The Process and Tools You Need To Do Brand Strategy

“Begin with the end in mind.”  

One of the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, and common sense, you might say. 

But very unhelpful if you’re trying to learn how to do brand strategy.

Because here’s what happens.

When people try and learn how to do brand strategy they start by researching models and frameworks - the end deliverable for a client.

But then they get stuck.

They get stuck in the muddy world of different models, frameworks and jargon promoted by different people and agencies trying to differentiate themselves with their brand strategy deliverables.  It’s understandable, but it’s not helpful if you’re trying to learn how to do brand strategy.

(I know this, because I’ve polled the 243 people who’ve taken Brand Strategy Academy and it’s where they were stuck before they took the course). 

The truth is - it doesn’t really matter what model you use, as long as your deliverable answers the fundamental questions you need to answer in a brand strategy to help to move a business forward.  

So where is a more helpful place to start when you're trying to learn how to do brand strategy?

Brand Strategy Process and Tools

“Oooh – but I’d prefer to draw a 3-dimensional pyramid model that uses a clever anagram to explain my deliverables! Processes and tools sound boring!”

Go right ahead.  

But you’re making it all about you, and not about the client and business you’re trying to help.

They don’t want a 3-dimensional pyramid, weird acronym, or brand onion.

They want to be able to stand in front of employees, shareholders and the board and talk about the type of business they are and want to be.  

The sort of culture they have and want to build – and the values and behaviors that are required to help drive them forward.  

They want to be able to explain why we’re all coming to work every day, and how that helps customers and broader stakeholders.  

They want a framework that helps decision-making across all aspects of the business.

And a clear sense of what associations they need to build in people's minds to ensure the brand and marketing drive the business forward.

And they want to feel that the answers to these questions are absolutely the right ones for them.

That’s where your brand strategy process, tools and skills come in.

If you haven’t explained clearly what needs to happen and why, brought them along on the journey, shown how the voices of their customers and employees have been included, shown them how their answers compare to competitors, and given them the back-up to explain why the answers are the right ones for their business, then your 3-dimensional pyramid framework will be hidden in their ‘failed projects’ folder.  

It will not become a useful springboard for action across the business. 

Because there will be no clarity or confidence in your output.

So, what sort of process, tools and skills do you need?

Here’s your foundation:

Brand Strategy Process: Step 1

Design the appropriate approach, with the right people involved

What does this mean?

1. Get the Right People on The Bus 

Ensure the right people are engaged from the start.  Demand, in the most pleasant way, that you work with a trifecta of CEO, CMO and CHRO. Either the CMO OR the CHRO can lead the project but all must be involved. Create your project plan with their input and sign off and design clear steps in the process where they, and the broader leadership team/C-suite are consulted and involved.  

2. Don’t recreate, or over-engineer, the wheel.   

Design the right process for the size and complexity of their business. 

Make sure you understand your role and time and charge appropriately. 

Understand what insight and data sources they have already and use them.

Tools you need for this stage of the brand strategy process:

  1. Proposal and Pricing Template 
  2. Three different project plan outlines – with different tools and approaches in your toolbox for large/medium sized businesses; small businesses; and start-ups. 
  3. A basic list of inputs you always ask for at the start of the project to see if the client already has them and to start your discovery. (e.g. competitor analysis, customer research, employee research, brand equity research, market analysis, analyst reports, etc.). Review the research before you dismiss it! Don’t waste client’s money and time repeating customer or employee research if it’s already been done well and has asked the questions you need answered. 
  4. A brand strategy ‘selling’ deck - covering the fundamentals of brand strategy, the questions you need to answer, why it’s important (the impact it can have on a business). Have this in your back pocket if you need to convince and engage with any sceptics.  

Brand Strategy Process: Step 2

Get the right insights, from the right sources

Gather insights from three areas: 

  1. Key Stakeholders 
  2. Competition
  3. The Company Itself 

This is because a brand strategy has to be relevant, authentic and sufficiently differentiated. 

  1. Getting Key Stakeholders Insight  

Before you write a brand strategy you need to figure out your brand is - or could be - serving the needs and desires of your key stakeholders (often called your ‘target audience’). All this means is the people without whom you wouldn’t have a business. 

This always includes customers and employees, and sometimes includes other audiences that have a significant impact on the decisions your customer makes (e.g. high-end travel agents for luxury hotel guests; doctors or pharmacists when you’re working with pharmaceutical brands; analysts for most tech companies).

You need to gather insights from all of these audiences because WHY you exist and what you brand is shouldn’t be all about you – it should be ALL about the value you provide your customers and employees. 

Without either of them you just don’t have a business. 


Getting to these insights requires conducting some research.  This is what puts many people off learning how to do brand strategy.  But it's not complicated, and can be done in quick, easy and low-cost ways.  

Your research plan is developed with the client and can vary in size and scope depending upon the size, complexity and budgets of your client.  Just have this toolbox of options in place and you’ll be covered:

Tools you need for this stage of the brand strategy process:

  1. Qualitative Customer Research Guide (i.e. a list of questions you know are helpful in getting to brand strategy insights that you’d ask in one-on-one interviews with customers)
  2. Quantitative Customer Research Survey (i.e. a list of questions you know are helpful in getting to brand strategy insights that you’d ask in an online survey with customers)
  3. Qualitative Employee Research Guide 
  4. Quantitative Employee Research Survey 
  5. Preferred research panel and online survey tool providers you’re comfortable using - if you will be fielding any surveys for the client. SurveyMonkey still takes my vote over things like Google Forms.  Although there’s a cost, it allows you to be able to add in multiple languages, and includes benchmarks if you’re looking to include things like NPS or ENPS scores.  

The second area you need insights from is your COMPETITION. 

Brands help people make choices, so a brand strategy needs to be clear on how we are DIFFERENT from our competitors. If you have the same answers to things like 'WHY we exist', 'WHO we are and HOW we do things' as major competitors then you are doing nothing to help customers or prospective employees understand why they should choose the brand you're working on over others and how they stand apart.

So when we are trying to figure out a brand strategy we need to research what competitors stand for so we can understand areas to avoid. 

(Note - there are long and painful ways to do this and quick and easy ways.  I learnt this the hard way after doing 181 audits of the world's best brands in a 6-month period.  I share my competitor audit template, finding from that audit, and all my shortcuts (and all the tools in this article) in Brand Strategy Academy. ).

Tool you need for this stage: Competitor Audit Template

The final area is COMPANY insight.

The first two areas look outside.  It’s just as important to look inside (it’s really the place you should start).  You need to make sure you are reflecting the organization itself; who they are, how they have got to this point, what they are building and creating and what their intentions are for the future. 

You need to make sure the brand strategy feels right: feels authentic to the people working at the organization and builds on any positive equity and heritage. 

And it must be supported by their strengths and key capabilities, and day-to-day behavior. It has to reflect not just what we’d like to say about them but what they are actually DOING, or promising they will do. It has to ring true! 

Sounds obvious, but a lot of the problems with brand strategy are down to not paying attention to this point enough. (Read more about brand strategy problems and how to solve them here).

Tools you need for this stage of the brand strategy process:

  1. Brand Strategy Workshop (with all exercises designed, the workshop scripted and timed, and pre-work sent out beforehand to get the most from the session)
  2.  Leadership Interview Guide 
  3.  Founders Questionnaire/Interview Guide (when working with a start-up or brand with a founder(s) still in place) 
  4. Employee Research Questionnaire/Interview Guide (as above) 

Brand Strategy Process: Step 3

Filtering, insight identification, strategy creation

Once you have stage 2 complete, you need to filter the information to get to the insights that are relevant, (sufficiently) differentiated and authentic. Once you have filtered down to your insights, you can use them as your 'fodder' to create the answers to your brand strategy questions.  

Filter then build.

Tools you need for this stage of the brand strategy process:

  1. Analysis Frameworks and Diagnosis Presentation
  2. Leading Brand Strategy Examples (It’s great to have a bank of the brand strategy examples from the world’s most valuable brands to inspire you to think differently - and to avoid the big ideas already out there).  
  3. Thinking Time! Ok – not a ‘tool’ but you need to build this in the plan!  Nothing worse than creating a strategy under intense time pressure.

Now, I know all of this sounds like some work, and it is – I’m not going to pretend that you can get to such an important outcome in half a day and 2 cups of coffee. 

It’s something that should last an organization years, impacting every person who works there, bringing direction and focus to marketing, HR and innovation efforts. (if you're wondering whether it's worth it - or how to convince your client to invest in it - here's all the stats you need).

Stay clear of anyone who tells you that a successful brand strategy can be created in a conference room with a few people in one afternoon!

But it can be done very efficiently, typically over an 8-12 week period depending upon the complexity of the business and the scale of the research needed.

And if you need it, I can help you learn every step, equipping you with all the practical tools above in Brand Strategy Academy. 

Brand Strategy Academy is an immediately accessible online course that includes every tool mentioned above: research guides, a scripted brand strategy workshop, analysis templates, lots of leading brand examples, etc.  

It also includes 21 weeks a year of live support from me, lifetime access, case studies, a real-life practice case study from one of my lovely clients, advanced masterclasses and membership of a great community of alumni (253 and counting).

Why not grab it now and get started today?
You'll be clear, confident and ready to sell brand strategy within 8 weeks.
(Or sooner if you like to binge watch!).
Hope to see you in there.


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