What is Brand Strategy? (The 10 Step Development Guide)

Your brand strategy is your plan for how you, and your team, will build, shape, and grow your brand.

It’s more than a logo, name, or slogan. It’s the entire experience your customers have with your business.

When a company or brand has created a successful brand strategy, customers know who the company are and what they are, without being reminded.

Companies as large as Apple and Coca Cola successfully implement brand strategies. But smaller companies often have their brand strategy worked out too.

It’s not just a “big corporate” term. It’s the underlying plan for how your brand communicates with it’s customers.

Without a brand strategy, you’re making wild guesses and assumptions which lead to brand inconsistencies.

Your brand strategy gives your business a spine to build it’s branding efforts around. And it helps to guide and inform the way your brand communicates.

The Problem with Brand Strategy

Having a brand strategy for your business should be top of your priority list.

But, there’s a problem with a brand strategy.

Here’s the deal:

People are using the term “brand strategy” wrong. They’re saying brand strategy when they mean brand positioning. They’re saying brand strategy when they mean brand values, or brand story.

And even when they mean brand identity. And it’s confusing people.

Brand strategy shouldn’t be complicated to understand.

Your brand strategy is your plan to will build, shape, and grow your brand.

That’s it. Simple.

Let me clarify some of the terms I’ve just mentioned, so we can avoid further confusion moving forward.

We’ve just covered brand strategy, so let’s dive into;

Brand Values

Your brand values are the things your business holds the closest to it’s heart.

We have three key brand values at Canny;

  1. Outstanding design, every time
  2. Transparency and clarity
  3. Building partnerships with clients.

And we use these to hold ourselves accountable in our actions.

If the design isn’t outstanding, it’s not getting shipped.

To ensure complete transparency with our clients, we work on pricing and figures together and involve them at every step in the process.

If we ever need to have a difficult conversation with a client, we do it as soon as we can, and make it as clear as possible.

And if our clients don’t see us as partners, then we’re letting them down, and haven’t handled the relationship the right way.

6Q have a good range of brand values examples on their blog.

Brand Mission

Your brand mission (sometimes called brand vision) isn’t a far cry from your values, it builds on them. It’s what you strive to do with your business.

At Canny, our mission is to help businesses unlock the power of their brand with branding, web design, and digital marketing.

To do that, we utilise our brand values.

Our brand values keep our brand mission in check. And our brand mission is what we set out to do when we started Canny Creative.

Hubspot have us covered when looking for examples of company mission statements.

Brand Story

Your brand story is how you communicate your brand values and brand mission to the world.

It’s the story you tell to your audience and why you got into doing what you’re doing.

So for all our brand mission is “help businesses unlock the power of their brand” we expand on that in our brand story.

Our story, is that “We create brands that build businesses, and we’ve done that world wide. We help brands by increasing their brand awareness, developing their digital presence, in turn, growing their sales. We do this because not enough businesses are utilising their brand and digital platforms and are leaving money on the table.”

It’s a simplification of our values and mission, rolled into a neat little story about how we help our clients.

The HuffPost have a great article discussing more brand story examples.

Brand Positioning

This is the term most often confused with brand strategy. However;

Your brand positioning is where you sit in the landscape of your marketplace.

It’s;

  • “We’re more expensive than our competitors, and don’t want to compete on price, because we offer a much better service”
  • “We’re smaller and leaner than our competitors, but we deliver better results.”
  • “The competition are all in high-rises, wearing designer suits, but we’re a smaller firm, who wear jeans and have a quirky office space.”

Your brand positioning is where you sit in the marketplace when reviewed against your competitors.

Figmints have some great brand positioning examples on their blog.

Brand Messaging

Your brand messaging is the “what” you’re trying to communicate, and how you communicate it.

If you want to say “We’re the best tuition company in the world” then how are you going to say it?

Redbridge Tuition were looking to do just that, and we helped them create the messaging;

“Think beyond, act beyond, be beyond.”

That’s your brand messaging. The actual words you put to use to communicate your brand values, mission, story, and positioning.

Brand Identity

And finally, your brand identity.

This is the visual representation of everything we’ve already talked about. It’s your logo, stationery design, marketing materials, website design, and every other visual element of your brand.

If you’re looking to create a “sexy lingerie brand” – you’re probably looking and black, red, and white as a colour palette.

If it’s “safety and security” – blue and white is probably a better bet.

Your brand identity is the visual representation of your brand strategy.

This is the part of a branding project that most clients want to jump straight into. But it’s important to cover off the other steps first.

When companies rebrand, they often opt for just a visual tidy up. And that can work.

But the benefits of rebranding are greater when you review the brand strategy as a whole.

It can be difficult to engage with an agency that offer branding services, if you don’t understand the things they’re talking about.

I hope this adds some clarity to the terms that get mentioned when talking about business branding.

So What Actually is a Brand Strategy?

As I’ve already said a few times;

Your brand strategy is your plan for how you will build, shape, and grow your brand.

It’s all well and good having a plan, but what form does it take? And who should be involved in helping you create your brand strategy?

Usually, a brand strategy document is a PDF file that contains all of the relevant information as outlined above.

Your brand identity guidelines might be in a separate brand guideline document, or they might make up part of your brand strategy document.

That’s entirely your call.

We treat our Brand Strategy Book as a handbook. And we refer to it when we have dilemmas, when we make new hires, when we have disagreements, and so on.

It’s a living, breathing document, that can be updated and changed as your business grows.

But who should create your brand strategy?

A lot of new businesses prefer to have a rough idea of their values, mission, story, and positioning before bringing in a branding service agency to help with their identity.

Others prefer to bring in a branding agency right from the start.

Rebranding is a different kettle of fish. There are remnants of old ideas and mission statements, that you need to get rid of, or tweak.

If you’re look to get the full benefit from your rebranding, I’d suggest bringing in an agency sooner rather than later.

The 10 Step Brand Strategy Development Guide

I’m going to outline how we create a brand strategy at Canny.

We’ve worked with a range of clients to provide a full branding package, which includes everything we’ve talked about so far.

A lot of the tips we share below are already outlined in our Ultimate Small Business Branding Guide.

Let’s dive in.

1. Consider Your Overall Business Strategy

The first to consider when building out your brand strategy, is actually your overall business strategy. The two should align to give you the highest chance of success.

First things first, you need to be clear about where you want to take your business.

Ask yourself;

  • What type of business do I want?
  • How am I planning to grow? Organically, or with huge marketing spend?
  • Where do I want to be 1, 3, and 5 years from now?
  • What does success look like to me?
  • What are my own personal goals for within the business?

Your overall business strategy is the context for the development of your brand strategy, and that’s where you want to start.

2. Identify and Research Your Target Audience

The term target audience has probably come up on the Canny blog more times than the term branding.

It plays a vital role in branding, design, marketing, and advertising a business.

When you’re asked about your target audience, you need to have defined personas that can help guide your business.

Defining your target audience isn’t easy, but it’s a vital step when creating a strategy for your brand and business.

The narrower you can focus your audience, the faster you can grow.

If you’re struggling with this, we have a blog post that details exactly how to define your target customers.

To make sure you’ve got the right audience in mind, you should conduct thorough investigative research into the personas you’ve created.

Research helps you understand your target client’s perspective and priorities, anticipate their needs and put your message in language that resonates with them.

The more research you can put together surrounding your target audience, the less risk you have in going off track when creating your brand strategy.

3. Define Your Brand Values, Mission, and Story

A quick recap;

  1. Your brand values are what you hold most dear to you
  2. Your brand mission is what it is you’re setting out to do
  3. Your brand story is how you communicate that and why you’re doing it.

Each of these items could be a blog post all of their own, so we’re just going to skim the surface here, and link up to some other posts about it in the future.

Brand Values

The first thing you need to do is get past all of the “out of the box” words like trustworthy, transparent, and reliable.

Yawn. Everyone’s heard that before. They’re surely not what you hold the most dear to your heart when you think about your business?

Really get into the nitty gritty.

Perhaps it’s a love of the planet, and you want to give back using environmental measures. Or maybe you want to focus on doing one thing, but doing it really well.

If you’re struggling for inspiration, Cult Branding have a great article featuring a ton of brand values examples.

Defining three to five brand values is a great first step when bringing your brand strategy to life.

Remember, brand values are the things you care about. Not the things you pretend to care about.

Brand Mission

Your brand mission is the “what” section of your brand strategy.

It’s what you do, and how you do it.

At Canny, we’re on a mission to help businesses unlock the power of their brand with branding, web design, and digital marketing.

We recognise a lot of businesses are leaving money on the table by not tapping into their brand, and digital platforms in the most efficient way possible. And we want to change that for them.

Your brand mission should be easy enough to work out. It’s why you started your business in the first place!

But you have to jazz it up a bit.

For example:

If you started a cupcake selling business, because you love baking cupcakes, that’s great. But it’s not a very compelling brand story.

You need to add the “press spin” to it;

“My Cupcakery provides a sense-sation, each cupcake bursting with colour and flavour, providing a truly unforgettable taste experience and delighting each and every customer. There’s a cupcake for everyone, and My Cupcakery is going to bake them all!”

Your brand mission is the reason you got into business, with a glossy finish applied to it!

Brand Story

“We do this, because…”

That’s how you want your brand story to start.

Your brand story tells the story of your brand to your customers. It’s the how and the why combined.

So to go back to our My Cupcakery example…

“My Cupcakery provides a truly unforgettable cupcake experience to their customers. We set out to do this because cupcakes have a reputation for being “for the young” or “for girls” and we just can’t let that lie. There’s a cupcake for everyone, and we’re out to prove it.”

It’s an extension of your brand mission and it’s being expanded on in the “why” department.

Another example is Toms Shoes. The Toms website includes founder Blake Mycoskie’s story:

Tom “wit­nessed the hard­ships faced by chil­dren grow­ing up with­out shoes” while trav­el­ing in Argenti­na in 2006. “Want­i­ng to help, he cre­at­ed Toms Shoes, a com­pa­ny that would match every pair of shoes pur­chased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need,” the site says.
These terms can get confusing. And some people call it Values, Vision, and Purpose.

It doesn’t really matter how it’s defined, but you need to cement:

  • What matters to you and your brand
  • What it is you do
  • Why you do what you do.

Those three elements combined with your target audience, are already starting to look like the solid foundations of a good brand strategy document.

4. Develop Your Brand Positioning

Next up, is the term most often confused with brand strategy, brand positioning.

Now, we have an example of brand positioning later in this post, so if you’re unsure on what brand positioning is, scroll down a bit, then come back here.

I’ll wait…

Okay, if you’re with me at this point, you understand what brand positioning is.

But how do you define your own business brand positioning?

Well, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who are our biggest competitors?
  2. What is our USP / how are we different?
  3. Who is our cheapest competitor, and who is our most expensive competitor?
  4. How do our target markets align?
  5. Where do we see ourselves sitting in among these competitors?

And by the time you’ve answered that, you’ll have a fairly good understanding of your brand positioning.

For example, let’s look at cars.

Tesla are happy to be more expensive than Toyota. It’s a completely different offering, to a completely different segment of the market.

Tesla are the eco-friendly version of a high end market car like Audi or Lexus. So their price point accurately reflects that.

Nobody that was on their way to the Toyota garage is going to stumble into Tesla and accidentally buy one.

A Tesla is a planned, bucket list type purchase, and their brand positioning reflects that.

5. Develop Your Brand Messaging

Your brand messaging, or brand marketing message is what you put out into the world to reflect your values, mission, story, and positioning.

For Nike, it’s “Just Do It” accompanied by pictures of athletes and high energy aesthetics.

For McDonald’s, it’s “I’m Lovin It” accompanied with a catchy jingle and audio branding that instantly makes you yearn for their food.

Your brand messaging should translate the rest of your brand strategy into messages targeted at your specific audiences.

For example, your brand messaging should talk to:

  1. Prospective clients / customers
  2. Prospective employees
  3. Referral networks
  4. Potential influencers
  5. Potential partner brands

While your core brand message should be consistent across each of these audiences, you’ll tailor it slightly depending on who you’re talking to.

Each of your audiences is likely to have a unique pain point, and your messaging should reflect that.

Pardot by Salesforce have a great blog on developing your brand messaging further. They even provide a template to help ensure consistency across your other brand touch points.

6. Develop Your Brand Identity

Your brand identity is often the first piece of the branding puzzle that everyone wants to jump into.

Because it’s visual, and exciting, it creates a lot of discussion within either a new business, or a business looking to rebrand.

This is often the point in a project where an agency that offers branding services is brought in to help.

I’d argue that an agency should be brought in as early as possible, but that’s by the by.

There are a lot of elements that make up a strong and consistent brand identity.

Your brand identity typically includes;

  • Logo design, both vertical and horizontal lockups
  • Colour palette
  • Typeface selection
  • Stationery design (letterheads, business cards etc)
  • Marketing materials (flyers, leaflets, brochures)
  • Digital templates (invoices, quotation documents, Powerpoint slides)
  • Social network imagery
  • Website design

There’s a whole lot more depending on which sector you’re in, but this is a great list for starters.

This all tends to get wrapped up into a brand identity guideline document, which can live alongside, or within, your brand strategy document.

But remember, your logo design and other items are not your brand. They’re the visual representation of your brand, which is what we talked about earlier.

To develop your brand identity, you’ll need to choose a design agency to work with, or you’ll run the risk of throwing away all of your hard work by pushing out a poor brand identity.

7. Develop Your Website

Your website is your shop window and it’s success plays a key role in the success of your brand and business strategy.

Everyone needs a website for their brand, no matter how big or small, no matter how grand their vision.

Your website is always there. So when you’re sleeping, it’s working for you.

Passing up on an opportunity like this is almost suicidal.

You should look to hire an agency that offers web design services to help roll your brand identity through your website. Or, work with an agency that offers both branding and web design.

Your website should display your brand identity and make use of your brand messaging to communicate your values, mission, and story to your target audience. It’s almost the lynchpin of your brand strategy.

It’s important that your website is fully flexible, easy to update and maintain, and works across a range of devices, including mobile phones and tablets.

A brand’s website is often the first port of call for many people when they’re looking to find out more information about a company.

And without one, you’d struggled to execute on the next point.

8. Develop Your Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing is an absolute must.

I’ve grown Canny to a six-figure agency through blog content alone. 90% of our new leads and clients find us through our blog.

So creating a content marketing strategy for your business is an absolute must when planning out your brand strategy.

We have a post called How to Create a Digital Marketing Plan For Your Business which walks you through creating a content marketing strategy.

Content marketing is the new advertising. It’s the new marketing altogether in fact.

By acting like a media company, and distributing fresh, original content to your network and beyond, you’re making use of inbound lead generation.

People come to you, and want to work with you, rather than you going to people and trying to sell to them.

Content marketing is the first step in a great inbound digital marketing strategy, and I urge you to consider it as a building block in your brand strategy.

9. Build Out Your Marketing Materials

Apart from your website and content strategy, you need to consider the rest of your marketing materials.

This might include;

  • Sales sheets
  • Powerpoint presentations
  • PDF overview documents
  • Pitch decks
  • eBrochures and more.

Your marketing materials are rarely printed pieces in this day and age, and again, you can have your chosen agency work on these for you.

For all you’ll have people knocking at your door to work with you, you still need to be prepared when that happens.

[Ross Geller – PIVOT!]

10: Implement, Track, Adjust, and Pivot

One thing that a lot of businesses are scared to do, is pivot.

Yes, PIVOT!

But don’t just pivot for the sake of things.

First, you need to implement your newly created brand strategy with the elements we’ve outlined above.

Then you need to track and record response to your brand. Are people loving your direction? Are you getting a lot of criticism through social media?
Once you’ve let the chips fall where they may, you need to adjust.

If things are going great, keep it up, you’ve got your brand strategy nailed!

If you’re hearing a lot of negatives, channel your inner Ross Geller, and pivot.

Without tracking and adjusting your brand strategy, you’ll never hit a home run. It’s not very often people hit it right out of the gate.

Like I’ve said already, your brand strategy is an ever evolving, living, breathing document, just like your brand guidelines.

Always be learning, tracking, and improving.

Brand Strategy and Brand Positioning Examples

The most common thing that people confuse with brand strategy, is brand positioning.

We have an entire post on brand positioning coming in the very near future.

For now, here’s an example of brand strategy, followed by an example of brand positioning.

Brand Strategy Example: Amazon

Amazon have three customer driver’s that in turn, make up their brand strategy.

  1. Provide the lowest comparative prices (saving customers money) by selling new or used products
  2. Provide the fastest delivery possible (saving customers time) using Amazon Prime, Amazon Prime Now, One-Click Purchase, Two Hour Delivery
  3. Provide the most extensive product range (making customers happy) by providing a one stop solution.

Their customer driver’s factor directly into their brand strategy.

Customer Driver #1: Lowest Prices

To provide the lowest comparative prices, they need to dominate on a global scale. To do that, they needed a brand that allowed them grow enormously.

They also need to tell the world, that they have the lowest prices.

This then drives their advertising campaigns and marketing efforts, dictating when and where to place their ad spend.

It also helps inform the creative side of their website.

If the focus is on price, everything needs to be designed in a way that grabs attention, and puts price first.

Customer Driver #2: Fastest Delivery

To provide the fastest delivery possible, Amazon had to develop several new ideas.

Amazon Prime saw one day delivery hit the website.

To do that, they had to create a new Amazon sub-brand, as well as a brand identity, and marketing strategy that allowed them to roll it out to their audience.

And again, the same thing happened when they introduced Prime Now. Another new sub-brand was born.

This time, they change their colour palette, created a new app, rolled out a new logo, and again, hit the marketing hard.

Amazon’s brand architecture was taking a hammering. And without a successful brand strategy in place, they wouldn’t have made it work.

Customer Driver #3: The Most Extensive Product Range

The huge range of products Amazon sell is irrefutable. You can literally buy anything you like from their website.

But to get to that point, they had to communicate their brand not only to their customers, but other retailers.

They wanted to encourage other sellers to sign up and sell through Amazon.

Without their brand values, mission, and story in place, this would’ve been a much harder sell.

Your brand strategy works to communicate your brand. It’s the foundation and plan for growth.

It lets your business expand and grow, and acts as an accountability resource for when it feels like you might be falling off the wagon.

Brand Positioning Example: Beans

Your brand positioning is different to your brand strategy.

Your brand strategy, incorporates your brand positioning. A lot of people get hung up on positioning and end up mistaking it for strategy.

Brand positioning is easiest to explain when talking about supermarket products.

Let’s take a look at beans. Yes, beans. Not Tesla vs Toyota, or JetBlue vs Delta. Good old fashioned beans.

In the UK, this is a selection of beans we have (available at Asda aka Walmart) and their respective per can pricing;

  • Supermarket’s Smart Price Range (23p / 30¢)
  • Supermarket’s Own Range (30p / 40¢)
  • Branston Beans (65p / 86¢)
  • Heinz Beans (60p / 80¢)

Everyone has their own preference, with Branston being my personal favourite.

Now, what’s the difference? And why do some people go for one type over the other?

Brand positioning.

The Supermarket’s Smart Price Range, is the most basic of basic can be. They’re wrapped with a white label, and a simple font, with a picture.

The Supermarket’s Own Range, is slightly above the Smart Price range in terms of quality. They actually have a label design, and look slightly better.

Branston Beans are seen as the “outsiders choice.” In terms of beans. They’re actually more expensive than Heinz, but don’t have the same quality reputation, which is weird, because they’re better.

And then Heinz. Heinz ran an advertising campaign with “Heinz Means Beans” as the strapline. And they’re the hands down most popular choice of beans in the UK. They’re the cream of the crop (allegedly.)

Weirdly, they’re actually cheaper than Branston. The people that price beans at the supermarket obviously agree that Branston are at the top of the mountain.

But how does this relate back to brand positioning?

Smart Price beans are targeted at super-low income earners. They’re basic. They’re cheap. If you don’t care about beans, but you eat them, then these are for you.

The Supermarket’s Own Range are made to look slightly better. They’re positioned above the Smart Price range, even though they’re probably made in the same factory and taste pretty much the same.

They’re passable. But they’re not the best. They’re just average beans. Nothing great.

Branston beans aren’t looked down on (unless you’re a Heinz snob.) They’re quality beans. But they are an outsider choice.

Branston are positioned firmly above the Supermarket’s options. And on a level with Heinz. But apparently you’re crazy for liking them.

Heinz position themselves as the best of the best. And the British public agree.

“There’s only one brand of beans. Heinz.”

Heinz have been working on their brand positioning for years. It factors into every bit of their marketing. And they’re always reminding people that they’re at the top of the food chain.

And that’s brand positioning.

It’s how your business and brand sit among the competitive landscape.

So, are you a Smart Price or a Heinz Branston?

I hope this helps clear up the difference between brand strategy and brand positioning.

Remember, your brand positioning forms part of your brand strategy. And your brand strategy is the overall plan for the building and growth of your business brand.

Conclusion: What is Brand Strategy and How Do You Develop Your Own?

The key to creating a great brand strategy document, is to keep it lean enough to be readable, but in-depth enough to mean something.

You don’t want a War and Peace sized strategy document. You want something around the length of a short ebook.

Otherwise, it’ll get forgotten about.

Your brand strategy is the foundation of your business. It’s how you’re going to grow. And it helps define the practical plan for rolling out your brand communication.

How does your brand strategy look? Let us know in the comments below.

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