Have you ever wondered how large brands like Apple, DHL or Virgin appear to seamlessly build such large empires, while those of us in smaller businesses struggle to make simple marketing decisions?

Or how the Nikes of the world get every moving part of their business, from their branding and design through to their marketing and PR, so in sync?

Their mission and their products are like a well-oiled machine, right? Apple isn’t just a computer company, they have convinced everyone that they provide beautiful state of the art products for creative people. That’s what we believe, and we do so because they began their business with a brand strategy that set out to achieve exactly that.

Did Starbucks start by simply selling coffee to make money? Or did they begin by deciding to deliver a superior and desired customer experience?

Obviously it’s the latter. Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time.” They see their brand as being integral to their business strategy.

The reality is, smaller companies find it hard to plan a business from a branding perspective. This is understandable, as most business owners do not have a marketing degree.

This strategic and somewhat elusive aspect of branding can be purchased from large advertising agencies if you have the money (and the vision!). But how can those of us with smaller businesses begin to understand, harness and build some of that professional branding flair?

The answer to that would be develop a brand strategy.

So, just what is a brand strategy?

Let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand strategy first. Your brand strategy is not your product, your logo, your website, or your name.  A brand strategy is a process of evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing the personality and meaning of your business. A well thought-through brand strategy guides your marketing’s strategic approach, helping you to better position and express the value your products or services offer.

Ultimately, your brand strategy is pivotal to influencing how your customers perceive you, and how you make them feel.

Chances are you’re not the only company out there selling a product or service like yours. Part of the brand strategy process is to look beyond what you sell and figure out what you do best.

Your brand strategy represents the foundations on which you build your branding, which in turn informs all of your marketing. Your brand strategy should always be addressed first if you want to outperform your competition.

You should address your brand strategy before any design!

The temptation to smash out a business card, create some marketing and put up a website almost always overrides the first and most important step – your strategy.

The colour, style and images you use in your company website may show the world what you look like. But what about the most important aspect of your business – who you are!

A brand strategy will help you understand what value you offer customers and help you define your unique value proposition. Once established, this can then be shared through design and clever messaging.

Think about what came first. Was it Coca-Cola’s logo, or did they have a strategy in place before they designed the logo? Of course they did. They would still be the world’s favourite non-alcoholic beverage with pretty much any logo.

Marketing follows brand strategy

Marketing comes in many forms – advertisements, a message placed on a vehicle, or your website. Yet without a brand supporting your advertising’s message or the content on your website, you ain’t going anywhere fast.

Your marketing must reflect your brand values and personality. Your point of difference, which a brand strategy should address, needs to be the first thing a visitor to your website sees.

A campaign does not run forever, but your brand is always there in one shape or form, ready to inform your next marketing tactic.

Branding always comes first

Today there are more services and products on offer than there is actual demand for them. To simply supply the market is not a great business move. If you can capture the hearts of your audience by creating desire for your product or services you stand a far better chance of securing demand – and that is the domain of branding.

Having a brand strategy is the key to establishing your product or service as the leader, and to building a brand that will grow and mature in a saturated marketplace.

 

photo credit: Elisa R Baralt via photopin cc