Branding strategy is a phrase meant to describe something that’s much more of an experience than a science. However, it still has to be planned meticulously.
Have you ever entered a nice pub or a beautiful store and been surprised to find them empty? One of the most common mistakes is to attribute such a situation to luck or other misleading factors like location, climate, the neighbors, the lighting or even karma.
And what do you do when it isn’t working? You simply react, offering sales without thinking about the future, looking at your competitors or considering the business and marketing environment. Most importantly, many businesses act without understanding what they’re doing and why.
Looks good, but lacking life
Why is it that some places look great but lack character? How can it be that a 40-year-old cafe with old tables, peeling walls and chairs you haven’t seen since your school days are packed without an available seat while great looking, luxurious restaurants are often empty? How do you make a brand truly interesting so that people want to be a part of it?
The answer? Experiences. Imagine sitting down for a coffee with the most beautiful creature on Earth who does not have an inch of depth. After you’ve gotten over the initial amazement of appearances, you start to get bored. The same goes for a logo that looks great but lacks meaning. Too many brands have a great appearance, but are far from precise.
With all due respect to the quality of the coffee or the technical details of the hamburger you bought recently, the reason people consume from one brand over another is their connection to it, which in many respects is the result of the experiences that brand gives them. How do you create an experience? First of all, you create a precise branding strategy. Afterwards, you start filling out the details of the customer experience and customer journey.
What is branding?
Before we start discussing how to create a branding strategy, we should return to the basics – the understanding that a brand is not a logo, an appearance or any other individual asset. A brand is a compilation of factors, the sum of the parts that we can’t always see, but feel instead. It’s the manner in which we connect all these factors – our messages and actions as a brand – that determines how customers experience us at our place of business, in advertisements, in our logo, and really at any point of interaction with them (the customer journey).
Branding strategy: The character behind the brand
After understanding what a brand is, let’s try to understand what branding strategy is: a structured process focused mostly on the long term in which we figure out our brand’s place in the market. The key to this process is understanding who we want to be. Sometimes we get there by thinking about who we’re reaching out to and what they’re looking for, but in some cases, the brand is simply who you are. Whether you’ve characterized the brand from zero or it was born more organically, it’s best to make sure above all that there is a target audience that will drive demand for your product. As much as you want to define your idea with precision for yourself, in the end your business exists for your customers (at least for commercial brands).
How to build a branding strategy
The first important point is to be precise and consistent and to define all aspects of your business that are related to the brand. It starts with how your brand looks and how it communicates – what language it uses, what words are never spoken and what tone it uses – and continues through how it behaves. How does it respond to certain situations and how does it conduct itself on an ongoing basis? Take note that precise and effective branding must be intertwined with business itself, meaning that your identity impacts and is also influenced by the deals you offer, your pricing decisions, the wrapping of your product and all other aspects. The goal is to create an emotion and experience that will hold up the perceived value of the brand and the pricing you decided on.
This compilation of aspects you have defined is meant to create a persona similar to that of a person – one that allow people to identify it without even using its name – like a good friend you’re connected to and know to predict his actions in certain situations. The clearer the feeling you are able to give, the better the results and the better you’ve done your job.
If we take the logo as a representative example, the most important note is that it doesn’t have to be visually stunning – it needs to communicate something that’s unique and relevant just to you. Anything that does not attempt to represent your precise values is pointless. By the way, that’s why one of the tips we give our customers is to present their logo to friends and ask them not what they think (then they’ll say it looks good or not), but what they feel and what they imagine the business to be like based on the logo.
Despite the importance of consistency, a branding strategy is not a rigid, immovable construct. Companies and brands update and change with time and it’s important to follow brand developments over time – even conducting a full rebranding on appropriate occasions. Moreover, brand strategy is an opportunity to create the “box” that the rest of us can think outside of, without compromising the identity of the brand.
How is it expressed in messaging?
As opposed to sales-oriented messages, which are meant to produce immediate results, branding strategy must begin with the understanding that the investment in building a brand is good for the long term, just as a deep and real familiarity with a person takes place over time when you’ve gone on a long journey together. That’s why branding strategy is not a process you should attempt if you are in an unstable financial or business situation, but only when you have the mood and ability to open your mind and create.
Accordingly, while sales messages are usually direct and to the point, the messages that are a part of the branding strategy process are more focused on emotion and are implied – messages that are absorbed and internalized slower but make more people remember you longer, which is the goal of the experience you want to create. While sales is made up of conversation scripts, branding is a complex art that relies on communicating messages beneath the surface; in other words, how to make you feel something without saying it directly. That’s what film directors do with great craftsmanship, knowing how to engineer your feelings without you being aware of it.