A Hiker’s Guide To Branding Strategy

branding strategy

Brands should be as easy to interact with as one interacts with a good friend. Isn’t it wonderful when you get to connect with someone or something and you immediately experience familiarity & novelty, excitement & security – and most important: you feel you belong to a place or a community while still remaining an independent individual? In a strange and nice way, it’s similar to experiencing a piece of that place we call “home”.

If you’re a brand and you want your audiences to experiment that feeling of, let’s call it “home”, you gotta know what home is and what’s the best way to getting there. Shortly put: you need a branding strategy. 

Depending on whom you’re addressing, home can be and mean anything – and before delving into that subject, let’s first agree on what branding strategy is not.

A branding strategy is not graphic design. Branding strategy is not a marketing campaign. Making a logo, adding it together with some random descriptions on a basic website just for the sake of being there, and running some marketing campaigns to INCREASE BRAND AWARENESS – these aren’t synonyms to branding strategy. At best, they’re bits and pieces of a more complex plan. That’s not a strategy. That’s the easy way out.

Why would anyone need a way out when what they really need is a secure way in?

Why spend your resources covering an empty shell with pretty outfits instead of growing healthy roots, building a philosophy, finding your voice, and telling your story so that whoever needs to hear, will listen, engage and stay loyal?

Don’t you want good looks, backbone, and coherence all together?

Set goals. And unpack them into milestones.

Ok, let’s say your brand creates environmentally-friendly, cruelty-free activewear, and wants what everybody who owns a business wants: be unique, visible, credible, marketable, and profitable. Here is where branding steps in.

After performing a brand audit, you’ll be revealed your target audience, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. To start mapping out your overall strategy, find answers to questions such as: what do you stand for? What’s your promise? What do you believe in? What are you against? Does it have a voice? What’s so unique about it? What’s the key message you want to communicate to the target market? How?  Do you have an image? Is it memorable? Or powerful? How would you characterize it? What is the keyword that would describe your brand perfectly? Does it fit your voice or is it schizophrenic?

So, goals and milestones. The ultimate goal is to sell. To do that, you’ll have to break it down to some secondary goals, such as gaining visibility and credibility or raise brand awareness. To determine your actions & your budget to gradually achieve all that you’ve set out to do, you’ll need to:

Understand.

Understand the market you’re about to enter, its trends, your audiences and competitors. And your brand – understand its history, business strategy, products, or services it provides, its digital presence, and the customer satisfaction degree. The audit will help you get the context and analyze all possibilities, so make sure you’ve done your homework.

Define.

Your audience, your values, positioning, key messaging, tone of voice, visual and communication style, story. Your je ne sais quoi.

And document everything. Don’t assume that brainstorming and talking about ideas and plans are going to write themselves down because they won’t.

Document and make sure everything is easily understood by everyone in your team – whether you’re a branding agency doing branding for a client or a creative department. Just like you’ve managed to build a user persona (or your DnD character), the same you have to do when developing a branding strategy: develop a brand character sheet. Write it down. And always keep it with you on your journey because you’ll need that.

Build.

Build the identity of your brand, listen to its voice & share it with the others. Give it a name & special look, make sure to get its USP right & summarize it into a catchy tagline. Develop a personality and showcase it, maybe on a website, and/or digital platform(s). Build your story right.

There are three elements you should keep tabs on when building your brand: data, trends, and creativity. If trends sync data and inner creativity, that’s super. You’re lucky to be building something amazing!

But if these three concepts aren’t on the same page, you’ll have to make choices. Usually these choices emerge from the specific of your brand – its philosophy more exactly. Keep this in mind: trends tend to be bold but temporary, while data leans towards consistency but lack of sensuality. On the other hand, inner creativity is, well, inner creativity? It can be unorganized and shapeless, or coherent and crystal clear. Choose what percentage you want to focus on more: trends or data, and creativity will respond with its own responsiveness, I promise.

When developing your visual identity, keep that brand character sheet close at hand and always ask yourself whether the visual language you’re developing articulates the pinpoints you want to showcase with your brand. 

Communicate.

Go out there and start building trust. Help everyone understand & love your brand, engage and remain loyal. Make yourself visible online and/or offline. Develop and implement your communication strategy à la carte. Your audience, message, and value proposition will help you determine what’s the most efficient media to employ. Maybe you need to start a blog. Or go nuts on social media. Or don’t. Email your audiences. Run ads. Go guerilla. Work on your PR. There are a plethora of possibilities. You don’t have to pick them all – only those that favor you the most.

Improve

Last but not least, don’t forget that nothing is carved in stone. You must always look at the results. Developing a branding strategy will help you find out so much about the market scape you belong to, but will also raise new questions that you’ll need to find answers to. Take a look at web traffic, reviews and social mentions, reach and engagement, purchase rates. Identify the weak points and see where are they coming from.

We’ll talk about communication strategies and measurement metrics later on our blog, so stay tuned! 🙂

Conclusions

Branding goes beyond stating the obvious. There are so many identical options to pick from, yet people choose their way. Branding means applying intangible attributes to a product’s inherent value, so as to differentiate it from the competition and make it more attractive to the public. Developing a branding strategy is just a natural thing to do if you want your product to be much more than just a series of specs and features.