When it comes to building a brand, there’s more at play than just a logo and some pretty visuals. Any professional brand designer knows this, and starts off every project from a strategy based foothold.
Brand strategy in simple terms is: part of your business plan to meaningfully differentiate (stand out) from competitors and position your brand for long term customer loyalty, while attracting new customers. There’s a million and one ways to word it, but that’s essentially what it boils down to in simple terms. Everyone’s brand strategy is different. Your competitors all may have the exact same plan, they might not, but good brand strategy starts with who you are, what you do, and why that matters. Let’s break this down and get into how I create a brand strategy for my clients. Hopefully this will help you if you’re in the process of starting out and trying to create your own.
Branding Starts With The Basics
During every interaction with a prospect or client, before a project even begins, I find it beyond important to ask a handful of questions. The most telling and powerful questions that I ask reveal some of the strongest answers about the potential for a brand. These questions are so important that I’m giving them a section each in this article, and a short reasoning as to why I ask them. Again, this is part of my process to creating a brand strategy.
1. Who You Are
Asking who you are begins to help me understand the mentality of the business owner. Yes, part of this question lets me gauge how little or how much thought has gone into a prospect’s business, but mostly I ask this to let the person I’m talking to begin to define their business and the idea behind the brand. While they may not have the most creative ideas or thoughts, that’s okay. The questions I ask are designed to get the ball rolling and creative thought processes flowing. So if you’re following along and don’t yet have a really solid answer for this, just jot down some notes and come back to it. The rest of this article may help clarify or alter your answers as we progress.
In a nutshell, we’re looking to describe who our business is. If it helps, imagine it as a person. Describe the type of person they would be, even their clothing style and actions, right down to how they speak. This is something that would tie into brand personification at a later time. However, that’s a more in depth section of brand strategy – and we’ll come back to this.
2. What You Do
This is a question simply to understand a product, industry, or business. At this point in diving into the strategy, we’re just trying to get clear on what it is that you do. Who you service, what demographic this is etc… can be expanded on. Though, the more thorough you can be in answering these questions at first, the easier creating your strategy will be further down the line. Again, you can come back and revisit the question, but jot down what meaningfully defines what you do for now.
3. Why Does it Matter?
Last, but by no means least, this is probably my favorite question when it comes to working on how I create brand strategy for clients. Why do those first two things matter? This is where I really want people to dig deep, get emotional if needed. What drives your business, what’s the cause? Are you trying to fix something, or make something more accessible? Yeah, we’re all in business to make money, but beyond that, what’s the passion, what drives you to actually do what you do, or provide the service you provide?
The next part in how I create a brand strategy, is more questioning. I have an interactive PDF that I send prospects to fill out and send back to me, and the questions within allow me to gain a heavy understanding on potential for brand personality and things that can help me further differentiate the brand from competitors both visually, and with specific brand strategy. If you think you’d gain some value from the PDF I mentioned, you can have it completely for free. Just contact me and ask for it. I’d love to know I was able to do more than write an article to help you out.
Now that you’ve got your who, what, and why penciled down – the next step is taking the time to help define your positioning. I find it helpful to ask a multitude of questions in this section, but to really nail brand positioning you need to understand your audience and competitors.
I personally find the question “who do you serve?” to be a little broad. So, at this point, ask yourself and try to define the following:
Who is your dream customer? Be specific, if you have to, then make this ideal customer up. Really dive into this. What kind of house do they live in, what’s their monthly take home, what kind of car do they drive? The more specific you can get, the better. You’re painting a picture that will help define your audience, and this will help you plan the strategy phase.
Now I put myself into the ideal customer’s shoes. What situation would lead this ideal customer to seek out your product or service? Just like with the previous question, get really specific. I can’t stress how important this is, as it helps me really understand the situation and phycology of consumer or customer buying intent. Once you define this, you can use strategy to relate to your ideal audience and draw comparisons in your messaging and marketing.
Lastly, and so I hopefully don’t overwhelm you – imagine you’re in the position your ideal customer is after they’ve used your product or service. How would they feel, what would they do? This is an important step, because although people care about brands, they can be swayed if one brand presents a better or more meaningful end result.
I said there was more to this, and here we are. Brand personification is a relatively simple process – but it’s not an easy one. When I’m trying to establish and build out a brand strategy, brand personification is useful because it helps establish how the brand communicates. This will influence design style, verbiage, and communication and interactions with others online and offline. Again, if you’d like that PDF, feel free to ask. It’ll go deeper than this article, and it’s interactive, so you can just click, type in it, then save it for reference.
Anyway… Personifying your brand. This is where you’ll want to write down personality characteristics for your brand. Remember, we want to connect with our ideal audience, so crafting a brand persona here is a delicate process. Again, simple, but not easy. I find it best to have the client use simple words to describe the ideals for their brand. I often ask what words they’d like to use. They may choose things like soft, gentle, and colorful. Or perhaps futuristic, data driven, gritty, and outspoken. We want to come up with as many descriptive words that would be used to describe the personality of the brand as though it were a person we were describing.
Once you’ve exhausted all the words you can, go back through them and look for words that are direct conflicts of others. Perhaps you’ve written down modern and traditional. Decide on the more important words. Do this and focus on shortening your list with the most in-tune words for your brand possible. Aim for about ten words. More than this will be confusing, so under ten is ideal.
Now that you’ve got a shortlist of descriptive traits for the brand, try and come up with about five more words that you’d like customers to think or feel when they see or interact with your brand. These will help you target positioning in your audiences mind, along with the personality traits and descriptive words you’ve got.
At this point, you’ll have the meat and potatoes needed to start plotting and designing things like a logo and the visual identity for your brand. I understand that you may be in a situation where you’re just getting started and may not have the funding to hire a professional for this type of thing just yet. I completely get it! If that’s you, my advice would be to contact some local design schools. See if they can connect you with any students looking to take on real world projects. It’s likely you’ll have at least a handful of eager, budding design students, wanting a real world project. Just keep in mind they’re students, so your millage will vary.
Be sure to start a conversation with them about everything you’ve noted down from above. This will help you guide them and should hopefully teach them a little about brand strategy and strategy based design. Not to mention, students don’t typically learn this kind of specialty in design school. Please don’t hire the cheapest option… Look for someone who actually understands your goals and struggles and has the goal of reaching your ideal audience.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below, or reach out to me. I hope this article on how I create a brand strategy is a useful tool to you.