There was once a time when the basis of an effective brand strategy was a memorable corporate slogan and a colourful logo. Today, it’s about far more than superficial differentiators that separate you from your closest competitors.
Your brand is your all-encompassing image, presence and value proposition. It is what makes you unique, convinces your audience to do business with you and ensures your long-term success in your niche.
Perhaps most importantly, your brand is what enables you to establish and maintain an emotional connection with your target audience.
Understandably, many businesses struggle with knowing where to start. As building a brand is such a complex, extensive and time-consuming project, it needs structure and discipline to pull off.
With this in mind, what follows is a brief 10-point guide to the fundamentals of building a better brand strategy. Irrespective of the size, nature and type of business you run, each of the following could help boost your performance, prosperity and competitive position:
1. Identify Your Niche
Firstly, a branding strategy can only be effective if you first identify the exact niche you intend to focus on. This will represent the foundation of your entire strategy, therefore must be considered carefully.
Identifying and prioritising a niche does not necessarily mean limiting yourself to just one narrow area of business or audience. Instead, it means focusing on what you do best, targeting those who are most likely to have an interest in what you do and allocating all available resources in a strategic way.
The opposite of which is to spread yourself too thinly and try to please all of the people all of the time, which you cannot and will not succeed at.
2. Establish Clear and Realistic Objectives
Likewise, you cannot logically expect to achieve your branding objectives if you do not clearly outline them in the first place. There’s a reason you’re planning an investment in your branding strategy, but what is it?
Are you looking to boost your audience size by a specific percentage within the next year? Is your priority taking customer loyalty and repeat business to a higher level? Or do you simply measure success in monthly conversions and the average value of every sale?
A branding strategy can be used to achieve almost anything – just as long as you establish your priorities in advance.
3. Conduct Extensive Competitor Research
Formulating a brand strategy without taking the wider business landscape into account is a recipe for disaster. Just to clarify – conducting extensive competitor research does not mean taking ideas from your rivals wholesale. It means taking a close look at what they’re doing and figuring out a way of doing it (or something similar) better.
Competitor research provides the perfect opportunity to find out what works with your target audience, what they expect from the brands they do business with and where their priorities lie.
It also provides invaluable opportunity to identify the weaknesses and shortcomings of your competitors, which can subsequently be leveraged to your advantage.
4. Focus Heavily on Your USPs
Uniqueness holds the key to success in all business areas and branding efforts. Customers are always on the lookout for a business that does things differently or better than their counterparts. Even if the difference is relatively minor, uniqueness is still an attractive quality.
This is why your branding strategy should be based heavily around the USPs you have (or should have) identified by now. What is it that makes your business different? Are you consistently cheaper than your competitors? Is there something unique about your product or service package? Do your core values and ethics differentiate you from others in your niche?
For a USP to be effective, it needs to be relevant and appreciated by your target audience. For obvious reasons, marketing sustainable products to those who care about nothing but low prices probably isn’t going to work in your favour.
5. Work on Your Brand’s Tone, Voice and Personality
Most people like to do business with brands they can relate to. As previously mentioned, anything you can do to establish and maintain an emotional connection with your audience is something you should be doing. This is why instead of viewing your brand as a business entity, it can be useful to see it as a person.
Take the time to think about what kind of person your business would be. What kind of tone, voice and personality would it have? What kind of people would it speak to and connect with on a meaningful level? Would it be a sophisticated and formal person, a funny and social person or an ultra-ethical and socially conscious individual?
This is really the only way of building a brand your target audience will subsequently form a meaningful connection with. If your brand comes across as a sterile business entity that’s void of personality, it isn’t going to appeal to anyone.
6. Try to Offer the Ultimate Customer Experience
Delivering a better customer experience isn’t nearly as complex as it sounds. All you need to do is take a look at the entire experience from the perspective of the customer, being brutally honest about your likes and dislikes along the way.
Measuring the customer experience means factoring in everything that takes place from the first moment of contact. How quick, easy and pleasant do you make it for customers to do whatever it is they want to do? How clear is your commitment to customer satisfaction at every stage?
Offering the ultimate customer experience means going beyond the basics to do anything and everything you can to outperform your competitors. As is often the case, the devil really is in the detail and the smallest adjustments can make the biggest differences.
7. Get Others to Sing Your Praises
The goal of your brand strategy is convincing your target audience that you’re not only fantastic, but also better than everyone else in your field. Unfortunately, direct claims of anything of the sort are almost always counterproductive.
When a business attempts to blow its own trumpet, it rarely gets away with it. By contrast, get others to sing your praises on your behalf and it’s an entirely different story.
This is where social proof is worth its weight in gold – customer reviews, star ratings, testimonials, product recommendations and so on. Leverage the influence and appeal of the customer’s voice throughout your brand strategy wherever possible. In addition, incorporate as much user-generated content as you can to get your message across.
8. Publish Content on a Regular Basis
To keep people interested in who you are and what you do, you need to provide them with regular updates. If the nature of the content on your website does not allow for this, launch a blog and start posting on a regular basis.
Regular content updates provide the opportunity to establish your authority, demonstrate your knowledge and forge lasting relationships with your customers. It can also play an invaluable role in your SEO strategy, boosting exposure for your brand while enhancing your identity.
Blogging can be a real game-changer as part of a branding strategy, just as long as you focus on topics you are genuinely passionate and knowledgeable about.
9. Ensure Your Branding Efforts Are Unified
Consistency holds the key to an effective branding strategy. This is true across all elements of your brand – your visual identity, your brand’s colour scheme, the tone and voice you use in your content and so on.
Each and every time you make an appearance – online or elsewhere – you need to follow the ‘rules’ of your branding strategy to the letter. It needs to be obvious at a glance that it is you and only you behind the content in question.
As mentioned back at the beginning, things like catchy slogans and colourful logos are no longer the most important branding factors. Nevertheless, they continue to play a major role in brand recognition and should be prioritised accordingly.
10. Build a Cohesive Online Presence
Lastly, every effort should be made to unify all of your online assets and profiles, in order to create a single consistent representation of your brand. Under no circumstances should you view your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and website activities as separate undertakings that take place in a vacuum.
Again, unity and consistency are the key to successful branding. Across your social media accounts in particular, it is essential not to fall into the trap of varying your tone, voice and approach too greatly to suit the audiences of different platforms.
This is the kind of fragmentation that can make it difficult to take a brand seriously. The tone, voice and personality you create for your brand should be something you can proudly showcase across all platforms. Not one that must be modified on a regular basis to keep people interested in whatever it is you do.