When embarking on anything, it’s important to know its purpose; brand strategy is no exception, so let’s look at the overall purpose of brand strategy and how it helps you grow your business.
How I go about it, the brand strategy gives you information and guidance in three primary areas, each of which incorporates a whole lot more, which we’ll talk about later, but for now we’re just going to look at them from a birds’ eye view. The first area is internal: we’ll go through a process of questions that gives clarity to your goals for your business, which helps with internal alignment for your team, or if it’s a solo-operation gives guidance to you as you make the day-to-day decisions inherent in running a business. Secondly, we learn all about your target audience so you can make sure that your products or services offer a real solution to what they want, and not just on a surface level, but on a deeper, more internal level. And finally, we’re going to look at your industry and competition—do an analysis on them, where you fit into the landscape, and how to position yourself in a place where you don’t have to “fight” for space, but rather grow roots in a place that is ready for what you have to offer.
The second important function of brand strategy, which flows directly from the first, is to provide an internal, cohesive framework upon which you can build a beautiful and effective visual identity. If you execute the brand strategy well, the brand identity naturally follows, and the seeds of it are planted within the brand strategy itself.
The brand strategy process clarifies and builds your foundation (your internal brand), and creates a blueprint for building it. This then enables you to actually build it—i.e. The brand identity. But without doing the first steps—which are often unseen—you’ll have no way of knowing if what you’re building (i.e. the logo and other brand elements) is going to be effective in furthering your goals as a brand. Because without even knowing them, or knowing them in a muddled and confused way, you’ll be building something on hope, which is not a strong foundation.
However, using brand strategy, going through each step carefully—while being an initial investment (of both time and money!)—ensures that as you go forward, your actions are going to have the impact that you’re working towards in your business.
Now that we’ve seen generally what it is and why it’s important, let’s take a closer look at how we actually go about doing it! I know that it is confusing for many people, so I wanted to share with you my process to give you a better idea of what you’re getting into.
In this section, we’re going to become explorers in your own business. There are four facets that we’ll look at, that each form an essential part of your business story, and are the cornerstones of the strong brand identity we’re going to create together.
The first is “Who you are”. The “who” refers here to your business, though it’s important to recognize that especially in today’s day and age, there is a certain amount of crossover between you and your business.
The second is “What you do”, and this focusses on what you’re offering your customers or clients. However, the what here is not the nuts and bolts of your offering, but rather the experience or transformation that you give your customers. By this I mean that if you’re a coffee shop, your what isn’t the actual deep liquid that the customer leaves with. Rather, it’s the feeling of belonging at her local cafe, it’s the shot of energy that enables him to get through a full morning of meetings, it’s the warmth of connection.
Thirdly, we have the “How do you do it”—and this is where you’re going to get into the details of your actual offering. For example, in our coffee shop example, if your what is transforming your customers’ mornings, how you do it is through giving them a warm welcome before they’re fully awake, remembering your regulars’ orders, actually making the drink, and sending them on their way.
And last, but very much not least, is the “Why do you do it”. We’re zooming out to a birdseye view and asking the high-level questions that relate to the mission of both your business, and why you are doing it. While this is the most removed from the day-to-day, it is in some ways the most impactful, because it is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, that impells you to keep moving when things are hard, that inspires you to continue to bring the vision you have inherent in your Why into a reality through what your business does.
Going into more detail for the Why will be reserved for a later post, because it is both important but also a big subject. However, I want to make a couple of distinctions and go into a bit more detail because out of the four this one can be most misunderstood or misapplied. For example, it’s easy to think that only companies with a lofty mission have a true Why or that your why is something high and lofty. For example, solving world hunger, or sheltering the homeless. And some brands are explicitly mission-driven, such as Patagonia, whose cause is the environment; or Toms, who through their shoe sales give shoes to those in impoverished countries. However, having a clear Why doesn’t necessarily mean this.
Your Why can be as simple as a passion for breadbaking and a desire to create more of a community-centered economy through opening a bakery. With respect to brand strategy, your Why won’t necessarily fully express your personal mission or purpose; however it’s important to have a clear and simple statement of Why you exist as a business, because it contributes to a stronger culture and purpose for your brand, and helps guide your decisions by seeing how they match up to this overarching purpose. It’s not meant to be limiting, but rather like a north star by which you can navigate and make decisions throughout the course of your business.
Your why flows from your who and gives direction to your what and how
The next major step in the brand strategy process is exploring and understanding your target market. This is a crucial step that is easy to overlook because as a business owner you’re so focussed on what you’re doing and you see so clearly the value of it; this process enables you to get a clearer picture of your customer base, and gives me an understanding of them so that I know how to communicate visually with them.
Remember—branding is all about communication! Communicating and establishing who you are as a business to your current and potential customers. But to effectively communicate with someone, you must know what language they speak. If someone is German and you try to speak to them in Dutch thinking “it’s close enough”, you might not get very far. For branding, knowing what language they speak is learnt through discovering the following things about them so we can craft a brand identity that is the bridge between who you are and who your customers are.
Just like with the Discovery Process, this begins with Who they are. Here we aren’t solely looking for demographic “customer profiles”—e.g., sex, income level, education, etc. We want to understand them; what they are interested in, what they deeply care about, their taste, their shopping habits, what are they afraid of, how they make decisions, just to name a few.
The second follows from this, and is What do your ideal customers value. This could be on a high level, like honesty, freedom, truth; or on a more material plane, like they value good food, beautiful surroundings, Impressionist art. This helps you understand where your values and theirs overlap and how to emphasize the ones that will unite you, and lean into the things that will help them value and see themselves as “belonging” to your brand.
Thirdly, How do they communicate? Your ideal customers (i.e. the people that your business is best positioned to serve) are going to natural speak in certain ways, verbally and visually. So here we want to think about things like: do they speak casually/use slang? or are they more formal? What types of brands do they already use and what visual language do these brands use? Are they always connected online or do they prefer in-person and local communication?
Finally, we look at Why would they want to interact with your brand? Here is where we’re going to focus in on those things that are going to be especially appealing to your target market. Taking from the knowledge that the previous two steps have given us, we can now work towards creating customer journeys and connecting the dots between them and your business.
The final major section of the Brand Strategy is to explore and map out your industry. This gives us the setting for where to find white space and discover the ways that you can stand out and not have to fight for space amongst your competitors.
This encompasses five major steps.
We’ll look at them each briefly.
We use this to gain a deeper understanding of your industry; what is working, what is popular, what is being done well, or where there are opportunities, and in general to gain a high-level snapshot (like an aerial photograph) of what things look like where you’re going. Which leads us directly to the next steps.
While I like to think of competitors as colleagues, the fact is that it’s important to know who in your space is offering or doing something similar than you, and how they go about it. The primary reason that I think this is helpful is that it enables you to use where they are in the landscape and see what about what they’re doing that is something that is going to appeal to your ideal client, and how you need to differentiate yourself so that you don’t totally blend in.
Naturally following from this is the discovery of “whitespace” in your industry. By looking at your competitors, you’re able to find empty space and places to leverage your offerings or products in a way that is non-competing with them, and enables you both to thrive even in a possibly-crowded industry.
Using the previous information in this section, we can begin to create a position and offerings around areas that have “blank” space.
This can be done through both what you offer, and how. For example, let’s say you own a coffee shop in a medium-size town, and your only competitors are Starbucks and a Scandanavian-style, hipster coffee shop.
We’ve discovered in the previous portions of the strategy that your target market values tradition and quality, but not trends or elitism. You could lean into this space in the market, and create a shop that offers locally- or specialty-roasted beans and traditional blends, with an ambience that is a bit more warm and maximalist, inviting and open.
By using tactics like this, you’re able to come up with solutions that offer different options without directly “competing”, even with others in your industry or area.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the ambience and culture of a coffeeshop is one of the first things I notice, and no matter how good the coffee is, I’m probably going to go somewhere that has an atmosphere that is more in line with my taste/personality. And what appeals to me is not going to appeal to everyone, so the Scandi-hipster shop is not really losing, because they’re creating a place that directly appeals to their ideal customer; and by each having a strong character, both shops can thrive.
Okay, now we’re going to look at how we make this all happen.
In the preparation phase, you’ll fill out a brief questionnaire with some preliminary information about your business, industry, and your preferences within these.
To complement this, we’ll also be creating 2 Pinterest boards for visual inspiration. One of these is a collection of images that embody the spirit of your brand; and represents how you want your brand to feel on a more subliminal level. By strategically choosing images you can curate a feeling that will help to give shape to your final Brand Identity and Brand Culture.
The second Pinterest board is more typography and font focused, where you’ll gather images of logos and fonts that you are drawn to. This is not used for copying purposes, but rather to help me get an initial feeling for what you are drawn to specifically regarding logos and type.
To begin the actual process I’ll conduct a Brand Discovery Workshop, which is a 2–3 hour meeting via Zoom, in which we’ll be going through a multi-step process that helps to uncover, clarify and give data and info that will help me create the strategy for your brand.
After our initial meeting, I take all this info and organize it. Using this info I’ll lay out brand values & voice, customer personas, mission statements, and other related info that will inform the choices we’ll make in the actual design phase.
You’ll get a chance to review this portion of the Brand Strategy to make sure that we’re both on the same page as far as these things go before I begin designing, because if we get all these things down then it’s really just a matter of expressing them visually in a way that will resonate with your customers and audience.
Here the “fun” begins! I say this, because even though we’ve done all this work, this is the phase where you get to see it come to life in a visual way.
Just like a person, your brand will likely have different characteristics and facets—and we need to choose which of these we will lean into for the actual design. I’ll draw from the Pinterest boards you’ve created, and add some of my own to come up with 2–3 possible moodboards which express different aspects of what we’ve uncovered in the Brand Strategy phase.
With these in hand we will then have a visual guide which will enable us to ensure that the designs I create are in keeping with the overall Personality that we’ve established.
In this phase I’ll also create typeboards, which are initial selections of your brand name written out in different fonts that could all express the meaning of what we’ve determined in the previous phase. While all of these could work, we want to move in a direction that not only works for your brand, but that you visually love, so this is your chance to choose fonts that not only express what your brand “stands for”, but also are in line with your aesthetic preferences.
Now that we have the overall shape of your brand strategy, it’s time to refine and ensure that at this stage every aspect of what we’ve decided and created is in line with both of our understanding of your goals for your brand.
So here we’ll be making small changes like swapping out a certain image in the moodboard for one that more accurately reflects the personality you’re expressing.
Or refining audience personas to more accurately reflect your customer base/clientele.
Basically this is the time when we’re making any necessary changes to get the strategy just right so when we start designing we have a solid foundation on which to build!
We’ve come to the end! If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably curious about what the actual result of this whole process will be.
In a nutshell, at the end, you’ll have a 20+ page PDF which contains all of the above information. It’s a dual-purpose document, as I’ll use it (and the knowledge therein) to create your brand identity, logo, etc—but it is also a resource for you as you go forward and continue to grow your brand. You can think of it like a “Map”, with guidance and directions on where you’re going and how to get there.
The thing about building a brand is that it’s a living, breathing process (well, metaphorically ;-) and this strategy will give you tools to help it grow in the right directions.
Building an authentic and lasting brand requires more than just a static logo, or even a set of logos, fonts, colors to use for your website. Rather, you need a strategy that helps you ensure that those decisions you have to make day-by-day are supporting your overall goals for growth.
And by going through this process, together we’ll create a document and plan that not only helps us create the actual assets that you’ll use (like logos, colors, etc) but also helps you along the journey to creating a brand that wins the hearts of your customers and gives you a place in their mind and opens the door for them to be fans for life!
Are you at a place in your business where you need clarity, direction, and a strong brand identity? If so, I invite you to contact me for more information! I specialise in working with coffee & food brands, and would love to help you grow yours.