If there’s one thing successful businesses have in common, it’s that they all take branding incredibly seriously.
The reason why is obvious. Branding is the best way of forming a company’s distinct identity and presenting it to your target market, making it an essential part of any business. But it’s also true that nothing worth having comes easy, and branding can be hard to get right. There are many different elements to building a great brand, each needing careful consideration for both their individual quality and how they tie together to form one cohesive unit.
This is a tall ask when you’re just starting out with your business, but luckily there’s an easy way to organise your branding – and that’s by creating a brand strategy.
What is a brand strategy?
A brand strategy is like a documented identity for your brand. It can be referred back to for everything your brand says and does, and determines both your position in the market and your target market itself. Think of a brand strategy like a map and corresponding map key for your business. The map doesn’t make concrete decisions for your future like a set of instructions would, but it helps you to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be in the future) by condensing all the information you need into one place.
Essentially, by outlining your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, aims, available resources, personality, tone of voice, etc., you ensure your business becomes a well oiled machine, with consistent performance over a range of different areas. By understanding yourself, it now becomes easier to understand and navigate through the world around you and how to make the progress you want.
So what’s in a brand strategy then? There’s a lot to cover, which can seem intimidating at first, but anyone can create an effective brand strategy by following these five easy steps.
1. Create your brand’s basic identity
The core of every brand can be split into four different components: purpose, mission, vision and values. To make these easier to understand, we’ll run through each part with the same example brand.
Simply put, a brand purpose states why your brand exists. Other than being a way to make money, every brand should have a reason that it was made, and something that it can contribute to the world. Let’s say for an example, we take a lifestyle improvement brand called Peace of Mind. Peace of Mind’s purpose could be that they want to bring comfort and reassurance to every young person struggling to make human connections in a world that has become increasingly individualistic.
Mission and Vision
These two terms can often feel confusing, but there is a key difference between them. An easy way to tell them apart is that the vision is the goal(s) you strive for, while the mission explains how you achieve these goals. Let’s look at our example brand Peace of Mind again. Peace of Mind’s vision could be to ensure that everyone in the world has at least one friend they can confide in and rely on in their time of need. As for their mission statement, they might offer affordable counselling for young people and invent an app that connects two people struggling with their mental health together, giving both of them an equal time slot to vent to and support one another.
Values are a set of rules a brand follows that dictate how it operates and what it prioritises in its products/services. Not every brand needs to have values that preach perfect moral behaviour and environmental practices, but they must be something your brand considers important and adheres to at all times, and should ideally be visible to your audience without you needing to spell them out and help them identify with your brand. They are also helpful as a list of guidelines to indicate to your employees how they should be operating as ambassadors for your business.
2. Conduct market research
For convenience sake, this section can also be split into two parts: defining your audience/target market, and conducting competitor analysis.
While branding is a means for presenting your business’s identity, it's important to internalise that you’re presenting this identity to a specific audience. But to create the most effective brand possible, this identity should therefore be tailored towards what your audience likes. And to understand what your audience likes, you’re going to need to know who your audience is. There are a range of questions you can ask yourself to help with this, including:
What kind of demographics make up your audience? (e.g. class, occupation, gender, age)
What kind of messaging would they find the most appealing?
Where are you most likely to find your desired audience, and what platforms should you advertise on?
What does your audience need? What are they lacking right now?
To find this kind of information, you can borrow other people’s data, create your own using surveys or questionnaires, draft customer personas, or use anything else you think might be useful. If you’re stuck, try going back to square one and looking at the basic identity of your brand again, as it will likely be the basis for your appeal.
The second important piece of research involves checking out the competition. Not only does reviewing rival brands give you an idea of what works in the existing market, but for those who can read between the lines, it also highlights what the industry is lacking. With this, you can find your brand’s UVP (unique value proposition), which is what makes your business unique. Another good thing to do at this stage is conduct SWOT analysis of your own brand. This allows you to understand your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the context of its surroundings.
You might find at the end of this process that in trying to differentiate yourself and appeal to a specific audience, the focus of your business begins to change. This is a good thing! It simply means you’re becoming more sure about what your business wants to do and how it can find the most success.
3. Create your brand messaging
Brand messaging is how your brand communicates with its audience. It’s a key tool for communicating your brand’s identity to your customers, while also making them feel a corresponding emotional response to help secure sales. Because of this, brand messaging is built by drawing inspiration from the company’s industry, products and services. Like the other sections of brand strategy, messaging can be split into a few key areas:
Imagine if your brand was personified as a fictional character with a human personality. What kind of emotions would they experience most frequently, and is it the same as how they want to make others feel? Would they be excitable, sophisticated, or rugged? By attributing these human characteristics to your brand, it becomes more immediately recognisable to other people, who can quickly tell whether they identify with you or not – and when you’re targeting a specific part of the market, this is a very good thing to be able to do.
The voice of a brand is how your brand consistently speaks. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
The type of language (simple or complex, empathetic or authoritative, etc.)
Sentence structure and formatting (short bullet points or longer prose?)
Speaking style (largely related to brand personality).
A brand’s tone is how it applies the brand voice to different situations. Obviously if a brand is typically cheerful, it would be unwise to continue using only the default voice in the face of some kind of tragedy. The tone therefore goes through how changes can be made to the brand voice depending on who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about, while still keeping some parts of the brand voice to remain recognisable.
Tagline and Slogan
Tagline and slogan are similar, but differ in one key aspect. A slogan is something catchy or memorable that is made with the sole intention of selling the brand, and may be subject to change depending on the campaign or product/service you’re working on. On the other hand, a tagline is a short line or two that serves to further define a brand’s identity and ensure that it’s seen in the right way – which means your tagline needs to stay the same, as your brand wants a consistent image. Both are important to get right, as slogan and tagline make a great team in improving a brand’s conversion rate and recognisability respectively.
4. Create your visual identity
Once you’ve defined how your brand speaks, it’s time to move onto how it looks. Brand visuals are absorbed hundreds of times faster than text (hence the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”). Often, this means a brand’s visuals are like the first impression you make when meeting a new person; just as a smile and a firm handshake can be the most important part of a business deal, the way a brand looks can make or break a sale before any negotiations are made. As a couple of general tips, the best brand visuals are on the simpler side of things to make them more memorable, and are flexible enough to be used in any context (e.g. designing a logo that is effective whether it’s big or small).
Here are a few of the main visual elements every brand should make for themselves:
The logo is the first thing many people think of when the word ‘branding’ is mentioned. A logo is the signature or stamp of approval for your brand. Wherever the logo appears, that’s your brand signalling to others that your values and strengths are guaranteed for whatever product or service it may be.
Choosing a brand’s logo typically involves creating dozens of potential choices, and then narrowing them down or even combining different parts to make the finished product. There are many things you can do with a logo, like using a specific art style, a mascot/emblem, a range or lack of colour, different shapes, text, imagery, etc. Don’t be afraid to take your time with the logo and really try everything, because once made, a logo should remain consistent for a number of years to maintain brand recognition. It’s the single most recognisable element for your brand, so give the creation process the dedication it deserves!
Neuromarketing research has made countless discoveries in how to improve branding, and one of those is how we use colour. The reason colour is so important is that different colours actually have a specific emotional effect on people, which if leveraged correctly, can give a huge boost to evoking a specific feeling in a company’s branding. For example, blue is considered calming and intelligent, while yellow is seen as confident and cheerful.
The tricky part comes with creating a colour palette that is cohesive within a brand, while also utilising individual colours for specific purposes. A brand’s identity might match well with earth tones like greens and browns to convey a sense of belonging to nature, but use yellow for the ‘buy now’ button as it is both an optimistic colour and good at attracting attention, making it hard to miss on a webpage.
The types of fonts you use, and how you distinguish between important headings and normal text, are also part of a brand’s visuals. A cursive font will imply a sense of sophistication, but a bold font will speak of someone who gets straight to the point. While it isn’t necessarily wrong to get creative with fonts, keep in mind that your text should be legible above all else. No one is going to be impressed by how nice your brand looks if they can’t read what it’s saying.
Think about what kind of pictures your brand will default to most often. Are you more likely to use photographs of real life situations, or use hand-drawn art for a more specific style? And will your images be used to hammer home facts and figures with different types of graphs, or would you prefer an amusing comic to make your audience laugh? Imagery has many different uses, so consider what are the best ways to achieve your brand’s goals.
5. Merge all the above into a set of brand guidelines
Brand guidelines are like an instruction manual for how a brand presents and conducts itself in public. Covering everything from visuals, voice, and values, brand guidelines can always be referred back to across many different channels and for many different purposes to ensure the brand remains consistent for customers and employees alike. Brand consistency is key for helping customers feel confident in their decision to do business with you, so guidelines are a must-have for every brand.
And that just about wraps things up. With the above five steps completed, your brand strategy should be complete. Don’t think that this means you should never think of changing anything though, or even completely rebranding if necessary. Brands will evolve, markets will change, and feedback will (hopefully) come in from customers and marketing research. Coming back to edit your brand strategy doesn’t mean it was wrong the first time, but that your brand has grown considerably since starting out.
In the meantime, having a concrete brand strategy allows you to expand your current branding. There’s always more a brand can be doing, whether that’s building a website, making bonus content for visitors, or telling your latest story.
Is your brand strategy not coming together as expected though? Or are you having a hard time applying the strategy to your business’s branding? Loved Brands is here to help. We specialise in helping brands to be loved by their customers, so if that sounds like something you want, book a call today and we’ll handle the rest!
Alternatively, if you want to read more of our blog, check out our most recent article to learn about how businesses can create more engaging social media captions.