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How to build a brand strategy for your business

A successful brand strategy is built on deep customer insights and understanding the market.

Branding has entered a weird phase where analytics and audience metrics are more sophisticated than ever before, but building a brand that actually resonates with that audience isn’t seen as a priority. It’s all about conversion, not creativity.  

Darren Savage at Tribal Worldwide London famously called this the “effectiveness death spiral”, where brands neglect overarching strategy in favour of click-based metrics. The problem with this approach is that you tend to prioritise short-term wins over long-term gains. You pursue cost-cutting rather than brand building. You go for hyper-personalised content, rather than value-based consistency. Then one day you turn around and there’s nobody behind you – the market has moved on.  

RMIT Online partner and Thinkerbell CEO Adam Ferrier has written about this quite a bit.  

“Our short-term focus on efficiency has come at the expense of longer term strategic vision,” he says, “with companies ‘incrementally getting better at delivering day-to-day sales, against a very small (and increasingly refined) audience who are ready to buy.’ However, at the other end of the funnel, no-one is coming in – people have either forgotten what the brand promise was, or were never aware of it in the first place.”

This is the hidden catch with customised content marketing: when a brand tries to please everyone, it eventually stands for no-one. Brand strategy is how we remedy this situation.  


What is a brand strategy? 


So what actually is brand strategy? This will vary slightly from company to company, but it’s essentially a long-term plan to achieve certain brand goals, the biggest of which is simply identification by consumers. If people everywhere know your brand, and (just as important) know what it stands for, your branding strategy is a success. 

Brand strategy is about answering big, existential questions. It’s not so concerned with things like optimised A/B testing. As Ferrier puts it, we need to be asking,

“What should my brand stand for? Why will people like my brand? What channels should I use? How does my brand make people feel?”

Hardly any of these questions can be answered with modern, short-term conversion metrics – with the possible exception of channel attribution. They’re about building the foundation for long-term success, and some can only be measured over months and years. Think of your brand strategy as your brand’s fundamental roadmap for growth. It’s similar to a business strategy, but the focus is more on recognition, connection, loyalty and audience building.  

And what about sales? Well, experts like Ferrier would say, if your brand strategy works, sales will happen naturally. They’re the tail, not the dog.  


What makes a successful brand strategy?  


A good brand strategy will stay fluid over time, changing with the needs of the market, the needs of consumers, and the goals of the brand itself. As mentioned before, brand strategies also deal in slightly intangible, not-easy-to-measure things, such as loyalty and recognition. These facts make it hard to nail down a successful brand strategy – it will naturally look different from brand to brand. 

Nevertheless, good brand strategies have some things in common: 


Know the market 

A brand strategy should be based around deep customer insights, and backed by quantitative or qualitative data. You should know your customers inside out. What they like, what they don’t like, what they’re looking for, and what annoys them. This will help you identify the opportunities for branding success.  


Spot the opportunities 

Speaking of opportunities, brand strategies need to be aware of the market and competitors. Are you a heritage brand, like Vegemite, that taps into emotion and nostalgia? Are you a bottled water brand, like US-based Liquid Death, trying to stand out in a fridge where everyone looks the same? Liquid Death is actually a fascinating study in the power of branding, and brand strategy. By spotting a gap in the market – bottled water without the purity guff – they’ve leapfrogged the competition, growing their revenue to $120million in just four years.   

Ferrier would say this wasn’t an accident. And it certainly wasn’t the result of customising every bottle of water to each drinker’s individual taste. It came about through strong branding, consistent messaging, and a creative twist. Liquid Death built something that resonated with consumers.  

“The goal here is to create a strong brand – one that has as much value as possible, to as many people as possible,” Ferrier says. “Strong brands play a collective and mass game and draw people in. Marketing, or branding at this level is the very opposite of personalisation.” 


Deliver on your promise 

‘Brand promise’ sounds like marketing jargon, but all it really means is that your brand does what it says on the tin. When a consumer purchases your product, or uses your service, do they get what they expect? And can you deliver on that promise time, after time, after time, after time? Think of some famous branding promises. Volvo promises safety. Apple promises creativity and innovation. Tic Tacs promise portable freshness.  

Delivering on your promise means first working out what that promise is, how it fits with your target-market and your product, and how you’re going to deliver it consistently. You need to keep that brand promise across every customer touchpoint: digital, in-store, customer service, invoicing, returns, everything.  

This is the key to brand strategy: values and consistency. It’s quite a simple formular really: figure out who you are, then let people buy it.  


If you’d like to learn more about brand strategy, and building a better brand experience, check out RMIT Online’s Brand Experience short course, co-designed by Adam Ferrier and the Thinkerbell team, alongside The Iconic, Koala, Vegemite, Hubspot and Merkle.  

This article was originally published on 1 June 2023