Why Brand Strategy is not just “BS”
June 19, 2018
“A brand is the expression of an entity, person, product or service, as designed by its creator and perceived by the world.”
– Taylor and Schreiber • Rebranding Branding
In 2017 I published a book with Mark Schreiber called Rebranding Branding. I had noticed over my decade-long career as a brand strategist that most organisations, including multinationals, still didn’t get the importance of having an always-on brand strategy. And some of our smaller, family-run companies, before hiring us, had never had a single discussion about their brand, let alone a strategy for how to develop and protect it.
So we wrote a book, not only as a challenge to organisations but to fellow brand agencies as well. After all, it seemed my own industry wasn’t doing a good job communicating the brand of brand. Executives thought branding was just for the retail sector, and was superficial. Business consultants viewed it as part of Marketing, just a way to make sales, rather than allied to core business values and functions.
What were brand agencies doing wrong?
It’s true, branding as a business did start out within the Marketing departments of large retail companies. It’s purpose was to differentiate their products from those of competitors and secure the holy grail of brand strategists: customer loyalty.
But developments in the last few decades, including globalisation and the speed of innovation, have now made brand strategy an imperative for all organisations.
The good news is that while in the past only big corporations could afford brand campaigns, now anyone with a YouTube channel or Instagram account can promote their brand to a potentially global audience.
The risks of not caring about your brand can be existential, whether you’re a multi-national or a Ma and Pa coffee shop. I’ll use the latter example to illustrate my point. In the past, Ma and Pa cafes were protected from competition by geography. They could put a generic ‘Coffee’ sign out front and ignore customer feedback because people needed coffee, and being conveniently located in the neighbourhood, they were the easiest place to buy it. Another Ma and Pa cafe might open up across the street, but they were both competing on a relatively level playing field. In fact it was the new store that had to gain market share and catch up.
But now it’s Starbucks opening across the street, and it’s the legacy cafe that has to catch up. And this is what we’ve been seeing the last 30 years—independent businesses going belly up because they can’t compete with the Starbucks and Walmarts of the world.
Our Ma and Pa cafe can’t compete with Starbucks on pricing, sourcing, distribution or capital. They will only survive if, over the years before Starbucks’ appearance, they had built a loyal customer base through standards of quality, personal attention, and unique ambiance, so that enough people will still patronise them even though the choices are a bit narrower, the service a bit slower and the prices a bit higher.
Therefore branding, rather than being an extravagance or something superficial, is the key to their survival. And communicating their differentiation and creating loyalty are the goals of outside agencies like mine, and should be on the mind of at least one person within the company leadership. All the time.
We define brand strategy as follows:
The continuous articulation of who you are and why you matter, expressed in the most powerful and productive way possible.
…And when you can answer these questions for your company, you can language it powerfully to your market, creating a relationship based on depth and understanding which is great for people and great for business.