Ultimate guide to strategic branding

Anyone involved in a business has probably heard the phrases “brand strategy” or “strategic branding” and thought it sounded daunting—and it does. But strategic branding is a key element to the success of any business. And once you know where to start, and the main areas you need to focus on, it’s actually not as complicated as it sounds.

person out of a box with an arrow pointing at a target board
Illustration by OrangeCrush

When it comes to creating a strategy that will guide you through changes in the market, audiences, and competitor landscapes, there’s nobody better placed to create your strategic branding than you are. But if you need any help at all, this article is this place. We will help you get to grips with strategic branding, what it is, why it matters and the benefits of it. We’ll also go over what you need to start and create your own brand strategy.

Table of contents

  • What is strategic branding?
  • Why strategic branding matters
  • The benefits of strategic branding
  • What you need before you start
  • Strategic branding process
    • Understand your brand’s purpose and goals
    • Define your brand’s image
    • Develop your brand’s persona
    • Curate your brand’s tone of voice
    • Research your audience
    • Analyze your competitors
  • Manage and maintain your strategic branding

What is strategic branding?

Strategic branding is the process of bringing a brand to life by creating an image and tone of voice and conveying the message and core values to its audience.

And of course, to start there needs to be a strategy, a plan to reach the end of the goal for branding. This is the brand strategy, and it will help your company evolve and succeed on a long-term basis. Strategic branding looks at each element along the way that will help make your brand stand out against the rest. After all, a recognizable persona—as much as a great product—is the first step to securing a loyal customer base.

a branded company brochure
An example of branded marketing by Yaseen Art

Strategic branding should cover all the needs of your target consumer, taking into account their needs, emotions, and the alternative options on offer from your competitors. This isn’t about product development or market research, but connecting the very core of your business with your customers. It’s not just your logo or name, but the whole look and feel of your brand’s personality that will let potential audiences know that you’re the brand they’re looking for.

Why strategic branding matters

As a business owner, you’re probably no stranger to strategies. You’re likely to have already created a comprehensive business strategy, marketing strategy, and cost strategy. But your brand strategy is just as important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

creative branding for an animal rescue charity
Social media branding for an animal charity by Dude Owl

Strategic branding helps you understand the full concept behind your business offering, which will ensure you and your team are better equipped to make the decisions that are best for your brand and your audience. By having a recognizable brand persona, your company won’t only be more enticing to customers, but it will also appear more professional and will have a stronger message to convey to your core audience.

Like a generic business plan, starting your strategic branding by considering the needs and goals of your customers, and how you can address them, is the most effective way to approach a new strategy. Sure, you want to be the leading brand in your industry—everybody does. So focusing that mission on strong strategic branding is an easy way to lay out the path to achieving your goal.

The benefits of strategic branding

Think of the big business that most inspires you: it’s likely that they have a very clear brand. You probably understand their personality and tone of voice just as well as you understand their product or service. That’s because the most successful brands, whether they’re world leaders like Apple and Nike or more specific industry success stories like beauty brand Glossier, they have built strong brand reputations that have set them apart from their competition.

Strategic branding sets in place a process for you to create brand identities, personas and tones of voice that will let your customer know who you are, beyond what you sell. By setting a brand persona that lines up with the values, style and interests of your target audience, they’re more likely to align with your brand than that of your competitors.

What you need before you start

The first step to strategic branding is to identify your unique selling point (USP)—the thing that makes you unique and sets you apart from other brands within your industry. This will help you understand your target market, and raise brand awareness that is in line with the needs of that market.

This will also help you to identify and communicate your brand’s values alongside communications about your product or service. Next, you need to decide on a logo and slogan, and all the visible elements of your brand that will make it identifiable to your audience. For example, your font, color palette, and any specific imagery that you want to be connected with your brand’s name. From here, developing cohesive strategic branding is made easier.

a green and white brand book
An example of a brand book used by companies to inform strategic branding by Ludibes

Most brands also develop brand guidelines—a set of guidelines that can be shared internally and with any new starters so that all employees are on the same lines when it comes to the brand’s purpose, image, and visual identity. This covers everything from the brand’s mission statement to the keywords that define its purpose, to the color codes and logo placement information used by designers. This guide should inform your brand strategy and should be a visual representation of the brand itself.

Strategic branding process

As well as traditional marketing methods like print, television, and out-of-home advertising, in the modern world, your website becomes one of your greatest branding assets. Making sure your online presences matches your offline presence is important. Consistency is key when building trust with your customers. And strategic branding can help keep all elements, assets and components in line, consistent and on track to achieve your branding goals.

a brand guide booklet
Brand visualisation by Hugo Maja

Applying your strategic branding to your content and social strategies will ensure that customers reaching your brand at all digital touchpoints will be easier to convert. For example, a customer browsing for a healthy food delivery service should know immediately from your online presence what your mandate is and what you deliver. Graphic design and copywriting are some of the best ways to align all your brand’s imagery and persona cohesively.

That’s how you bring your brand to life via strategic branding, but when developing the strategy itself, there’s a lot to consider. To help you break down the key factors that help your audience understand your brand as a living entity and a distinctive tone of voice, there are six things to consider.

1. Understand your brand’s purpose and goals

Understanding the core purpose of your business and what you do is just as important as having your product or service down pat. According to Allen Adamson, chairman of the North America region of Landor Associates, knowing why you wake up every day and go to work is more important than exactly what it is you do. This is the thing that sets you apart from your competition.

Your brand’s purpose can be understood as either the functional purpose of your business, to make money or to support a specific group of people, or its intention, its ability to make money while supporting that specific group of people.

two people standing with light blubs
By OrangeCrush

Many brands make their intentions known as part of their strategic branding. For example, the search engine Ecosia sets itself in direct competition with the likes of Google, while making its intention (to plant one tree for every search made) as clear as its function (to provide search results). A brand can subtly communicate its purpose in its everyday operations, but more importantly, your intentions should be known by all of your existing audience and potential customers.

Your communication strategy should focus heavily on your brand—almost intersecting with your strategic branding to amplify your purpose beyond the product or service you sell. Another example is razor brand Estrid, which focuses on empowerment and sustainability, rather than the perceived need to shave, as the main focus of its communications online and on social media.

When defining your brand’s purpose, think of the other companies that set out their intentions in a way you find inspirational and relatable. It’s likely your customers will be sold on that same concept, too. Especially if it’s a purpose that is otherwise missing from your particular industry.

2. Define your brand’s image

It might sound obvious, but without a strong identity, you won’t attract customers. If a potential client stumbles across your brand and has no understanding of who you are and what service you provide, they will leave without making a purchase. This relates to your literal, visual brand image that includes your logo and imagery. But it also extends to a more abstract identity that customers will come to associate with your brand.

a person thinking about brand and the persona
By OrangeCrush

For example, you don’t need to see the name Chanel to recognize the double-C logo or the word Nike to understand the swoosh branding. An effective design that is used throughout all of your marketing and communications will help your brand and products stand out. This kind of visual branding should be perfectly aligned with the kind of brand you’re running. The mountain iconography behind the Patagonia logo is a great example of a brand that communicates what they do through their brand imagery.

The brand image also refers to your brand’s overall reputation. Do you want to be known as luxury or affordable, exclusive or accessible, fun or corporate? All of these decisions should be incorporated into your strategic branding to influence the image you portray to your audience.

3. Develop your brand’s persona

The persona of your brand is what makes it feel like a living being to your customers. It will add a human touch and help you to build a community around your product that new members of your audience can resonate with.

three figures held up
By OrangeCrush

Peloton is an example of a brand that has developed a very strong brand persona despite so much competition in the same space. Peloton is not the cheapest or most affordable home spin bike on the market, but it’s premium status and energizing, enthusiastic, and immersive brand personality, and the community that has formed around it, engage its audience and encourage more people to join.

Identifying the kind of human personality that will relate to your audience without feeling false or overly sales-y is key to bringing your brand to life through effective strategic branding.

4. Curate your brand’s tone of voice

The way you speak to your audience is as important as what you’re saying. In strategic branding, your tone of voice dictates the way in which you communicate with your audience and talk about your business and its offerings. Your tone could be expert and professional, fun and witty, or supportive and reassuring depending on your market.

two people holding a megaphone pointing at four profiles of people
By Spoon Lancer

The tone of voice not only makes your brand memorable but also contributes to your persona. Just like human communication, your brand communication needs to hit the right mark to ensure that it doesn’t alienate your audience. This should also extend to your internal messaging so that all departments and teams within your business will be on the same level of communication.

Companies with a strong brand message are likely to stay ahead of their competitors, simply by virtue of understanding. If new customers can understand who you are and what you’re offering, the more likely they are to convert to sales. It will also help you to stay on top of SEO requirements and create the right kind of content to communicate your voice and message further.

5. Research your audience

Your audience’s position within your strategic branding is paramount to the success of a business. Creating audience personas to help all departments within your business better understand the kind of people they need to market to and relate to on a human level is one of the best ways to reach the right demographics for your brand. It might seem obvious to you, but if your employees don’t understand the people who make up your target audience, then they don’t fully understand your brand—and your audience won’t, either.

a person pointing at three profiles of people
By OrangeCrush

This might sound like an internal element of your strategic branding, but the way you understand your audience will be perceived in all of your outward communications. For example, if your audience is aged 50+ and you aim to reach them through TikTok videos, the misunderstanding of your own brand will be detrimental to the way you’re viewed by potential customers.

Understanding your audience can be incorporated into your strategic branding through your core message. This distills and encapsulates your brand offering and values for instant understanding. Audiences relate to a brand’s emotional persona, consistency in messaging and quality, flexibility as it responds to market needs, and the community it builds.

These elements are ever-changing, and a successful brand will be able to keep on top of them and keep its core message relevant. Just look to cigarette companies that adapted to produce vapes in response to their audience’s need for a cheaper and healthier alternative.

6. Analyze your competitors

Your competitors might already have something you don’t, which is why analyzing their brand, and incorporating the things you think they do well into your own strategic branding, can help you fill the gaps that your shared audience is currently missing. Of course, copying your competitors is entirely detrimental to any strategic branding as their market niche is already filled, and their customers don’t need another brand doing the exact same thing.

a few scientist researching in a lab
By felipe_charria

Instead, differentiating yourself and your brand’s overall position will set you apart from competitors as you reach that shared audience or marketplace. Cultivating brand loyalty is easier when you know exactly what your competitors are offering. It will help you step your brand up a level and keep growing to reach your audience in even better and more personal ways, and fill the gaps in their needs.

Rather than viewing your competition as a challenge to overcome, reap the benefits of their successes by occasionally incorporating similar tactics into your own strategic branding—just make sure they’re completely tailored to your own brand personality and voice. Carbon copying another brand’s strategy will never work.

Manage and maintain your strategic branding

Once you think your strategic branding is complete, you can’t just file it away with all your other business strategies. Managing your brand means constantly gathering and analyzing information on where your brand fits into the market and how it can best adapt to current trends. Just like the needs of your customers, your strategic branding never stops growing and changing.

three people checking on three large web pages on personas and data
By Spoon Lancer

These changes could be in response to updates in your existing market, but there are also government and policy, current culture, and other external influences that mean you will need to constantly stay on top of how your brand is perceived. Identifying these risks and opportunities might sound like a lot of work, but without it, your brand will be left behind.

Incorporating a strategic branding management aspect into your plan will help you stay abreast of the ever-changing world of branding. Curating your brand messaging and imagery in line with what is currently popular and meaningful within your audience is one of the easiest ways to ensure they are getting what they want, and know that you are able to provide.

A great example of this is brands like Gorillas, which rocketed to success in the wake of the pandemic to provide doorstep grocery deliveries within minutes when it was near impossible to secure a slot with major supermarkets. This branding push was the result of an effective strategy that has kept their customers coming back for more, even when grocery shopping is easier and more accessible again.

Setting up strategic branding for success

Whether you’re just launching a new brand or are an established business looking to reach new customers or expand into new audiences, strategic branding is essential to your success. It sets the road map to read your branding strategy goals. More importantly, it becomes a key element to a successful business. So don’t wait another minute and get going on your strategic branding process.

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