While it’s easy to envy the success of a household name like Apple or Coca-Cola, it can be a little harder for a small or midsize business to justify an investment in creating a superior brand strategy. But the fact is, any company interested in growing market share over the long term has a better shot at success with a strategic plan that’s built on smart branding.
"Great brands don’t need to rely on a strong economy or market fluctuations to succeed,” explains Madalina Carstea, Head of Global Sales, Brand and Marketing Intelligence for GfK. “Take Apple. It has a 55% market share in the UK mobile phone market. And yet, its brand is so powerful that it can charge 63% more for its phones than its closest competitor.”
In other words, a focus on brand strategy does more than just boost sales. It also helps businesses command their market, and establish themselves for long-term growth. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at just what makes an effective brand strategy, the different types of frameworks used by businesses, and some examples of success.
What is a brand strategy?
A brand strategy refers to the formal plan underlying an organization’s overall branding efforts. It’s the unifying force used to inform every decision within a larger business strategy — not just in sales and promotion, but also business and product development, distribution, and even how an organization responds to cultural events or movements.
Put another way, a brand strategy is an organization’s plan for creating and maintaining its brand position, and a process for building brand value and equity in a way that reinforces present value while setting the stage for future growth. Done right, it should be a complete, holistic roadmap for an organization’s overall branding efforts — as well as what it will do, and not do, to realize them.
It should be noted that a brand strategy isn’t the same as a marketing strategy. Brand strategy is a big-picture approach to a brand’s overall presentation and identity, while marketing strategy centers on shorter-term campaigns that help to meet those larger goals. A brand strategy is relatively fixed, while a marketing strategy is in flux, constantly updated according using business intelligence and analytical tools. (But make no mistake, both should be as adaptable as possible.)
Why is brand strategy important?
Why is it important for businesses to invest in developing an effective and forward-thinking brand strategy? As the underlying basis for a company’s larger marketing and advertising efforts, a brand strategy is an essential framework on which to map larger goals, helping to ensure alignment, consistency and dedication to qualify across an entire organization.
Especially for businesses trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace, brand strategy is key to making the most of their unique selling propositions (USPs). It’s a means to communicate value that doesn’t just improve sales, but helps nurture long-term brand loyalty — the kind that leads to repeat business, social media shoutouts, word-of-mouth referrals, and other benefits.
A strong brand strategy can increase the benefits of individual branding elements like brand awareness, recognition and even equity, all of which can help improve sales. In addition, it helps to extend those benefits into the future, giving businesses a foundation for better understanding shifts in market trends and customer preferences that position them for sustained viability and long-term growth.
On the other side of the coin, businesses that fail to maintain a proactive brand strategy can more readily fall prey to the whims of the market. Especially as channels for communication increase, and as markets get ever more competitive, missing the chance to promote a positive image could mean ceding valuable ground to a competitor, or losing the opportunity to respond to negative feedback.
What are the components of a brand strategy?
While each specific brand strategy will be unique, there are a few core components that can and should be used by every business.
The brand value (i.e., mission) is a brand’s promise to buyers. What’s the benefit of paying attention to this brand, and trusting it enough to actually make a transaction? In other words, what’s the USP, and how is it being communicated? Before a company can begin to formulate a brand strategy, it must work to distill its specific value as succinctly as possible.
> Pro Tip: Most companies can readily adapt their mission statement or brand positioning statement for this component. Or, they can get the process rolling by answering a few basic questions: Why does this brand exist? What’s different about it, and why should people pay attention to it? What specific customer pain points does it solve?
The brand design (or look and feel) is the visual component of a brand strategy. This includes the logo and design, the look of the packaging, the color and the physical aspect of the product itself. Effective brand design can instantly communicate important concepts like modesty, minimalism, youth and luxury; choices in color or photography can create useful emotional connections.
> Pro Tip: Remember, design is more than a logo! Essential brand design elements can include not just iconography but also color, font, employee uniforms, even the architectural design of a corporate headquarters. And brands should protect their investment in these elements with registered trademarks, as well as clearly defined guidelines on how, where and when they can be used.
The brand story (or storytelling) is the narrative underlying the overall brand strategy, or the overall impression that’s being delivered. It’s the art of telling customers and prospects why a brand exists, and why it’s worth paying attention to — ideally in a way that invites their emotional investment.
> Pro Tip: Storytelling establishes a brand identity in a way that inspires interest and confidence while communicating the company’s larger objective. As such, it should be applicable in every instance where someone is likely to encounter that brand, whether during an online purchase, a customer service call or a visit to their LinkedIn page.
The brand voice (i.e., communication) is the actual language used to communicate the brand story, and to engage and attract people to the brand. It’s the verbal or written expression of the brand identity. As such, it’s instrumental in shaping the personality of that brand in the minds of consumers, prospects and the public at large.
> Pro Tip: Brand voice is likely to vary among different target customers, as well as in the different communications channels used to reach them. Internal style guides for content and design should be used to ensure overall consistency and direction for each situation.
Brand strategy framework
A brand strategy framework gives businesses a means to assemble their brand strategy components in a way that provides a clear course of action, as well as consistent standards to follow in pursuing it. It’s an outline of the overall brand strategy within a single, easily-referenced blueprint that’s accessible and understandable to anyone in the organization to whom it applies — so, in other words, pretty much everyone.
Because the components of each company’s brand strategy will vary wildly, there isn’t a single universal framework to be followed. Instead, each business must leverage its brand story, values, voice and design in a way that meets its own unique objectives — a larger process that includes working to understand the likeliest prospects in each target market and identifying opportunities to reach them.
Types of brand strategy frameworks
While each company’s specific approach will vary, there are some commonly used strategic frameworks that can serve as a starting point for creating a brand strategy that best meets each organization’s unique needs and priorities.
Product-based brand strategy
Perhaps the most common type of brand strategy, product brand strategy is focused on a specific product, leaning heavily on market research to define its ideal customers and audience segmentation to reach them. A product brand strategy will often include a number of separate initiatives to effectively communicate to different segments, with differing calls to action.
Product-based brand strategy example
A product originally designed to compete with another product, Pepsi-Cola is an example of a product-based branding strategy that applies extensive resources in market research and product development — all toward the single goal of attaining market share for its core product. And, though other products are available under the Pepsi family, branding for its core product remains distinctive and effective.
Purpose-driven brand strategy
A purpose-driven brand strategy focuses not on specific products but a larger vision. Consumers are increasingly motivated by values, with one survey finding that 62% “want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.”
A purpose-driven strategy can help a brand emphasize those values to create emotional connections, separately or in addition to other product or corporate strategies. Often, companies will apply elements of a purpose-driven strategy with that of a product-based strategy to better reach all possible segments and best prepare for future growth.
Purpose-driven brand strategy example
Tesla’s earliest strategies involved purpose-driven appeals away from the use of oil, both for reasons of environmental concern and as a rare chance to reduce a core household expense. This strategy was also key in helping build a market and infrastructure for electric cars, and offered an effective strategy to pursue at a time when the company operated under a limit on actual cars it could manufacture and sell.
Family brand strategy
Family branding takes product branding one step further, by grouping tougher an entire group of specific products into one larger strategy. This can be an effective way to leverage existing brand equity to the benefit of other products — useful for introducing new products, for instance, or broadening the profitability of a centerpiece product by introducing accessories that reinforce its value.
Family brand strategy example
If average consumers love the quality of their Sony televisions, for instance, they’re more likely to take a chance buying a Sony stereo. And as they accumulate more positive experiences with that brand, they’ll come to have an even better attitude toward the Sony brand identity, and will even notice that logo more readily than its competitors.
Global brand strategy
As market research around geographic segmentation illustrates, different regions often require radically different approaches: “Just because consumers have certain buying preferences or habits in one culture, doesn't mean that such preferences are universal,” as Gwen Moran pointed out for Entrepreneur.
So, a global brand strategy works to meet a company’s goals within each of the regions that it operates — or plans to enter — while also working to preserve overall consistency within a larger unified strategy.
Global brand strategy example
One of history’s most successful examples of a global brand strategy, McDonald’s invests significantly in entering new markets. Known for consistently delivering its core items in locations around in the world, the company is also careful to make sure that its menu and advertising efforts in those countries comply with cultural norms and expectations — all while maintaining a highly consistent brand image.
Corporate or multi-brand strategy
Also called an umbrella strategy or multi-brand strategy, a corporate strategy is the management of a number of brands under a larger corporate banner. More applicable to enterprise-level organizations than mid-size companies, a corporate brand strategy is similar to a family strategy in that it brings together a number of products, each with its own unique personality.
Corporate brand strategy example
Many well-known companies sell different versions of their core items to different consumers under different brands. For instance, Lexus is an upscale offering from the Toyota Motor Corporation that targets a different consumer, in different channels, than other Toyota products. The brands are different but related, synergistically co-existing within the same larger corporate strategy.
Co-branding is a partnership among brands that are owned and controlled by different organizations. This type of strategy is often used to extend one brand’s equity to the benefit of another, and vice versa. It’s a means to combine strengths and market share, or to quickly cover gaps in an existing customer base with easy access to another.
Co-branding strategy example
Sometimes, co-branding combines two adjacent parts of the same market, like the Ford and Harley Davidson campaign of the 2000s. More frequently, though, the combinations involved two brands that can readily be sold and used together, such as the co-branding campaign between Sherwin-Williams and Pottery Barn.
Digital brand strategy
Digital brand strategy focuses exclusively on online interactions — a category that includes not just eCommerce but also social media and app-based transactions. Increasingly the focus of marketers because of its ease of access to consumers, a digital brand strategy is essential for most businesses — and especially those with no physical footprint.
Digital brand strategy example
With its highly popular dedicated YouTube channel, GoPro has positioned itself not just as a means to produce unique, high-quality videos, but a community where that content can be shared. And with each upload and view, the company’s own brand equity increases.
Brand strategy for B2B
Finally, those businesses that market to other businesses need a framework that’s built on a slightly different set of fundamentals, including establishing a story and voice that resonates across an industry rather than a specific demographic. Components of story, voice, values and design are still necessary for business-to-business brand strategy. But they’ll have a different perspective and emotional appeal than in consumer-focused campaigns, requiring different types of research and competitive analysis.
B2B brand strategy example
Every American consumer knows Amazon, and most have a purchase history with the company. But with Amazon Web Services, the company has had incredible success branding itself in an entirely different B2B market. As of 2022, AWS held the world’s biggest share in corporate and enterprise cloud infrastructure spending with 33% of the market — and it’s done so while also successfully pursuing a variety of B2C strategies.
How can businesses build a brand strategy?
Writing at the Harvard Business Journal, Stephen A. Greyser and Mats Urde articulate the need to “harmonize” all of these elements into a single, holistic unit, incorporating “attitude or tone of voice (think of Geico’s gecko), a flagship product (such as Omega’s Seamaster watch), taglines (Nike’s “Just Do It”), and even signature audio clips (MGM’s trademarked lion’s roar),” they write.
In other words, it’s a big, complex job, which often requires expertise. Companies without the resources to handle the job internally often turn to experts for guidance. Whatever course of action they take, thought, there are a few standard steps to take when building a brand strategy:
- Define the specific goals that the brand is helping to meet, in both a short-term and long-term perspective
- Conduct market research to determine target audience and create buyer personas
- Conduct competitor research to better understand positioning, better identify market opportunities and/or potential roadblocks
- Create reports on this research to encourage faster understanding and organizational buy-in
- Based on the information above, create each of the four brand strategy components — story, design, voice and values — and making sure that they complement one another
- Involve stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on board and has provided the unique perspective of each major department
- Create key performance indicators (KPIs) or other relevant metrics for measuring the success in meeting the goals defined above, and to define new goals towards continuous improvement
- Ensure understanding across the organization by creating and sharing content guidelines or organizing team-building exercises centered on brand strategy
- Create a disaster plan that applies brand strategy to the management of crises, either within the organization (such as a service failure) or due to external factors (like a power outage).
Get expert guidance with your brand strategy from GfK
Today’s new business could be one of tomorrow’s great brands. Think of all the startups from the 1990s or even 2000s that are now household names — Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and Tesla, to name just a few. Even given their other innovations and breakthroughs, or current reputations, each of those companies boasts a strong, highly distinctive brand strategy that quickly sets them apart in the minds of consumers.
If you’re looking for guidance in hitting on the right brand strategy for your company, don’t hesitate to turn to the experts. At GfK, our Brand Intelligence solutions are designed to help today’s businesses better seize the opportunities of effective branding, and connect more effectively with their customers. We’re standing by to help your business find the best possible strategy.