A successfully established brand strategy not only informs your marketing and other communication efforts but also enhances audience appeal, employee engagement, and your organization’s actual value and equity in the marketplace.
In this article, we’ll look at the key components of how a solid brand strategy ties to your organization’s tangible market value.
What is a brand?
Let’s begin with a brief definition of a brand for alignment’s sake.
A working definition of brand
A brand is … a total of what an organization stands for, how it serves constituents, and the future focus of the organization directionally.
A brand is … an encapsulation of how people experience an organization and reflect their take on that experience back to the organization regarding its products, services, interactions, and conduct.
A brand is … an asset. As with any asset, a brand must be developed, managed, nurtured, looked after, and leveraged.
Brand development is about creating something of intrinsic value for your organization. It sets the roadmap and connects the aspirational beauty at your core to the real need of your market or audience. Crafting a brand strategy is not simply a matter of creating a suite of voice and visual artifacts like logos, colors, fonts, and messages, but a reconciliation of that beauty and need to the desired end.
Brand equity vs. brand value
Brand equity is a set of assets or liabilities surrounding brand visibility, brand associations, and customer loyalty that add or subtract value from a current or potential product or service propelled by your brand. Brand equity is a key construct in the management of not only marketing but also business strategy, heavily influencing capitalized profit.
Brand value represents the financial worth of your brand. To determine brand value, businesses need to estimate how much their brand is worth in the market. In other words, how much would someone purchasing the brand pay?
Brand strategy results: They’re data-proven
So, why concern yourself with creating a brand strategy? Because time and again, the strongest and most relevant brands consistently outperform every market index.
For example, Interbrand’s annual 100 strongest brands outperformed the S&P 500 by 225% from 2000 to 2017. Among other criteria, Interbrand measures brand clarity, commitment, responsiveness, differentiation, consistency, and engagement.
Milward Brown’s BrandZ™ Strong & Innovative Brands Top 20 Portfolio utilizes a proprietary valuation tool that isolates the value generated by the strength of a brand alone in customers’ minds. Their portfolio outperformed the MSCI World Index financially by 176% between the years 2006 and 2018.
Your brand is no different. The perception of your institution, product, or service in the marketplace and the value it creates for its stakeholders and shareholders is real. Brand value is as tangible as any other asset on your balance sheet, be it real estate, equipment, product inventory, or subsidiary holdings.
Brand strategy is a shared strategy
In a socially charged world, your brand’s value is no longer created by you or your projected image alone.
Instead, your brand’s value is now determined by both you and your audience on platforms that affect and reflect its value in real-time. Social exchanges regarding your brand are now distributed dynamically at the speed of a click and the whir of ever-cycling algorithms.
Your brand is not simply a collection of things
Crafting a brand strategy is not simply a matter of creating a suite of voice and visual assets, e.g., your website, logo, tag lines, messages, posts, ads, keywords, cookies, tags, voice, and visuals. All of those things and more are crucial and critical instruments in establishing a brand footprint, but only components and outcrops of your brand itself.
Those singular assets stand as memorable artifacts and symbols representing the total of your customer loyalty, brand affiliations, and visibility of your brand. All of which are nudged into existence by you but interpreted by your constituents, partners, and employees internally and the marketplace externally.
Marketing can maximize and expand a strong brand to a fiscal end. Conversely, it can help assuage the negative effects of a wayward brand—for a time. But marketing alone cannot supplant or rectify the core aspects and impact of your brand—good or bad.
“Eventually, your logo becomes a touchpoint by which your audience either applauds or mocks your brand.”
—Ed Illig, World Advertising Week | New York, 2013
Brand strategy vs. marketing strategy
It’s important to note that the term marketing strategy is often confused with brand strategy. Marketing strategies are markedly different from brand strategies. A solid marketing strategy should follow and be rooted first and foremost in the guiding light of your brand strategy.
Think of marketing more like a function, not unlike leadership, operations, finance, customer success, and sales—all of which play indispensable roles in shaping the realization of your brand strategy.
But each of those functions must understand, align with, and follow the tenets and essence of your core brand if your brand strategy is to prove successful in elevating your sales, profitability, business value, and brand equity. The following graphic illustrates an example holistic, high-level view of a brand’s key spheres of influence.
Seven steps to creating a solid plan for branding
Though not comprehensive, the following are some basic tenets to consider as you craft your brand strategy.
Architect your branding strategy from the ground up
Define your core purpose, vision, mission, position, values, and character. Think of it as a promise to yourself and your constituents. Focus on what you do best, then communicate and convey those most intrinsic strengths to all internal and external audiences frequently and consistently.
Build your business model on your strategy for branding
Often referred to as authenticity, who you are as an organization, what you focus on, and where you are headed as a brand must consistently support and challenge your business model. Allowing your brand to drive your model to a product-market fit best leverages your organization’s potential for profitability and value.
A solid brand strategy begins at home
Everyone in your organization can express what they witness, perceive, and feel about your brand. If your underlying brand architecture is evident and embraced internally, that story should welcome your audiences and drive adoption that aligns with and supports your marketing efforts.
Create brand advocates and ambassadors
See principle number three. Engender that dynamic in your organization, and your internal and external audiences will most certainly take it from there on your behalf. And your marketing team and agencies will applaud the air cover an authentic brand strategy provides to their marketing strategies.
Adjust as needed
The strongest brands are flexible. Your brand’s core may not change, but the overall branding process is iterative and should span the life and duration of your organization’s existence. Be prepared to finesse messaging and refresh your image to reflect a positional change, connect intellectually or emotionally with your audiences, and align product-market fit.
What good is it to create a brand strategy in a boardroom intended to influence all facets of the organization then not tell anyone or expect tactical roll-outs to align? As always, tactics follow strategy, not the other way around.
Measure, test, and learn
Measure the effectiveness of your strategies against your investment. Metrics indicating adoption and strategy execution throughout the organization are key to understanding broad-based alignment. Reputation management metrics and external audience feedback should be taken seriously. Like sales, a funny thing happens without engaged audiences.
Brand strategy, in short and in summary
Effective brand strategies are more than relevant. Executed properly, they translate directly to the actual value. They are meaningful—cast in discovery, defined through differentiation, and amplified through your audience’s experiences with your brand, be they customers, users, patients, employees, donors, or constituents at large.
The engaged advocate of logic, objectives, and performance, your brand strategy must permeate all aspects of your organization. Because all brands are either tragically forgotten or delightfully memorable.
Be delightfully memorable.
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