Developing and implementing a successful brand strategy is one of the most challenging tasks – especially if your business is product-led.
Too often we see companies getting lost in product development or going after short-term sales. Many studies show that taking a step back and allowing time to build the brand increases profits long-term.
Even if there is good intention, it is easier said than done. It needs leadership, long-term commitment, and internal engagement as it affects every part of the business.
How to develop a brand strategy in a product-led organisation
At their core, product-led organisations tend to focus on providing value through their product. This means they acquire and retain customers through their product experience and its unique value proposition. Especially in the early days, the role of marketing is often limited to implementing short-term tactics. These are focused on hitting sales targets, rather than developing a strategy to drive long-term brand value.
Building brands takes time. The full benefits may only appear years later when the brand is successfully positioned in the market and owning a distinctive space in customers’ minds. This doesn’t happen by chance! A concerted effort is needed to make brand development a priority, but it will pay off.
What is a brand strategy, and why do you need it?
The world’s most adored and successful brands didn’t just pop up overnight – they have been built with intent. They will have followed a well-defined, long-term brand development plan, in line with their business strategy.
How customers think and feel about the brand
A brand strategy is not about creating a logo or short-term tactics; rather, it is about defining how you want your customers to think and feel about your brand – and building a roadmap of how to get there.
Strong brands have a true competitive advantage. Rather than competing on product features and price only, they create an emotional connection that makes a product unique. Competitors can copy what you do, but not who you are.
What the brand stands for
Think about the endless shelves in supermarkets offering a range of products with very little difference, for example in water, milk alternatives or energy drinks. Most people choose brands they know, or brands they admire because of what they stand for, like Evian, Oatly or Red Bull – and as consumers we are often willing to pay a higher price for this.
Because of their influence on purchasing decisions, brands are often considered a company’s most valuable asset. Apple has held the top spot for most valuable brand in the world for a long time. The Apple brand (not the company itself) is now worth an estimated $408bn. (Source: Interbrand Report 2022)
Growing your brand
Clarity of vision for your brand and a strategy to achieve it not only drives brand value, but acts as a catalyst for growth, as it affects every part of the organisation. The brand vision and strategy can guide decisions around product development, communications, pricing and distribution, and can improve collaboration, efficiencies, and commitment by bringing colleagues together to work towards a shared goal. This in turn drives greater consistency in how your customers experience your brand, and increases its impact. Taking everyone in the company on the ‘journey’ is therefore crucial for success.
How do you develop and implement a brand strategy successfully?
The reason many companies fail to develop and implement a brand strategy can be because they lack a long-term vision, budget, and commitment from their leadership team, but also because it can be complicated!
It requires close collaboration across different parts of the organisation, and a company culture to support it.
We recently supported to drive internal alignment for developing a brand strategy by engaging their executive team as well as cross-functional teams. Through interactive and carefully planned workshops, we inspired conversations and shifted perceptions, so that everyone came to fully understand why they needed a brand strategy and appreciated not just the benefit to the business as a whole, but the difference it would make for them and their teams day-to-day.
Product-led businesses can get hung up on product features and comparisons, while brand-led organisations have the power to start a movement, getting customers and colleagues to follow the rallying cry.
The secret of businesses and brands like Apple, Nike and Amazon is that they are built with a clear purpose, are clearly positioned in the market, with a distinctive brand identity that is executed consistently across different channels.
Three steps to develop a brand strategy:
1. Define the brand purpose – why do you exist?
As Simon Sinek famously said in his TED Talk It Starts with Why, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” While most companies first talk about the ‘WHAT – the product or service they offer – and some talk about their ‘HOW – how they deliver better products and services than their competitors, only a few start with ‘WHY’ – why they do what they do. Defining the ‘Why’, or the brand purpose, helps organisations connect with customers on a much deeper level than with products alone.
This connection is important, because customers are more loyal to brands that share the same values and beliefs as them. 64% of consumers say that sharing the same values with a brand is the primary reason they have a relationship in the first place. [Source: Harvard Business Review]
Patagonia was one of the first brands to champion the environment. They started with a clear ‘Why’ by stating that they are in business to save the planet. They rarely talk about their products and have grown a global fanbase who share the same values and beliefs. By talking to an audience of climbers, skiers and outdoor adventurers firmly rooted in nature, their purpose is credible, authentic, and highly relevant.
2. Develop the brand positioning – where do you compete?
“Positioning is not what you do to a product, but what you do to the mind of a prospect”, writes Al Ries, author of Battle for your Mind.
Brand positioning is about being clear on how your brand is different from its competitors. Where it should sit in your customers’ minds, so they choose you rather than your competitors.
To define the brand positioning, you need to understand market trends and competitors, your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and your target audience’s needs. Once you know who your customers are and what you can offer them, it’s important also to be able to deliver on your brand promise.
Amazon’s promise is to be the most convenient company with the lowest prices and best customer service. They consistently deliver on this better than anyone else.
3. Create a brand identity – who are you?
In the words of Walter Landor, brand designer and pioneer of branding, “products are made in a factory, brands are created in the mind.”
Your brand identity defines who you are as a brand, your personality and how you look and speak. It is brought to life through a unique set of brand associations. For example, your logo, typography, the colours you use, product and packaging design and your tone of voice. Nespresso is a good example of showing up consistently, with a timeless elegance across all touchpoints. Their tone is sophisticated and brings to life their expertise and precision.
Developing a brand strategy, especially in a more product-led organisation, can be a challenge. It is not only about agreeing the ‘What’, but also managing the ‘How’ and defining the ‘Why’. Alignment across different stakeholders and departments is crucial to ensure successful implementation.
Experts from outside the company can help to facilitate discussions and guide the process. They can help to create momentum behind the plan and help everyone understand why the brand strategy matters. Experts can also ensure people are clear on their role in making it a success.
If your company is facing a similar challenge, and you need help with developing and implementing a brand strategy, get in touch with Blue Feathers. We’re here to help.
Author: Christina Bertram
Christina is a brand and marketing specialist, adept at combining a clear strategic vision with commercially driven execution. She has been delivering successful brand positioning and marketing plans for iconic brands for over 15 years. Working with companies including Absolut Vodka, Malibu, and Campari, as well as launching Aperol Spritz into the UK. Christina is passionate about connecting brands and consumers through relevance, emotion, and purpose.