The biggest challenge for any new brand is creating the first brand strategy. It can be a daunting task, especially if you haven’t crafted a brand strategy before.

A brand strategy is vital for any brand regardless of its size. The brand strategy has a significant impact on businesses both internally and externally. It helps define the goals (vision), values, and personality of a brand which impacts what employees and customers think of a company, how they feel about its products or services, how likely they are to continue to engage or recommend to a friend. Understanding the effects of the brand strategy on customers can inform crucial decision-making processes that will ultimately impact the bottom line.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a brand strategy. The process should be tailored to the specific needs of the business and the products or services it offers. However, there are some common steps that businesses can take to develop an effective brand strategy.

A brand strategy typically contains several elements, including the brand goals (vision) and values, an analysis of strengths and weaknesses, an assessment of customer needs and desires, and a positioning statement. The brand strategy should be designed to appeal to the brand’s target customers and differentiate the brand from its competitors.

Setting Brand Goals or Vision

Brand goals and brand vision are two terms that are used interchangeably but are addressing the same concept. The brand vision is the long-term goal for the brand. It is aspirational and inspires employees and customers alike.

Typically, there are multiple brand goals within a brand strategy that feed into a larger vision for the brand. It can be helpful to approach setting the brand vision like choosing a destination; this makes smaller goals the milestones on the journey to the ultimate destination.

There is no limit to the number of goals businesses can set so long as each goal is achievable, and the steps required for success are well understood and outlined. The brand vision is communicated to the entire organisation to create a common understanding and vision for the brand among all team members.

Identifying Brand Values

Brand values are core beliefs that guide a brand’s actions. They are unique to each brand. Both customers and employees will hold brands accountable to their stated values so it’s important that the values you define are authentic. If your brand values are authentic, it will be less of a challenge to centre them in your operations.

To identify what your brand values are you should look at what is important in your life. Patagonia, for example, is a climbing brand started by climbers with a love of the outdoors and so their brand values reflect their desire to protect nature.

Outlining your brand values does not need to be a lengthy process. Many major brands’ stated values are under 200 words. The important thing in presenting your values is that they are authentic, that your brand adheres to them, and that they are communicated.

Analysing Brand Strength and Weaknesses

The best approach for analysing a brand’s strengths and weaknesses is a system known as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). This analysis is a combination of internal (strengths & weaknesses) and external (opportunities & threats) factors and will lead to a strategic framework that can be used for planning a brand strategy.

Strengths are anything that the business does well or puts it ahead of competitors. Some examples of strengths are strong organisational structure, competitive pricing, financial backing, or a recognisable brand. The specific strengths of a brand are generally unique to that brand; even when there is a close competitor, there will be differences in the strengths of both brands.

Once strengths have been thoroughly identified the strategic imperative is to understand how to maintain, grow and capitalise on them.

Weaknesses are anything that the business doesn’t do quite as well or puts it at risk. Some examples of weaknesses are poor communication, high cost to price ratio, not standing out in the market, or external partners such as the supply chain or distribution network.

Identifying weaknesses gives brands the starting point for strengthening their business by addressing each weakness. Some weaknesses will be easier and quicker to address than others, so it’s advisable that the weaknesses are also assessed on that basis. Business will generally target the low hanging fruit and fix the smaller weaknesses while investing in fixing larger weaknesses over a longer period.

Opportunities are generally (though not exclusively) external factors that can give brands a competitive edge. Some examples of opportunities are a niche market, a competitor with a weak brand, a change in the economy or market conditions.

Identified opportunities are weighted using the brand’s strengths and weaknesses to balance the true scale of opportunity before being made part of the brand strategy.

Threats are anything that could cause harm to the brand and are generally external factors. For example, rising material costs can force product pricing to increase, a competitor may be investing heavily in marketing and growing their market share, or labour shortages may be holding back expansion.

Much like opportunities, threats are weighted against the strengths and weaknesses of a brand.

A SWOT analysis is a linked document – strengths balance weaknesses while informing opportunities and threats, while weaknesses balance strengths and inform opportunities and threats. When used in a brand strategy, a SWOT analysis provides a balanced view of a brand’s standing.

Identifying & Understanding Target Customers

Crafting a brand strategy is not just an introspective exercise – it’s important to identify and understand who you want to appeal to so that you can shape a strategy that will resonate with your eventual customers.

Brands will usually have an idea of who their target customers are. If you aren’t sure, look at what similar brands are doing and who are buying their products or services.

After defining a target market, brands can assess their customers’ needs. This can be done through market research in the form of surveys and focus groups. Market research can help brands identify opportunities and threats in the marketplace. Surveys and focus groups can provide insights into how customers perceive the brand, which can help with your positioning.

It’s important to understand the differences between target customers: depending on your target customer this can be generational, economic, or social. Your brand may appeal to a wide range of customers, in which case understanding how different messages will resonate with different subsections of people is a valuable tool to help you craft compelling campaigns.

Many brands choose to work with external agencies on this element of brand strategy. Behavioural sciences are a specialised area and so it can be more cost-effective and reliable to work with a partner that has already invested in this area

Developing a Brand Strategy

Having looked at the above key areas you will have a solid foundation to build future campaigns on. A brand strategy is a living, breathing document though. It is expected that the brand strategy will grow and evolve alongside the brand.

IPOS sees brand strategies as stories to be told. Brand strategies aren’t secrets – your employees and customers should know about them, although customers are unlikely to recognise what a brand strategy is, they’ll understand the emotional connection they feel with brands and have an awareness of the brand values.

As brands grow there are likely to be more brand strategies developed. Many brands will have a strategy per product or service, underpinned by and linked to a core brand strategy. Brands will often work with external agencies to develop brand strategies as the brand evolves, so it’s useful to know what to expect when working with a creative agency. Whichever approach you take, the above guide should serve as your starting point.

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