Brand Strategy, Branding and Marketing Strategy: get clear on what they are and what often goes wrong

The world of brand and marketing is full of complex terminology.

But brand strategy, branding and marketing strategy can be explained simply.  And once you get this clear in your head you can be more confident with your brand and marketing planning and projects. 

Read on for simple descriptions of what brand strategy, branding and marketing strategy are, and what order to address them.

Defining Brand Strategy, Branding & Marketing Strategy 

As Julie Andrews sang, "Let's start at the very beginning".

First, you have to understand what a brand is. 

"Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind."
Walter Landor

All brands really are, are associations in people’s minds.  And the stronger and more connected these associations are, the more likely a person is to choose and buy your brand.  

More here if you want it, but let's move on... 

What is brand strategy? 

Brand strategy is your decision on what you want to stand for: the associations you want to build in people’s minds. 

You get to your brand strategy by answering a set of questions:

  • WHY do you exist?
  • WHO are you and HOW do you do things?
  • HOW do you want to look, feel and sound
  • WHAT do you do?

It is critical to get these answers in place before you do your ‘branding’ so you have something to judge things, like your logo, against.

But the impact and importance of your brand strategy goes way beyond just creating clear and consistent brand signals.

Brand strategy is your foundation for customer engagement, employee engagement and innovation. It gets you clear on the decisions you need to take to direct the growth of your business. 

"There’s no shortage of great ideas at American Express. But one of the things that stops great ideas from coming to life is having a lens to evaluate what should be invested in and what should not. This is where the brand becomes crucial—it sets our filter for innovation." 
Clayton F. Ruebensaal III, American Express SVP of Global Brand Management 

What is branding?

‘Branding’ is the process of creating signals that help to reinforce the associations you want to build in your customers’ minds. 

These signals can be visual: your logo, colour palette, imagery, packaging, shapes and patterns, fonts.

They can be verbal: your name and nomenclature, your tone of voice, your brandline, the language that you use.

They can also be sounds – like T Mobile’s or Intel’s chimes.  Or smells – like the bespoke fragrances luxury hotels create for their lobbies. 

They can even be people or characters – liked Jared Fogle was for Subway, or George Clooney is for Nespresso, or the Compare The Market Meerkats.  

But creating visual and verbal signals are where most brands start.  

All together these signals are often called your ‘Brand Identity’ (and separately, your Visual Identity, Verbal Identity, Sonic Identity etc). 

What is marketing strategy? 

A marketing strategy is your plan for reaching the people who should be interested in your product or service and turning them into customers.   1827 Marketing

Marketing strategy, and the tactics employed to action the strategy, often change, based on consumer profiling, data and measures you put in place, channels you use, campaign analysis, trends, etc.

What shouldn’t change are the brand signals you're using in your marketing, or the overall associations you're trying to build in your customers’ minds – your brand strategy. 

What goes wrong with branding and marketing?

Well – many things! But one of the biggest mistakes is when people leap to branding and marketing without doing their brand strategy.

Job 1 is to get your brand strategy in place.  But many people just start by ‘doing stuff’. They have a business idea for a product or service - then they leap to creating logos, choosing fonts, writing websites, designing ads.  Just like my friend’s client above.  

But they haven’t got any foundation – they haven’t got any way to connect all of this stuff they are doing, or assess whether it feels right or wrong.

They are missing the bridge between the stuff they need to do and why they need to do it.  They are missing their brand strategy.

Because your brand is only as strong as the connected associations that you are building.

If you haven’t taken the time to decide which associations you want to build - how can you ever build a strong brand?

The second thing that goes wrong is that a clear and rigorous process is not followed to define the brand strategy. There are some tried and tested steps you need to take to ensure you get to a brand strategy.

The third is that the right people are not engaged and involved from the beginning.  Brand strategy only has an impact when it's implemented. This requires the CEO, CMO and CHRO being involved and engaged from the beginning.

One of the first steps you may need to take with this leadership team is explaining what brand strategy is and why it's important, which I hope these definitions will help with.  

For more on how to create a brand strategy, jump into my free Brand Strategy in 7 Simple Steps mini-course.


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