The concept of branding is simply communication. Nothing more, nothing less. How do we look? How do we speak? How does that make people feel? The challenge is, these questions relate purely to the end product - the output. To reach that output, and to do so with purpose and reason, demands a higher-level set of questions that can only be answered at the strategic level.
The cost of skipping straight to execution, without first laying the strategic groundwork, can be two-fold: the cost of re-work when execution fails and the opportunity cost (worsened by the sunk-cost fallacy) derived from taking a misaligned brand to market.
Get it right before it goes out
The model below showcases the relationship between strategy, brand and what is communicated to market - and why it is fundamental that each step is informed by the prior. If your communications and brand are not guided by strategy, you may be amplifying completely the wrong message with countless touchpoints - a costly exercise to set right.
Start with strategy. What is our business? What should our business be? What are our objectives and value proposition? Analyse products, price, markets and who your customers are. (Need some help with that? Talk to our strategists)
Build your value proposition from the Jobs-to-be-done perspective and understand how your product or service helps customers achieve a Job-to-be-done, relieves pain points and creates gains. Understand how what is offered and what is needed can be exchanged at a price suitable to both.
Once you have distilled your strategy and value proposition, it is vital that your strategists and creatives share the same understanding and speak a common language. There is no handover document that can make this happen, it is a “get everyone in the room and start talking” process. Walk them through the thinking and the story, build the experience. Acknowledging that strategic minds and creative minds are often wired differently, a structure should be given to this collaboration with the objective of reaching a shared understanding through both left and right sides of the brain.
With value proposition and job-to-be-done the starting points, Blue Ocean Marketing has developed and uses an 11-step brand model process to align both halves of the equation. Working through this, or a similar, framework allows your team to translate strategic imperatives into creative market-facing concepts to guide brand execution.
Share the same perspective - that of your customer
It is important that your creatives (if they know their trade) have the latitude to think, test and iterate before checking in with progress. Without strategy to guide, this process can be fraught with challenges. Without strategy and a shared understanding, discussions at this stage become a matter of personal opinions and taste; a fundamental flaw in the marketing mindset. You can’t wear your own hat during this process, you must wear the customers hat.
By creating a shared understanding between strategy and creative, the litmus test of whether a brand works shifts from asking the question, “What do you think?”, to showcasing the strategic alignment through the creative process. The latter structures a customer-first discussion, where opinion gives way to logic and value proposition is put at the centre of thinking.
Ultimately, opinions will always vary and certain brand elements will always appeal to certain people. Developing a brand will always rely upon someone’s interpretation of information given to them, and so it should. But by aligning strategic and creative thinking, your brand can communicate the core of what your business is - your strategy.
You should have one strategy. You may have multiple brands and across them, you may have thousands of customer-facing, branded communications. If those communications aren’t aligned with what makes your business or brand valuable to your customer, you will amplify the wrong message and sacrifice performance. However, if from start to finish you communicate internally and as a result, externally, based on strategy and value proposition, your brand is primed to stand apart and stand for something - something your customers will value and that creates value for your organisation.