The building blocks of an effective brand strategy

The building blocks of an effective brand strategy

Find out how to create a compelling brand strategy for your organisation with this breakdown of the key elements you need to consider. 

The first part of our series looked at the six big benefits of setting a brand strategy, and why it should be a priority for today's marketers.  In this second part, I’m going to describe the elements that make up a brand strategy and the role they play in creating a clear definition of your brand’s purpose - or as I like to say - defining the point of your brand.

Points are useful because they’re sharp, tend to stick into things and there’s just one of them (think of an arrow). Being singular means a single focus - only one thing to communicate. The oft-told marketing story remains true that it’s easier to catch one tennis ball than twenty – just don’t try the exercise with arrows!

For marketers however, corralling features and benefits, messaging, and directions into a single point can be tough. To be able to express the brand in a single-minded way that can be universally applied is a challenge felt by businesses of all sizes.

But it’s a challenge worth pursuing, because having a point means a brand has more chance of sticking in the minds of customers. What’s more, a point gives more chance of providing clear direction to the team charged with making it a success. It stands to reason that a company that is aligned behind a shared point will have a better chance of success than one that isn’t.

In this article, I'll give brief description of the building blocks that up a brand strategy and the role each one plays.


Brand Vision – the direction your brand is headed

The role of a brand strategy is to equip a brand to be able to move towards its vision, or destination, and so it’s important to define what that vision is as part of the brand strategy process. That vision needs to be, big broad and long:

  • big - it’s an ambition you should get excited about
  • broad - it needs to cover your whole team not just the marketing department
  • long - think long term - at least three years away

This will also allow you also to be able to define your drivers (what you can build on) and your barriers (what needs to be built up).

Positioning - what’s at the heart of your brand

A brand positioning is simply how your brand is positioned in the minds of your team - it’s an internal tool for your team and it describes the essence of your brand, what is at its core.

Think of it as a rudder. You don't see a rudder on a boat, but you see the direction the rudder takes the boat and that's exactly what a brand positioning does - it will help keep your brand on the right course.  

And just as you only have one rudder on a boat, your brand positioning is simply one single word. Just like reducing a sauce, the more you reduce, the more concentrated and flavoursome it becomes. The more you can reduce your words, the more concentrated the power of those words will become.

By the way, this is not easy! I always leave this to the end of the brand strategy development process, when I can review every element of the brand and capture the thread that runs through everything. 

Brand Proposition - expressing the heart of your brand

If the brand positioning is how to position the brand for your team, your proposition is how you express that positioning. Its role is to connect your brand to the three types of audience your brand will need to engage with:

  • those that deliver the brand – your team
  • those that consume the brand – your customers
  • and those that influence the brand – your stakeholders

All three have a part to play in making your brand a success, and all three need to be presented with a compelling and consistent expression of your brand.

So, what goes into a proposition? Think of it as the first few words in the story about to be told. This introduction tees up your team to be able to talk about the value your brand is delivering and your customers to know, yes, OK, this is relevant to me, I understand why this brand is talking to me.

This is important because by starting to engage with customers in a relevant way, you are making it easy for them to enter into a relationship with your brand.  Think of your brand as a store, the right proposition makes the doors to that store as wide open as possible so it's easy for customers to come in. If you don't get your brand proposition right, it's like an obstacle is placed in front of the store that requires customers to edge round to get into your brand or, even worse, they don't see your brand because it's obscured.

Brand Values - capturing the character of your brand

Brand values describe the character of an organisation - how it behaves, how it treats its staff, the tone it uses in communications, how it presents itself to the world, and the products or services that it produces. Values play a vital role in keeping you and your customer focussed on what your brand stands for in two significant ways:

1) Brand values act as a benchmark for the team. They can be used both as a source of inspiration and guidance when developing new brand related initiatives. They also enable the team to sense check whether their resulting work reflects the values of the brand - for instance: “Is our plan for a new product innovation in line with our values?" Or: “Does the new web site design recommendation reflect our values?"

2)  Brand values act as a hallmark for your customer. We are bombarded with brands and advertising – various research studies put the number of ads we see on a daily basis from 4,000 through to 10,000 .That’s mind-boggling and the brain does an excellent job in screening out the bulk of them. But it knows when a brand comes along that is familiar to the customer, and so by delivering consistent values in the brand experience you are ensuring your brand is recognised, is known, and therefore is ‘seen' by the customer.

The brand strategy process will help you to define and express your brand’s values which is essential because if you can’t define your values, you can’t use them.

Key Messages - making the right communication choices

As a marketer, you are always going to have to make choices about what your brand communicates. A brand strategy is in effect a framework for you to make good strategic choices about what your brand communicates to your customers and, for that matter, to your team.

It can start by helping you know what the first thing the brand should say is, because there will always be ‘the first thing’ - the headline on the homepage, the first chart on the customer presentation deck - I call it the tyranny of the first. A brand strategy will give you a hierarchy and tell you what should be the first message right the way to the fifth. This can shape everything from campaigns to packaging.

Critically, a brand strategy will also ensure you lead with benefits - to start to talk about your brand in terms of the problem you are solving. Once you have the attention of your customer, you can then follow with its features - you can then start to talk about how you solve the problem. But you have to start with benefits and follow with features.

Finally, a brand strategy will ensure that your communications are both relevant and different.

In summary, you will have noticed that at every stage of the brand strategy development process you are asked to make choices. These choices in turn inform how the brand is expressed and consumed - both internally and externally. This clarity of direction means your team will be aligned and your customers will have a consistent experience of the brand. It also has the benefit of helping you brief any outside agency so that their work will be both ‘on brand' and consistently presented across your channels.


Find out more about the basics of brand strategy by purchasing Bruce's award-winning book, 'What's your point?' via the CIM Bookshop now. 

Bruce McKinnon Brand strategist Brand Arrow
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