Brand strategy, by definition, is a long term inter-departmental plan for a brand to achieve specific, pre-defined goals. A successful brand strategy must be well-designed and executed across all business functions, with the capacity to improve consumer experience, competitive advantage and financial performance. While this may seem easy in theory, creating a winning brand strategy can be more challenging than it seems on first impressions — especially in a highly competitive marketplace.
There is much debate about how exactly an organisation should begin to develop a brand strategy. Some strategies naturally evolve over time, some are outsourced to external agencies and others are defined internally at an early stage in the business lifecycle. We believe the best approach is to follow a five step process, supported by relevant and timely insight.
Scroll to the bottom of this article to see the 5 step process summarised in a handy diagram.
1. Defining Your Purpose
The first step to crafting a successful brand strategy is to understand the purpose of your organisation. This is a deceptively difficult task. Though financial performance should factor in to this analysis, your focus should be on what value you want to provide to your customers. At this stage, asking probing questions such as ‘How do we help our customers solve problems?’ and ‘What is it about our products that customers will love?’ is vital.
In essence, this first step is a soul-searching exercise. What you discover should underpin your strategy and become central to company culture. Make no mistake: truly understanding the purpose of an organisation is as rare as it is valuable. But once you’ve found it, it becomes crucial to building a long-standing, recognisable and personable brand.
2. Understanding the Environment
As important as understanding your organisation’s purpose is understanding the context in which your business operates. No business exists in a vacuum. Whether your competitors are obvious and offer a directly comparable product, or compete indirectly for vie for consumer attention — you most definitely have competitors. More importantly, their performance impacts yours (and vice versa). Knowing how these competitors act, perform and brand their products will help you create a brand strategy that is grounded in the real world.
There are a number of ways in which you can approach this step. One common way to understand market position is by conducting a competitor analysis — such as the one outlined in this template from Client Heartbeat. Other popular tools include perceptual maps of industry position and analysis of the 5 competitive industry forces. But one thing is for sure, the more time you spend on this step, the greater your understanding of the marketplace will be.
3. Setting SMART Objectives
SMART objectives have become a popular start up cliché. Standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely — these are taught in every business 101 class nationwide. But this is for good reason. The SMART objective guidelines grounds your objectives in the research which you have previously conducted. It ensures that the goals you set for your organisation (which will form the bread and butter of your brand strategy) are relevant both to your business and marketplace.
Goals should cover key strategic areas, not just financial performance. While it is good practice to outline your ideals for growth, also ensure that goals touch on brand perceptions, reach, product development and daily operations. The following examples highlight the difference between well-set and poorly defined goals:
Examples of Well Defined Goals:
- To achieve an average 8/10 or higher NPS score from all customers by 2018
- To be perceived as friendly and wholesome by 60% of our customer base by 2018
- To have a monthly reach of 250,000 consumers through all earned digital media channels by 2020
- To grow our market share of the financial services industry to 2.5% by 2020
Examples of Poorly Defined Goals:
- To have more customers than our closest competitor within 6 months of launch
- To become known as a friendly brand which looks after customers
- To create a shopping experience that encourages regular, repeat purchases
4. Creating a Strategic Plan
Once you have your goals in place, it’s time to start planning how you will meet them. This will make up the bulk of your brand strategy. The strategic plan will outline your plans for investment and action to achieve the SMART goals outlined in the previous step. Strategic actions should be broad enough to allow for flexibility as the business expands, but detailed enough to form a strong brand identity. Aspects which should be included in your brand strategy include:
- Mission, values and principles which influence company culture
- Brand language and visual guidelines to ensure consistency
- Departmental processes and policies that enable brand values
- Investment plans for future expansion and acquisitions
Every strategy is unique. But one important distinction that should be made is the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the guiding principle upon which decisions are made. Tactics, on the other hand, are the exact ways in which strategy is realised.
For example: a strategy may dictate that customer service should be delivered via social media for a more integrated experience (based on consumer/channel analysis). Tactics, meanwhile, include the decisions made in regards to: scripts, processes, actions and degree of flexibility. It is these tactics that customer service employees should follow to realise an integrated customer experience and contribute to SMART goals.
5. Testing, Refining and Developing
Finally, it is important to remember that a brand strategy should never be stationary. There are two key questions that should be asked and tested on a regular basis:
- Are the tactics we are using the best fit for our brand strategy and SMART objectives?
- Is our brand strategy still relevant and effective in the competitive landscape?
If the answer to these questions is ever ‘no’ then it’s time to refine and develop your strategy. To do this, you’ll need to identify which aspects of the strategy (or which tactics) are not up to par and explore the reasons for this. When exploring the reasons and alternatives, you’ll need to gather information from the key stakeholders involved: your customers, employees, decision makers and competitors. Once you’ve gathered the data, the next step is to find alternatives, asses the merits of each and finally (hardest of all) decide on changes to your strategy.
That concludes our five step approach to developing a successful brand strategy. It’s certainly not an easy process, but will give you a definite head start against the competition. What are your top tips for developing a brand strategy? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation.