Brand Strategy, an Overview

By:

Daniel Blaho

Really great brands know the secret sauce for making a company successful and they know it has to do with using more than just a well-designed logo. Learn the secrets for yourself in our series covering branding and brand strategy.

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The Difference Between Branding, Brand, and Brand Strategy 

If you’re not in a marketing role of some capacity, these terms can be really convoluted. They feel that way even in our industry. There’s really no right definition of the three terms. Some of our own direct competitors use these terms in different ways. 

However, we go by a pseudo-standard that we believe is most commonly used, so let’s break it down:

  • Branding is often referred to as the process behind developing physical branded collateral of an organization that includes the logo, print materials, visual ads, website, etc. It also could be used as the present-tense verb form of brand. You’ll see us use it both ways but more commonly, the verb form. We typically call branded materials “brand collateral”. 
  • We’ve already defined brand, but it is probably the most misused of these terms. People often refer to the word “brand” as a literal replacement for the word “company”. Such as, “What brands have super bowl commercials this year?”, or “I saw one brand do this.” We hear this the most in our industry, interestingly enough.
    Brand is also used as a verb and it means to employ a brand strategy. However, the biggest misconception of all of these terms is that a brand and a logo are the same thing. They are not. Remember the definition. A logo is just a very small part of a brand. 
  • Brand strategy is the process behind developing a unique and sustainable brand in order to guide marketing and some business strategies. 

So, what we’re basically saying is branding is not brand, except that it is brand so let’s strategize about branding. Got it? Okay, great. Moving on. ;)

While marketing tactics change constantly, there’s one part of your marketing that should remain constant and consistent at all times - your brand. A brand is more than just visual assets such as a logo and matching collateral. It is the essence of who your organization is and it controls how people perceive your company. 

In this series, we’ll guide you through all of the parts that make up a brand and how to start to control the perception of your organization in order to guide your marketing strategy. 

Why Branding is So Important to Your Customers

A brand is a consumer’s perception of the intangible and physical attributes of an organization. Yeah, we know. That might not make much sense. We’ve rewritten that definition countless times, and there’s a thousand other, similar definitions out there. So, let’s break it down. 

Brand is about perception. It is what a customer thinks about when having some kind of experience with a company. 

We say intangible because we’re talking about perception and a lot of perception has to do with experiences. It’s what a customer might feel when doing business with a company. 

However, it’s also about the physical appearance of the company, too. The building you work in, the interior design inside the offices, the vibe as you walk in are all parts of a brand. Your logo can’t express everything that your company is, so that’s why we must consider the overall “package” when we look at brand strategy. It’s so much more than just a pretty graphic with your business name.

Branding is About Perception

Everything your company is doing, and not doing, affects brand perception. That’s right - things you don’t do add to a prospect’s, customer’s, or employee’s perception. 

Look at it this way: The way a company presents itself is how others will perceive it. So if you’re not controlling how the company looks and sounds, customers will create their own perception - their own brand view. So since people are going to have an opinion about your company, whether you do something, or not, why not attempt to control and mitigate that perception?

Brand perception surveys can help us determine where the company stands with the public and from there. Peoples’ perceptions change all the time and they can change based on a number of things both personal and environmental. 

As marketers, it’s part of our job to direct that perception in a way that creates a positive brand image. We call that brand strategy which can fall under the umbrella of branding. The strategy behind branding a company.

Let’s ask a question: if your company was a person, what would they…

  • Look like? Are they in a suit and tie or cargo shorts and Ray Bans? 
  • Sound like? Are they loud and “in your face” or subdued, yet robust?
  • Act like? Are they the life of the party or are they the leader at the head of the table? Maybe both?

It’s okay. Take a moment to think about that and maybe even write down those answers. Thinking this way can help you narrow down your brand the way you see it, which can help you create a cohesive brand image for your customers.

Branding is not necessarily cheap, easy, or fast. So you should definitely consider these points if you were to decide to start developing your brand. Was that hard to follow? No worries! Here’s some information to help you understand the differences between some of the terminology we just used.

“Where Can We Find Our Brand?”

Finding where your culture, operations, and strategy all intersect is the best way to get the answer to that question. So we’ve outlined this simple venn diagram to illustrate that a brand lies somewhere in the center. Your brand touches all parts of your company.

A brand is bigger than just marketing and it’s definitely a team effort. 

Your brand strategy should guide a lot of your marketing, but to see a complete and successful brand strategy, it will need to have its place in your core business strategy, company culture, and day-to-day operations.

This is another part of the “intangibles” we mentioned in the beginning. It may sound like fluff, but after many years working with clients on their branding, we’ve seen how organizational culture, employee engagement, and overall strategy working together can go a long way in making a better brand.

A Few Ways to Incorporate Company Culture in Branding:

  • If your brand is about being a family, use employee or vendor stories behind product labels, highlighting stories of your team. Show your brand really is about being a family.
  • Is your brand about being creative? Engage employees to enter a company wide art contest for different marketing collateral or ad campaigns.
  • Is your brand focused on sustainability? Highlight stories about where your different products are from and how you get/found them on marketing materials. Encourage employees to share when they find new items/supplies that could help with the effort.

It Starts and Ends with a Promise 

We established that brand is about perception. We have found that the most efficient way to build a positive brand perception is to make a promise and consistently deliver on it. 

Whenever you make a brand promise to your customers and then prove that you meant what you said, you instantly start to build trust and loyalty - brand loyalty. Brand loyalty can be measured and is one of the metrics you can use to put an actual dollar value to your brand strategy - brand value.  Effective brand strategies include measurement of these metrics so you can have a firm grasp where the company stands. This allows us to further direct the marketing plans we’re using to follow successes we see and to build upon them.

Attention to brand undoubtedly portrays quality; quality is a buying factor; buying factors are a metric of how much money you make. 

What we’re talking about here is increasing perceived value. 

As an example, let’s look at generic grocery store items versus name brand. Do you remember the Always Save visual branding from the 80s and 90s? It was just a yellow label and the product name. Nowadays, they’ve added a little bit more, but it remains very sterile looking. But, besides the look of the product, is there anything wrong with it? No. In fact, the quality is mostly the same as a name brand product

The fact is, generic brands don’t spend a ton of money on visual branding as a way to keep costs down, so some buyers perceive the product as lesser quality; we all know that person that just will not buy generic products because of their preconceived notions. Those notions probably generated in-part by the visual differences.  

As a result, generic brands realized that in order to stay relevant and keep sales up, they’d have to keep up with their direct name brand competitors. Is this story an oversimplification? Absolutely. In fact, we’ve only mentioned the improvement of the visual brand collateral. 

We’re sure there were a lot of reasons why Associated Grocers rebranded these products, but building value was definitely one of them. The key information to take away is that the company improved their brand to improve their perceived value. 

Brand Value => Positive Perception => Dollars (Playing with this)

We fully understand that building a brand strategy is a bit of a hard sell to the bosses most of the time most of the time, and the common examples of companies making money by rebranding are of large publicly traded companies with tons of resources. But we have definitely seen our own examples with our customers, both small and large. 

Generally speaking, every client that we’ve taken through our branding processes has undoubtedly made more money as a result, and here’s the gist of how it happens: 

Defining a brand strategy, improving your products or services, and improving the way your company looks and sounds all plays into the physiology of the buying process. 

Let’s step through the logic. 

We mentioned that a company that pays attention to, and invests in, a strong brand image is perceived by buyers to be more valuable. But correctly positioning that brand value in the market gives a company more control over price. Value-based pricing means that you can, and should, charge more for your products or services if your operations and business strategy warrant it and you can back it up. 

We’re not saying you can package a poor product and charge more for it. Branding is, again, something that happens on all levels of your company. If you are differentiating, building a better product, and positioning well, then you will make more money, shorten your sales cycle, and build valuable customer loyalty. 

What’s next? 

In the following posts in this series, we’ll talk about all the finer points of developing a brand strategy from simple visual branding to how it plays into your business strategy.

For a good read to move on to, check out our article on Brand Language. That is where we start with new clients, because what your organization says and how they say it generate a big part of your outward perception.