Clearing the Murky Waters: What is Brand Strategy, Really?
As a mass-consumer society, we are bombarded by thousands of advertisements from companies competing for our attention. If we were to pay consideration to each company that is working their way into becoming a household name we would be flooded, no drowning, in information that would ultimately consume us. To keep this from happening, our brain collects data from our senses and compares it to data from earlier experiences to put it into a category. Typically, what gets filed into this category is a brand that underlines good communication and design, instantly creating a barrier to competition, thus building on differentiation, the only relevant keyword within branding.
It’s no wonder that in an ever-growing and saturated market, “Branding” is the new hot word being thrown around amongst marketers, business execs, and designers alike. Unfortunately, the meaning has been diluted dependent by who is talking about the term. Marketers and Executives often discuss managing brands, but typically they mean managing their products, quality, distribution and sales. Designers often refer to branding as website design, packaging, and logos/symbols. Yet, those are just elements of branding, but it's not necessarily branding itself.
So let’s clear the waters right now, branding is not marketing, nor is
Why Branding is the Bridge between Marketing & Design
Marketing is strategic, analytical, linear, and logical. Marketing strategy is information backed by data sheets which can draw clear and rational solutions to strategic product promotion. It can help increase sales, but it doesn’t establish a brand.
Design, on the other hand, is on the opposite spectrum of the logical marketing realm. It is emotional, visual, spatial and physical.
Branding, on the other hand, is far less tangible than a data sheet, it’s an aura and an invisible layer of meaning that surrounds the product. Yet, this aura doesn’t formulate from thin air, it’s created by Brand Strategists who are armed with research, data, and predictions to formulate a design and positioning which differentiates the product and brand from competitors.
To give you an example of Brand Strategy in action, let’s say I pour some water into 2 cups, you likely wouldn’t have much of an opinion on the water. Now, I pour water into a generic water bottle, and a Voss water bottle. Suddenly you would have differentiating emotions in interacting with that water, despite the rationale that it is essentially just H2O. This is because the Brand Strategists behind Voss created the “aura” of high-end water based on consumer preferences, price, strategic in-store placement, and of course by utilizing a glass bottle design.
Today, we create symbolic purchases based on how we want to be identified. Consider the following quote on differentiation and uniqe selling propositions to evaluate how your product is different.
" Cognitive expert Edward de Bono once advised marketers that, instead of building a brand on “USP” (the Unique Selling Proposition, or the unique features of a product) they should instead focus on “UBS” the Unique Buying State of their customers. He was ahead of his time in predicting the rise of consumer-centric marketing, which in other words describes the questions we contemplate before purchasing a product." - Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
Here are four questions that you can use to help you understand how people view your product:
“tribe” willI join in purchasing this product?
- What kind of people buy it?
- What do other people say about it?
- What is the cost in comparison to competitors?
What is Brand Strategy?
Ultimately, brand strategy and a Brand Strategist bridges the gap between Marketing and Design. They conduct marketing research, then use creativity to differentiate (hey, there’s that
If it's curated well, your "tribe" will emotionally, verbally, and physically interact with the product or service, ideally contributing to the aura the strategists are working to create. Therefore, when you think of a strong brand, you’ll have a clear association with their mission. To illustrate what I mean, IKEA stands for affordable style, Coke for joy, and Nike for strength and determination.
We, the targeted consumers, make a statement of who we are when we interact with those products, but moreover, confirm that the strategists have efficiently connected and communicated with our tribe.