Before you start.
Your brand strategy will need to be aligned with your overall business objectives as well as your target audience or ideal customer. Make sure you have these in place so that you can develop an effective branding strategy that will work for that customer and help you achieve your overall business goals.
The 5 key elements of a branding strategy.
There’s no one branding strategy template that every brand uses around the world (well, wouldn’t that be boring?) but there are core elements that most people would agree should be included in an effective branding strategy.
The five key elements we’re going to look at here are: (1) brand purpose, (2) values, (3) brand personality, (4) positioning and (5) brand identity. Here’s how you can go about developing these branding elements for your business.
1. Find your purpose
As Simon Sinek said in his now-famous Tedx talk, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” It’s all very well that you have some amazing product or service but communicating a bigger vision for what you’re trying to achieve will attract people who believe in that same vision and ultimately will be more likely to buy from you. Your purpose is the reason why you exist, why you get out of bed in the morning and get to work and why anyone should care.
You may have a very clear idea of why you started your business—because you wanted the freedom to make your own decisions and the flexibility to spend more time with your family, for example—but you’ll need to think about the bigger picture in terms of the result you’re trying to help your clients get, or the impact you want to have in the world. Call it your ‘purpose’, your ‘mission statement’, or your ‘why’—but you need to have a clear idea of your reason for existing (and it can’t be “to make money”!).
Customers are also getting more wary of brand’s exaggerated statements of purpose and there’s more and more distrust—so make sure you can genuinely deliver on what you promise.
2. Identify your core values
Your values are right at the core of your brand: what you want to stand for. As with the brand’s purpose, communicating clear values will attract customers who share those values. Those values will also guide your business decisions and help you make strategic trade-offs. You can’t be everything to everyone, so clarifying your values will help you with decisions like whether your website should be simple and easy to understand or detailed and comprehensive; whether your products should be made of the very best quality materials or you can compromise on quality because affordability is more important; and so on.
Remember that your branding strategy is around differentiation versus your competitors. What qualities can you own and really embed in everything you do? What are your greatest strengths? What values do you bring to your work consistently and without fail?
These values should be meaningful and also actionable. It needs to be clear what this means for how you run your business and work with your clients. Of course you value ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’, ‘good customer service’—otherwise you shouldn’t be in business. Don’t be generic and don’t try to be noble for the sake of it.
3. Create a brand personality
If your brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? This one is a bit less obvious but can really help to guide your choices when it comes to how you communicate, the kind of content you share and the tone of voice that you use with your audience.
Would your brand character be a wise mentor or a rebellious teenager? A doctor who prescribes medication or a personal trainer who partners with you to achieve the results you want? A supportive parent figure or a flirty friend? This doesn’t mean that you need to incorporate a mascot into your logo or your brand materials (although you can if you want to!).
Try to be as descriptive as you possibly can. Is the brand down to earth and informal or lofty and sophisticated? Traditional or cutting edge? Fun and quirky or conservative and reliable? The clearer the image, the more useful it’ll be.
4. Pinpoint your positioning
Your positioning is all about standing for something specific and meaningful to your customers, something that is different to the other players in the market. You want to be crystal clear on the benefits that your products and services provide. For each of these benefits, you also need a ‘reason to believe’—some way of proving your claim or establishing your credibility.
Make sure you include the basic requirements of the category as well as the special benefits that will set you apart from competition. For example, let’s say you owned a laundry detergent brand. A basic benefit, a requirement that you simply have to meet, is “cleans clothes”. Above and beyond that, you’ll need to find ways in which you can be meaningfully different to, and ideally better than competitors—maybe your detergent allows people to wash their clothes at a lower temperature, or it’s more concentrated and so lasts longer and provides better value.
You should also consider both the functional benefits and the emotional benefits. As a virtual assistant, you might provide accurate bookkeeping, efficient email management or streamlined scheduling services—these are functional benefits—but you are also providing peace of mind and allowing your client to focus on the things that are really important—emotional benefits.
5. Build your brand identity
The final part of your branding strategy goes back to the Old Norse ‘brandr’ again. These are the tangible design assets that customers will directly see and experience and will include your brand name and logo but also any tagline, color palettes, typography, shapes, jingles, and so on.
Your objective here is for your customers to be able to recognize your brand in all your communication—even if you cover up the brand name! That means being strategic and consistent in how you bring to life your brand purpose, values, brand personality and key benefits across your brand materials and touchpoints.
Choose carefully and consider things like color meanings and color psychology, how to make sure you really have a unique logo and how to develop the right packaging for your brand and customer.
Once you’ve developed your branding strategy, go ahead and review all your existing touchpoints—your website, your ‘about’ page, your social media channels—to make sure that everything is aligned. It’s not just about the visual materials either: make sure that you’re living and breathing your purpose and your values in everything you do.