Are you in business for the long haul? Then you need to build up a strong brand, and here’s how you do it.
Sometimes when you hear brand names, there’s instant recognition. You hear powerful brands like Nike, Starbucks, Google, Amazon, Ford, Rolex, Apple, and Honda, and you recognize what they’re all about. You know what they sell, and how good they are. A well-defined and executed brand strategy affects all aspects of a business and is directly connected to consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments.
But brand recognition doesn’t have to be limited to globally famous names. They can be the long-standing brand names in your local community. You go to Frank’s restaurant for meals, Joe’s Café for some good coffee, and Tom’s for plumber service.
Brand strategy isn’t just about name recognition, either. It’s also about being the first name you think of when you’re in need of a product and service. Obviously, being the first option for something is a great advantage in any business.
For that, you need to plan out an effective strategy. The results of these efforts won’t come out overnight, though. But if you’re planning to stay in business for a while, then you need to get started now.
The Essence of Your Brand Strategy
A brand strategy is your overall plan to make your brand name a lot more recognizable than it is now. Part of it, of course, is to increase the number of people who have heard of your brand name.
However, it’s not limited to brand recognition stats. It’s not enough that people have heard of your brand name. People should recognize your brand to the extent that they know what it stands for. They have a good idea of what to expect from your company. In fact, they should even be able to ascribe a certain personality to your brand.
The main problem here is that it is very difficult to measure brand recognition. It’s so intangible. Sure, you can quote sales figures but for a new company that’s not an accurate gauge. This means it’s hard to set firm goals, and it won’t be very easy to know if your brand strategy is working.
The Importance of Intuition
You can still rely on hard data to guide you in formulating your brand strategy. In fact, it’s highly recommended to use hard data. But then again, you will still need to develop an intuitive feel for your brand strategy.
In a way, it’s like telling a story. The basic elements of the most compelling story include a protagonist and the challenges they face. They’re able to change their present circumstances for the better. Often, it’s better not just for themselves but for the good people around them.
In a way, your brand strategy is about telling a story that affects your potential customers. Your story can be an inspiration for people to change and to aspire to something better. Your brand story can get them to improve their own circumstances.
What this means is that you need to come up with a good story to tell. This is where your intuitive feel comes in. It’s hard to quantify and measure how good a story is with definite standards in mind. Often, you need to get a good feel from it.
It’s a good story if it’s compelling and memorable, as this will invariably help people to remember your brand name. But such a story can help people identify with your brand, and that can lead to brand loyalty.
In fact, in a way you can even aim to make your story your customers’ story as well. You can make it all about them. That’s what good stories do, even in the movies and books like Harry Potter or Star Wars. Those stories can make people imagine themselves as wizards or Jedi knights.
Except for this time, your customers won’t have to be limited to just their imagination. In fact, you can convey the fact that you can make their wishes come true. They may be wishing for a more comfortable bed to cure their sleeping problems, better-looking clothes, or just a nice place to have coffee in.
Defining Your Brand Purpose
Why does your brand exist? What is your purpose? Knowing the answers to these questions is the first key step to
your brand strategy. But it’s not really a simple question. In fact, you may want to provide answers to the following:
- What’s the story behind the brand?
- Which problem does your brand really solve?
- What personality traits does your brand have, if you look at it like it’s a person?
- Who’s your ideal or typical customer?
- How should my brand make customers feel about it?
- What are the reasons for my customers to trust your brand?
- Who are my competitors?
When you have definite answers to these questions, you’re then able to begin the formal steps to your brand strategy. The answers to these questions can be your guide when you pick your logo, brand colors, and tagline. You’ll know the kind of people you want to feature in your banner ads, and you even know what facial expressions they’ll be wearing.
All these things contribute to your brand definition. Every facet of your marketing, right down to the colors and fonts you use, must be about communicating the answers you’ve come up with as regards to your brand identity and purpose.
Market Research and Customer Identification
Now that you have a fair grasp of the story you’re going to tell, it’s time to think about who you’re going to tell the story to. After all, your would-be audience will affect how you tell your story. It can even determine what story you’d be telling.
After all, it’s one thing to tell a story to crusty old war veterans in their middle years. It’s another thing entirely when your audience is a bunch of giggly teenage girls.
What this means is that you then need to envisage your prototypical customer. Knowing this person, their likes and dislikes, and what they’re interested in, will affect your overall brand strategy for sure.
So, here are some questions you need to answer about this typical customer of yours:
- Is it a male or a female, or does the gender even matter?
- How old are they?
- What’s their cultural background?
- Are they married or single?
- Do they have kids?
- Where do they live?
- What’s their educational attainment?
- What’s their job right now, and what were their jobs before?
- How does their regular everyday life look like?
- What challenges do they face each day?
- What skills and tools do they possess to overcome these daily challenges?
- How do they know when they’ve succeeded in overcoming these challenges?
- Exactly where do they get their news and information?
- What kind of shops do they frequent?
- What commodities are they in the hunt for, whether for a particular moment or on a regular basis?
How can you find out? Again, intuition comes into play. You should be familiar enough with the products and services you offer that you already have an intuitive idea of who will make use of what you offer.
Where is your customer right now? The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it seems. It actually requires a 2-part answer.
One part of the answer is about their geographical location. Their location tells you much about who these customers are, what they care about, and their preferences. A man living in New York is a much different person than another man living in rural Texas.
If you’re running a local business, then obviously your customers will be your fellow townsfolk and neighbors. If you’re running an online business, then the locations of your customers can affect matters such as delivery expenses and your marketing strategies.
This leads us to the next point—how you can approach and market to your potential customers. For neighborhood customers, you can always start with leaflets, brochures, and billboards.
But you also need to think about connecting with customers online. TV ads these days aren’t as effective as before. Most people who watch TV don’t really care much for TV commercials unless it’s the Superbowl. Many cable channels don’t offer commercials, and it’s another reason why streaming TV episodes are so popular these days.
The internet is the most convenient and most cost-effective way of reaching your potential customers. Many consumers these days spend a lot of time online. That’s how you can reach them.
Obviously, you’ll need to set up your own website. This is imperative, with so many people who don’t trust any company that doesn’t have a website. Here’s where you can feature all your products and services. You’re not limited by any space or time considerations, either. From your website, you can then obtain emails for your email marketing.
But then you also may have to go with social media platforms, and they’re not all the same. You have to do some research to find out whether your typical customer will prefer to engage on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Connecting Your Brand to a Customer—the Long and Winding Road Trip
You may want to regard brand recognition and brand loyalty as a journey that your typical customer must go through. This can make it very clear as you formulate your brand strategy, and as you modify it along the way as you get more data in your market research.
The journey starts with the customer having no knowledge of your brand. The journey “ends” when your customer becomes a loyal patron. They then will automatically think of your brand when they need a product or service you offer. They also recommend your brand to others who are in need of something you provide.
Along the way from the start to the end of the trip, you have significant milestones. These stages can include first hearing your brand name, being interested in your products and services, reading your ads, interacting with you on social media platforms, and buying a product for the first time.
The long-term goal of your brand strategy is to get your customers from that starting point to the endpoint. Along the way, you’ll need to guide them so that they’ll reach each milestone. Your customers’ journey roadmap will also tell you at which stage your marketing is failing. When at some point you notice large numbers of customers dropping off, then you need to address that issue so they can remain on course.
Creative Brand Guidelines
At this point, we’re going to assume that you already have a rather firm understanding of your brand purpose and identity, as well as a clear idea of who your customers are. That means you have a compelling message to spread, while you know who your target audience is. Now all you need to do is to deliver that message to them.
It’s not always easy deciding on the right logo for your brand. Whatever the design is, it ought to be original. That’s the most important. It also has to be eye-catching and memorable.
But for your long-term brand strategy, it’s best if there are good reasons for how it looks. The design should tie in with the brand history as well as your brand purpose. Check out the most famous logos in history and you will find that they share many similar traits.
But you also want a logo that symbolizes the tone of your products. For example, a logo for a bank, law firm, or a funeral parlor needs to be somber and serious. But if you offer products for children, then your logo can be a lot more playful.
You’ll need a font not just for your spelled-out brand name, but also for your website and ads. You may want to do research on the right fonts to use, in terms of readability and tone. Again, you’ll want the font to match your brand personality, while it also should appeal to your customers.
Models and Other Imagery
You will eventually need to use images in your ads, and these images should again reflect your brand. Perhaps you can show trees and mountains if you’re offering outdoorsy products. Your models should also look like your typical customers. If you’re selling clothes, for example, then you can feature your clothes on models of the same age and build as your customers. You want your customers to think “Those people could be me” when they see your models.
Everything must tie in with your brand identity. What you want is for customers to identify these logos, images, fonts, and colors with your brand immediately. They can then realize the values you’re espousing right away.
Of course, as your company evolves your logos and other marketing symbols can change along with the times. Your customers may evolve into a different demographic as well. But having brand guidelines is a handy way for you to make sure that these symbols remain consistent when they send their message.
Prep List Prior to Brand Strategy Execution
So, you’ve done your brand strategy plan and now you’re ready to go? If that’s really the case, it means you already have the answers for the following questions:
What Is the Purpose of Your Brand?
Why did you even start your company? We’ve mentioned this before in this article, but it bears repeating. It’s really that important.
It’s best if you can give a single-sentence answer to this question to help you focus your marketing campaigns and brand identity strategy. You need a single question or problem to answer.
What Is Your Brand Story?
Branding is one of the most critical aspects of business strategy and provides a sustainable competitive advantage. 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. Remember that you essentially want your customers to identify with your brand, and that means offering a compelling story. You should be ready to answer any question regarding the genesis of your brand.
How Is Your Brand Different?
This is another key question that you better have an answer for. You need a hook that makes your brand unique. You
can’t be just like any other brand.
Some brands are known for their high quality, or for the status they convey. Often these products are expensive, but then you’re able to justify the high prices with the care you’ve taken crafting these products.
There must be something that differentiates you from the crowd. If you’re running a coffee shop, then perhaps you can offer better coffee beans than the other cafés in your area. Maybe the décor in the place offers a particular theme, or maybe you offer great music. Just think of something that makes your brand stand out.
You can then emphasize this unique point in your various marketing campaigns. Even your fonts and your logos should somehow reflect your brand’s unique selling points.
How Does Your Brand Fit In with Customer Lifestyle?
This again will affect your marketing, because your brand has to somehow “belong” to your customers. Your brand should be part of their lives. When they need something your company offers, these customers must immediately think of your brand and not anything else.
Consider how Google has become the de facto search engine for so many people. Amazon is the go-to platform for online goods for many consumers. Plenty of people are loyal to particular brands when it comes to trucks, cars, and sneakers.
Understanding how your brand fits in with the lives of your customers can help you guide them along the way, on their journey to becoming loyal patrons of your brand.
Who Needs to Hear Your Message?
Basically, you need a very clear idea of who your ideal customers are and will be. That way, you’re able to figure out how to talk to them.
After all, you talk differently when you’re facing authority figures like cops, teachers, and parents. You talk another way to your friends and contemporaries, and you certainly need to watch your language when you’re talking to kids.
The same goes for your marketing. You can’t just give them a dry list of facts enumerating the ways in which your brand products are better. You have to emotionally connect with your potential customers.
Brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi are great examples of an emotional connection with customers. Think about it—sodas are basically just carbonated sugared water. Yet people can be very loyal to a particular soda due to their emotional attachment, regardless of the facts about these products.
How Do You Talk to Your Customers?
Once you know who your customers are, you then should have a better idea of how to communicate with them. It’s a bit like being introduced to another person at a party, or perhaps like interviewing for a job. You want to give a good first impression of who you are and what you offer. You’ll want that other person at that party to consider you as a potential friend, and you want that employer to trust you with their company’s available job.
So, make sure you have a handle on the tone of your marketing. Figure out also where your target customers like to hang out online. Choosing the right social media platform is a good first step.
The work ahead will provide plenty of challenges, and many companies fail at building the right brand strategy. Some fail because they don’t have a solid idea of what their identity and purpose are all about. Others succumb to using inconsistent marketing symbols or having an inaccurate idea of who their ideal customer really is.
You have to do some research on your marketing, though your intuitive sense will certainly help. Take some time, effort, and consideration when thinking about your slogan, tagline, logo, and brand colors.
It will certainly help your business when you have a large group of loyal customers who think of your brand first when they need a product or service you offer. They can then end up as your brand ambassadors when people they know also ask them for recommendations when they too need something you offer.
In the end, formulating the proper brand strategy will be worth it.
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