How to Create a Brand Strategy in 8 Steps (+ Great Examples)
When you first hear a story, meet a new person or try an unfamiliar food, what do you always remember? The way it made you feel. That’s precisely what brand strategy is all about: evoking a positive, long-lasting emotional response from your customers.
A brand strategy doesn’t stop at the way your product looks or your service is provided. It encompasses everything that represents your business, from your collection names to your logo inspiration, from your social media accounts to your neatly designed website.
What is brand strategy?
While it may be widely used, the term brand strategy is often misunderstood. Simply googling it (which is most probably how you ended up here) gives you a multitude of explanations. To make things more confusing, good branding is not always quantifiable, or even rational—it is experiential, and based on feelings. It can be difficult to conceptualize an intangible quality, even more, to attempt to measure it.
If we need to give it a basic definition, a brand strategy is a purposeful plan to identify what your brand represents from the inside out. Through research and analysis, this essential process lets you determine competitive positioning and define the most authentic way to reach your target market on an emotional level.
The challenge is navigating the theoretical questions with real life data, all while sticking to your roots. In order to build a strong brand, you need to cover each element, from your content to your design, while keeping the big picture in perspective. While the approach will change from one business to another, there are certain understandings you must go through to achieve great results. We’ll cover them in more detail in this guide.
Why should you have a brand strategy?
Imagine your brand strategy like a compass (even an iPhone compass will do), guiding your decisions in the right direction. Without it, you might go the wrong way, or worse—get lost. It should serve as a measurable point of reference to identify failure and success.
Evaluating both your achievements and shortcomings will help you learn, grow, and push your business to evolve. Additionally, your plan should illustrate to everyone involved (your team, your customers, your investors, you) what makes your business unique. If you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, how will others?
How to create a brand strategy in 8 steps
Here are the actions you need to take in order to build a brand strategy that personifies your own style and entices your audience:
Building a brand strategy may sound overwhelming but it doesn't have to be. Before you get started, check out our downloadable brand strategy template to help create a thoughtful and strategic plan for your business:
01. Know who you are and what you stand for
Today, competition is fierce in all industries, and customers demand more authenticity than ever. This is not the time to have an identity crisis. When navigating through existential decisions about your brand, keep these discerning questions in focus:
Why do you exist? The answer is your brand purpose.
How will your brand behave? Defining your values early on will guide your actions.
Where do you want to go? The answer will constitute your vision statement.
How do you plan to get there? Your mission statement will pave the way.
Let’s take a deeper look at each concept:
Before you start dreaming of your brand colors and catchy slogans, take a moment to think about why you are creating your brand. “People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, according to author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek. Elaborating on the “why” is what puts truly influential companies apart from the rest.
To help you out, use Sinek’s “Golden Circle”, which encourages you to focus on answering the “why”, and only then the “how” and the “what”. Let’s imagine you’re a company preparing and delivering gift boxes filled with thoughtfully curated items. Your answers might look like this:
Why: “I want to allow people to spread support thoughtful gestures, while supporting small businesses in the community, and minding my environmental impact.”
How: “I will deliver each package in less than 12 hours, partner only with local artisans and small business shops, and commit to all recycled materials for packaging.”
What: “Gift boxes that spread love and include locally-sourced, high-quality items made within the community.”
As you can see, answering the “why” first helps you define your raison d'être and, ultimately, gives your customers a sharper understanding of the core motivation behind your product or service.
Now more than ever, consumers seek authenticity and choose brands that uphold similar beliefs. Brand values are an integral part of your strategy, as they will dictate how your business will behave. Think of your core values like a moral code, which guides your social and ethical practices. To use the same gift box example, some values might include: sustainability and ethical sourcing, inclusivity and diversity, community, peacefulness and elegance.
Keep in mind though that not all values have to be socially or environmentally focused. They just need to precisely define the guiding principles you’ll apply throughout the way you do business. However, simply outlining your beliefs is not enough, you must actually practice what you preach to maintain your integrity.
Mission and vision statement
Mission and vision statements are often used interchangeably. They actually differ and each serves a unique role in shaping your brand identity.
Vision statement: In a few sentences or a concise paragraph, a vision statement outlines the goals of your business. It clearly explains both what you are trying to achieve, and represents the infrastructure for future goals and where they will take you.
Try to envision where you want your brand to go and map out your long-term steps to get there. Be mindful that your vision is not set in stone and can evolve over time. In fact, a good vision statement should grow with your brand and be reviewed periodically.
On a deeper level, your vision statement should also try to recognize the impact your brand will have in the community, in the marketplace, and in the world.
Mission statement: In a nutshell, your mission statement is an amalgamation of your purpose and values in one definitive place, all wrapped up with a shiny bow. It will serve as a roadmap for you, your audience, employees, stakeholders, partners, influencers and anyone else that will interact with your brand.
You want to keep it to just a few condensed sentences and proudly present it to anyone who encounters your business, so they instantly know who you are.
To illustrate all these concepts together, let’s look at Tentree, a Canadian clothing company that plants ten trees for every item they sell. Tentree is a prime example of a brand that leads with purpose. Look how neatly articulated the four components of their brand identity are:
Purpose: To offer sustainable, stylish apparel and actively give back to the environment by choosing eco-friendly materials, and using renewable energy for processing.
Values: Sustainability, ethical manufacturing, transparency, accessibility, comfort and planting ten trees for every purchase.
Vision statement: “Our vision is to plant 1 billion trees by 2030, which will drastically reduce climate change. We've planted over 30 million trees and restored land in over 8 countries.”
Mission statement: “As environmentalists our mission is to guide you on your journey and empower you to do your best when it comes to the environment. You don't have to be a hardcore environmentalist to make a difference. It's the little things, like riding your bike to work, bringing your own grocery bag, and buying an item that plants ten trees - they all add up. Especially when millions of other people start doing them too.”
02. Understand your audience
“Brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is”, once said branding guru Marty Neumeier. You can build the most thoughtful and well-designed brand in the world, but without customers, you’ve got nothing. Your audience has power, and if you can win them over, you will successfully shape the perception of your business.
Knowing your target audience is crucial not only for converting leads into customers, but also for understanding how people connect with your brand. For instance, think of AirBnb, who targets budget-conscious travelers seeking a hotel alternative and a local experience. AirBnb is successful because they know their customers, pay attention to their needs, and always reflect on the feedback they receive.
Defining your target market paints a clear picture of who your ideal customer is. Beyond this, you want to understand what is driving their decisions. What motivates them? Who inspires them? Where are their pain points?
By digging deeper with market research and analyzing your audience, you can then create subgroups or segments based on shared characteristics. Known as market segmentation, this process categorizes your audience based on similarities ranging from geographic location to age, gender, decisions and behaviors. Altogether, this helps you create your typical buyer persona.
03. Find your sweet spot
A little healthy competition never hurts. In fact, knowing what others are doing will help you understand better your brand position both in the market and in your customers’ minds (and hearts).
So what makes your brand stand out? Start by listing the defining characteristics that separates your brand from competitors. In marketing lingo, this is your unique selling point (USP, for short). But simply saying you have an amazing business isn’t good enough, you need to back up your claims with strategic proof.
In order to achieve this, you can conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Another way to find your sweet spot is through perceptual mapping, an exercise that can provide clear competitive analysis. Simply plot contrasting qualities on a grid (such as quality, price, size, safety, or performance), and fill in where your competitors currently sit in the market. This will provide you with a visual representation and help you find the potential gaps and opportunities.
Once your analysis becomes crystal clear, you can create a brand positioning statement. This is a short internal description (just for you and your team), which sums up what your brand is, who it’s targeting, and what makes it one-of-a-kind in the market. Unlike your mission and vision statements, a positioning statement highlights competitive differentiation rather than absolute benefits.
And now, an inspiring example. By identifying a huge gap in the skincare market for high-quality products at an affordable price, The Ordinary managed to find their spot (pun not intended) and disrupted the industry altogether. Their entire brand strategy reflects this bold move and the idea that, “The Ordinary exists to communicate with integrity and bring to market effective, more familiar technologies at honorable prices”.
04. Tell your story
Storytelling is one of the best ways to build trust and engage with your consumers. A well-crafted brand narrative should be truthful, get your audience’s attention, pique their curiosity, and evoke emotion. This is your opportunity to showcase your personality and differentiate from your competitors.
Find your voice
Remember that lasting impression and memorable feeling you’re striving for? Finding a cohesive voice that encompasses the vibe of your brand will help you express your story in a more honest and meaningful way. Your brand voice enables you to add emotion and a personal touch to all your communications.
You want your brand voice to be consistent, recognizable and easy to speak with. This is important both for internal and external information as it will ensure your communications are aligned. As a result, it will foster a consistent and positive culture for both your team and your customers.
For example, the Wix brand voice is both professional and light-hearted. From our blog articles to the copy in our very products, we strive to make our writing user-centered, authoritative, and meaningful—while remaining always approachable.
Adapt your tone to each situation
Would you speak to your five-year-old cousin in a boring, monotone voice? If you did, you’d probably have a hard time getting his attention. In the same way, brand tone plays an important role in adaptability. You are still using your same voice, but having a sense of awareness for your audience and adjusting accordingly.
This is specifically relevant since your brand voice will be used across different channels, including emails, newsletters, social media posts, ads and other branding assets. Being mindful of the restrictions and usages of various platforms (emojis or no emojis, character count, etc.) will ensure you always have a consistent voice, but a slightly different tone to suit each specific crowd and situation.
Know what you’re talking about
A great example of a brand that has a distinct voice and tells their story is Fridababy, a line of postpartum products for new moms. “From delivery to boogers, butts and beyond! Frida is the brand that gets parents. That means you. We are not a lifestyle. Far from it. We are a solution-based brand. The 411 of parenting. The who-do-I-call-in-the-middle-of-the-night-cause-my-baby-won't-stop-screaming brand”.
Fridababy was created by a mother of three, and one can tell. This first-hand experience of maternity makes the brand’s voice special compared to the competition. It is extremely honest, and does not sugarcoat any of the nitty-gritty aftercare details of childbirth. Rather, the brand pokes fun at the fussiness of it all and uses this clearly in their language. As a result, they build trust and authority, using their own experiences to guide their users and help them with some not-so-comfortable experiences.
05. Design your identity
Think of golden arches and what instantly comes to mind? Now that you’re dreaming of a Big Mac and fries, you can understand the power of strong visual design. Your visual branding is an important part of your strategy as it allows you to make an impression, speak to your audience without words, and get them to take notice. An authentic brand identity should also be recognizable based solely on visual elements.
Imagine your brand as a person, and think how you might describe them to a friend. Does your brand wear crazy bold colors and socks with sandals, or does your brand only wear black and drink ethical cold brew? Don’t be afraid to get to that level of details, as you’ll ultimately want your brand’s visual identity to feel human and relatable to your audience.
Now is the time to get creative, and integrate your brand’s personality into the visual elements. Creating an identifiable brand style guide will help maintain consistency and develop a cohesive vibe. You want your visuals to speak the same language across all mediums, and contribute to the overall look and feel of your brand.
On this note, some important visual elements to consider include:
Photos, illustrations, and icons
Social media pages
Physical assets (printed brochures, merchandise, and packaging)
06. Stay true to your word
Ok, so, you know your purpose, you’ve found your voice, you get your audience, and you’re looking good—now what? This is the time to follow through on your actions and remain consistent in an effort to foster brand loyalty.
With this in mind, how can you encourage positive connections with your consumers? Think of your core values, and how your brand is felt by your audience, and use this in every interaction. Treat them with integrity, thank them for their purchases, and acknowledge their efforts. Going the extra mile, even with a small gesture, can go a long way in strengthening the positive perception of your brand and developing brand awareness.
First comes trust, then comes love: your consumers will return to you because they can depend on you, not just because you’re just selling a product. Don’t forget that customers love to share brand experiences, both good and bad. When all is said and done, positive interactions with your current customers will open more doors for potential ones.
07. Take your time
Remember that creating a brand strategy is a process, and there are many complexities to consider. From connecting to your vision, cultivating customer relationships, all while speaking your brand language, it is a lot to juggle. You don’t want to do it all over again or have to rebrand because it was quickly thrown together.
Beyond that, prepare to refine and evaluate your strategy once you have more feedback and awareness of the market. As your brand grows, reviewing the accuracy of your brand strategy will make everything clearer, more purposeful, and lasting. A good brand strategy should stand the test of time and stay relevant.
08. Include your team
The more the merrier! Building a brand strategy should be a collaborative process integrating many people. Make sure you speak to stakeholders, employees, and external experts if needed. Just as important, if you are on a solo mission, reach out to others—including potential customers—and try to hear as many voices as possible.
Ideally, you will form a designated brand team who are focused on building, designing, fostering, and giving life to your brand strategy across all levels. Think outside the box and push the boundaries to create an inclusive team that will offer a wide range of perspectives to contribute to your vision.
Examples of excellent brand strategies
Need a little inspiration? We’ve gathered a few examples of strong brand strategies to help you get started.
Whatever your feelings may be about the Kardashians, push them aside for the time being to appreciate the success behind Kim’s shapewear brand, SKIMS. After years of frustration due to a lack of selection in the market, Kardashian West designed a line of products for every shape, every color, and every type of support.
SKIMS brand strategy works because they very clearly defined their purpose, they know and understand their audience, and they found their sweet spot. When SKIMS first launched, the brand was called Kimono but received major backlash being criticized for cultural appropriation. They really listened to their audience, used this feedback, and rebranded in an even more effective and meaningful way.
SKIMS’s visual identity is consistent, recognizable, and still feels very down-to-earth thanks to their appealing color scheme that speaks the same language as their product.
Started by three quirky Cambridge University graduates who first sold smoothies at a music festival, Innocent Drinks is an example of a successful branding strategy. They started in 1999 with a simple mission statement, “To make drinks that make it easy to do yourself some good”, and continue to follow the same purpose today.
What makes Innocent noteworthy is their brand story and the voice and tone in which they share it. They are friendly, approachable, honest and funny. This sentiment is seen throughout their product from their visual identity and logo to their content and products.
Innocent’s brand is always consistent and reliably charming. They also follow through on their promise and give back to their community, deeply committed to sustainability, recycling, ethically sourced products, inclusivity and diversity.
We’re sure you’ve heard of Warby Parker by now, and may even be wearing their glasses as you read this. Founded with one simple idea, that glasses should be affordable, Warby Parker is a game changer in the market of eyeglasses. They are pioneers of the online glasses concept and at-home try-ons, changing the way in which we purchase eyewear. Even more impressive, they have successfully created a brand that truly listens to their customers and have been rewarded with incredible brand loyalty.
Warby Parker opened new doors, finding a unique gap in the market, and challenged their competitors in an extremely new way. Not only did they find a different method to sell glasses at an affordable price, they also created their own product in-house with their materials, their branding and their language.
Their mission statement perfectly embodies their purpose, vision, personality and style. “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses”.
Casper is another example of a powerful brand strategy for an innovative idea. It offers high-end yet affordable mattresses that are simple, stylish, and arrive in a creative and efficient box—all purchased online.
What really makes this company stand out is their very strong content marketing strategy and their connection to their consumers. Casper found their brand position and used their brand message to become sleep experts, providing diverse content about sleep, relaxation, comfort, and style.
Casper also really uses their audience loyalty and social proof to promote their product. Their visual identity is identifiable, aligned with their values and expressly their own.
By Kylie Goldstein
Branding Expert and Marketing Blogger