Developing a Brand Strategy
A brand doesn’t begin with the creation of a logo, a visual identity, or a tone of voice. It begins with a brand strategy—a rigorous and intensive process that uncovers the unique space your company occupies in the hearts and minds of your customers. Developing brand strategy is hard work, and it can be tempting to skip the gruntwork and go straight for the gusto—those tangible elements of the brand that consumers actually see and interact with.
But developing those visible brand elements without a comprehensive brand strategy results in a simulacrum rather than a true brand. The strategy is the rudder and the engine for your brand: without them, the boat is adrift, no matter how pretty the paint job.
Stronger brands for challenging times
Today, building a valuable brand requires even more discipline, because brands are more permeable. Companies no longer simply broadcast their message to passive recipients. A brand is now a two-way communication across an array of social and digital channels, with consumers actively contributing to and evangelizing the brand. (And in some cases, such as Adobe’s crowdsourced logo refresh, they’re co-creating it.)
Under these conditions, brands need to be more resilient, more focused, and more attuned to the market than ever before, and developing brand strategy is an indispensable part of the process.
The emotional component of the brand is one of those critical elements of the brand that’s often overlooked at the strategy level. While the strategy is an intellectually rigorous exercise, at its core, it’s a quest to uncover the instinctive, impulsive, emotional responses that motivate the vast majority of consumer behaviour.
Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, “Start With Why,” does a great job of defining the emotional elements that enable companies to evolve beyond superficial feature-benefit discussions. Sinek cites the example of Apple, whose brand isn’t built on making great computers, but on challenging the status quo, thinking differently, and encouraging customers to see themselves as creators and iconoclasts.
Scientific studies confirm the validity of the approach; fMRI neuro-imagery shows that emotion, not information, is the primary factor consumers rely on to evaluate brands. The “why”—the passion and inspiration you bring to the market—is what compels people to not only buy your products, but join your tribe.
Ultimately, the brand only exists in the hearts and minds of consumers. It’s the Tinkerbell effect; if they stop believing in the brand, it dies.
Yet the consumer is often absent from the brand strategy. In her place is a cardboard effigy decked out with scanty demographics: “female, 25–35, affluent, and label-conscious,” for example. But when the consumer is rendered in two dimensions, the brand, similarly, falls flat.
Consumer research needs to go beyond a dry list of demographics and explore the mindset—the idiosyncrasies, aspirations, tastes, and preferences—that turns consumers into living, breathing, multi-dimensional human beings.
Companies that understand their consumers deeply have a valuable market advantage. A recent Cintell study of business-to-business organizations found that those with documented personas were more than two times more likely to exceed their revenue goals, with nearly all of these personas capturing not just quantitative data, but also the customer’s drivers and motivators. See the consumer research we conducted for MarilynJean, a resource and online community for mothers, for an example of this kind of deeper dive. In summary, developing brand strategy requires deep customer insight.
Clarity and Brevity
Developing brand strategy can generate a massive amount of data and feedback. Being able to separate the signal from the noise is critical.
While the research process needs to be far-ranging and comprehensive, the analysis and distillation of that research needs to be ruthless. If the raw data isn’t refined into something streamlined and coherent, the insights will remain buried. And if those insights can’t be communicated succinctly, no one will take the time to absorb and benefit from them.
At the end of the strategy process, you should have a brand model that condenses it all—including complex data about your company, the competitive environment in which it operates, and the global trends that shape that environment—into a single big idea supported by vision, mission, values, essence, tone, and purpose. If the big idea can be communicated in ten words or less, so much the better. That kind of discipline is what keeps a brand lean, powerful, accessible, and usable.
See how the company, market, trend, and consumer research for Marilyn Jean was refined into a clear and practical brand model.