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What Is a Brand Strategy?

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When it comes to your brand, strategy outweighs tactics. Yes, of course, both are important. But your brand affects everything. It touches every single part of your marketing setup. Each and every decision you make about your brand has to take the bigger picture into account, and has to have a larger strategic purpose in mind.

A brand strategy is basically what it says on the label—it’s a strategy that dictates how your brand will be presented in the marketplace; where you’ll show up, how you’ll sound there, and what you’ll look like. It’s a plan that is centered on long-term goals for how your brand will evolve and how it will attract people to your business, and the short-term goals that will act as stepping stones to get you there. A great brand strategy will touch basically every part of your business, and help you to get everything moving in the right direction.

What does that look like? Why exactly is a brand strategy so important?

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Why do you need a brand strategy?

Like I said, your brand is all-encompassing. It touches every bit of your marketing. And, as you might guess based on that, it’s the most important part of your marketing. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is built.

So that means the things you choose to do with your brand cannot be haphazard or done on an ad-hoc basis. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you don’t like your logo anymore and draw up a new one on the spot (unless that is an intentional part of your brand). You can’t decide to rebuild or redesign a website on a whim. Doing that torpedoes your brand’s consistency, and that’s one of the worst things you can do to a brand.

Without an overarching strategy, you really don’t have a brand. So let’s get into how that strategy can work.

What is included in a brand strategy?

“A lot,” is the short answer. But that’s not super helpful for those of you who are looking to learn how to develop a brand strategy. There are plenty of things that could go into a brand strategy, but there are only a few that are absolute must-haves. Here are the things that need to be in place for you to be able to build a strong brand strategy.

Brand identity

In short, your brand’s identity is what you think of when you think about someone’s brand. It’s the outward facing parts, the visual assets, identifiers, and expressions of a brand—created by the brand—in order to separate itself from the competition. It’s the things marketers make to promote the way they want the brand to be seen. When you think about major brands like Nike, Apple, or Disney, you’re thinking about their brand identities.

It’s not all tangible, though. For example, things like your logo, your color scheme, and your typefaces are a part of your brand identity. But so are things like your tone and messaging, the way you talk in ads and on social media. Things like your brand’s personality, and your target audience and personas, and your company culture also fit in here.

So obviously, when building a brand strategy, your brand’s identity is a very important part of the bigger picture. If your look and feel don’t match with where you want the brand to go, or if you’re choosing tactics that don’t resonate with your audience, your brand’s effectiveness will be nil. When you’re strategizing, always have your brand’s identity in mind—and make sure that the identity you’ve built is sound.

Brand standards

There are a lot of names for what we call “brand standards”—brand standards guide, branding guidelines, style guides, brand books, brand identity guidelines—we’re talking mostly semantic differences here, and they don’t matter all that much. Whatever you choose to call them, your brand guidelines are a tool that’s meant to give your brand both consistency and flexibility. Think of them like a road map: they might show you a few different routes to the same objective, but they also show you the places you definitely shouldn’t drive if you want to get there.

Brand standards are basically guardrails that help everyone who works with your brand stay on track. They prevent mistakes, and keep people from misusing brand assets. If you’ve ever seen your logo in the wrong colors or stretched out because someone didn’t know what “right” was, that’s where brand standards come in.

It should be pretty clear why this, too, is an important part of the foundation of a brand strategy. Strategy requires sound foundations. Your brand should be solid, overall, but even if the identity is pitch perfect and the ideas behind it are sound, it depends on competent execution. You might be the brand maven at your business, but one person can’t carry that load alone. You need to have a locked-in set of instructions that anyone who touches your brand can look to and make sure they’re following the plan. Because no matter what tactics make up your strategy, if you can’t execute on your brand, they’re just not going to be effective.

Brand architecture

This is a bit more complicated, and isn’t necessarily always going to apply to your situation, but just in case it does, it’s important to consider. Your brand architecture is essentially the way in which all of the parts of your brand fit together. It’s most important for a brand that contains a number of sub-brands—think FedEx, Coca-Cola, or Marriott. For example, Coca-Cola is the parent brand, and Coke is also its own thing, but so are Sprite, and Fanta, and Tab, and Dasani. The way all those brands fit together is Coca-Cola’s brand architecture.

But a brand architecture might also simply mean organizing the way different parts of your brand interact with each other. For instance, you might need separation between how you talk to existing clients and prospects. You might have a podcast that you want to market in a certain way that’s a little different from the rest of what you’re doing. It’s not necessarily as complicated as managing a number of mergers or acquisitions, but it’s a web that you’ll want to make as untangled as you can.

Wait. How is that a strategy?

Foundational elements like brand architecture and brand standards aren’t your entire brand strategy—but they are parts of the whole that make up what your strategy might need to accomplish. These are the things that need to be in place before you can start planning ways to hit your brand-related goals—such as increasing brand awareness within your target audience or taking market share away from a competitor—and the things you might need to tweak or adjust as you strategize. Once you start to think about the goals that you have and where you want to take your brand, your brand’s identity, standards, and architecture might not fit your vision anymore.

Your strategy lives in the way you relate these things, and how they build off each other to navigate your brand through the wilderness that is your marketplace. It’s one of the most important things you’ll think about as a marketer—don’t let it slip.

 

Thomas Wachtel Team Photo at Element Three

Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.