Brand Strategy 101: 7 Important Elements of a Company Branding Plan
Just as an architect draws out a building plan before they start building, you need to develop a brand strategy for your business.
Strategic branding helps you set yourself apart from your competition and build customer loyalty.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the branding methods and essential elements of a branding strategy you need to grow a brand that’ll stand the test of time.
(We’ll get into that more in a bit.)
A well-defined and executed brand strategy affects all aspects of a business and is directly connected to consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments.
First, let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand strategy: Your brand is not solely your product, your logo, your website, or your name.
Your brand is all of that and more — it’s the stuff that feels intangible. Your brand is that hard-to-pin-down feeling that separates powerhouse brands from forgettable brands.
To objectively understand a subjective matter that many marketers consider more of an art and less of a science, we’ve broken down seven essential components of a comprehensive brand strategy that will help keep your company relevant for decades.
The elements of a brand strategy include:
While understanding what your business promises is necessary when defining your brand positioning, knowing why you wake up every day and go to work carries more weight. In other words, your purpose is more specific in that it serves as a differentiator between you and your competitors.
How can you define your business’ purpose? According to Business Strategy Insider, purpose can be viewed in two ways:
- Functional: This concept focuses on the evaluations of success in terms of immediate and commercial reasons—i.e., the purpose of the business is to make money.
- Intentional: This concept focuses on success as it relates to the ability to make money and do good in the world.
While making money is essential to almost every business, we admire brands that emphasize their willingness to achieve more than just profitability, like IKEA:
IKEA’s vision isn’t just to sell furniture but rather to “create a better everyday life.” This approach appeals to potential customers, demonstrating their commitment to providing value beyond the point of sale.
When defining your business’ purpose, keep this example in mind. While making money is a priority, operating under that notion alone does little to set your brand apart from others in your industry.
Our advice? Dig a little deeper. If you need inspiration, check out the brands you admire, and see how they frame their mission and vision statements.
The key to consistency is to avoid talking about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand.
Added a new photo to your business’s Facebook Page? What does it mean for your company? Does it align with your message, or was it just something funny that would, quite frankly, confuse your audience?
To give your brand a platform to stand on, you need to ensure your messaging is cohesive. Ultimately, consistency contributes to brand recognition, which fuels customer loyalty. (No pressure, right?)
To see a great example of consistency, let’s look at Coca-Cola. As a result of its commitment to consistency, every element of the brand’s marketing works harmoniously together. This has helped it become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Even on the surface of its social media accounts, for example, the seamlessness of its brand is very apparent across Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn:
To avoid leaving potential customers struggling to put the disconnected pieces of your business together, consider the benefits of creating a style guide. A style guide can encompass everything from the tone of voice you’ll use to the color scheme you’ll employ to the way you’ll position certain products or services.
By taking the time to define and agree upon these considerations, your brand will benefit as a whole.
Customers aren’t always rational.
How else do you explain the person who paid thousands of dollars more for a Harley rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made bike? There was an emotional voice in there somewhere, whispering: “Buy a Harley.”
By providing customers with an opportunity to feel like they’re part of a larger group that’s more tight-knit than just a bunch of motorcycle riders, Harley Davidson is able to position themselves as an obvious choice for someone looking to purchase a bike.
Why? People have an innate desire to build relationships. Research from psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary best describes this need in their “belongingness hypothesis,” which states: “People have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior.”
Not to mention, belongingness—the need for love, affection, and being part of groups—falls directly in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which aims to categorize different human needs.
The lesson to be learned? Find a way to connect with your customers on a deeper, more emotional level. Do you give them peace of mind? Make them feel like part of the family? Do you make life easier? Use emotional triggers like these to strengthen your relationship and foster loyalty.
In this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible to stay relevant. On the plus side, this frees you to be creative with your campaigns.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, how am I supposed to remain consistent while also being flexible?”
Good question. While consistency aims to set the standard for your brand, flexibility enables you to make adjustments that build interest and distinguish your approach from your competition.
A great example of this type of strategic balance comes from Old Spice. These days, Old Spice is one of the best examples of successful marketing across the board. However, up until recently, wearing Old Spice was pretty much an unspoken requirement for dads everywhere. Today, it’s one of the most popular brands for men of all ages.
The secret? Flexibility.
Aware that it needed to do something to secure its place in the market, Old Spice teamed up with Wieden+Kennedy to position its brand for a new customer base.
Between new commercials, a new website, new packaging, and new product names, Old Spice managed to attract the attention of a new, younger generation by making strategic enhancements to its already strong brand.
If your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change. Just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean it’s working now.
Take the opportunity to engage your followers in fresh, new ways. Are there some out-of-the-box partnerships your brand can make? Are there attributes about your product you never highlighted? Use those to connect with new customers and remind your old ones why they love you.
5. Employee Involvement
As we mentioned before, achieving a sense of consistency is vital if you wish to build brand recognition. And while a style guide can help you achieve a cohesive digital experience, it’s equally essential for your employees to be well-versed in communicating with customers and representing the brand.
If your brand is playful and bubbly through Twitter engagements, it won’t make sense if a customer called in and was connected with a grumpy, monotone representative, right?
To avoid this type of mismatched experience, take note of Zappos’ approach.
If you’ve ever been on the line with a customer service representative from Zappos, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, check out this SlideShare which details some of its most inspiring customer support stories.
By holding all Zappos employees to its core values and helping other companies implement the same approach, Zappos has built a strong reputation for solid, helpful, and human customer service.
If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just sit there — reward them for that love.
These customers have gone out of their way to write about you, tell their friends about you, and act as your brand ambassadors.
Cultivating loyalty from these people early on will yield more returning customers — and more profit for your business.
Sometimes, just a thank you is all that’s needed. Other times, it’s better to go above and beyond. Write them a personalized letter. Send them some special swag. Ask them to write a review and feature them prominently on your website. (Or all of the above!)
When we reached 15,000 customers here at HubSpot, we wanted to say thank you in a big way while remaining true to our brand … so we dropped 15,000 orange ping pong balls from our fourth-floor balcony and spelled out thank you in big metallic balloons:
And while it may have seemed a little out of the ordinary to some folks, the gesture made perfect sense for those who know our brand.
Loyalty is a critical part of every brand strategy, especially to support your sales organization. Highlighting a positive relationship between you and your existing customers sets the tone for what potential customers can expect if they choose to do business with you.
7. Competitive Awareness
Take the competition as a challenge to improve your own strategy and create greater value in your overall brand. You are in the same business and going after the same customers, right? So watch what they do.
Do some of their tactics succeed? Do some fail? Tailor your brand positioning based on their experience to better your company.
While staying in tune with your competitor’s strategies is essential if you want to enhance your brand, don’t let them dictate every move you make.
Sure, you probably sell a similar product or service as many other companies, but you’re in business because your brand is unique. By harping on every move your competitor makes, you lose that differentiation.
Let’s discuss each branding method.
1. Attitude Branding
This form of branding refers to a feeling or attitude that customers associate with your brand.
Nike is a brand that has perfected this type of branding. With the ‘Just Do It’ slogan, Nike promotes a lifestyle that customers can enjoy by wearing this brand of products. With such a slogan, Nike promotes the idea that all customers are athletes when they’re wearing Nike products.
2. Individual Branding
This type of branding is when a product or service gets a unique identity, perhaps in a different brand name to attract new customers in the market.
Unilever is an excellent example of a brand that uses individual branding. The company has three divisions, each creating some of the best-known brands in its niche.
3. Product Branding
Product branding is perhaps the most popular type of branding. Here, the brand associates a logo, name, color, and design with a product to create a unique identity for the product.
It’s one of the best branding methods because it gives life to products and increases uniqueness.
A great example is Apple’s MacBook offerings. The ‘Air,’ ‘Pro,’ and ‘Mac’ branding conveys unique messages and reinforces the quality of the product offering.
In co-branding, also known as a brand partnership, different brands contribute their identity to create a fused brand.
The advantage of this method is that it combines market strength, increases customer bases and perceived value.
One of the most popular co-branding examples is the Nike and Micheal Jordan collaboration. This collaboration has made Air Jordans some of the most sought-after and most recognizable footwear around the globe.
This type of branding is usually used by brands that prefer to let products speak for themselves.
5. Minimalist Branding
Mastercard is an excellent example of a brand that uses minimalist branding. We might not know what the red and yellow circles mean, but you’ll know that it belongs to MasterCard.
6. Brand Extension
This unique branding method is when a company uses one of its popular or established brand names on a new product. The idea behind this method is to use the already existing brand equity to boost the latest product. Companies that use it hope customers will be more receptive to the new offering because of the brand extension.
The Importance of Strategic Branding
Managing a brand is hard work, and it’s more challenging when you’re in an oversaturated market where every brand looks the same.
One of the crucial steps to growing in an oversaturated market is highlighting what makes your brand unique — which is what strategic branding is all about.
With strategic branding, you future-proof your brand and develop it in a way that differentiates you from others. By communicating uniqueness to customers, you strengthen your selling power, brand value, and customer loyalty.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.