Over the past decade, we’ve helped countless brands tell their stories, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that a solid brand strategy is essential to the success of any organization. Everything from your content to your culture to your core business might suffer without a consistent brand identity. But there’s a good reason why this issue persists: it takes time, work, and dedication to develop a successful brand strategy. That’s a stumbling block for a lot of individuals, including us.
The Start of Our Brand Strategy
A few years ago, we expanded into brand strategy after seeing a trend of clients coming to us for content strategy help who lacked clarity on who they were or what they wanted to accomplish. They required more than just content assistance; they required a complete rebranding. We wanted to steer them in the right direction, but we had two major insights:
- The brand strategy process is more difficult than it needs to be. As we dug more into brand strategy, we discovered countless competing theories, points of view, and outmoded practices. We would have to develop our own framework if we wanted to provide our partners with one.
- Second, we were mistaken about how well we understood our own brand. As we dug deeper into the brand difficulties our customers were facing, we found that we shared many of the same concerns. We needed to act as our own guinea pigs in order to feel comfortable guiding customers through the brand strategy framework we developed.
So we dug in, got our hands dirty, and got to work. After an entire year of tweaking and testing (first on ourselves, then on a few brave clients), we finally had a tried-and-true brand strategy process that was simple, intuitive, and adaptable for any brand of any size. Was it simple? Certainly not. Was it worthwhile? Oh, yes.
We believe it will be worthwhile for you as well. We’ve distilled everything we’ve learned about brand strategy—from books, podcasts, articles, and personal experience—into a simple step-by-step process for creating an effective, flexible brand strategy that will help you…
- Recognize your true self and use your beliefs and values to guide your decisions in ways that benefit your people, your business, and the future.
- Every piece of content you create should consistently and effectively communicate your brand.
- Build a strong, long-lasting brand by attracting the right customers.
- Position your brand in a way that will help you compete now and in the future.
We’ve included all of the tools, resources, and real-world examples you’ll need to get through the brand strategy process, from discovering your Brand to developing brand guidelines to express it.
Begin by downloading our free Brand Strategy Workbook (below), which includes helpful templates, questionnaires, and checklists to guide you through the process.
Download Our Free
Brand Strategy Workbook
Follow the steps in this guide sequentially (as each builds on the previous one), and you’ll end up with a basic brand strategy that can grow with you as your brand evolves.
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What Is a Brand?
A “brand” can be defined in a million different ways. When people talk about a “brand,” they usually mean the physical mark (or logo) placed on something to identify the company that made it. A brand, however, is more than just a physical mark. It’s an emotional mark—specifically, an emotional experience that is strengthened or lessened with each connection with that company.
We define brand as what customers think, feel, and say about your company. (This is distinct from marketing, which is what you say about your company.)
What Is a Brand Strategy?
A brand strategy, according to branding guru Marty Neumeier, is “a plan for the systematic growth of a brand in harmony with a business strategy.”
A brand strategy helps you understand who you are and serves as a framework for communicating that identity.
Our brand strategy process is divided into three stages. We walk you through the process of developing your Brand Heart (the essence of your brand), articulating your Brand Messaging (how you talk about who you are), and creating your Visual Identity (the visual expression of your brand). By the conclusion, you’ll have a complete brand strategy, summarized in new brand rules to assist you in bringing your brand to life.
What Is the Purpose of a Brand Strategy?
Your business suffers when you don’t know who you are, why you exist, what you believe in, or what you’re attempting to accomplish. A lack of brand strategy generates challenges at every level of an organization, from customer communication to employee retention.
We’ve worked with hundreds of customers over the last decade and have learned to recognize the telltale signals of a brand in crisis, which is frequently driven by a lack of strategy. (Some of these concerns may be familiar to you.) We were victims of these before we documented our brand strategy.)
When you don’t have a brand strategy:
- Because you lack understanding of your purpose, vision, goal, or values, you make marketing and commercial decisions that do not reflect them.
- You don’t have a written marketing strategy, but you’re hoping that whatever you’re doing will be effective.
- Your team is disconnected, confused, and conflict-ridden, making it difficult for employees to feel engaged and interested.
- Because you lack a clear brand message, your material is inconsistent at best and contradictory at worst. As a result, attracting people who share your values is tough (customers, employees, etc.).
- You can’t effectively explain your brand, thus you can’t carve out a distinct market position.
In essence, you lose if you don’t have a brand plan.
What Kind of Team do You Need to Create Your Brand Strategy?
You cannot create a brand strategy on your own. A brand team is required to create, modify, and bring your brand to life at all levels of your firm. Without this specialized team, your work here is likely to get diverted or steamrolled.
Fortunately, you don’t need to hire a large number of people to establish your brand team. You can even form a two-person team as long as both members can fulfill these critical roles.
What You Should Know Before Launching Your Brand Strategy
If you’re starting from scratch with your brand strategy (or trying to do things the “correct” way this time), there are two critical bits of information you should be aware of. (If you’ve done your business strategy, you already know these.) They are as follows:
1) Who do you stand for
To whom are you attempting to sell? What do they require/desire? How are their requirements not being met?
To create a brand strategy that allows you to truly connect with people, you must first understand who you’re selling to.
Knowing who they are and how you are attempting to serve them will help you to clarify who you are and how you communicate with them.
HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
If you’re not sure who you’re for, use the Personas Template in the Brand Strategy Workbook and our Personas Creation Guide.
2) Who are you opposing?
Who is sharing your space? Who will you be fighting for attention with? How could they possibly outshine you?
This is priceless information for determining who you are and who you are not, how you fit in or stand out, and how you can convey your differences through your brand strategy.
How to Create a Brand Strategy
Follow these steps in the order listed, and you’ll have a thorough brand strategy that allows you to convey your narrative impactfully and successfully at every touchpoint.
Part 1: Discover the Heart of Your Brand
Every brand has a fundamental set of beliefs that guide everything they do. These principles are referred to as the Heart of Your Brand. Understanding these concepts and why they are important is critical, since they are a powerful, potent force that may actively support or damage your business.
When your brand’s principles and business objectives are in sync, you can successfully bring people together, establish a community, and shape the future you want. When you don’t have any values (or your beliefs are toxic), it’s easy to alienate both staff and customers, cripple your culture, and make decisions that impede your long-term goals.
The Heart of Your Brand is made up of four components that will help you define who you are, what you do, and why it matters.
- Purpose: What is the point of our existence?
- Vision: What kind of future do we want to help shape? What does the future hold?
- Mission: What are we here to accomplish? How do we build that future?
- Values: What principles govern our actions?
While your brand heart is frequently an internal document, it can be translated into external-facing messaging on everything from your website to your packaging, which is why it’s critical to get it right from the start.
Part 2: Communicate Your Message
You know who you are now that your Brand Heart has been established. Next, determine your Brand Essence (how to express who you are) and Brand Messaging (how to talk about who you are). When you condense and document these aspects successfully, you can ensure that your brand communicates honestly, truly, and consistently.
Note: Some firms are tempted to move right to building their visual identity (logo, colors, etc.) once they have their Brand Heart, but we would argue that there are a few critical tasks to accomplish before that. Your logo, colors, and typography are important to your brand, but they are ultimately a visual expression of your business’s core and messaging. It’s tough to build a visual identity to reflect what you’re trying to communicate if you don’t know what you’re trying to say.
However, you may have already built your visual identity before you consolidated these pieces. (To be honest, we did the same thing many years ago.) However, if you’re undertaking this work now, it’s critical that your heart, messaging, and visual identity all align—regardless of the order in which you approach them.
Create the Essence of Your Brand
Your Brand Essence is made up of the following elements:
Identifying these elements may appear daunting, yet it is not difficult. This isn’t even a hunt. Your essence is within you. It does not need to be made; it only has to be discovered and documented with purpose.
1) Determine your personality type.
Your personality is essentially the human features and attributes of your brand. Are you inquisitive and enthusiastic? Elegant and refined? Crazy and out of control? Your personality reflects your Brand Heart, which is affected by your beliefs and manifested in your conduct. When you have a firm grasp on your personality, you can include it in every element of your business, from customer service to product descriptions. This is an effective strategy to distinguish oneself and create relationships.
2) Determine your brand’s voice.
This is how your brand sounds and communicates. Remember that each brand’s voice is distinct. A yogurt brand does not talk in the same way that a vehicle brand does, and each car brand sounds different. Your personality already has an impact on your brand voice; all you need to do now is describe it so that you can communicate consistently in your content.
Remember that the words, phrases, slang, and humor you use both, directly and indirectly, communicate your identity. Consider how you want to be spoken to—and how your consumers want to be addressed.
3) Recognize your tone.
The tone of your brand is essentially your general attitude. Your tone is courteous, despite your forceful tone. Consider your brand’s voice to be how you speak, and your tone to be how you speak in different settings. You constantly use the same voice, but your tone varies depending on who you’re speaking with.
HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
If you’re not sure what tone to use, consider how you want people to feel. Should you address them as a friendly and courteous neighbor or as a mysterious and aloof lover? To begin, select at least three words to characterize your tone. (For example, Uber’s tone is described as “optimistic, engaging, and daring.”)
With your Brand Essence defined, you now have a foundation for communicating who you truly are at every touchpoint, from pop-ups on your website to your Twitter feed. (The brands that accomplish this well are the ones we love the most, regardless of what they sell.)
Make Your Own Brand Messaging
There are numerous ways to communicate who you are, what you do, and why customers should select your brand over competitors. We’ll begin with the most fundamental messaging for the sake of this brand strategy: your value proposition, tagline, and messaging pillars.
1) Explain your value proposition. Your value proposition is a concise summary of the functional and emotional benefits your product or service offers clients. It is not only about who you are and what you do differently (your positioning); it is also about how you solve their problem and why they should select you over the competition.
2) Condense your tagline. Your tagline is a term, phrase, or word that summarizes your company’s market position. It’s not easy to come up with a catchy tagline. Most businesses do not have a Don Draper to feed you the perfect sentence. It’s usually a long process of brainstorming and iterating. Fortunately, academics are uncovering the secrets of a great tagline, providing intriguing insights that can assist you in selecting the perfect one.
3) Establish your messaging pillars. The major tales you want to tell about your brand—what makes you unique and different—are your messaging pillars. Across all touchpoints, every piece of content you publish should reinforce these essential principles.
Depending on the needs of your brand, you may wish to articulate additional message elements such as:
- Brand assurance & promise
- Manifesto/compact on the brand story
- The origin or founding story
- The elevator pitch
Part 3: Create a Visual Identity
Most people associate branding with a brand’s visual identity: the logo, colors, typography, and other elements that serve as the brand’s “face.” Now that you’ve defined your heart and message, it’s time to visualize it with the fundamentals:
A strong visual identity should serve a purpose first and foremost. You’re not only designing for today. You’re planning for the future of your company. As a result, a good visual identity is:
- It should be adaptable to your brand’s growth, whether you’re expanding into new products, services, or even industries.
- Comprehensive: It should provide brand designers and content creators with all of the tools they need to do their jobs properly.
- Intuitive: It should be designed and built in such a way that each element complements the others.
Keep in mind that, depending on your brand, you may need to evolve your visual identity over time. If this is the case, you should think about including guidelines for additional visual elements.
A good logo is a memorable logo, and research shows that the simplest logos are the most memorable. Yes, you want it to reflect your brand, but keep it simple if you want it to stand out. You should also consider how people visually process and assign meaning to images, as research has shown that different shapes are assigned different attributes.
Because so much of your brand is communicated through visual media, imagery is more important than ever. Whether you go with photography, illustration, or a combination of the two, everything should be consistent with your brand.
Creating a distinct illustration style is an excellent way to visually brand your content, but don’t overdo it. You want a clear, distinct, and on-brand style. Also, avoid combining styles or clogging illustrations with visual clutter.
Photography is a powerful, versatile tool that requires less time to create. However, you must maintain a consistent aesthetic with your brand. You should also consider your available resources. Fortunately, there are numerous sources to choose from.
- Stock sites (free): There is a wealth of free, high-quality stock photography available online, and you can easily create one-of-a-kind design treatments that transform a generic stock image into a photograph that communicates your brand. (Pexels, Unsplash, and StockSnap.io are excellent starting points.) Just make sure to clearly outline the dos and don’ts for things like filters, design treatments, resolution, and so on.
- Image licenses (paid): There are several photo services that allow you to license photos either individually or as part of a subscription. They’re less likely to appear on your competitors’ websites, but it’s still possible because anyone can buy them. If you want to go this route, check out Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Alamy.
- Custom (free or paid): Thanks to the abundance of creative tools available to everyone, we are living in a golden age of creation. You can commission photography or delegate it to your team, as long as they have the skills and tools to create high-resolution images.
Part 4: Establish Your Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines act as a playbook for how to use your brand, particularly in the content and communication you create. Maintaining consistency and quality can be difficult, especially if you work with freelancers or outside agencies. As a result, your brand guidelines should include enough direction to allow any creator to produce work that strengthens rather than weakens the brand.
Include direction for both your visual and verbal identity to ensure your brand guidelines are comprehensive.
- the essence of the brand (personality, voice, tone)
- Value proposition
- Pillars of communication
- Anything else that may be useful or relevant
- Color Typography in Logos
- Imagery (photography, illustration)
- Hierarchy \sIconography
- Visualization of data
- Elements that are interactive
- Video and motion, for example.
Remember that the strength of a brand is determined by its consistency, or lack thereof.
Once your guidelines are complete, make sure you have a designated point person who can answer questions about correctly applying the brand guidelines, and that your guidelines are accessible to your team.
How to Make Your Brand Strategy a Reality
You can finally take a nap now that you’ve finished the entire brand strategy process. You now have all of the tools you need to communicate your brand story, align your brand and your business, and build the long-term relationships required for long-term success as a result of your hard work. That work, of course, is never completed.
To effectively implement your brand strategy in the future…
- Maintain your knowledge of best practices. More tips on effective branding can be found in our 9 Favorite Branding Books.
- Create content that is consistent with your brand. Begin with our
- Documenting Your Content Strategy: A Guide
- Master the art of content creation. Learn How to Improve Content Production at Every Stage.
- At each touchpoint, tell your brand’s story. Discover How to Tell Your Brand’s Story in Every Piece of Content.
- Increase the reach of your content.