Human beings are hardwired to respond to brands just as they are hardwired to respond to people. Some brands we adore, get protective over and even argue about with people if they are dismissive of it. Some brands just turn us off, usually because we aren’t the brand’s target audience. For the vast majority of brands, however, we don’t have feelings that go either way. These are usually brands that have inconsistent messaging, a result of not having a comprehensive brand strategy.
Why You Need a New Branding Strategy
There are primarily three types of brands that need a new brand strategy:
- First are new brands. Before they can be sent out into the wider world to interact with their target audience, they need an identity.
- Second are brands in need of a makeover. This happens, for example, when a new product line is being released that is aimed at a new audience, or when an established brand needs a fresh new look to appeal to a new generation. After all, if your target audience is aged 60 to 65, what you present today will need to be quite different from what you did a decade ago.
- Third are brands that have lost their way and have become inconsistent. This can happen quite quickly without anyone even realizing it. This is quite common when companies try to keep up with trends, or when new creatives are brought into a company with new ideas and perspectives.
How Brands Lose Their Identity
It takes just one great idea for a brand to lose its way. For example, suppose you’re inspired with a great new ad idea. It’s funny and clever, so you post it. People seem to love it. It goes viral, so you post another that’s a bit more edgy. It goes viral, too. Brand awareness soars through the roof. Everyone is happy.
But there’s a problem: Your brand usually focuses on practical solutions for your audience. You’ve never done “funny” before, let alone “edgy.” Now, when your new fans see your older posts, or when your established fans see your new content, both groups are confused, turned off, and their interest wanes.
They don’t recognize you, because you’ve failed to recognize yourself.
So What Is a Brand Development Strategy?
A brand strategy is a detailed plan that establishes what you want your brand to represent. Your brand strategy should include everything from your name and logo to the style of language your company will use. It begins with the essentials that serve as its foundation, like core values and its primary target market, and then works up to specific elements, like colors, fonts and imagery.
Branding Strategy vs. Brand Guide
A brand strategy document is quite similar to a brand guide. In fact, a brand guide should be the result of your brand strategy. However, the brand strategy describes where you want your brand to be and how it will evolve. It’s the result of exploration and discovery. A brand guide, on the other hand, is a reference document that describes how your brand should be portrayed today.
Elements of a Brand Development Strategy
As we mentioned, a brand strategy starts with the foundation and works up to the details, much like a house is built upward from its foundation. Everything within the brand strategy can be categorized into seven different elements.
1. Your Brand’s Foundation
The foundation begins with a short explanation of why your brand was created and the purpose it was designed to serve. It should then describe, in sufficient detail, and with examples, the following:
- The core values behind your brand
- The principles that guide your brand’s actions
- Your brand’s primary target market
2. The Buyer Persona
A buyer persona is a detailed description of your ideal customer. Some people call this an avatar, which can be very helpful, because it accurately describes how detailed the buyer persona should be. Like the avatar in a video game, it should be distinct, to the point of being someone you could recognize in a crowd if you met her. You should be able to describe your buyer persona as you might describe a friend.
As an example, if your primary market is single women between 24 and 30 years old who buy luxury shoes, an example avatar could be Jennifer, 28, who lives in the city. She’s single, but was engaged until last year. She’s vegan, and has a large collection of faux leather shoes. She still hopes to be a mother in the near future, but is fulfilled in her career as a senior manager. She’s usually on Instagram on Saturday mornings, catching up with everything she missed during the week…
Yes, you can even give your avatar a name, which is helpful when you’re making a decision that would affect her. If your vegan-based shoe company was considering a new line of sandals, you could ask yourselves, “Would Jennifer buy these?”
3. Brand Mission and Vision
Your brand mission statement is a paragraph or so that explains how it serves your customers. Do you provide quality items that bring exceptional value to your customers, or do you offer them great value for the lowest prices in the market?
Your brand’s vision explains how it will move forward from its current mission, with specific goals, based on your research and your understanding of what your buyer persona will want. Will you be offering same-day shipping, custom gift-wrapping, or a new line of products that will help save the planet? Which of these would Karen want?
4. Competitive Analysis
Knowing what distinguishes your brand in the market requires knowing what the competition currently offers. Look at your primary competitor and describe the following:
- Who is their target audience?
- What is their marketing strategy?
- What do they excel in?
- Where do they fall short?
5. Brand Backstory
Just like a main character in a movie, a memorable brand needs a compelling backstory. How much of the backstory you share with your target audience isn’t really important. You may want to tell them everything, or you may just want to hint at specific elements. What is important is that you know what it is so you can maintain consistency through your brand’s evolution.
There are four elements to a brand’s backstory that need to be established.
- Founder story: Explains who started the brand and why they decided to launch it. What was their goal? What challenges did they face and overcome to get the brand to where it is today?
- Value proposition: Explains the benefits of your product and how it solves problems or offers benefits to your customers that the competition does not.
- Brand position: Describes the characteristics and emotions that customers will ideally associate with your brand. Specifically, it describes what makes your brand different from the competition’s brand.
- Brand story: Describes the situation of a typical customer before needing or wanting your brand, what changed to cause him to purchase your brand, and how life was different afterward. Like any great story, it details the beginning, middle and end, with a climax before the end.
6. Brand Messaging
Brand messaging is how your brand communicates with the audience. It starts with your brand slogans and the taglines that should appear consistent with your messaging.
Next, it describes your brand’s voice and tone and answers such questions as the following: How does your brand speak to your audience? Is it confident and authoritative or calm and reassuring? What types of words should be used often and which should be banned from use? Should exclamation marks be used often, or rarely? What grade level should words and sentences be directed at? Does your brand use formal language or informal language, with contractions and dangling participles?
7. Brand Imagery
Brand imagery includes your brand’s logo, photos, illustrations and videos. Your logo, of course, should reflect your brand and appeal to your audience, as should your choice in images, colors and fonts.
The same should apply to the images you use, which should be consistent in their themes and styles. Some questions to ask to establish image guidelines include the following: Should images feature outdoor shots, with landscapes and greenery, or are urban scenes preferred? What age groups should photo models be, and how diverse should they be in terms of race or sexual orientation? Should photos be bright, overexposed, underexposed, high-contrast, low-contrast, or should they use softening filters? Does your brand use stock images, or should images all be original content? What aspect ratios and resolutions should be used for photos on different platforms?
Because a picture is worth a thousand words, gather some examples of photos that best suit your brand so your team can refer to them when choosing new photos.
Specify which colors and fonts should be prevalent in your messaging. You should have one or two main colors to be used, with a couple of secondary colors that go well with the main colors. Fonts should also be consistent throughout your messaging, with a primary font for text and titles and a secondary font that can be used for long messages that require a visual distinction between sections.
Getting Started with Brand Archetypes
One of the major barriers to determining a brand is knowing just where to start. Like a child that dreams of what they want to do when they grow up, it often feels like describing a brand in detail is somehow imposing limitations on it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of looking at it as imposing limitations, focus on exploring new opportunities.
A great way to get started is to take a look at the 12 brand archetypes. They are similar to personality profiles in that they offer you easily recognizable categories and quick summaries of what a brand could be, such as the following.
- The outlaw: Opposes the establishment and doesn’t worry about breaking rules or conventions; an outlier, a change agent, a voice for the disenfranchised. Examples: Harley-Davidson, Virgin, Diesel.
- The hero: Courageous, confident, inspirational and strong, it aims to make a difference, solve problems and inspire others. Examples: Nike, Adidas, Duracell.
- The innocent: Optimistic, young, moral, romantic and loyal, this brand archetype comes with a strong set of values; it is reliable and honest. Examples: Coca-Cola, Dove soap, Aveeno.
- The regular guy or girl: Down to earth, folksy, the person next door, this brand connects with others and offers a strong sense of belonging. Examples: eBay, Home Depot, Target.
- The explorer: Adventurous, ambitious, independent and pioneering, this brand offers risk-taking as part of an authentic experience. Examples: Red Bull, Jeep, Patagonia.
- The creator: Creative, artistic and non-conformist, this brand archetype strives to create products with meaning and long-term value. Examples: Apple, Lego, Tesla.
- The ruler: Commanding and articulate and an organized administrator, this brand offers order from chaos, control against uncertainty. Examples: Mercedes Benz, Barclays, Rolex.
- The magician: Charismatic, imaginative, idealistic and sometimes spiritual, this brand aims for the extraordinary and hints at making dreams come true. Examples: Disney, Dyson, MAC Cosmetics.
- The lover: Passionate, romantic, warm and idealistic, this brand inspires love and generates intimacy between partners. Examples: Victoria’s Secret, Godiva Chocolate, Chanel.
- The caregiver: Nurturing, generous, compassionate and caring, this brand promotes the image that it genuinely cares about people and strives to protect or care for them. Examples: Campbell’s Soup, Johnson & Johnson, UNICEF
- The jester: Fun, light-hearted, irreverent and mischievous, this brand archetype is all about having a good time, encouraging people to be impulsive and more spontaneous. Examples: Ben & Jerry’s, Old Spice, Dollar Shave Club.
- The sage: Intelligent, analytical, thoughtful and wise, this brand helps people to better understand their world and offers practical information or products that will get the job done. Examples: Google, New York Times, Philips.
Having Fun with Brand Strategy Workshops
If working on your brand strategy seems like a chore, stop immediately — because you’re doing it wrong. Like any creative pursuit, working on a brand strategy should be a fun adventure. After all, you’re writing stories, playing with colors and choosing beautiful fonts!
You should also set some time aside to work on the brand strategy. Put your phone on airplane mode, close your email and IM apps and immerse yourself in the project at hand. It’s for this reason that many companies opt to use a workshop format for brand strategy sessions. These can be done in a meeting room, offsite, or virtually with a group video chat.
Like any great adventure, consider asking an experienced guide to come with you. The branding experts at Hawke Media have been helping dozens of companies to explore their brands and develop brand strategies that have launched them to the top of their industries. To get started, just ask for a free consultation.
Hawke Media: What Is a Brand Guide and Why Do You Need One?
Hubspot: Brand Strategy 101
Referral Rock: Brand Strategy Template
Active Management: What Is The Difference Between An Avatar & A Buyer Persona?
Iconic Fox: Brand Archetypes
The Hartford: The 12 Brand Archetypes
Just Creative: How to Run a Brand Strategy Workshop