What’s the point of a brand strategy?
Editorial

What’s the point of a brand strategy?

The six big benefits of setting a brand strategy, and why it should be a priority for today's marketers.

A recent Gartner CMO survey put brand strategy as the number 1 strategic priority going into 2021 - ahead of subjects like market analytics, marketing operations, and digital commerce for example. But why is that? And exactly what is brand strategy?

In this two-part series, I’m going to start by looking at the benefits a brand strategy can bring to an organisation and in the second part, I’ll explore the elements that go into a brand strategy and what you can do with it.

But first, let’s just define what we mean by brand strategy. And to do that, we have to start by defining the word brand.

There is no universal definition, which is ironic given one of the roles of a brand is to deliver clarity. Being clear is very important for a brand, and so, given that there is no standard definition, this is what I developed when I wrote my book:

“A brand is a product or a service that delivers a consistent and distinctive benefit to a customer. It will contain a set of characteristics that it will use to differentiate itself from its competitors and ensure it remains relevant to its customers”.

This allows us to move onto define a brand strategy and again there are many versions and most seem to be quite involved and complicated. I don’t believe a brand strategy has to be complex, nor does it need an expert to create one, it is simply ordering your thinking into a framework that allows you to shape your organization around delivering your point.

For the purpose of these two articles, I will use the definition that I have developed below. If other definitions vary slightly, the spirit of what brand strategy is remains consistent.

“A brand strategy is a framework to make good choices by prioritising the purpose and character of your brand. Its role is to inspire and equip you (the brand owner) to make the best decisions in the delivery of your brand to your customers.”

 

Six big reasons why brand strategy is so important

1. Internal alignment: The first reason is that, ironically, a brand strategy does not belong solely to the marketing department, it’s meant for the whole organisation. It impacts the whole organisation because it should represent the business and everyone that surrounds it.

I often think of the brand strategy as having a dual purpose. Yes, it has to communicate your brand to your customers, but for me as a brand strategist, the most important audience is your team – those responsible for communicating the brand to your customers. I call it the duality of a brand strategy.

2. Resource management: The second big benefit is all around the notion of boosting your resources. If everybody is aligned, if the whole team is going in the same direction, you’re going to be more effective in your communications, and you're going to be more efficient in how you use your resources.

3. Direction: The third big benefit is knowing where you are going as a business. I call it brand vision and often think of it as a destination. The useful thing about a destination is, if you define it, you'll know when you arrive. (Conversely, if you don't define your destination, how do you know when you get there?!)

By defining a brand vision - two or three sentences in language that's understandable - allows your team to move in the same direction, and importantly it gives you the opportunity to say, “what do we have that's going to help us move towards this destination?” I call these your Drivers. Equally, it will allow you to ask,  "what's going to slow us down? What are our Barriers?" If we recognise our drivers, we can draw from them; if we acknowledge our barriers, we can deal with them.

4. Values: The fourth big benefit of a brand strategy is that it allows you to distil your true character or values. Yes, we've now got a direction that we're all headed in, we all share a common view of what the brand stands for, and that allows us to define our values. The values deliver two very important things. Firstly, values act as a benchmark for your team to know if the activity is in line with the charter and purpose of your brand - does this meet our values? Values also act as an important hallmark for your customers to recognise you by.

5. Prioritisation: The fifth benefit of a brand strategy is that the process allows you to discover your key messages. In fact, more than that, it allows you to develop a hierarchy of your key messages so that you know what your most important message is. I call it the tyranny of the first. There's always going to be a first. A first chart in the presentation, the first headline on a website, and it's very important that you know what your first message is, and your second, third, fourth, and fifth. A brand strategy helps you to develop that hierarchy.

6. Differentiation: That brings us to our last big benefit, which is being relevant, and different. You need to solve your customer’s problem, and you do that by demonstrating your benefits. But you also need to be different, you need to be distinct. If you're just relevant, it means you're the same as everybody else. If you're just different, you won't have any customers. You need to be both relevant and different.

Those are the six big benefits of a brand strategy, and six reasons why it is seen as such an essential part of a CMO’s marketing capabilities. Look out for the second part of this series coming soon, where I will look at the four elements that make up a brand strategy, and how those elements can drive everything from website design and key messaging to HR policies and new product development.

 

To hear more about brand strategy, purchase Bruce's award-winning book, 'What's your point?' via the CIM Bookshop now. 

Bruce McKinnon Brand strategist Brand Arrow
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