When you think of Apple, it’s less likely you’ll remember a specific Ad campaign or piece of content, but more likely their sleek design, simple messaging, and product consistency. You’ll remember how you felt interacting with their brand.
In any marketing organization, you’re always balancing the macro and micro. You’re constantly playing offense and defense. Especially if you’re pushing to evolve a company on a larger scale.
The macro consists of taking a step back to understand your users, their pain points, their mindset. It’s taking a step back to ensure your products and services are positioned to solve their needs and differentiate yourself from competitors. It’s the brand strategy.
The micro consists of the day-to-day, the content you produce, the campaigns you run, the partnerships you form, the events you throw, the features you create, and the customer service you deploy.
While the micro is the measurable, the meat, the work that proves if you’re successful or not, if you don’t get the macro right, then the micro will ultimately fail. Sure, you can sustain developing content, sending emails, and pushing Ads for a while, but you need the right positioning, a consistent message, and visual identity in order to make an organization successful long term.
So, when it comes to brand strategy, where do you start? No matter how complicated any agency makes it seem, it comes down to 5 primary buckets:
Start with the initial research & conversations
- This is a two-fold intake process. It’s taking inventory of the historic marketing content and assets – understanding how you (currently) talk about your business, products, and how it all comes to life. It’s also having conversations with key internal and external stakeholders to understand, strengths, weaknesses, and gut-reactions when it comes to the company. These two steps and will set up the rest of the process.
Bring in the competitors
- Once you collect the information and have the conversations, it’s time to look at your competitors. You’re still in the intake phase, but you’re looking outward towards your industry. You need to understand, at scale, how others talk about similar products and how they position themselves against you. The key is to analyze at least 5 industry leaders, but the more the merrier.
Find the differentiating factor
- Once you complete the intake phase, it’s time to start the analysis phase. Based on what you gathered in the upfront research, identify your differentiating factor(s). Ask yourself, what about your brand and products make you different? And, how can you position your products so it’s solving a user need and cutting through the noise? This step will ultimately inform a number of different items, including your positioning.
Develop the positioning
- Positioning development is a critical piece to the puzzle and requires a lot of time and brainstorming. Additionally, this step usually goes through 2-3 rounds of refinement based on management feedback. Take the differentiating factor(s) you identified and develop your messaging platform. This means taking time to identify your brand voice, value prop, supporting messaging pillars, product descriptions, and taglines. The positioning document is your anchor and the copy that comes out of it should always be woven into your content in some form or another.
Bring the positioning to life visually
- The reason the visual identity comes after the positioning is that the messaging should inform your visual identity. Apple’s simplistic messaging informs their sleek design. Tesla’s futuristic value prop informs everything they do. How you position your company informs the design. If you have messaging and positioning that is extremely futuristic, then go with a more bland color palette and subtle graphics, it probably won’t work. These two things should complement each other. The visual identity usually includes color palettes, fonts, icons, imagery, etc.
Brand strategy is often misunderstood in most organizations and those outside of marketing will likely question why it matters… But, brand strategy is always the most critical element. You develop all content with the messaging at the core, weaving it through different pieces, ads, etc… You create all the assets in the visual identity you established. This way, as you deploy the micro, consistency is at the core. So, whether you do this internally, or partner with an agency, the macro always needs to come first. Without it, you’re just another product or service.