An effective brand strategy extends far beyond designing logos and choosing color palettes—a brand that is built with precision, intentionality, and longevity in mind will ultimately drive a company’s success as much as (if not more than) its product’s functionality.
Oftentimes, a brand is the first interaction a person will have with your company, and these days, consumers are constantly bombarded on social media with new brands to choose from. How you present your brand—not only visually but also in its narrative and messaging—is often the deciding factor for potential customers to choose your product over a competitor’s.
“Consumers have shifted now to when they shop, they’re not just purchasing a product, they’re creating a relationship with a brand that says something about them as a person,” said Bernadette Aulestia, the former President of Global Distribution at HBO. “Every brand has a story to tell. And if you tell it in the right way, you can connect with customers, and that gives you avenues back to revenue generation.”
While a brand will evolve alongside its product, taking the time to conduct a thorough brand exploration early on will set a strong starting point from which to iterate. Follow these five steps with your brand team in tow, and create a brand that’s built to last:
Anchor your brand in its name.
Your company’s name is your company’s identity, and it can make or break your company before it even launches.
Consider this: About.com is one of the simplest domain names out there, and it tells users exactly what it does right away. However, up until a month after About Inc. went public, it was called The Mining Company, referring to the act of digging up gems and polishing them.
“My investors were not happy about the name change, since changing it after we went public was a legal nightmare,” said Scott Kurnit, founder and former CEO of About. “But I thought we were bigger than what ‘The Mining Company’ entailed, and I wanted the name to capture the essence of a company with a number of verticals.”
Reflect on simplicity, range, length, tone, and all possible trajectories of your brand before you launch. A powerful brand name should tease its brand story while also leaving room for evolution.
Find your narrative.
Every brand has a story, but not every brand tells their story in a way that will connect with its target audience.
Before you begin shaping your brand messaging, conduct a structured brainstorm with the founding team to focus your core narrative. Gathering your founders and earliest hires to remember what led to the founding of your company, and the act of articulating it to each other, will help surface the most concise, poignant version of your brand story.
Focus on the impetus for your product, whose life you are aiming to change with it, and how your product would have changed your life if it had existed five or ten years ago.
Understand your audience—and represent them behind the scenes.
Before you begin to shape your messaging, nail down the customer your content is speaking to. If you have not yet gathered a sufficient data pool, customer personification exercises can help you understand your target audience’s habits: How old is your target customer? What industry do they work in? Where do they live? Where do they get their news? How do they consume media? Where might they see ads?
Aulestia also explained that a lack of customer representation behind the scenes is one of the biggest missteps she sees modern companies make.
“If you're creating content for a specific audience, then, by any means necessary, make sure someone who’s in the same demographic as the audience is in the room,” Aulestia said. “Whoever you're trying to speak to, make sure that, from idea conception through execution, you have kind of the voice of that customer represented in your creative team.”
If your core audience is female, your executive board should not be mostly men; if your core audience is tweens, then gather a tween panel; and if you want to build a diverse customer base (which essentially every business should), you must actively avoid homogeneity.
Recommended template: Digital Marketing: Understanding Our Audience
Turn your story into messaging, tailored to your audience.
How you tell your brand story is as important, if not more important, than the story itself.
Once you’ve identified your brand’s core story and audience, gather your marketing team to develop brand messaging—taglines, website copy, landing page headlines, content opportunities, and so on—in a tone that expresses your brand’s narrative and personality as well as connects with your target demographic.
Write several drafts and versions of even the shortest headlines, and always ask for a second, third, or even fourth opinion to check the tone. A/B testing is helpful to discover what language works with particular audiences, and remember to tailor your content for different platforms. If you have a customer advisory board or can gather a focus group of existing customers, asking them directly what language they connect with is your best bet to reach likeminded people.
Reach beyond your core audience while keeping existing customers happy.
Your target demographic should always be your first priority when imagining who to speak to with your brand messaging. In most cases, those were your original and likely your most loyal customers. That said, always be on the lookout for critical adjacencies.
“Every business has a core of who they are as a company, as a product, as a consumer,” Aulestia said. “And as you scale or as the market changes, you get the chance to look at what the adjacencies are to that core.”
These days, virtually every industry is in flux—and consumer habits and values are shifting as well. This era of change is an opportunity for capturing adjacencies, or offshoot audience demographics, that your brand may not have been able to reach a few years ago.
For example, software companies in the B2B market might now be used for virtual social gatherings among friends outside of work; plant-based meat substitutes can extend beyond vegetarians to eco-conscious eaters, or even to institutions that observe Meatless Mondays; and clothing companies that usually traffic in fashion can create PPE when, say, a global pandemic hits. You get the idea.