What are your favorite brands? Apple? Disney? Trader Joe’s? What do they all have in common?
Even if you hadn’t stopped to think about it before, the reasons are immediately apparent: They all offer quality products, an extraordinary customer experience, and a distinctive brand identity.
And none of these things happened by chance or good luck. It all required strategic planning. But how do you do it? What, exactly, is a branding strategy? How do you develop one? And how is it different from your brand identity?
Alright, lovely readers. Let’s take a look at how to get this done — and which mistakes to avoid along the way.
A branding strategy is a roadmap to accomplish your company’s long-term branding goals — including the values you want to reflect, the emotions you want to evoke, and anything else that makes your brand recognizable.
This goes beyond picking out a logo and brand colors. A branding strategy brings forth all the things that makes your company unique: What do you stand for? How do you make people feel? What kind of messaging is associated with your goods or services?
Once you have answered all these questions, you then come up with ways to reflect their answers consistently across all elements — your voice, your content, your actions.
For example, let’s say that you’re a hippy at heart. You care about the environment. You care about animals. You care about the planet. Therefore, you don’t go around making fast fashion, putting leather on everything, and partnering with ExxonMobile.
No! You want to communicate to your target audience — say, other tree hugging environmentalists — that who you say you are aligns perfectly with your actions as a company.
You can hire employees who have the same values. You can donate to charities that work to keep the world green. You create sustainable, biodegradable products. And you ensure that your marketing is strategically crafted to communicate these traits.
No matter what you’re selling, there are competitors selling the same thing. Branding makes you memorable.
It makes you stand out. It lets people know what they can expect from doing business with you. It tells your story. It makes promises. It communicates to people why you do what you do.
A good branding strategy gives people a good impression. It becomes part of your reputation. Going back to the Apple example, customers know they can expect high quality, efficiency, and simplicity — and that all of it comes in a sleek design, to boot.
And they do it so effectively, that it doesn’t matter how many no name companies sell similar products at bargain prices, they will never be true competition. People will still line up for hours to pay significantly more for that MacBook Air or iPhone.
Developing a branding strategy creates the blueprint on how to move forward with your messaging. It provides specific roles for people on your team and provides accountability.
How do you want your customers to perceive your company?
Start with that question, then define the steps to get there. This is what will serve as a guide for all of your marketing strategies. It helps you stay consistent and cohesive, and it provides a clear focus for everyone working on it.
Developing a good branding strategy will also save you time and money, because instead of doing things by trial and error, you’re actually following a clearly designed path.
The term branding refers to the active process of shaping how people perceive you. It encapsulates all the actions you and your team take to manage your company’s reputation and develop awareness.
Essentially, your brand identity is what you build through your branding process. The term brand identity refers to all the tangible elements of how you express aspects of your company.
Components of a brand identity include:
- Your brand values
- Your brand voice
- Your brand logo
- Your brand colors
- Your brand typography
The effects of your company branding are far reaching, which is why you need to ensure you’re following best practices.
While every company’s different, there are several things you want to keep in mind across the board when developing your branding strategy:
Company Branding Do's
Identify Your Potential Customers.
Proper targeting is crucial for successful branding. Knowing the behaviors, goals, and needs of your potential customers can aid tremendously in developing a strong branding and marketing campaign.
Develop your buyer persona by identifying your target audiences. Use a combination of information from competitors and analytical insight, culled everywhere from social media insights to market sector data, to figure out who you want to reach specifically.
Project a Strong Identity and Voice.
After identifying your target audience, you can begin forming your brand identity — things that remind people of your brand — as well as its voice. Regardless of whether you’re striving to be humorous and persuasive or clear and consistent, be sure to maintain consistency.
Technical platforms may opt for the latter, while a social media app or video platform may assume the former, more easygoing and conversational tone.
Having your audience in mind is essential for deciding this. For example, a younger audience will find a greater connection with something more personal than technical.
The Zoological Wildlife Foundation saw great results after rebranding their identity and voice, keeping their tone light and fun while also continuously highlighting their love for animals. The result was a 343 percent increase in online presence and a 63 percent increase in website traffic.
Maintain Consistency on Social Media.
If a customer is curious about your business and looks up your Facebook page, only to find that the most recent post was a month ago and engagement is low, that’s not a very positive impression.
Especially with the younger market, social media attentiveness is crucial in establishing a brand that’s both tech-savvy and attentive. A poor social media presence can give off the impression of not caring about customers.
Social media strategies will vary among businesses. For example, an arts-centric business may find more of an audience on visual-forward platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, while a tech company may find product exposure more opportune on a data-driven site like Facebook.
Regardless of the method, be sure to maintain consistency in responding to any questions in comments, as well as keeping things interesting. Hold contests for discounts. Post interesting polls about your market and audiences. Show that you care about and love your industry.
All brands should strive to show that customer service is a top priority. An attentive, consistent presence on social media can be one of the easiest, most effective ways to accomplish this.
And while it may sound overwhelming to keep track of everything that’s going on across your social media accounts, you can do so from one centralized location with the proper social media management tools.
Craft Quality Blog Content.
Social media is great for reaching new audiences, but so is blogging.
Every business should have a section of their website devoted to a company blog, where they write about everything from topic-related expertise to company culture, such as employee events and initiatives.
Quality blog content can elevate your business’ placement in search engines, while showing potential leads that you’re savvy and knowledgeable within your niche. As with establishing a social media presence, consistent and frequent posting is key if your company commits to blogging.
Learning how to do this effectively requires some time and effort, but once you realize it makes you stand out from competitors and improves your rankings on online search results pages, you’ll be happy you started blogging.
Ok. So now you know a few basic steps to get started in your company branding. Now, let’s look at some aspects that you should avoid.
Company Branding Don'ts
Don’t Be Overly Personal on Social Media.
Social media makes it easy to engage with your customers — answer questions, address concerns, and thank them for good reviews. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that comment sections can result in conflict among consumers, whether it’s a politics-related squabble or something else.
Quality branding manages to deliver a company’s persona without instigation or hostility. For the sake of your image, it’s better to steer clear of customer conversations that involve a high degree of negativity.
Also, keep in mind that whoever is tasked with managing your social media is always representing your company’s brand and must avoid injecting their own personal opinions into posts.
Don’t Skimp on Design Costs.
People make intricate assessments of a company or product based on the shape of its logo. For many — especially those stumbling upon a brand or product — this is an introduction to your business.
If they’re met with an outdated, oddly shaped logo, they may associate your business with being outdated. However, a logo that appears sleek and professional will exude knowledge and commitment. A business that fails to invest in brand imagery will suffer from not making the most of their brand visuals; especially if their target market is a younger generation.
Don’t Over-Value Quantity.
Sure, it’s great if your social media users are fast on the rise, but that shouldn’t be good enough. Social media following numbers on their own don’t become committed customers.
You have to engage with these followers and ensure that quality is valued over quantity; not vice versa. In regard to branding, it reminds you to focus on capturing your target audience, rather than attempting an all-encompassing branding that tries to appeal to too many.
Don’t Become Overly Cheesy or Predictable.
If your branding seems like it came from a Branding 101 textbook, as opposed to truly encompassing your business’ goals and passion, people will be less likely to gravitate toward it. Above anything else, be authentic.
Excessive branding can be a pitfall when a company attempts too much, whether it’s in the form of an ill-informed fashion line offshoot or overly cliché commercial. Have your branding show that you’re trying, but don’t push it to the point of looking desperate.
While at this point, you may be eager to get started on the design of your branding strategy, keep in mind the following pitfalls:
1. Failing to Develop a Brand Identity
You have to have a clearly developed company image — a personality; the way that quintessentially expresses who you are. This is important because it makes you recognizable; and this familiarity breeds trust.
2. Not Having Brand Guidelines
A word you’ll keep seeing repeatedly is consistency. It’s not that we like being redundant; but such a trait is what (a) makes you recognizable, (b) avoids consumer confusion, and (c) ensures quality control.
Developing brand guidelines ensures that no matter who’s working on any of your marketing campaigns, all communications reflect your brand identity.
3. Having a Confusing Logo
The color, spacing, and typography of your logo is the top identifier of your brand. Think of the golden arches, Nike’s check mark, and Target’s bullseye. They always look the same.
You don’t see them varying the shape, changing their color palette, or embellishing their design with irrelevant imagery.
4. Having an Outdated Website
Outdated websites all have the same things in common: They’re slow to load, they’re not optimized for mobile devices, and they have confusing navigation. In short, they may as well simply change their homepage content to say: Go buy from someone else.
Listen, no one has the time or the desire to go through a website that hasn’t been updated since 2005. It screams you’re out of touch and that you don’t care about the user experience.
5. Failing to Optimize Your Website For Mobile Devices
Hand-in-hand with the point made above, having a website that’s not mobile-friendly is the equivalent of advertising exclusively through the yellow pages.
Chew on this: 90 percent of the world’s population (well, at least from the ones who have access to the internet anyway), use a mobile device to do their online searches.
6. Trying to Cater to Everyone
No matter what MLM reps tell you when trying to recruit you, there is no such thing as a business that’s for everyone. To be successful at marketing your products, you need to appeal to the very specific desires of the very specific demographics you can actually help.
Metallica fans don’t listen to Britney Spears. Narrow down your focus. Once you understand who you’re trying to talk to, you can tailor your content to them.
7. Ignoring Social Media
Seven in 10 Americans use social media. They use it to connect with people, read the news, join online communities, sell or trade items, and yes, interact with businesses.
It’s where they can read reviews, browse products, access websites, and ask questions on comment threads. It’s where they can read educational content on how to use a product or how to do something within an industry. It’s where they can engage in conversations through trending hashtags.
You get the drift. You can develop a manageable social media strategy with management tools specifically designed for that purpose.
8. Being Cookie Cutter
The whole point of developing a brand identity is to stand out from the competition. This includes going beyond customers’ expectations.
Don’t blend in and don’t approach every interaction with a prospect the same way. Make customers feel like you’re taking the time to truly understand them by personalizing service.
9. Connecting With the Wrong Audience
Having a lot of website visitors and social media engagement is great… as long as it’s an accurate representation of your actual conversions. There’s no point in having all these people looking at what you have to offer if they have no intention of ever making a purchase.
This is why it’s crucial to do extensive market research and develop a buyer persona. You have to truly know your audience and understand what they need in order to communicate effectively with them.
You need to be consistent with everything. This includes how your logo looks, the colors you use, your brand voice, the frequency with which you publish content, the quality of your products, your customer experience.
Failing to be consistent across all mediums leaves customers not knowing what to expect from you. This untrustworthiness is not going to lead to any additional sales.
11. Being Tone Deaf
Alright. Listen up. How many of you would crack jokes after a tragedy? How about shouting from the rooftops about your lavish vacations in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — while many of the people you’re marketing to are struggling to keep their business afloat?
Don’t be insensitive. Always acknowledge and keep in mind what’s going on in the world around you: within your industry, within your country, within the entire planet.
12. Publishing Unhelpful Content
One of the best ways to keep people happy is for businesses to be customer-centric. What do they need? How can you make their lives easier?
Every interaction doesn’t have to be a sale. There are different stages in the buyer’s journey, and when people are at the top of that funnel, they’re looking for general information. Use this opportunity to attract them with free content that helps them today — regardless of whether they buy something from you.
13. Grammar Mistakes
The fastest way to look unprofessional is to pepper your content with grammar mistakes. It shows carelessness and can quickly ruin your company’s reputation. While it’s understandable that mistakes happen, always make sure to proofread everything that gets published.
Also, don’t rely exclusively on spell check — homonyms won’t get marked, yet they can still make you look like you haven’t read a book since grade school.
14. Offering Poor Customer Support
Customer support is everything. Let’s look at the statistics: 59 percent of U.S. consumers will walk away from a brand after experiencing bad customer service; and one in four are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.
Therefore, keeping customers happy should always be part of your branding strategy.
15. Failing to Innovate
If you want to remain relevant, you have to innovate. Whether this means offering new technologies, pivoting when life throws you a curveball (hello, COVID-19!), or expanding to new categories, innovation will make you stand out from the competition.
And don’t just focus on customers. Providing it for your team is just as important, as it makes their jobs a lot easier, increases productivity, and improves their job satisfaction. At the end of the day, your company culture is also part of your brand.
Developing a branding strategy calls for a lot of moving parts, but you need to get everything in order. The result — a strong brand — is essential.
Strong company brands share the following characteristics:
- They have a clear focus.
- They tell a compelling story.
- They align with a defined mission.
- They’re consistent with their company voice.
- They are built for a clearly defined audience.
- They showcase unique benefits.
- They align with company values.
To achieve this, follow these simple steps.
1. Identify Your Target Audience.
The first step is your biggest one. You need to know exactly who you're building your brand for.
And no, you can't just aim for everybody. Hone in on the specifics of your ideal customers, like their personal goals and pain points, their behaviors and actions, and other demographic information.
Create buyer personas for each segment of your audience to identify what motivates them to buy, how they research their purchasing decisions, what resources they use in their buyer's journey, and other key information.
With a defined, well rounded picture of your audience, you're well prepared to continue with your branding strategy.
2. Develop a Mission Statement.
Your brand expresses everything about your company, and arguably the most impactful element of your organization is your mission. Why does your business exist?
Share why you and your team wake up every morning in a concise, easily digested statement. A strong mission statement can be inspiring to your audience.
3. Conduct a Competitor Analysis.
Now, you need to see who you share your industry with and identify how your branding stands up against them.
In other words, at this step, you want a good answer to an important question: Why should customers purchase from you and not your competitors?
Fill out this branding competitor analysis worksheet to compile details on who you're competing with, what their efforts look like, and how they market and brand their company.
|Competitor Name||Messaging and Visuals||Marketing Efforts
||Products and/or Services
||Social Media Mentions and Reviews|
Research at least a few competitors, but if you have a lot of competition, list out five to 10 to get a full perspective of your industry.
4. Highlight Your Uniques.
There may be a lot of companies offering similar products or services, but there is only one you. Think about what makes your company truly special.
List out unique aspects of your brand and what you sell. From these uniques, you're able to develop a strong branding messaging strategy, which includes an impactful elevator pitch.
And if what you’re offering doesn’t really stand out on its own, then move heaven and earth to provide the most extraordinary customer experience within your industry.
5. Create a Comprehensive Style Guide.
This is where all of your branding efforts come together — your style guide. You can develop guidelines that impact every aspect of your marketing efforts.
A strong style guide includes everything you can think of in how you manage your branding, such as:
- Website elements
Once you have a style guide in place, along with your competitive analysis reports, your buyer personas, and your uniques, you're ready to strategize.
6. Develop and Launch Your Branding Strategy.
This is where you bring everything together. Brainstorm with your team to lay out everything you want to accomplish from a marketing perspective.
Once you set clear goals, you're ready to align initiatives that will drive results to achieve them. There are many considerations you need to look at as you develop a branding strategy, such as:
- How to create conversion paths on your website
- How to ensure brand consistency on social media
- How to implement new branding visuals on your site
- What kinds of content your audience needs
- What channels to prioritize for content marketing
When you build a comprehensive strategy, your team is ready to take action. As you execute your branding initiatives, make sure you're measuring and assessing results so you can evolve over time to hit your goals.
Now that you have a good starting guide to develop your branding strategy, let’s look at world-renowned brands who are doing this right:
Of course Disney is at the top of this list. It’s at the top of every list. You don’t even have to do a Google search to know about their branding. They’re storytellers, they provide magic. They’re imagineers.
They truly know their audience and how to appeal to their emotions. Nostalgia’s huge with them. So is providing unmatched experiences. And they do so across all of their products — theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, runDisney races, Disney+, animations, and films. No one has to tell you that something is a Disney product. You can see it. You can smell it. You can feel it.
Two day shipping. Excellent customer service. Multiple ways to reach them and to make returns and exchanges. There’s a reason why everyone and their mother gets Amazon packages delivered almost daily. Why?
Because it’s fast, easy, and convenient. It feeds almost instant gratification. It lets you do your shopping in your underwear. And since they purchased Whole Foods and so many office workers are now working remotely, thanks to them, it would be entirely possible to never leave your house.
3. Coca Cola
Even if you don’t like soda (good for you!), you have to admit those Christmas bears are really cute. They also are really good at engaging all of your senses.
You can look at a muted commercial of someone serving the drink, and you can hear the fizzing sound when the bottle is opened. You can taste the thing even if you haven’t drank it in years. You could recognize their logo even if the name of the soda is written in a different language. These people are consistent, and it works.
Google’s genius is in its simplicity. You go to their website and all you see is their logo and a search bar. That’s it!
Nothing distracting or irrelevant is fighting for your attention. (Well, you could click on their themed logos to find out what they’re celebrating, but you don’t have to). Enter your query, and boom! The Alexandria library (and then some) is right at your fingertips. It’s why it’s the leading search engine around the world.
Ok. This company keeps making an appearance. But can you blame anyone? They pretty much have a cult following.
Even if you’re a PC or Samsung kind of person, you’re well aware why people are raving fans. They’re not just selling tech products. They’re selling an image and a lifestyle.
As you can see, designing an effective branding strategy is a lengthy process. And once you get the swing of it, you have to keep revisiting and innovating to keep things fresh and interesting. Because at the end of the day, you don’t want to be the next Blockbuster.