If you’re ready to get serious about the growth of your brand—and your business—brand strategy is the place to start.
And if you want to know all there is to know about brand strategy, you’ve come to the right place.
In what follows, we’ll cover every element of brand strategy, giving you the insights you need to make smarter, more strategic decisions about your brand.
From the very blueprint of your brand to the promises you make to customers to the critical ways you differentiate yourself from the competition, brand strategy is the complete picture of how your brand is structured, perceived, and communicated.
The world’s most successful brands have invested millions of dollars into brand strategy, but it doesn’t take a fortune to leverage the power of the tools within it. All it takes is time, a little patience, and a dedicated team aligned around your brand’s goals.
The first step, though, is understanding what brand strategy is all about.
- What is Brand Strategy?
- Brand Pillars
- Brand Architecture
- Brand Extension
- Brand Positioning
- Brand Compass
- Brand Promise
- Brand Attributes
- Brand Archetypes
- Brand Personality
- Value Proposition
- Competitive Advantage
- The Takeaway
What is Brand Strategy?
Brand strategy is a comprehensive plan for positioning a business in the market, differentiating it from the competition, and shaping how it’s perceived by those who experience it—including customers, employees, investors, the media, and more.
Brand strategy defines how a company will compete in a given market, grow its business, and overcome internal and external challenges. It informs how stakeholders throughout an organization make decisions and allocate resources in order to accomplish these objectives.
The best brand strategy is data-driven—informed by information and insights from brand research—and developed collectively by key stakeholders aligned around the strategic direction of the business.
The end result of brand strategy is usually outlined in a formal brand framework document, sometimes called a brand brief or brand book. This document is an essential asset for anyone tasked with bringing the brand to life in a consistent, cohesive fashion.
Let’s take a look at the variety of strategic processes and assets that brand strategy includes.
Think of brand pillars as the strategic scaffolding of your brand. They articulate your brand’s purpose in the world, determine how it is positioned in the minds of its customers, and define the connections it has with those customers.
Each of your brand pillars covers a distinct yet equally important facet of your brand. Together, they give you a foundation for a consistent, authentic brand experience.
And authenticity matters when it comes to your brand. Research has shown that a whopping 88% of customers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding which brands to support.
The 5 Brand Pillars
There are 5 brand pillars in all: purpose, positioning, personality, perception, and promotion. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what each brand pillar includes.
Purpose is what drives you as an organization. It’s the profound motivation behind why you do what you do. Today’s socially conscious customers want to buy from purpose-driven brands. In fact, one study found that no fewer than 71% of customers would purchase from a purpose-driven company over the alternative when cost and quality are equal.
That’s why the best brand messaging is born from a place of purpose. From your website messaging to your social feeds to your marketing and beyond, purpose should drive the message you deliver to customers. As Simon Sinek famously says in his book and TED Talk of the same name: “Start with why.”
Think about brands like Apple, TOMS, or REI. These brands deliver messages that are about more than just products, features, and benefits. They speak to their customer’s desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. Purpose-driven brands transcend the transactional relationship between business and customer by speaking to a shared interest in a better world or a more meaningful experience.
Your brand positioning is the unique space your brand occupies in the minds of customers, especially as it relates to other brands in the marketplace. Whether you’re a budget brand or a luxury brand, one that’s centered on selection or convenience, indulgence or prudence.
The way your brand is positioned in customers’ minds is determined by where it falls on whichever of these factors is most relevant to your brand. Effective positioning is essential for carving out a unique space in the market so that customers (ideally) don’t consider any alternatives to your offerings. Just think about Apple’s customers, for example. For many of them, you literally couldn’t pay them to use anything else.
Brand personality is the sum of your brand’s human characteristics: its behaviors, emotions, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. We go deeper into brand personality in a dedicated section below, but its role as a brand pillar is noteworthy.
Effective brand personalities are evident in the world’s most successful brands. They’re relatable on a human level because of they speak in human voices and have qualities that are recognizable and resonant. Brand personality should directly inform all of the ways your brand expresses itself. From your brand voice to your brand design, your color palette to your messaging, and beyond.
In basic terms, brand perception is how customers experience your brand. Perception encompasses all of the positive and negative associations that customers attach to your brand experience.
At the end of the day, it’s your customers, not your company, that define your brand’s perception. But that doesn’t mean that customer perceptions can’t be shaped. Shaping customer perceptions is what branding is all about.
Last but not least, brand promotion is all the ways you engage, entice, and motivate customers to connect with your brand. It’s important to point out that brand promotion is different than marketing promotion.
Where marketing promotion is all about facilitating short-lived, highly targeted, campaigns, brand promotion is about cultivating brand loyalty and building brand equity that becomes increasingly more valuable over time.
Any comprehensive brand strategy includes brand architecture. A blueprint that systematically outlines your brand hierarchy, brand architecture is the organizational structure of your company’s portfolio of brands, sub-brands, products, and/or services.
Your brand architecture defines how your various brands, products, or services are related to one another. It’s important to think strategically about these relationships, because they influence how customers think about your brand.
Indeed, if your business has multiple brands or offerings and you haven’t defined your brand architecture, you’re essentially leaving it up to customers to define it for you. This is a recipe for customer confusion, which will always negatively impact sales in a measurable way.
According to research done by Kevin Lane Keller for the Journal of Brand Management, “It is virtually impossible to manage and maximize the value and equity of a brand without a clear, compelling brand architecture strategy.”
A well-defined brand architecture gives you control over the narrative. It signals to audiences the optimal relationships between your brands or offerings, enabling you to better cross-promote them in the process.
Types of Brand Architecture
There are four types of brand architecture, each offering a different way to structure your brand portfolio. Each type features a different relationship between its master brand (parent brand) and its sub-brands (or sibling brands).
A strong master brand with divisions that usually include the master brand name alongside a product or service description. Think FedEx, FedEx Office, FedEx Ground, etc.
House of Brands
A collection of distinct, independent brands under a master brand that audiences may or may not be aware of. Think P&G and its family of consumer brands.
A parent brand with interrelated sibling brands underneath it, all of which have distinct market presences. The sibling brands benefit from an endorsement from the parent brand. Think Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, etc.
Some combination of any of the above architectures. Think Alphabet and its family of brands (Google, Nest, Calico, etc.), many of which have unique brand architectures of their own.
Defining Your Brand Architecture
Deciding which brand architecture type is right for your business, and mapping out your brands or offerings accordingly is an essential part of any brand strategy, especially one that underpins a multifaceted business.
Defining your brand architecture includes three important steps:
Any brand architecture project should start with research on brand awareness, brand loyalty, and brand associations. Only research can tell you which brand architecture is best for your business strategy based on how your audience understands (or doesn’t understand) your various offerings.
Key to research is conducting stakeholder interviews and surveys to get the information you need to parse your offerings or divisions in a way that makes sense to those you serve.
Strategy is all about determining which brand architecture type is best for your business’s needs. Strategy includes creating hypothetical examples of multiple architecture alternatives and identifying the pros and cons of each. Pro tip: Evaluate each alternative against pre-determined criteria to ensure objectivity.
When choosing the best architecture for your business, the most important thing is to prioritize clarity in the connections you want to make between sub-brands, divisions, products, or services. Cross-promotion between brands doesn’t work if customers are confused by the correlations between your various offerings.
It’s important to be realistic when it comes to strategy. Make sure you’re creating a system that supports the growth of your business, but is also one you can maintain given the manpower and capital at your disposal.
The final step is to create a blueprint for the system you’ve chosen—and outline a migration plan.
The visual and verbal cues that come from a well-defined blueprint are essential for helping customers and other important stakeholders navigate your brand architecture. This is why your migration plan should include a naming structure and visual identity system that clearly delineate your various offerings in a way that’s aligned with your overarching brand strategy.
There’s no small amount of risk involved in migrating existing brands to or from a new brand architecture. The consolidation that accompanies mergers and acquisitions, for example, often entails absorbing multiple brands into a single brand or breaking a single brand into multiple brands.
Making these moves with careful deliberation and usually over the course of multiple phases is the best way to mitigate risk and prevent market confusion. Ongoing communication with key stakeholders throughout the transition is essential to protect existing brand equity.
If your brand architecture is the blueprint for your brand, a brand extension is any one of the rooms or buildings that you add as you grow. More specifically, a brand extension is when a company leverages existing brand equity to extend into new product and/or service lines or market categories.
Parlaying brand equity that you’ve already built with proven, successful offerings is a more efficient, effective way to explore untapped industries and verticals.
This is because the halo effect of a reputable brand makes customers more likely to take a chance on a new product or service with the same name.
The 4 Types of Brand Extension
If you’re planning a brand extension, there are essentially four different strategies to choose from. Let’s take a look at how each brand extension type comes to life in the market.
A new iteration of an existing product that broadens your portfolio within a given market. Apple’s suite of products including iPhone, iWatch, iPad, etc. are examples of product line extensions, each offering distinct features and/or benefits.
Companion Product Extension
An entirely new product or service that complements your existing product line, enabling you to expand into an adjacent market. Think HubSpot, which started with a Marketing Hub, only to later add a Sales Hub, a Service Hub, and more—each of which support the original marketing automation platform.
Brand Prestige Extension
A new product, product line, or brand in an entirely new market that leverages the brand equity you have built through authority, influence, and/or cachet. Dyson is a good example of brand prestige extensions, parlaying the brand equity it generated in is vacuum cleaner products to everything from hair dryers to lighting to fans—even air purifying headphones.
A pivot from offering products to delivering services centered on aspirational culture. Think Restoration Hardware (or RH, as the brand is now known), which transitioned from an upscale home-furnishings company to boutique hotels, wine bars, spas—even an impeccably designed private yacht and jet.
The strategic value of brand extensions isn’t hard to see. Effectively executed brand extensions enable an established brand to parlay its success from one product or industry into another.
In fact, Nielsen recently found that of the consumer product “winners” in their Breakthrough Innovation Report, a full 96% were brand extensions.
That being said, the failure rate for brand extensions is actually quite high. Just as the success of a brand extension is transferred to the legacy brand it stems from, the failure of a brand extension has serious knock-on effects when it comes to the reputation and brand equity of the original brand.
So, think long and hard about whether a brand extension makes good business sense, lest you end up with something akin to Colgate frozen dinners.
Executing Your Brand Extension
If a brand extension is right for your business, there are four key steps to ensuring its success. As with most things in branding (and in life) skipping steps is not advised.
1. Establish Goals and KPIs
First, decide how success will be measured. Whether the goal is to drive sales, boost brand awareness, or capture a percentage of market share in a new vertical, establishing real-world goals and measurable KPIs from the outset is key to the success of any brand extension.
2. Evaluate Market Trends
Get a read on the current market landscape. What products or services are your competitors bringing to market? What about the key players in the spaces you’re looking to enter? Understanding existing and projected competitive landscapes will enable you to differentiate your proposed extension and capture market share.
3. Engage with Customers
Do some research (think interviews and surveys) into existing and prospective buyers to better understand what customers are looking for. Understanding the extent to which your proposed brand extension will resonate with audiences who are already loyal to your brand—as well as any new audiences you’ll be targeting—is key to positioning your new offering in a way that speaks directly to customer pains and gains.
4. Develop a Strategy and Go-To-Market Plan
Finally, outline a detailed plan for how your new brand extension will fit into your existing brand architecture, then you’ll need to update your brand positioning, and how to extend your brand’s visual identity to accommodate the new offering.
Only after these strategic elements are in place should you start thinking tactically about a go-to-market plan, including an objective cost-benefit analysis. Fully exploring all of the potential risks and rewards is key to mitigating the former and optimizing the latter.
If there’s a cornerstone to brand strategy, it is brand positioning. Brand positioning is the process of defining the space you want your brand to occupy in customers’ minds, especially as it relates to similar brands in the marketplace.
Are you a premium brand or a convenient brand? Do you offer luxury or price-consciousness? Are your products deliciously indulgent or heart healthy? These are just a few of the qualities and characteristics customers consider when deciding between your brand and the competition.
How your brand is positioned defines how customers will engage with your brand—including whether they’ll choose your brand over the competition, how much they’re willing to pay for your offerings, and whether or not they’ll come back for more.
Effective brand positioning leaves no room for ambiguity in a customer’s mind when they go to make a purchasing decision. It takes the guesswork out of customer decisions, giving them exactly what they need, so they don’t bother looking elsewhere.
Another way to put it is that an optimally positioned brand is able carve out a space in the market so unique that “competitors” are no longer relevant its target audiences.
Related to brand positioning is brand repositioning, which is the process of reshaping a target audience’s existing perception of a company, product, or service.
7 Brand Positioning Strategies
When it comes to brand positioning, there are a number of different strategies, each offering a slightly different approach to planting your brand’s flag in the minds of your customers.
When considering which of the following positioning strategies is right for your brand, think about the audience you are targeting, the industry you operate in, the types of products or services you offer, and—most importantly—how you differentiate yourself from the competition.
The 7 brand positioning strategies include:
1. Quality-Based Positioning
Positioning that anchors your brand around the quality of your products or services. Think of brands like Louis Vuitton and Bentley, whose products are synonymous with luxury. Quality doesn’t have to mean lavish expense, though. It can be as simple as a product that always works the way it is designed to.
2. Price-Based Positioning
Positioning your brand as a lower-cost alternative. Brands like Spirit Airlines and Family Dollar have deftly positioned their brands around competitive price. The downside to this strategy is that affordability often comes at the expense of quality, at least in many customers’ minds.
3. Benefit-Based Positioning
Positioning that highlights specific benefits of a brand. Think of Volvo’s age-old brand promise around the safety of its vehicles. Few benefits are more important to Volvo’s target audience of middle-class families, which is what makes its benefit-based positioning so effective.
4. Leader-Based Positioning
Positioning as the category leader, which is limited to just one or two brands in every industry. If you can realistically claim it, leader-based positioning is a powerful angle. Customers who perceive a brand as number one have little incentive to buy from another brand. Just look at Amazon in online retail.
5. Competitor-Based Positioning
Positioning your brand in opposition to a competitor. Think of the classic Mac vs. PC campaign. This strategy involves drawing a distinct comparison between your brand and another, pointing out the downsides of your competitor to highlight the upsides of its your own.
6. Lifestyle-Based Positioning
Appeals to your audience’s desire for a distinct kind of lifestyle. Think of Corona, whose ads invariably feature tropical beaches, lounge chairs, and buckets of ice-cold beers. Corona’s positioning implies that to taste its beer is to taste a worry-free lifestyle of barefoot leisure and relaxation.
7. Disruptive Positioning
Positioning your brand in opposition to industry norms. One industry where disruption is almost de rigueur is technology. From Uber to Airbnb, leveraging disruptive positioning requires a truly revolutionary approach to your industry.
Positioning Your Brand
Once you’ve selected a positioning strategy, there are a few tools you can use to get your positioning started off on the right foot. As with most things branding, strong positioning starts with good old-fashioned research.
If positioning is the process of situating your brand in customers’ minds, then you need to understand how your customers think, feel, and act in order to effectively position your brand. Interviewing customers is the best way to get the insights you need to create strong positioning that resonates with those you serve.
Once you understand your customers, you also need to understand the other options they have in the marketplace. A simple brand audit is a great way to assess your top competitors, determine how each is positioned within the competitive landscape, and identity opportunities for differentiation.
Define Your Value Proposition
The next step in preparing your positioning is to define your brand’s value proposition. In other words, what’s the unique value you offer to those you serve? How do your customers answer this question? How is the value you provide different than what your competitors offer?
Create a Brand Positioning Map
A great visual tool for positioning your brand is a brand positioning map. This simple grid illustrates how your brand is perceived by customers in relation to your most relevant competitors. It includes the two most common factors your customers consider (price and quality, for example), along with documentation of where each brand within your space falls in relation to each factor.
Write a Brand Positioning Statement
Finally, a brand positioning statement is a one- to two-sentence declaration that clearly and succinctly communicates your brand positioning. A typical brand positioning statement format is as follows:
For (target audience), Brand X is the only (competitive context) that (value proposition) because (reason to believe).
As you can see, your positioning statement is a great way to summarize your brand’s unique value to your target customers in the context of your competitive landscape.
Creating a brand positioning map and writing a clear, compelling brand positioning statement are the first steps on the road to world-class positioning. A comprehensive brand positioning framework, however, includes many of the other key strategic assets explored in this post.
Brand Compass (Purpose, Vision, Mission, Values)
If you thought we were done with branding metaphors, think again. Next up is an invaluable tool for the strategic direction of your business: the brand compass.
A four-part messaging system communicating why you exist as an organization, where you’re going, how you plan to get there, and the principles that guide your most important decisions, a well-defined brand compass is essential for both internal and external brand alignment.
As you’ll see, there is some overlap between your brand compass and your brand pillars. You can think of your brand pillars as a higher-level checklist of your brand’s strategic scaffolding, while your brand compass is a deeper dive into actual messaging itself.
A tool for strategic planning and decision-making, your brand compass should guide you in everything from launching new marketing campaigns to taking on new strategic partners to hiring new employees.
All of your internal stakeholders—from leadership to staff to board members—should be familiar with your brand compass, especially those who are responsible for bringing your brand to life (marketing and communications departments, for example).
The 4 Components of a Brand Compass
Your brand compass includes four essential ideas that define your brand positioning and company culture: purpose, vision, mission, and values. Let’s take a look at the four parts of a brand compass, and why they’re so important.
As we saw when we looked at your brand pillars, your purpose is the answer to the most fundamental question your company faces: why? Why do you get out of bed in the morning to go to work? Why do you do what you do as an organization (beyond making money)?
Your brand’s purpose statement should be simple, profound, and motivational. It should also be integrated into everything you do, from your business model to your marketing. Take Disney, for example. Its purpose, “To make people happy,” can be seen in its movies, its merchandizing, and, especially, its theme parks.
These days purpose is more important than ever. We explored why purpose is so important to your customers in the Brand Pillars section above, but it’s also key to attracting and retaining the industry’s top talent. Research has shown that 78% of employees are more likely to want to work a purpose-driven company.
Your vision is the ultimate end state you’re working to bring about as an organization. Another way to think about your vision is to ask yourself “What would the world look like if our business was optimally successful?”
Your vision statement should be bold, lofty, and audacious. This isn’t the place to hedge your bets when it comes to messaging. Take Oxfam, for example. Its vision, “A just world without poverty,” may not be possible to achieve in our lifetime, but that isn’t going to stop the organization from trying to achieve it.
Your vision should be an inspirational story like this that your leadership team can use to rally the troops, as it were. A good vision statement is clear and direct, and definitely avoids industry jargon or buzzwords. This is an emotional idea that anyone associated with your brand can easily understand—and communicate.
Your mission outlines the route to your vision by detailing what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, whom you’re doing it for, and why. Unlike your purpose and vision, your mission can be a bit longer. This is your chance to spell out in detail the strategic direction of your business.
A good mission statement isn’t just strategic, it’s confident. It should bolster confidence in both your team and your customers that you have a plan to achieve your vision.
The Mayo Clinic’s mission statement is a good example of a mission that covers the what, how, who, and why: “To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research.”
Mission has been shown to be one of the top reasons that customers are more likely to return to a brand. But it’s important internally as well. LinkedIn found that 71% of professionals would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that has a mission they believe.
Your values, or core values, describe what’s most important to you as an organization. They are the principles that unite your workforce and define your company culture. As a shared ethos, they give you ethical and moral guidelines that everyone in your organization should be able to easily understand and get behind.
Core values define the kind of company culture you’re looking to build. For this reason, they should integral to the criteria your company uses for hiring employees, evaluating job performance, and making the decision to part ways with team members who aren’t pulling their weight.
But beyond your internal culture, your values should also play a role in which customers or clients you decide to work with. After all, partnering with a client who doesn’t share your values will usually be a recipe for a disastrous relationship.
Few things are more important than consensus among your team members on the ethical and moral principles that drive their work. Take LinkedIn’s values as an example.
LinkedIn’s Core Values
- We put members first
- We trust and care about each other
- We are open, honest and constructive
- We act as One LinkedIn
- We embody diversity, inclusion and belonging
- We dream big, get things done and know how to have fun
A well-defined set of core values provides a foundation for both the company culture you want to build and the business you want to be. One study found that companies with highly aligned cultures see 30% higher enterprise value growth and 17% higher profit growth.
Your brand promise is the solemn pledge you make to those you serve. Think of Walmart’s ubiquitous brand promise: “Save money. Live better.” This simple yet profound idea encapsulates everything Walmart has promised its customers for decades. But—importantly—beyond promising this tangible benefit, they actually deliver on it.
Your brand promise can be expressed in many different ways. It can take the form of a tagline, it can be woven into product descriptions, or it can inform your marketing messaging.
Your brand promise doesn’t even have to be explicitly communicated with a consistent, unchanging message. It can be implied with themes that run throughout your messaging.
Whether it’s an implicit or explicit pledge, the most important thing about any brand promise is that it is kept—every time.
6 Qualities of a Strong Brand Promise
In addition being kept, there are six key qualities that all good brand promises share. They are authentic, compelling, unique, memorable, believable, and clear.
Your customers will know a genuine promise when they hear one. Your brand promise should be motivated by your company’s purpose, true to its values, and inspired by its vision.
Your promise has to be about something that truly matters to your customer. It should be a unique and effective solution to your customer’s most important problem.
Your promise should be unique to what you offer as a business. It should reinforce your brand’s position as the best provider of a uniquely effective solution.
The best brand promises are hard to forget. They spring to customers’ minds whenever they encounter the unique problem your brand has promised to solve.
Of course, your customer has to actually believe that you can deliver on your promise. A good brand promise is tenable and tangible. A promise is more believable if its outcome is measurable.
Even if it is externally implicit, your brand promise should be documented internally in a clearly articulated statement, so everyone in your organization understands it.
Creating Your Brand Promise
When it comes to actually creating a brand promise that checks all of the boxes above, there are essentially three steps in the process: understanding, articulating, and integrating your brand promise.
Understand Your Customers’ Needs
Defining a compelling, memorable, believable brand promise starts with understanding your customers. What are their needs, challenges, and pain points? Ask your top customers to describe their most salient needs, tally up the responses, and make note of those mentioned more than once.
Which customer needs are you currently meeting? Which are you falling short of? Which could be categorized as goals that require more resources to attain?
Your objective is to identify the needs that are most important to your customers and that your business is uniquely qualified to meet. Narrow down the list with these two criteria in mind until you get to a singular idea that is authentic, compelling, unique, memorable, and believable.
Articulate Your Brand Promise
Ensuring your idea has the final quality of a good brand promise, clarity, is the next step. Craft a simple, straightforward phrase that describes how you pledge to fulfill the most important needs of your customer.
The simpler the statement, the more powerful it is. So, instead of “We pledge to create unforgettable memories for everyone who walks through our door,” a stronger promise would be simply, “Unforgettable memories.”
Integrate Your Brand Promise
Whether implicitly or explicitly, your brand promise should be integrated into all your marketing and advertising initiatives. More importantly, though, it should be built into your brand experience itself, from your products and/or services to your in-store experience and/or customer service.
At the end of the day, the most important quality of any brand promise is integrity. A promise is only good if it is consistently delivered on, after all. Brands who keep their promises create the foundation for customer trust on which valuable brand loyalty can be built.
Brand attributes are the highest-order traits that define a brand. They’re the qualities that people most readily associated with your brand.
When you think of Disney, for example, “happy” probably comes to mind. While a brand like Apple evokes attributes like “innovative” and “effortless.”
Brand attributes like these shape the way we perceive the brands in our lives. They aren’t accidents, either. The world’s strongest brands have clearly articulated and consistently implemented brand attributes.
That’s because brand attributes have the power to fuel brand recognition and spark the kind of emotions in customers that result in deep, meaningful connections.
Whether you’re creating a new brand, reimagining an existing one, or just repositioning to stay ahead of an ever-changing market, brand attributes are an essential branding tool. They impact foundational elements of your brand, from brand personality to visual and verbal identity, and beyond.
5 Common Brand Attributes
Defining a unique set of attributes is key to your strategic platform. But it can help to start with a list of attributes commonly used by the most recognizable brands. Here are a five of the most powerful brand attributes used by brands in both B2C and B2B industries alike.
In today’s hyper-commoditized world, true quality can be hard to come by. That’s why companies so often highlight quality and performance when defining their brand attributes. It’s important to note that quality doesn’t have to mean expensive. Delivering a top-tier product or service doesn’t necessarily entail an off-the-charts price point. High-quality brands include Tiffany and Co., Lululemon, and Adobe.
Some of the world’s most iconic brands are driven by innovation. From creating fresh product designs to defining entire industries, brands that claim innovation as an attribute look to the future and ask “What’s possible?” Innovative brands include Tesla, Netflix, and Impossible Foods.
In today’s hyper-conscious culture, sustainability resonates with customers’ moral compasses—and drives purchasing behavior. Sustainable brands are always looking for earth-friendly solutions, an approach that comes to life to everything from their logos to their operations. Sustainable brands include Patagonia, TOMS, and Allbirds.
Dependable brands build trust and brand loyalty with consistent experiences their customers know they can rely on. More so than any other brand attribute, dependable brands have to walk the walk by investing in customer service and prioritizing responsiveness. Dependable brands include: Zappos, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s.
Today’s customers want brands that are honest, genuine, and empathetic. Whether through transparent business practices, empathetic customer experiences, or down-to-earth brand voices, authentic brands have highly relatable brand experiences. Brands that embody authenticity include Nike, TD Bank, and JetBlue.
When it comes to identifying the right attributes for your own brand, the best place to start is by better understanding how your brand is perceived, both inside and out. This means talking to team member and customers to see what types of words they most associate with your brand.
Determine where the overlap is between the descriptors most mentioned by your team that those most cited by customers. Narrow it down to 3 to 5 attributes that best describe your brand. These are the attributes that should inform your brand experience—starting with your visual and verbal identities. As with all things branding, when it comes to brand attributes, consistency is key.
Out of the many tools that brand strategy offers, only brand archetypes can give your brand the strength of a profound, shared human experience dating back tens of thousands of years.
Inspired by thinkers including Plato, Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell, archetypes are ideas or concepts that every human is innately familiar with, by virtue of being a human, regardless of culture or society. They’re the timeless characters in the stories we all know and love.
First introduced into branding by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their seminal book “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes,” brand archetypes have gone on to inspire countless iterations, charts, diagrams, and even academic studies. Mark and Pearson identify 12 fundamental brand archetypes.
The 12 Fundamental Brand Archetypes
From the Creator to the Jester to the Sage, each archetype has different narrative traits. By identifying which archetype your brand embodies, you can build a brand that audiences recognize at a profound and enduring level.
A champion of artistic expression, the Creator is passionate about imagination and design. Examples include Walt Disney, Adobe, and LEGO.
A leader who embodies power and control, the Ruler is a confident and commanding leader. Examples include Rolls-Royce, British Airways, and Lloyds TSB.
All about selfless care and nurturing, the Caregiver is a compassionate and generous helper. Examples Dove, Amnesty International, and Allstate Insurance.
The Everyman is driven by a sense of belonging and seeks to do the right thing, without the need for recognition. Examples include Habitat for Humanity, TOMS, and Kickstarter.
With a goal of bringing levity to the world in a way that calls truth to power, the Jester is a trickster who mocks convention with humor. Examples include GEICO, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jack in the Box.
The Lover has an affection for the beautiful, fostering blissful experiences, as well as sensual connections. Examples include Chanel, Häagen-Dazs, and eHarmony.
Society’s savior and redeemer, the Hero is characterized by courage, self-sacrifice, and achievement. Examples include Nike, US Army, and Doctors Without Borders.
An outlaw and harbinger of social change, the Outlaw seeks to challenge the status quo by pushing the envelope on conventional values. Examples include Virgin, Harley-Davidson, and Levi’s.
Charismatic and clever, the Magician leverages understanding of the hidden workings of the universe to turn dreams into reality. Examples include Disney, Polaroid, and Oculus.
The embodiment of purity and virtue, the Innocent calls to mind simpler times of childlike wonder. Examples include Ivory, Nintendo Wii, and Volkswagen.
Innovative and ambitious, the Explorer is characterized by wanderlust and freedom, and is always looking to establish its independence. Examples include REI, Patagonia, and NASA.
The Sage is a keeper of wisdom and intelligence that seeks truth and clarity through rational thought. Examples include Harvard, Rosetta Stone, and The Smithsonian.
Identifying which brand archetype your brand embodies will allow you to bring your brand narrative to life in ways that resonate with your ideal customers. By speaking to your customers’ primary desires and motivations, brand archetypes speak to the impetuses that drive customer engagement and purchasing behavior.
Identifying your brand archetype is just the beginning, though. The idea is to use that archetype to bring your brand to life in its positioning, visual identity, verbal identity, and, ultimately brand experience.
Brand personality is the unique spectrum of characteristics and behaviors that are unique to a brand. Its personality is how your brand would look and sound if it were a person.
Importantly, your brand’s personality what makes it relatable to customers. We have deeply personal relationships with the brands in our lives, whether we realize it or not. Much of this is down to brand personality.
Because it’s so central to the profound connections that brands make with customers, brand personality plays a big role in driving customer acquisition, fostering brand loyalty, and building brand equity.
Starbucks’s comfortable and welcoming brand personality is why customers feel so at home in its cafes. Its brand personality is why REI customers are inspired to pursue outdoor adventures every time they walk through its doors.
The Brand Personality Framework
A classic way to think about brand personality is through the lens of the Brand Personality Framework, which was first outlined by branding and marketing expert Jennifer Aaker.
The Brand Personality Framework has five distinct dimensions: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness.
While every brand aims to be sincere, as a dimension of brand personality, sincerity describes brands that are wholesome, honest, cheerful, and down-to-earth. Sincere brands include Campbell’s Soup, Hallmark, and Allstate.
Often targeted at younger audiences, brands centered on excitement have traits including daring, energetic, imaginative, and cutting-edge. Exciting brands include Nike, GoPro, and Red Bull.
Competent brands are reliable, intelligent, and successful. These are the companies we think of as confident leaders and responsible stalwarts of trust. Competent brands include UPS, Microsoft, and Blue Shield.
Sophisticated brands are characterized by traits like refined, luxurious, and charming. They are usually premium brands aimed at discerning audiences. Sophisticated brands include Hermes, American Express, and Mercedes.
Rugged brands are adventurous, outdoorsy, and tough. These are hard-working, strong, and authentic brands that are built to last. Rugged brands include Patagonia, Yeti, Jeep, and Levi’s.
Defining Your Brand Personality
When it comes to defining your own brand’s personality, the best approach is to think of your brand as if it were a person. Much like the human personality, a brand’s personality can be segmented into four distinct facets: emotion, intelligence, characteristics, and behaviors.
Emotion vs. Intelligence
Just like people, some brands are more emotionally driven and some are more intelligently driven. The former is motivated by passion or zeal, while the latter is inspired by rational analysis and logical insight.
Characteristics vs. Behaviors
Characteristics are your brands outward, observable attributes. Behaviors are how your brand acts in the world. Red Bull, for example, is adventuresome and bold, sponsoring events around the world that push the limits of extreme performance.
Choosing and Defining Your Brand Personality Traits
Pick four adjectives inspired by the Brand Personality Framework that best describe your brand’s characteristics and/or behaviors and write short definitions customized to your brand. These four descriptions should serve as inspiration and guardrails for designers and copywriters as they create your brand’s numerous touchpoints.
A value proposition is a brand’s central or overarching benefit to those it serves. A good value proposition plainly explains how a brand meets the unique needs of its target audience.
A value proposition is different than a tagline or a slogan. Where a tagline is a catchy, memorable hooks, a value proposition is a more direct explanation of the central value your brand offers to customers.
Your value proposition should be clear, consistent, and never contradictory. A clearly defined value proposition ensures that all of your brand touchpoints support the same central idea. It ensures that everyone within your organization—from leadership to frontline staff—are speaking the same language when it comes to the unique ways your company addresses customer pain points.
A well-articulated value proposition is also one of the best ways to stand out in a crowded market. While you may address the same customer needs as one of your competitors, the way you communicate your value proposition can set you apart.
Just think about luxury automobiles. All luxury cars offer a premium driving experience, but each claims to offer it in its own unique way. Audi is focused on innovation, where Ferrari is all about sportiness. Where Mercedes touts performance, BMW highlights engineering.
Each of these brands offers its own brand of luxury vehicle, highlighting the specific facet of the luxury driving experience that’s most important to their target audience.
The Qualities of a Strong Value Proposition
A strong value proposition addresses customers’ needs, uses clear yet distinct language, and it is believable and provable. Let’s take a closer look at each of these essential qualities.
Addresses Your Customers’ Needs
As with most things in branding, customers come first when it comes to your value proposition. A strong value proposition clearly explains how your offering will either alleviate a customer’s pain and/or enable a customer’s gain. Customer pains include things like cost, time, discomfort, ambiguity, and monotony, while customer gains include things like standing out among peers, feeling more confident, and a sense of ethical or moral good during the purchasing process.
A Clear Yet Distinct Message
Unlike a tagline or a slogan, a value proposition should be clear and unambiguous. Clarity is one of the most important hallmarks of a strong value proposition. Equally as important to clarity, though, is a value proposition that feels unique and ownable. Customers should be able to immediately associate your value proposition with your broader brand experience.
Believable and Provable
Perhaps most importantly, your value proposition needs to be credible. If your value proposition is all about saving customers time, for example, but in reality, it takes customers a lifetime to talk to a service representative, this lack of credibility will undermine the impact of the claim. Like your brand promise, your value proposition is only as good as how reliably it is delivered on.
Creating Your Value Proposition
So, how do you craft a rock-solid value proposition for your brand? Like most of our brand strategy components, the process starts with understanding your customers’ needs.
1. Talk to Customers
As we’ve seen, a strong value proposition addresses customer pains and/or gains. So, you’ll need to understand these unique needs before you sit down to write your statement. Ask your top customers what unique challenges they have vis-à-vis the products or services you offer. And ask them about the positive outcomes they’re hoping to achieve by using your product or service.
2. Create a Value Proposition Canvas
A value proposition canvas is a great tool for mapping the pains, gains, and needs of your customers to the pain relievers, gain creators, and products and/or services offered by your business. You’ll find a number of templates for the value proposition canvas with a quick Google search. Using the canvas to clearly connect your brand benefits to your customers’ pains and gains will help you see where your brand resonates most deeply with audiences.
3. Craft a Value Proposition Statement
Take a look at the canvas you’ve created and try to identify a singular idea that can serve as the basis for your value proposition statement. Remember, a good value proposition is clear, distinct, believable, and provable. Examples include HubSpot’s plainly stated, “An easy-to-use CRM,” and Shopify’s encouraging “If you can dream it, you can sell it with Shopify.”
Your competitive advantage is what sets you apart from the competition in the minds of your target audiences. It is the capacity or attribute that enables you to outperform your competitors.
Put another way, your competitive advantage is the reason a customer chooses your brand over the other guy.
While there are a number of different types of competitive advantage, there’s one thing that every successful advantage has in common: sustainability. Only if your competitive edge is durable over time and able to withstand market fluctuations can it said to be a true competitive advantage.
Porter’s Generic Strategies
The go-to thinker on the concept, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter came up with the definitive framework for competitive strategy, which is known as Porter’s Generic Strategies.
Porter breaks competitive strategy into two factors: competitive scope and competitive advantage. After researching hundreds of businesses, Porter found three ways that brands define their competitive edge: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus.
1. Cost Leadership
Brands with competitive advantages centered on cost leadership provide reasonable value at a lower price. Think budget brands like Walmart, McDonald’s, and IKEA.
Brands focused on differentiation deliver superior offerings than their competitors—either a higher quality product, a faster service, or more advanced technology. Examples include brands like Apple, Nike, and Harley Davidson.
Finally, focus-based brands target highly specific audiences with uniquely specialized offerings. These benefits can be geared around either cost (think Amazon, the Home Depot, or Costco) or differentiation (think Bentley, Rolex, and Gucci), the point is that they are highly specific to a unique customer base.
5 Types of Competitive Differentiators
Another way to think about competitive differentiation is by looking at five specific types of competitive differentiators. Understanding the characteristics of each type of differentiator will help you determine which ones are right for your brand.
Brand differentiation is all about how customers perceive your brand. Leveraging a distinct brand personality to create a unique, memorable brand experience is one of the best ways to ensure customers will understand how you’re different than the competition.
Product differentiators include all the unique features and benefits your products have to offer. These are things like design, quality, and performance that directly address your customers’ unique needs.
Service differentiators are all about positive customer experiences. From sales to support to social media, every customer touchpoint is a chance to create a memorable experience that will separate your brand from competitors in the minds of your customers.
The price you ask for your products or services is another opportunity for differentiation. Price differentiation isn’t always about offering the lowest cost, either. It includes value-based pricing, premium pricing, and market penetration pricing.
Finally, channel differentiation includes all the ways your product gets to your customers. This includes where your brand is sold, how it’s distributed, and how easily customers are able to access it.
As we’ve already seen, the truest mark of a great competitive advantage is sustainability. And for most businesses, any one benefit like price or speed isn’t really sustainable over time.
Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage
So, how do you create a sustainable competitive advantage? The best way is to develop a multifaceted framework where the advantage you have over the competition exists in the intersection of three factors of differentiation: value, customers, and competition
1. The Real Value Provide
Your products or services might offer your customer dozens of features or benefits, but what’s the true value that customers walk away with? Let’s say you offer a business intelligence platform. The real value you provide isn’t data or usability or even scalability. The real value would be the confidence that your product gives customers to make better business decisions.
2. The Thing Your Customers Truly Need
In a good economy, customers will pay for all sorts of things that make their lives easier. But what will your customers still truly need, even when the next recession hits? A solution to customer needs that can withstand market volatility is the essence of a truly sustainable competitive advantage.
Finally, while you may be great at many things, there’s one thing you do better than any other business. Think of it as the secret sauce that got you to where you are today. Pinpointing the one thing you do better than any other business is the final lens you need to identify your sustainable competitive advantage.
What is the real value you provide, that your customers truly need, and that no one else does as good as you? Identifying and clearly articulating the idea at the heart of these three factors is the best way to develop a truly sustainable competitive advantage.
As you can see, brand strategy is the deliberate and definitive process of charting the direction of your brand, including why you exist, where you’re headed, how you plan to get there, and all the ways you’re different from competitors.
The many components that make up your brand strategy should be carefully defined by key stakeholders throughout your organization, ideally with data and insights from thorough brand research. Brand strategy is all about understanding where you are today as a business so that you can chart a course for future success.
The fact is, a strong brand pays dividends over the life of your business, helping attract better customers with lower marketing costs and command better prices for your offerings. It’s also the key to attracting and retaining the top talent in your industry. Smoother sales, increased customer loyalty, magnetic company culture, the multifaceted benefits of brand equity—the list of benefits that brand strategy offers goes on and on.