In the first instalment of our Skew It Yourself series, we explained how important it was to conduct in-depth research. Without those initial inputs, your brand extension efforts will fall apart. Now that you've done your research, gathered all your information, and started thinking about some key insights, it's time to move on to arguably the most crucial part of the process: strategy.
Every single creative decision, all of the materials we design and provide for our clients, it all starts with the strategy. So let's begin with defining exactly what we mean when we talk about strategy…
Before we delve into how you can define your brand strategy, we need to clear up a common misconception. Brand strategy isn't tactical. Whilst the eventual outputs of how you communicate your brand to the world and persuade people to buy into it are important, they aren’t actually part of your strategy.
Your strategy isn’t the how, it’s the why.
Ultimately, your brand strategy should get to the heart of your brand. It's the answer to the question: "Why the hell should people care about your brand?" Because if we can figure that out then every decision can be made with that in mind. It becomes the north star for your brand. So remember, a brand strategy isn't really about the marketing and comms tactics you use to express your brand. It's the purpose and the reason your brand exists.
Why does your brand exist?
It can’t purely be for financial reasons. There’s always something deeper underlying your purpose and values. As it turns out, the answer to that question is ultimately the cornerstone of your brand strategy. Every decision you make should be consistent with that underlying reason you exist.
The best brand strategies don’t focus on logos or colours. Sure, they’re part of the picture, but they’re really just ways of flexing and extending your core strategy out. So before you start getting carried away with visual elements or developing different products or services, stop and make sure that you have a genuinely coherent strategy underpinning it all.
A lot of agencies claim that they have a unique process. They give it a fancy name. Trademark it. And then really try to sell you in on it. But here's the thing... most of the time there's nothing unique about them.
In the interest of authenticity, we're more than happy to tell you that our process is built on the the shoulders of giants. That's also why we're happy to explain what we do and how we do it. Because you can do it yourself if you want to. There's no magic involved. One of the key methods we enjoy using due to its simplicity and effectiveness is Michael Johnson's Six Question approach.
(As a side note, if you're at all interested in branding then you should definitely grab a copy of Michael's book, "Branding In Five And A Half Steps".)
So let's take a look at the questions...
1: Why are we here?
This first one is all about your brand's purpose. It's about finding the emotional heart of your brand. The reason people, both customers and employees, would be drawn to you.
This reason can take many different forms. It might be what gets you and employees up in the morning. It might be a crucial problem that your business solves. It might be tied up in an emotion you want to make people feel. Do some digging, think empathetically. Above all, however, make sure this reason is authentic to your brand. Because people will see right through it if it’s not.
2: What do we do?
This question's a little more straightforward. Really you just need to describe what your brand does. Are you selling a product? A service? An experience? This should be as straightforward as possible. It's about the literal functional operations of the organisation that the consumer sees.
3: What makes us different?
Whilst this question seems simple enough, it's often one of the hardest to answer. You might think you know your USP but actually it might not be that unique at all. Luckily, if you got the research part right you should know a bit about your competitors. And that means you can figure out what makes your brand different. It's crucial to get this one right, because it's going to play a big part in the development of your brand.
4: Who are we here for?
A lot of our clients often come to us with a lot of data on their audience, but without forming it into any kind of strategy. They sometimes want to find a one-size-fits-all. And this lack of focus can hinder their brand strategy.
Ultimately, what this question is really asking is who are your target customers? But it's more than that. It's not as simple as saying we target men aged over fifty. Because that doesn't really tell you much. You need to dig down into their likes, dislikes, what they want, what they need, what they're scared of. You need to know these people like you know your best friends.
5: What do we value the most?
Your brand's values should come through in everything you do. They aren't just there as pointless fluff and filler. They're a code that your brand should live and breathe. What do you find acceptable? What don't you find acceptable? What is your ethical code? You need to make choices here. You can’t please everyone. And in fact, you definitely shouldn’t try to please everyone. So make some difficult choices.
We mentioned authenticity earlier. That's one of our values. And we make sure everything we do is authentic.
(Even including this article. I came up with the idea, wrote the outline and edited the copy. But this article co-written by Joe Daniels at Treacle. If you need copy for your business you should definitely check them out.)
6: What's our personality?
Every brand has a personality, whether it's been properly defined or not. It's how you sound, look, how you come across. It's how you behave. A useful approach is to think of your brand as you would a person. The same way you might define a person's personality can work for your brand too.
If you’re doing this right, these questions should inspire a lot of constructive disagreement and debating. If everyone agrees on every question then you aren’t making enough decisions. It’s as much about saying no to things and deciding what your brand isn’t, just as much as determining what it is. The key is to always focus. The more specific the better.
So yes, you will argue. You will debate. And things might well get a little heated. But it’s out of that heat that a truly great brand strategy is formed.
In fact, I’d argue that once you have a strong set of answers to these questions, you’re roughly 80% of the way there. The clearer, simpler, and more precise your answers at this stage, the easier it’ll be to flex your strategy.
Once you’ve nailed your brand strategy using those questions above, you can start thinking about how you might apply it to different situations. Whether you want to develop your brand identity, rebrand completely, or if you’re planning to delve into brand extension, your strategy is a kind of North Star for everything you do. Which raises an important thing to note when it comes to defining your brand strategy. It needs to be flexible.
The ultimate aim for your strategy is for it to be applied across identity, marketing, extension, franchising, and more. Which means it needs to adapt to different audiences, different products or services, and different situations.
For example, when defining a brand strategy for a restaurant, you need to think wider than a logo on a menu and a nice sign outside. The restaurant might release a cookbook aimed at fathers. Or a cutlery set. Or make their own whisky. And so their brand strategy needs to be applicable to all of those things.
Of course I’m not saying you need to create an exhaustive list of ways in which your brand strategy might flex in the future. That’s ridiculous. What I am saying is that you need to be aware of the need for flexibility. That’s how you can then apply your strategy across the different areas of your business, as and when you need to.
Strategy is the one of the most valuable opportunities you have to steer the creative and operational direction of your brand and business for years to come. But strategy alone isn't enough. You need to figure out how to translate that strategy into real-world impact. That's where the creative part of what we do comes into play. And it's exactly what we'll cover in Part 3.
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