from your packaging to your website, but companies can also accomplish branding using more indirect channels.
Branding is another way to visually differentiate yourself from your competition, but I’d happily award bonus points if companies throw in a coffee cart.
The Takeaway Here is…
Branding isn’t just about designing the perfect logo and creating a slogan consumers would fawn over. It’s your identity as a whole, it’s your story. Your branding strategy promotes things like recognition, it builds expectations, and adds value. Customers are loyal to brands, but brands need to do everything in their power to make their loyalty stick. Don’t turn off your customers with a messy brand execution. Branding can make or break a business.
Don’t let your strategy break you.