I was six years old when it happened. I stepped off a plane with my parents and sister, a one way ticket that landed us on Sydney soil. A new culture, a new city, a new language. It was a new beginning, though being a fresh-faced kid, I yearned for the comforts I grew up with. Despite the complexities of accustomising to a new life, halfway around the world, I looked to the things that portrayed consistency. One of those things was Sesame Street. Sure, watching a furry sack with plastic eyes and a hand shoved up the backside is great at any age, but what intrigued me was how ‘at home’ I felt watching it. The bilingualism of the brand was transferred from my old life to the new. The brand transcended age groups and continents, and for that reason, its trust was as welcoming as it was everlasting.
Ask a kid what McDonalds is, they’ll tell you in a heartbeat.
When you think of Starbucks, Googles, Ubers of the world, your brain instantly relates the brand to the service they provide (perhaps even the value they provide you). That’s no mistake or luck on their part. It’s careful brand planning and years of executing that vision consistently. These big players have earned their reputation. What if your brand could achieve that same level of intimacy?
In today’s increasingly digitised world and with low barriers to entry, most of the pre-planning and procedural thought processes have been lost to just simply ‘getting your hands dirty’ and executing an idea.
While some of the ‘old-school’ business and marketing processes can be left in the past, one that shouldn’t be, and is certainly worth your time, is the brand strategy.
The brand strategy enforces clarity in line with brand goals, it’s a road map to wiring yourself, your staff and your audience to the mantra and direction of the company, and will mould your business and marketing decisions indefinitely, so long as it is respected.
Whether you’re on a mission to disrupt an industry, topple an underserved niche or establish yourself as a thought leader, this guide (and the questionnaire that goes with it), will provide you with a rock-solid brabd foundation.
Brand Building Strategy: the FAQ approach
When I look at creating a brand strategy, I turn to the humble FAQ for inspiration. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section exists on many of the best websites, and aims to answer many of the most common questions an audience might have about the business/product/service/experience. This works well, as it saves time and money and prevents unneccessary strain on customer service staff, leaving them to deal with real issues.
Building an internal brand FAQ is a great way to ensure consistency is upheld, regardless of the function that staff member plays. Like most FAQ’s, the questions are split up into logical sections. For this brand-building exercise, there are six sections to a holistic approach:
- Pleasure and Pain
- Customer Journey Mapping
- Buyer Personas
I’ve prepared a Google Doc for you to workshop the brand building exercise yourself. Access it here, and save a copy for yourself.
The six brand-building sections of questions are formulated around comprehending internal and external influences on the position and direction of your venture.
This is your opportunity to describe the brand as you see it. Your end company goals will define your approach to communicating how your brand fits into the world. While there are plenty of intangibilities that make top brands what they are, being able to articulate these will help you nail it as time moves forward. When dealing with perspective questions, try not to think too much about the competition, rather, on the type of brand you’d like to be perceived as. The aim here is to outline your vision, your team, and value.
- What is the ultimate outcome would you like from this brand building process?
- What is your vision statement?
- What is your brand’s story?
- What makes the team capable/amazing?
- What kind of personality does the brand have?
- What makes your brand admirable?
- In one line, describe what you do?
- What are your brand values, what does it stand for?
- What practical benefits do your customers associate with your brand?
- What negative aspects are associated with your brand, and how can you fix or pacify them?
- How consistent is the brand currently being portrayed? Are there any inconsistencies you can fix?
- How will you ensure that the brand is carefully managed?
- Where do you want to see the brand positioned in the market, relative to your competition?
- What’s driving your current growth?
- What issues do you see with the current brand, or where you want to take it?
Without these, you might as well not be in business. Although the customer is not always right, it’s important to understand your target market intimately, and not aim to be everything to everyone. You’ll always find a segment of the market spectrum that is a greater audience to you than others, and this is who you should ultimately market to, as well as pivot to become more appealing.
If you’re able to find some census data, market research or white papers on your target demography, this will help you to define who they actually are and if your brand strategy aligns with their needs. Alternatively, set up an incentivised survey and leverage your existing email database (if you have one).
- Who are your brand’s target customers?
- What demographic is your brand appealing to?
- What customers do your aspire your brand to have?
- How aware of the brand are your target customers?
- What is your unique value proposition (UVP)?
- What do people feel or associate when they think about your brand? Would you change it?
- How do customers currently find out about your brand?
- Which channels have you yet to explore that your customers are currently using?
- Do you have a list of great customer testimonials or feedback?
Competitor analysis should be used as a guide to your position in the market, and not a roadmap to business success. If you care too much about what your competitors are doing, you’ll always be playing catch up. That’s bad because you’ll never get a chance to dominate or differentiate, and that will always hold your brand back in the pack.
With this in mind, it’s still important to track your competitors and how they position themselves in the market.
- Who are your competitors?
- Where do you see yourself in relation to your competitors?
- What are your competitors’ brand position?
- What is your current competitive position?
- What are the core strengths of your brand that you can beat the competition with?
Pleasure and Pain
It’s nice to be able to capture the ‘essence’ of what makes your brand appealing, trustworthy, and something to buy in to. This comes down to identifying your market’s pain point, and the way in which you leverage that to deliver pleasure (or, the AHA! moment).
The end result is, you want your brand to be associated with alleviating a problem for your target audience. When you think of Mercedes-Benz, you think ‘elegant’, when you think of Instagram, you think ‘image sharing’, when you think of James Bond, you think ‘suave badass’, when you think of Kanye West, you think… erm, not much, but he has ‘good music’. That’s what you’re aiming for – association.
- What problem does your brand actually solve? How severe is the problem?
- What are the ‘feel good’ moments with the process/delivery/service?
- What are the functional benefits delivered to customers?
- What are the emotional benefits delivered to customers?
- What does your brand do to surprise and delight its customers?
- What do you do that actually matters?
- How ‘good’ or ‘philanthropic’ is your brand?
Customer Journey Mapping
Understanding how your audience learns about you, finds you, uses/purchases your brand and relates to you after their conversion is super important. The clearest way you can do this is to create a mind map of the customer journey with your brand. The secret here is to iron out any convolutedness in the process. If it exists, fix it.
Customers should find you easily, be able to convert without friction, and they should feel like winners throughout their lifecycle with your brand (which as a bonus, helps with repeat conversions and drives evangelism upwards). You can present these as an infographic for greater clarity.
- Have you mapped out how you acquire customers, how they interact with you, and how they make a purchase? Are there any roadblocks or speedbumps?
- Have you mapped out the purchase process? How easy is it?
- Have you mapped out the post-delivery process and how you maintain relationships with customers? What could improve?
A buyer persona details the ‘average’ audience/customer for your brand. It takes all the data you know about your customers, and summarises it as a semi-fictional character. Think of it as a ‘human’ representation of the most prolific characteristics of your usership.
The benefit to creating a buyer persona is that it will clearly define who you’re marketing to: the majority gender, their goals, motivations and behaviours. By concentrating on marketing to your buyer persona personality, you’re targeting the better portion of your target audience niche.
- What data can you share that defines your typical customer?
- What defines the person you need to convince for a sale?
- Who do you need to deal with to execute the sale?
- What are your customer’s goals?
- What are your customer’s challenges?
- What are your customer’s typical/average demography details (Age, Income, Education, Geography)
- What’s the typical daily work/home life like for your customers?
- What are the most common/typical objections to buying from you?
A great free tool by Hubspot is Make My Persona. It’ll help you work through some of these questions (and other great ones) and guide you through to a nice-looking buyer persona.
Screw Rigidity, Become Fluid
Your brand strategy will guide everything you do internally and externally with your brand, however it’s important to understand that the world keeps evolving around us. Your brand should do that too. Keeping an eye on the pressures of your industry, customers and market shifts is critical, and you must allow change into your brand if you’re going to in it for the long run.
What questions did you answer that were pivotal to your brand strategy? Share them below!