What’s the most exciting part of getting new branding for your business? Launching all the visual elements, of course! Every business owner loves the process of creating (or overhauling) their website, logos, and assets, and launching it for the world to see. It makes my brand designer heart happy, too!
But the brand strategist in me knows that without a solid brand strategy, you might as well design your visual branding with your eyes closed. A strong brand strategy permeates throughout the entire business, not just the customer-presenting side; it influences the way c-suite executives communicate with stakeholders, shapes how marketers create content, and how sales associates talk to customers. And yes, it’s just as important for all you solopreneurs out there.
What’s the difference between brand identity and brand strategy?
Regular readers of my blog will know the answer to this well (so feel free to jump to the next section) but as branding has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, it’s worth reiterating here for anyone new.
Your brand identity encompasses your visual branding. (Learn more here: What is a Brand Identity?) Your brand strategy encompasses why your business does (literally) everything it does – including its visual branding.
What does a brand strategy do?
Your brand strategy defines:
- Who you are
- Why you exist
- Who you want to serve
- How you want to serve them
- Your key values and things your brand does and doesn’t do
- Your ideal client(s) and why you appeal to them more than your competitors do
Your brand strategy is the map for your brand identity – your brand identity should be a reflection of your strategy, not your own preferences.
Why does a brand strategy matter?
Because without it, everything is vague.
You may have some pretty colours and aesthetically pleasing design elements, but if they haven’t been created with your brand strategy in mind, they may be giving the entirely wrong message. Without a clear strategy, your visual branding will likely attract the wrong clients, and you’ll start to wonder why you only get enquiries from customers that aren’t a good fit.
Without a strategy, your visual branding will:
- Be up for interpretation – both by any designer you hire and by your customers. If you find a designer willing to work from just a list of ideas and preferences, rather than a solid strategy, it will be up to them to decide what your ideal client may want to see (and, likely, who they are in the first place). They’ll also be more interested in ensuring you get what you want, rather than an effective brand identity that speaks to your clients.
The resulting brand identity may be aesthetically pleasing, but it may not speak directly to your ideal customer. That will leave potential clients uncertain as to whether you are really the right business to work with because something about your business just feels “off”.
- Probably look like everyone else – Without a brand strategy, you’ve got no sense of identity as a brand, and that leads most to start looking at their competitors for inspiration. Instead of thinking about what your customers want, you think about what other successful businesses are doing.
Evoke the wrong (or no) emotion – Think about the brands you love, the ones who seem to get everything right every time, and who you would work with or buy everything from if you could. Their branding appeals to you and makes you feel something – whether that’s excitement and high energy or relaxation and ease. They make you feel good about yourself. These brands have a solid brand strategy, and you just can’t resonate with customers this way without one.
How do I create my brand strategy?
That’s a big question – one that would require a novel-length answer to do justice. There are a lot of aspects that go into creating a solid brand strategy that can be the foundation for your visual brand identity and everything else your business does, but the good news is you can get started simply.
Here’s a quick overview of the steps you should take to create your brand strategy, but I highly recommend working with a brand strategist and designer to create a brand that will propel you forward. My Brand Identity Experience and The Signature Experience include brand strategy as part of the package.
If you are working with a limited budget or you want to get a head start on your brand strategy, here are 3 steps that will help you get started.
Step 1: The Basics
Your first step should be to get down the basics. This usually includes:
- Your Business’s Why: Why did you start your business? Why did you choose the products/services you offer (from an emotional perspective)? What’s your business’s mission (beyond making you money)? What do you believe in (think business practices, ways of navigating the world, and so on)?
- Your Competition: Who are you up against? What are they doing well? What are the criticisms of their customers? (Reviews are a great place to find out things like this – especially three and four-star reviews.)
- Your Customer: Who are they? What pain points or struggles do they have? What other brands do they love (not necessarily in the same industry as your brand)?
Step 2: Articulate
- Brand Positioning: Why are you different from your competitors? What do/will people love about your brand?
- Brand Personality: If your brand was a person, what words would you use to describe them? How do you connect with your customers emotionally? How do you speak to them?
- 3 Pillar Values: What 3 key values are intrinsic to your brand that are infused in everything you do? How will you communicate these values to your audience?
Step 3: Future + Visualise
- 3 – 10 Year Goals: What are your goals for your business over your next biggest milestones? This is important because it will ensure your strategy and visual identity are aligned with your destination (it’s like setting your GPS).
Visual Elements: What visual elements will best convey all of the information you’ve gathered? The psychology of colours, images, shapes, and typography will all be chosen as a reflection of all this information.
All this work will not just result in a brand that will resonate with your audience for years to come, but it will also give you confidence. Not only do you know that your branding is on point for your ideal customer, but you have complete clarity on how your brand should present itself and where it’s headed. With a strong brand strategy and reflective brand identity, your brand will be ready to grow – all you need to do is execute.