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By definition, brand strategy is a long-term plan for the development of a successful brand in order to achieve specific goals. A well-defined and executed brand strategy affects all aspects of a business and is directly connected to consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments. Goal Definition
As you develop a brand strategy, it helps to start at the beginning. In other words, begin by setting your business goals. Why are you creating a new brand? What do you hope to achieve by launching the new brand? Use those long-term objectives as a basis for all of your strategic branding efforts. For example, are you trying to reach a new audience? Your brand strategy for achieving that goal is likely to be quite different from a business that wants to steal market share from a category leader, and that’s why goal definition is a fundamental starting point for any brand strategy. The first question you have to answer is, “Why?” Avoid the Short-Term Trap
short-term trapIt’s easy to get caught up in the short-term activities and tactics that drive business today, but when it comes to building a brand, that’s a big mistake. Brands aren’t built overnight, so your brand strategy shouldn’t be focused on short-term tactics but rather on long-term goals and sustainable growth. Admittedly, it’s hard to stay strategic when executives are weighed down by data and demand measurable growth and positive ROI right now. The best brand leaders, however, fight against short-term focus, because they know being short-sighted is a brand killer. Thomson Dawson, Managing Partner of PULL Brand Innovation described this problem well in an article written for Branding Strategy Insider earlier this year. He wrote: “Brand managers and agency account planners are tactics driven. That’s because 80% of the daily processes within marketing departments and ad agencies are based in project management. Creative Briefs tend to be control documents, rather than a forum for gathering inspirational ideas. Brand managers and their communication partners focus on the best way to manage process and the tight budgets they have been allocated.
They usually aren’t thinking long-term when at the crossroads of strategic and creative decision-making. They’re focused on getting a job done (on-time and on-budget). Add the changing priorities of executive management into the mix, and it’s easy to see how messy creative briefs become.” Instead of focusing on short-term tactics, Dawson urges people to become brand architects which enables teams to design a lasting structure “to bridge brand strategy and brand messaging.” He’s absolutely right. Without a strong brand foundation built on a well-defined strategy, brands have little chance for success. However, it’s hard to stick with that strategy rather than be tempted by the allure of short-term focus. Staying Flexible
Of course, the best brands stick with their strategies, but those strategies leave room for flexibility as the market, consumers, and competitors change. Think of it this way: Just as your goals in life might change over time, so might your brand goals. Similarly, just as you might modify your plan to achieve your goals in life, so too might your brand marketing plan change. Finally, just as you seize opportunities to move closer to your goals as they arise throughout your life, you’ll also seize short-term opportunities to grow your brand and move closer to achieving your long-term brand goals as those opportunities are presented to you. A specific, achievable brand strategy is an essential component of any business, because it affects every area of your business. Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?
Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.
The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.
Brand Strategy & Equity
Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.
Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.
The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.
Defining Your Brand
Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:
What is your company’s mission?
What are the benefits and features of your products or services? What do your customers and prospects already think of your company? What qualities do you want them to associate with your company? Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.
Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center .
Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:
Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes. Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business–how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything. Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. You get the gist. Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand. Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent. Be true to your brand. Customers won’t return to you–or refer you to someone else–if you don’t deliver on your brand promise. Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can’t do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.