Never start a creative project without a plan

As an agency leader, I’ve often been surprised by how many marketing professionals do not have an effective branding strategy for their projects. Most companies fail to have an overarching strategy for their marketing team or year ahead and complain about a lack of short and long-term ROI. That can be easily rectified by uniting around a shared understanding of what a brand strategy is.

By definition, a brand strategy is a plan for the development of a successful brand in order to achieve specific goals. This can be for a short-term product launch or a longer-term yearly marketing effort.

The brand strategy framework can be broken down into how the brand is positioned, where the brand is going, identifying and reaching the target market, developing a web presence, and creating a brand experience.

In broader terms, it can be expressed as the “how” of your branding process. The “what” is your product, and the “why” is the reason the brand exists in the first place. The “how,” or the brand strategy, is the bridge that connects your “why” and your “what” to the consumer market. If you take the time to plan a comprehensive brand strategy, you’ll find that the branding process moves more smoothly and creatively than it otherwise would.

The outline of an effective brand strategy should include:

  • Brand Challenges
  • Measurable Goals and Objectives
  • Target Market and Audience
  • Develop Useful Copy
  • Creative Direction
  • Structure, Timeline, and Milestones
  • Workflow or Scope of Work Divided

Brand Challenges

We know that it will be a challenge to build a successful brand. If it were easy, then we’d see far fewer branding disasters than we do now. When I talk about challenges, though, I’m talking about smaller, manageable challenges that move your strategy forward. One of your challenges could be hitting deadlines, or even just staying within your budget. The last thing anyone needs is to have his or her progress derailed by an unforeseen obstacle three months into a project (though it inevitably happens).

Measurable Goals and Objectives

Branding takes a lot of big picture thinking, and with that, striving to reach big picture goals. But by getting wrapped in ambition, you run the risk of treading water – struggling to track progress as you work toward your goals. Too many times brand strategies are derailed because they’re too focused on the end game and beyond. You absolutely have to designate more pragmatic and tangible goals that can be easily measured. I know your big objective might be to revolutionize the construction of urban housing, but you should probably work on reaching that 50% increase in leasing first.

Target Audience and Market

What good is your product if it’s in the wrong place? You’d be surprised how many businesses fail to identify who their biggest customers will be. Within the target market – the entire landscape of where your brand is competing – lays the target audience. The target audience is a more specific, smaller set of consumers that you want to be able to speak to directly. These are the people you need to identify as they are the people who will become repeat customers and brand ambassadors. If you miss your target audience, you’ve already lost. I like to think about reaching my profile audiences in a manner of a sales funnel, that can be easily understood by all parties involved – from the customer service perspective to the digital marketing team who is targeting these users online.

If you do anything important for your brand this year, redefine your target audiences and illustrate them in a sales funnel for your team to understand.

Develop Useful Copy - Key Messages, Soundbites and Narrative

After you identify your target audience profiles, develop messages that not only illustrate what you do but engage your audience on a level deeper than supply and demand. Your message should speak to consumers in a way that makes them want to contribute to your continued success, not simply buy your brand. Work with your creative team to develop the following:

  • Start with a Brain Dump – a long-form background of the company, your values, and the focus of this project. You’ll be surprised by the creative material that will become useful later!
  • Pull out the Soundbites – what do we want to hear internal culture, press and other key audience members say about our brand? We like to pretend we overheard key customers in the establishment and reviews online, what do you want these to say? You’ll be astonished at how a good strategy helps this become very easy.
  • Key messages – These are the taglines, and key headlines that could be useful for the website or advertising materials? Read through your material so far and pull these out in bold. You’ll need them later for things like Facebook ads and blogs.

Structure, Timeline, and Milestones

If you don’t know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there, you’ll never arrive at your destination. You have to map out your strategy, set a timeline, and determine milestones and measurable goals to gauge success. Having the whole process laid out ensures that tasks are completed in a timely and efficient manner. I find that a bi-weekly check-in on the strategy immediately leads to productivity and a project timeline that everyone agrees on.

Workflow or Scope of Work Divided

This one is so simple, yet so often forgotten. Branding aside, establishing a division of labor, and purposing time and materials is a basic tenant of running any successful business. Creating a brand strategy is by no means easy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as many misguided “brand strategists” make it. It comes down to striking a balance between dreaming big and working small. If you lose sight of your passion, the little things feel so much more tedious, and if you forget to do the little things, your ultimate goal slips further and further away from your grasp. Who knows, if you do it right, you might be able to call yourself a brand strategist and mean it.

If you’re interested in getting help building your brand strategy, we’d love to talk!