Understanding Brand Strategy vs. Marketing Strategy
Understanding Brand Strategy vs. Marketing Strategy
You want to build a thriving brand that stands out from your competitors. How do you do that, though? Branding strategy is the key to developing your brand and keeping it front and center in your audience’s mind. What goes into a brand strategy, though, and how does that differ from your marketing strategy?
While branding and marketing are related and support business growth, they are worlds apart. Developing a branding strategy also shares some similarities with creating a marketing plan. For instance, you’ll still need to develop a plan that allows you to achieve long-term goals. However, most of those goals will be intangible.
One key thing to remember is this: every action taken within your organization either helps to achieve its branding-related goals, or it hurts your brand and drags your organization downward. There are very few “neutral” actions. So, what’s a brand strategy?
What Is a Brand Strategy?
The brand strategy definition is an organizational effort aimed at improving the brand’s standing in the minds of target consumers. Your strategy must be flexible, and the results should be tied to your organization’s goals. Ultimately, this strategy is a concept that has been adapted from the world of business and marketing, and it differs considerably from brand or marketing management. Rather than dealing with customer reviews and ensuring a positive experience at each touchpoint (brand management), brand strategy creates a set of objectives that moves the organization forward.
Successful branding will increase sales and customer acquisition, so it’s not for looks alone.
What are the different types of branding strategies? Brand strategy is divided into three components:
1. Market-Based Branding – This is the most general type and focuses on creating brand equity. Shopify has a great definition: “brand equity is a marketing term that describes a brand’s value. That value is determined by consumer perception of and experiences with the brand. If people think highly of a brand, it has positive brand equity. When a brand consistently under-delivers and disappoints to the point where people recommend that others avoid it, it has negative brand equity.”
2. Product-Based Branding – This is focused on the product itself. It’s one of the most noticeable branding methods in use today and revolves around product form factor/design that creates a proven identity in the marketplace. Apple’s product lineup and cohesive design language are great examples here. Others include Tesla, Luis Vuitton, and Coca-Cola.
3. Service-Based Branding – Finally, we have service-based branding, which focuses on creating value for the customer. Airbnb is a perfect example here. The platform connects consumers with property owners and provides a service, but their brand is also unmistakable.
Perhaps the best way to understand the meaning of branding strategy is to examine the basic elements that comprise it. It’s also important to differentiate this from your marketing strategy.
Branding vs. Marketing
Branding and marketing – they’re often used interchangeably, but the truth is that they are not the same. Yes, your brand strategy and marketing strategy will use many of the same management techniques and both are used to achieve long-term business goals, but those goals are very different.
The purpose of branding is to define the brand image and messaging that will help you achieve both short and long-term goals. It’s mainly used to communicate the core values of a product or service, although it can also be used to develop and deliver specific communications through various media formats to help achieve your goals.
On the other hand, your marketing activity should be based on your brand strategy. Without a robust brand strategy, you cannot have a successful marketing strategy because you have nothing to build from and your efforts will ultimately fail. Your branding strategy should clarify and define marketing objectives including your marketing mix, target audience, existing customers, new market segments, social media and paid digital marketing strategy to arrive at an overall game plan that will increase sales.
Winning Brand Strategies
What is a brand? It’s the whole set of product and service features that make up your organization’s identity. It’s also the impression left in the minds of customers after every touchpoint with your organization’s people, products, and/or services.
While the organization and what it offers affect branding, your brand identity is largely outside of it. So, how do you build your brand and make it stronger? These four strategies can help.
1. Brand Extension Strategy
The brand extension strategy provides the opportunity to expand your business into new product verticals. It can be based on the idea of continuing the strength of your existing brand. However, it’s important to ensure that your new category is related to your current one and that it is in line with your mission statement and values.
This is a good strategy for brands of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Here’s an example: when Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007, the company extended its brand from computers and peripherals to new technology. In the process, Apple single handedly created an entire market that had not previously existed.
2. Product/Service Line Extension
The product line brand strategy is a similar tack to the brand extension strategy, but on a smaller scale. Instead of expanding into a brand new category, you take an existing product or service line and expand it. This increases your influence within your current category and can help convert customers who opt for other products or services due to their specific features. Amazon’s Fire Tablet is a good example, which built on the company’s success with the Kindle and was designed to appeal to customers who might want more robust features on their mobile device.
3. Derived Branding
Your brand strategy doesn’t have to focus solely on your products or services, either. It can derive from your association with, support of, or empowerment of others. When doing so, you can strengthen not just your brand, but that of your partners. Take Intel and Dell as examples. Intel doesn’t manufacture its own computers, and Dell doesn’t give up its branding for the chip supplier, either. However, “Intel Inside” has become a huge indicator of quality for PC buyers and helps to support Dell’s sales while also building Intel’s brand.
4. Individual Branding
Finally, we have individual branding. Here, you’ll emphasize the personal experience, unique characteristics, individual values, and achievements of your C-suite members or other team members that tie into your brand’s mission. A personal brand strategy allows well-known individuals to strengthen the brand through their own platforms and amplify the brand’s values.
Essential Elements for a Winning Brand Strategy
A successful brand strategy is built on seven cornerstones – brand positioning, brand image, brand messaging, brand awareness, brand consistency, the ability to lean into emotional benefits, and taking a long-term flexible approach. In addition, it is critical to align your brand strategy with the organization’s direction through essential steps. Before we touch on those, though, let’s get better acquainted with the primary elements of a strong brand.
Let’s dive into your brand strategy tools.
Brand positioning is defined as the use of brands to communicate what a company stands for. It usually uses a unique identity that differentiates it from competitors and gives the brand a sense of being unique. Take Apple again as an example. The world is filled with computer manufacturers, but Apple manages to position itself as being completely different. Alienware is another example of a company that sets itself apart in a crowded field through unique positioning.
Brand positioning is based on the understanding of what a company stands for, which determines how it should communicate that message. It also determines how the product should be marketed to customers so that they can identify with it.
This is the make-or-break portion of the brand and the one that’s so hard to get right in many instances. It’s your audience’s perception of your company’s products/services, and people, as well as your stance toward things like customer satisfaction, service, and experience.
Building a strong, positive brand image can be achieved through a multi-pronged initiative that includes advertising, packaging, distribution, and customer support/service. This is your overall image – technology leader, innovative developer, groundbreaking pioneer, etc. – including what people think about your organization and what attracts them to it.
It also touches on why they stay with your organization. A strong brand has high customer retention – it’s not just about getting a customer. It’s about keeping them coming back time and again.
This is your overarching message strategy that ties into your product-market fit. Ensure all messaging is designed to address your audience’s pain points and aligns with how your product helps them. Things like points of parity are the bare minimum needed to be competitive in your marketplace, as well as the unique selling proposition and what makes you stand out from the competition.
All messaging must highlight your main benefit and reasons to believe, which form the substantiating proof of your position. This also includes your tone of voice. Google has shown that being able to get a message across effectively is the most essential element in getting your visitors to convert. Take Plated as an example. Noble Digital was able to scale Plated to $100 million in revenue in just 18 months through crisp, clear messaging. Watch our case study video for the details.
Boosting brand awareness is critical for growth. It is the attraction of the brand among target markets, usually measured through advertising and promotional campaigns. Here at Noble Digital, we often have our branding engagements lead into multiple campaign concepts. This allows us to test two or three different directions for the campaign and find what works and what doesn’t.
Brand consistency is the ability to deliver content that aligns with your values and brand strategy at varying touch points into the future. It means you always deliver communications with consistent branding elements – think logos, images, and the like. This includes overall design language, but it also includes how you speak to your audience – the words and phrases you use, the way you speak, and more.
By achieving brand consistency, your customers begin to recognize your messages over time. It also creates positive associations with your audience. Think about the “Got Milk?” marketing campaign that launched back in 1993, or the Incredible, Edible Egg slogan that originally debuted back in the 1970s, but carried over for many years. Those positive interactions are critical, as they build goodwill with your customer base.
That doesn’t mean you must stick with the same marketing slogan for a decade or more. It means that you need to create a cohesive brand image, design language, and communication language, and then be consistent. It’s about presenting your company the same way, time after time, whether the customer experience is reading an ad on Facebook or interacting with a customer service agent.
Create an Emotional Connection
Emotional branding is important and can be achieved by creating connections with the customer where they are emotionally. Marc Gobé’s The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People is a good resource to build an understanding of emotional branding, but we can explore the basics here.
Emotional branding is nothing more than tying into the emotional state of your audience. HuffPost contributor Jeffrey Shaw explains it as, “Branding and business strategies for businesses that need to trigger an emotional response for customers to be motivated to buy”. It’s about getting customers excited about what you offer, but achieving that can be pretty daunting. A few tips can help lower the bar a bit, though:
- Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Look at the world from their perspective. This is particularly important for companies serving audiences that live a radically different lifestyle than their own. What are your audience’s pain points? What do they expect?
- Know your customers’ deeper needs. You achieve this by following the first tip, but it allows you to take preemptive action. Think back to a time when someone did something for you that freed up your time or alleviated a major problem or pain point. Think of that sense of gratitude and the feeling that their action or gesture was far more meaningful to you than to them. That’s what you want to evoke here.
- Help customers realize that you’re the right choice, but come to the conclusion on their own. This involves more than slick marketing ads. It requires building awareness, but also educating them about their problem and the potential solutions. It’s about creating marketing and branding collateral that compels, but does not tell or force. No one wants to be sold to, and emotional branding helps your audience connect to your message on their own.
- Know how your customers see your brand. This goes beyond putting yourself in their position. It also requires that you take a step beyond your branding efforts. How do your customers perceive your product or service? What about the brand as a whole? Is it how you want to be perceived? If not, how can you change it? If you’re not aligning with your customers emotionally, then there’s a major disconnect somewhere that must be fixed.
Taking a Flexible, Long-Term Approach
Building a brand strategy is not a once-and-done thing. It requires continual monitoring and adjustments. You must be flexible in your thinking and expectations, while still being able to shoot for those long-term goals. One thing to remember: the brand is not your department. It’s the outlet for delivering your strategy.
How do you take that sort of approach, though? First, establish a clear agenda and focus on points for brand design, messaging, packaging, and advertising. Next, adjust for inconsistency or irregularities. If brand design elements are inconsistent or erratic, it creates a disconnect with your audience. They’ll find it challenging to connect with your brand because there is no cohesion, no stability. Simply put, they don’t know what to expect.
Embrace the power of consistency, but stay flexible and adaptable. If you’re willing to roll with the punches, you can adapt your strategy and brand elements as the organization’s needs change, the industry evolves, and your audience’s perceptions and expectations change.
Forging the Right Connection
Your brand is a critical consideration. It’s what distinguishes you from the competition. You can develop your brand through multiple pathways, including product design, advertising, packaging, physical store environment, customer service, store ambiance, promotions, and identifying your target market.
As we mentioned previously, it’s crucial to align your brand strategy with your organization’s direction. How, though? It requires specific steps and we’ll explore them all below.
Connecting Your Brand Strategy with the Organization’s Direction
There are eight critical elements involved in connecting your brand strategy and organization direction.
1. Get Stakeholder Buy-In
You must get stakeholder buy-in for your branding strategy. All stakeholders must be on the same page because the brand is a set of attributes, values, and associations that collectively create a consistent identity for a product, service, or entire organization. If they are not all on board with the strategy, it can fracture your efforts.
So, how do you achieve this goal? You must first make sure that your stakeholders are aligned with the company’s goals and mission statements, and then that your strategy is also properly aligned. In some instances, it will be necessary to highlight the alignment between your strategy and those goals and mission statements for your stakeholders, so be prepared to help them connect the dots.
2. Create a Vision Statement
To connect your brand strategy with the organization’s direction, you’ll also need to create a vision statement. This is just a formal statement that communicates the overall future positioning of the company, as well as its values, mission, and goals.
With a completed vision statement, it becomes simpler to connect your brand strategy and direction. The vision statement provides important cues and context to inform your branding strategy and sets key goals that should also be mirrored in your strategy.
3. Create a Mission Statement
Your mission statement is similar to your vision statement, but the two are distinct from one another. Where a vision statement speaks about what a company stands for, the mission statement tells the world the company’s purpose. It also communicates the values of your organization and speaks to how the business will achieve its purpose.
The statement should go further than laying out those elements, though. It must also communicate how the company will achieve those goals and be very clear about what the organization stands for.
Quick Tip: Vision and mission statements are often confused with one another because they are admittedly similar. Bain & Company offers a concise definition for each: A mission statement defines the company’s business, its objectives, and its approach to those objectives. A vision statement describes the future position of the company. Elements of mission and vision statements are often combined to provide a statement of the company’s purposes, goals, and values. However, sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably.
4. Create Vision and Mission Statement Templates
It is not enough to have a formal vision statement and mission statement. You will need to create templates that allow you to communicate your mission and vision to different audiences. In fact, you’ll probably need several templates to match the varying audiences with which you will communicate, both internally and externally.
5. Understand the Importance of Goals
Your branding strategy must be goal-based. Goals form specific objectives and provide a way to measure and benchmark the success of your vision and adherence to your mission. Goals are also important aspects of your corporate branded identity and their significance should not be underestimated. Your goals should tie into your branding strategy, but should also connect with your organization’s direction.
6. Create a Goal Statement Template
As with your vision and mission statement templates, goal statement templates provide a way to codify and communicate your goals to a variety of different internal and external audiences.
8 Steps to Build Your Brand Strategy
Building a new brand strategy doesn’t have to be an insurmountable hurdle. We’ll break it down for you in just eight actionable steps.
Step 1: Identify Core Values
What values will inform the decisions made for the organization? If you’re unsure, take a deeper look at the beliefs you and other decision-makers have about the brand. What beliefs inform your actions? What you’ll eventually discover are your core values, and they should align with your goals in terms of what you’ll achieve for your customers. These are your brand strategy’s cornerstones.
Step 2: Devise a Strategic Positioning Statement
Next, you will need to devise a strategic positioning statement. This is nothing more than a description of your target market, your product, and how the two fit together. The goal here is to show how your product or service solves a problem or serves a specific need.
Strategic positioning statements can be useful for a few different things. The first is to ensure that your marketing efforts align with your brand strategy. Remember that brand strategy should inform marketing strategy, and not the other way around.
It’s also possible to use your strategic positioning statement to inform communications with your ideal audience. It can provide your brand’s core values and characteristics to help forge a stronger connection with those who matter most to your company.
Step 3: Create an Ideal Customer Profile
Who are you selling to? Who is your ideal customer? What makes them so ideal? If you don’t know your audience, your branding strategy and your overall success will suffer for it. Creating a data-informed buyer persona is one way to ensure that you’re directing your branding efforts in the right direction.
It’s really all about clarifying a few key things. First, who will gain the most value from your product or service? Second, what is that value? Third, how will you lay out your branding strategy to attract new customers and build revenue? Your ideal customer profile template will speak to all of these things.
Step 4: Design Your Brand Promise
All brands make a promise, whether it’s explicit or implicit. What is yours? Not sure what a brand promise is? It’s nothing more than a statement that distills your unique selling proposition into a statement with the brevity of a tagline. Apple’s is succinct and compelling: think different. Brooks Running’s brand promise is run happy.
Yours can be lengthier than those two examples, but not by much. You’ll need to think carefully to encapsulate everything that sets your organization apart from the competitors in just a handful of words. It’s also important that you live up to that promise. If you don’t, your customers will hold you accountable.
Step 5: Create Your Visual Identity
The visual brand strategy of your presence is a critical element, but it can be challenging to understand. That’s because it includes every single visual element your organization produces, from your official logo and letterhead to your website design, your Facebook page, business card design, and everything else. All visible elements need to share a similar design language. Your Facebook page should connect visually to your website, which should tie into your LinkedIn profile, which should be evocative of your business card design, and so forth.
By creating a visual identity, you are basically establishing norms that go into visual communication assets, like images, logos, and the rest. See our example for Biohm:
A few simple tips will help you get on the way:
- Define your visual identity elements and all variations, such as colors and color families, logos and logo variants, typography, and more.
- Identify imagery that expresses your brand’s personality, values, and mission. It should also speak to how your business stands out from competitors.
- Create a brand style guide that speaks to how these elements are used and when or if they can be altered in any way. With a coherent style guide, the entire organization can be on the same page and maintain consistency across all brand assets.
Step 6: Know Your Customer Touchpoints
Touch points are instances where your customers and your brand come together. It could be physical, such as a customer walking into a store that is branded and speaking with an associate. It could be digitally, such as your customer visiting your website and browsing your product catalog. All touch points are crucial to establishing the right relationship and maintaining your brand.
Where are your touch points? You will need to dig through your data to determine where they are and which are the most important. How many are there? How long does it take on average for someone to learn of your brand, investigate your offerings, and then finally convert to being a customer?
This process is called customer journey mapping and it adds a very important dimension of time over space to understand how customers flow through your brand experience. One of Noble Digital’s key products, the Data Matrix looks at data and goes deeper than most internal teams tend to go in order to produce a data-informed marketing plan that includes journey mapping and much of what is in this article, in just a matter of weeks!
Once you’ve answered those questions, you must take things further. What can you do to reduce the number of touch points and shorten the overall cycle? What can you do to strengthen and improve customer brand perception at each touchpoint? Every single touch point must include the right messaging or your entire sales funnel will collapse, so this needs to be part of your brand building strategy.
Step 7: Define Your Brand Voice
No branding strategy can be successful if you don’t have an established, defined brand voice. There are just a few ingredients that go into this, and they include:
- A consistent form of expression in terms of tone, voice, style, and terminology. Your organization’s unique personality showcased in all communications. An established content strategy that ensures consistency of voice, tone, style, and monitoring customer interaction and engagement with your content.
In the example below, we used survey data to help our client understand what messaging would be the most effective and it definitely was not their starting point, which was densely scientific and jargony:
The competitor data revealed that we could both position the brand uniquely while also addressing the sense of empowerment that their audience wanted to hear:
Because of this, the result of every video made, social media posts, blog posts, PR activation we did were phenomenally successful.
Branding is money well spent because it puts all these elements in alignment and focus towards success. So imagine doing all this foundational work only to have it all fall apart in the execution! This is why you should definitely consider using a partner.
After all, can you imagine getting this wrong from the start? Or being just slightly off? And THEN building out all those expensive assets and strategies across paid, owned and earned channels? The gap would be exponential! You see, this is exactly where conversion rate optimization begins. Not after you run a campaign and see poor performance. The poor performance of your campaigns are not due to targeting or placement issues… it’s mostly due to messaging issues and it starts right ere.
Protip: Make the messaging about your customers as much (if not more than) about your brand. Branding needs to account for your product-market fit. Make your messaging customer-centric and you will increase customer engagement immediately.
Look again closely at the “before” example. Our clients were certain that was what they wanted before we started our work. Without our help, that’s exactly what would have been executed and they may not have gotten to “selling out of inventory 3x from launch” So understand that great branding is how we give our clients “new and wonderful problems” like trying to keep up with demand.
Step 8: Audit Your Brand Regularly
Don’t leave things to chance. Monitor your brand constantly and audit it regularly. Is your brand voice still consistent? Are you actively mapping and monitoring touch points? Review all communications for consistency and define ways that you can improve, solve problems, or get things back on track if they’re starting to slide.
It’s Time to Develop Your Brand Strategy
Without a viable brand strategy, growth and success can be hard to achieve. Without an amazing team of talent, it will be difficult. We can help. At Noble Digital, we can help you integrate professional design into your brand strategy to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. We deliver an all-in-one solution to building better brand assets, creating stunning and evocative marketing visuals, and architecting a cohesive brand and brand voice that helps you stand out from the crowd. Is it time to take things to the next level? Get started with Noble Digital today.
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