If there’s one thing we’ve learned from over a decade of working with businesses across industries, it’s that a successful company can’t survive without a clear vision and mission statement. Without a unified message, everything from your marketing campaigns, to your customer experience, to your product offerings can suffer.
But there’s a reason why this challenge is so prevalent: Building a strong corporate vision takes time, effort, commitment, and consistency. And that’s where many companies (including ours) can get stuck.
The Beginning of Our Brand Strategy Journey
We began working with clients several years ago when we encountered various clients who came to us seeking a content marketing strategy but could not articulate who they were or their goals. We soon realized they required more than content creation; they needed a complete brand re-alignment. We were eager and willing to assist them, but we also discovered two major things:
· The brand strategy seems complicated, but shouldn’t be.
After we learned more about brand management, we realized there were so many schools of thought and conflicting views. We needed something simple and straightforward for our clients. So if we wanted to provide them with a simple guide, we had to do the work of making it adaptable.
· We also didn’t know our brand as well as we thought we did.
As we started exploring the brands of our client base, we found that we had similar challenges. If we wanted to help them navigate the brand strategy framework, we would need to become their guinea pigs and see if it worked for us first.
We dug in, got dirty, and did the work. Fortunately, after an entire year of tweaking and testing, we came out with a tested and proven branding process that was simple, straightforward, and adaptable for every kind of business. Was it easy? No, absolutely not. Was it worth the effort? You bet!
We believe it will benefit you, too. In this article, we’ve taken everything that we know about brand strategy and distilled it down into a straightforward, easy-to-follow process that will help you develop a powerful, flexible, and effective branding strategy that will help you:
- Understand who you truly are. You must understand yourself well enough to know what you believe and value most. Then, you must be able to put these things into practice by making choices that are best for your people, your business, and the world.
- Create content consistently so that people know exactly who you are and what you stand for.
- Attract the right customers so that they become loyal customers of your business.
- Position your brand so that it helps you compete today and in the re too.
We’ve put together everything you need to create a successful brand identity for your business. From defining your Brand Heart to building the brand guidelines, we’ve got you covered.
What is a Brand?
In business, “brand” is often confused with “logo.” But a logo is only a visual component of your brand — it doesn’t define your brand. Your brand is the total of your customer’s experiences with you.
Your brand is everything from your name to the experience people have when they interact with you. It’s how you promote yourself, and how people perceive you. It’s different from marketing, which is what companies tell their customers.
In short, your brand is the total of everything you do, from advertising to social media channels to customer service you must have a handle on all aspects of how your brand is perceived. That’s where a strong brand strategy comes in.
A brand strategy is a holistic approach to how a brand builds identification and favorability with customers and potential customers. A brand strategy encompasses several different brand elements like voice, storytelling, brand identity, and brand values.
What Is a Brand Strategy?
Our branding process consists of three distinct steps. First, we guide you through your Brand Heart, then we articulate your Brand Messaging, and finally, we create your visual identity. Ultimately, you’ll have a clear brand strategy, and be able to express yourself fully through your own set of new brand guidelines.
Why Do You Need a Brand Strategy?
Suppose you don’t understand who you are, why your company exists, what you stand for, or what you want to accomplish. In that case, your business will suffer from poor customer communications, and employee retention. A lack of brand strategy causes problems at every level of an organization.
We’ve seen hundreds of brands go through crises, and we’ve learned to recognize the telltale signs of a brand in crisis, often caused by a lack of strategy. Some of these issues might sound familiar to you. Before we documented our brand strategy, we suffered from them too.
If you don’t have a brand strategy:
- You don’t understand the reasons for your actions, so you take actions that don’t align with the company’s purposes, visions, missions, or values.
- You’ve not yet developed a formal marketing marketing strategy, but you hope that whatever you’re currently trying will be successful.
- Your team is fragmented because they’re not unified, confused, and conflicted, which makes it difficult to keep them engaged and interested.
- Your company doesn’t have consistent branding, so your content tends to be inconsistent at best, and contradicting at worst. Therefore, it’s difficult to attract people (customers, employees) who share your core brand values.
- Your brand isn’t clear enough for people to understand who you are and where you’re going. As a result, you can’t carve out a distinct space in the market.
Simply put, without a brand strategy, you’re lost.
What Team Do You Need to Build Your Brand Strategy?
You can’t just create a branding plan by yourself. You need a dedicated team to help you craft, refine, and help you implement it throughout your company. If you don’t have this kind of dedicated group of people, then the branding efforts you undertake here may be derailed or even completely ignored.
Fortunately, you don’t need to hire a lot of people to build your branding team. You can even set up a two-person team if both members can cover these important jobs.
What to Know Before You Start Your Brand strategy
If you want to start your brand from scratch (and do things the right way), there are two key pieces you need to understand before starting:
1. Who You’re For
Who are you trying to sell to? What do you need? How are your ideal customers not being served? To build an authentic connection with your customer base, you must understand what they need and want. Knowing who they are and how you’re trying to serve them can bring clarity to who you are (e.g. your Brand Heart) and how you communicate with them.
You should create buyer personas if you don’t already have them.
2. Who You’re Against
Who shares your space? Who will you be competing with for customer attention? How might they outshine you? You need to know who you’re competing against and how they differ from you. This helps you understand where you fit in and how you can differentiate yourself.
After this information, you’re ready to start developing your branding strategy.
How to Build Your Brand Strategy
How to Build Your Brand Strategy You can follow these steps sequentially (one after another) to create a comprehensive brand strategy that will help you tell your company’s unique stories effectively and impactfully across every channel.
Part 1: Find Your Brand Heart
Every company has a set of core values that guide how they operate. These values are often referred to as your Brand heart. Knowing what these values are and why they matter helps you understand how to align your company’s actions with them. When your brand’s core values and your company’s actions are in alignment, you can effectively build trust, foster collaboration, and drive growth. When your brand’s values and your company’s decisions aren’t in sync, you can quickly lose credibility, undermine your culture, and make poor decisions that hurt your bottom line.
Your brand heart consists of four key elements that help clarify who you are, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why it matters.
- Purpose: Why do we exist?
- Vision: What future do we hope to help create? What does the future look like?
- Our mission: What are we here to do? How do we create that Future?
- Values: What principles guide our actions?
Note: Your brand heart is usually an internal document, but it can be translated into everything from your websites to your packaging, which makes it so important to get it right from the start.
Part 2: Articulate Your Messaging
Once you’ve documented your Brand Heart, you know who you are. You next need to figure out your Brand Essence (how to express who you are) and Brand Messaging (how to talk about who you are) so they’re consistent and authentic. If you do this well, you can ensure your branding communicates honestly, authentically, and consistently.
Note: Some brands may be tempted to skip straight to creating their visual identities (logos, colors, etc.) once they’ve completed their branding strategy, but we’d argue that there are a couple of important steps to take before that.
Things like logos, colors, and typography are essential to your business, but they’re ultimately just a visual representation of your business’s core values and message. If you don’t understand what you want to say, it’s hard to translate that into a visual identity.
You’ve probably already established your visual style before you started working on your brand’s messaging and heart. However, if you’re starting from scratch, it’s important that they align—regardless of their order.
Create Your Brand Essence
Your brand essence includes your:
Identifying these elements may seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. It’s not even an adventure. Your identity is innate. It does not require manufacturing; it only takes discovery and documentation with intent.
1. Identify your brand personality. Your personality is essentially your brand’s human characteristics and attributes. Are you curious and enthusiastic? Elite and sophisticated? Wild and crazy? Your brand heart reflects your personality, which is shaped by your values and demonstrated through your actions. Once you understand your style, you can use it to create a consistent brand experience for your customers. It’s a powerful way to stand out from the crowd and develop meaningful connections.
2. Identify your brand voice. This is the way your brand sounds and speaks. Remember that every brand voice is distinct. One yogurt company doesn’t sound the way a different yogurt company sounds, and one automobile company sounds different from another. You already influence your brand voice through your personality. All you have to do now is articulate it so that you’re able to communicate consistently in all your content. It’s like having your brand ambassador. You get to choose how they present themselves, but they are still representing you.
- Remember the words, phrases, slang, and jokes you use to express yourself in both direct and indirect manners. Consider how you would like others to talk to you—and how they might prefer to hear you.
3. Identify your brand tone. Your brand’s tone is your overall personality. Your voice may be assertive, but the tone is polite. Think of your brand’s voice as how you speak, and your tone as the way you speak when talking to different people. Your voice doesn’t change, but you might adjust your pitch and volume depending on whom you’re talking to
If you don’t know exactly what your voice is, think of how people would feel if they were talking to you. Would you be friendly and helpful, or mysterious and aloof? Pick three words to help you figure out your voice. For example, Uber says its voice is “Optimistic, inviting, bold.”
Once you’ve established your Brand Essence, you need to communicate wholly at every touch point, from the pop-ups on your site to your tweets. (Brands that do this best are usually the ones we love the most—regardless of what they’re selling.)
Create Your Brand Messaging
There are many different approaches to talking about who you are, how you do what you do, and what makes your business unique from your competitor’s brands. We’re going to start with the most basic messaging: your company’s value proposition, tagline, and message pillars.
1. Explain your value proposition.
A concise description of the functional and emotional benefits your product or service offers potential customers. It’s not just who you are and what you do differently (your positioning); it’s also how you provide solutions for people’s problems and why they should choose your company over the competition.
You can also think about it as the promise of something your target customers will get if they buy from you; if you’re going to be successful, you must have an answer for this when people ask. What all your messaging supports and reinforces will always be this promise.
2. Distill your tagline.
A tagline is a short sentence, phrase, or single word that summarizes a company’s brand identity. Coming up with a great tagline can be a tedious process of brainstorming and testing ideas. Fortunately, research has been uncovering the keys to a good tagline, revealing some interesting insights that can help guide you when choosing the right one for your business.
3. Identify your message pillar.
Your message pillar is the central story you’re trying to tell about your brand. Every piece of content should reinforce this central story across all touchpoints.
Depending on your brand’s need, you might want to include additional messages elements including:
- Brand promise
- Brand story
- Origin or founder story
- Elevator pitch
Part 3: Design Your Visual Identity
When most people consider brands, they usually focus on their visual identity: the logo and color palette, typography, and other elements that act as the “face” of the brand. Once you’ve crystallized your brand heart and messaging, it’s now important to visualize it with the basic elements:
A strong visual identity should be purposeful. You’re not just designing for today. You’re designing for the future too. Therefore, a good visual identity for a brand is:
- Scalable: It should be able to grow alongside your business, whether you’re branching out into new markets, services, or even different types of companies.
- Comprehensive: It should give brand designers and creatives the tools they need to create high-quality work.
- Intuitive: It must be intuitively built and well-constructed so that every element works together.
Note: Depending on your brand, you may need to expand your visual identity over time. If so, you may want to add some additional visual elements.
Research has shown that the best-remembered brands are the ones with the simplest logo and designs. You want it to be unique, yes, but don’t go overboard if you want it to stand out. People tend to associate different meanings with different types of objects, so you need to take into account how they perceive things.
See our Follow our Ultimate Guide to Design a Logo, and make sure to learn about the 5 Most Common Logo Design Mistakes to Avoid.
Logo design is an extension of your brand identity. Hence, we begin by designing your logo first. Typography has never been more important than it is now, as people consume text in multiple mediums. That being stated, certain things work well on your packaging which might not translate well onto your web pages. Therefore, it is important to consider both how your typefaces align with your branding and the various ways they will be applied.
Brand color is one of the most important yet mysterious aspects of branding. It has been found that it can affect everything from brand perception to purchase intent, but it is a bit of an elusive science. Colors don’t always evoke the same thing in everyone because people have different associations with them.
Nowadays, imagery is even more important because so much of your brand gets communicated through visual mediums. Whatever type of art you decide to pursue, whether photographic, illustrative, or a combination of the two, everything should align with the overall look and feel of your brand.
Creating an original visual style for your content is a good way to visually differentiate yourself from others, but don’t get carried away. You want a clear, distinct, consistent, and on-brand style. Don’t combine different styles or clutter visuals with visual clutter.
Photography is a useful, versatile tool that requires less effort than designing. However, you must create an aesthetic that matches your brand. You might want to think about the resources available to you. Fortunately, there are lots of sources available for you to choose from.
- Free Sources: Free, high-quality images are available online, and you can use them to create unique designs that communicate your company’s message. You just need to be clear about the dos and don’ts when using these images. Here are some sources you can try Pexels, Unsplash, and StockSnap.io.
- Image licenses (paid): There are a variety of different types of photography websites that allow you to either buy individual images or as a subscription service. However, they’re less likely to appear on your direct competitors’ sites, but it can still occur as anyone can buy them. Check out Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Alamy.
- Custom (free or paid): Today we live in an amazing era of creativity, thanks to the number and variety of creative tools available to anyone. You can commission photography from professionals or give them free rein to use their equipment, as long as they know how to take good pictures.
Part 4: Create Your Brand Guidelines
Your brand guidelines help you decide how to best communicate with your target audience using your brand. It can be challenging to maintain high levels of consistency when working with freelancers or external agencies. Therefore, your branding guidelines should provide enough direction for creators to produce content that strengthens your business rather than weakening it.
Ensure your brand guidelines are comprehensive by including directions for your visual and verbal identities.
- Brand essence (personality, voice, tone)
- Value prop
- Messaging pillars
- Anything else helpful or relevant
- Imagery (photography, illustration)
- Data visualization
- Interactive elements
- Video and motion
Remember: Consistency is one of the most important factors determining whether a brand is strong or not.
How to Bring Your Brand Strategy to Life
After completing the entire branding process, you can now rest easy knowing that you did everything right. You’ve done an amazing job! Now that you have everything you needed to tell your brand story, create alignment between your brand and your business and build lasting relationships, you’re ready to start communicating your brand story. Of course, there’s always more work to be done.
To successfully execute your brand strategy going forward:
- Keep up on best practices.
- Create content that aligns with your brand.
- Create high-quality content.
- Tell your brand story at every touchpoint.
- Maximize your content reach.
We understand that this can all be a big challenge for any brand team, even when they’re short on time or resources. If so, bring in some extra hands. Just give us a shout. We’d be happy to help you tell your brand story.