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Break it down: Brand Strategy

By Mark Campbell 06 Sep 2019

Brand strategy is something that's often overlooked; hell for a number of years at Ply we did it ourselves - jumping straight from forming a deep understanding of the business and its people right into the first piece of work. Sure, we would form up parts of the strategy as we went—like crafting a clear brand positioning statement—and in the end we'd have a strong foundation for the brand, but we weren't consciously mapping out a holistic strategy before we did anything else.

It turns out this is where the power of brand strategy really lies—in separating it from the work itself and getting it all "written down" and agreed upon. This is when your brand strategy becomes your foundation, the playbook, the guiding light and the decision maker that it can be.

What makes a good brand strategy?

For us, the importance of any good strategy—whether it's for brand or any part of your business—is a lot less to do with which framework or components you put in there, and much more about the opportunity to get everyone on the same page and facing in the same direction.

It's the conversations that it starts. The "a ha" moments when someone articulates a different spin on something you've thought about differently for years. The difficult work of resolving disagreements on things like vision and values. The collective feeling and resolve to make it happen when you can sit back and look at the plan and say "yes, this is us".

Throw these in the mix

Of course, there are common questions to consider when forming up your brand strategy:

  • What's your "why"? Defining the reason your business exists and the passion that drives you personally is what will give meaning to the brand.
  • What's the long term vision? A good brand should last, so knowing where you're heading beyond the next few years can shape what your brand should really be about.
  • What do we value? A core set of values help you make decisions not just about your brand but your business in general... "Does this align with our values?"
  • What personality should the brand have? Usually the best answer here is one that best reflects the people behind the business so it's authentic and real.
  • What's unique about what we do? How do you deliver your product or service in a different way that will help you stand out?
  • How well do we understand our market? Do you know who your real competitors are, and how your audience will evaluate who to choose? It's not always the obvious answers.
  • How do we fit in? What's the position that we'll mark out as "ours". Something we can own and live by.

There's more to it than this, and for each brand, different factors will weigh in more than others. However, if you start with these types of questions you'll find the conversations will uncover the things everyone in the room is really passionate about—and that's where you'll uncover the real insights.

Above all—make a decision

The key step as you go is to make sure you land on an outcome for every question. This is essential for any strategy to take hold—that it is actually set out and agreed upon—not left ambiguous to be resolved another day. This process can be tricky (we recommend appointing a decider to break any deadlocks), but if you leave it open, you'll never come back to it.

Why you need one

As we've talked about in the past, there are a lot of layers to consider when it comes to your brand - from what your logo looks like, to how your brand should sound, what your interactive experiences are like, even down to who you hire and how you train them. With so many different touchpoints for your brand, it's critical that they are all aligned and consistent—which is job number 1 for a good brand strategy.

It's an enduring reference point

When you start by outlining the strategy first, you then use it as the framework to design all your brand experiences. We live this all the time by putting the strategy front and centre at every key point in the project. When we brief the project internally to the team we start with laying out the strategy. When we present each new concept or revision we reference the strategy and how the work reflects that. When we dream up new ideas of how to push the brand forward we do it with the strategy in mind.

This is also why brand strategy creates value well beyond the initial time it takes; since this bedrock will endure for years and continually be referenced as the brand grows and evolves. The execution may change, but the underlying passion, values and vision will largely remain the same, so having them articulated and clear is worth its weight in gold.

It's a key decision maker

Making decisions about your brand can be tough—especially when there are multiple opinions and thoughts in the mix. A strategy that everyone has helped shape and has ownership of can be the decision maker when things get tight. If there's a tricky choice to be made, or you feel like you're being pushed beyond your comfort zone, you can refer to the strategy to find a way forward.

It's also a great way to remove personal preferences or biases from the process. It moves the conversation away from what anyone "likes" and makes it all about what best aligns with the strategy.

It creates focus and momentum

Let's face it, in business there's always more work to be done and new ideas to try than you could ever do in 10 lifetimes. This is where focus and momentum are so important—doing the things that actually grow your business, help you towards your vision and keep you motivated even when things get tricky.

If you've taken the time to clearly outline your why, your vision, your values and how you're going to deliver all of that, then it's a lot easier to spot the things you can focus on that will reflect that plan. In particular, if you're tapped into a deeper mission that drives you, then this will form your guiding light and drive you to keep movin' forward.

It will also become the rallying cry for your team—keeping them engaged and excited about where things are going.

Where to start

That sounds like a lot of work right? And it's so much easier to just skip over it and get to the next thing on your to-do list. But it's the sort of thing that once you have sorted you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

So start by having some conversations. Ask the person next to you what they think about some of the key questions that will define your brand. Is there consensus? Things you never thought of before? Write down the answers and share them with others. Get some voting happening and make some decisions.

You'll soon start to see a picture forming; a desired future state for your brand and business that everyone can get excited about. Then you can get on with making it happen.

By Mark Campbell Founder

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