We encounter the term “brand strategy” in just about every brand discussion these days, but what does “brand strategy” actually mean? How does it fit into that dynamic matrix that includes a company, its products, its brands and its customers? And what makes a brand strategy “strategic”?
Brand strategy defined
As I see it, a company’s brand strategy describes how the brand intends to create customers and advance them beyond the reach of competitors. Specifically, it sets forth the creative, social and moral steps that the brand will take to create the customers that will drive the business forward. A brand strategy will position customers as a key part of the company’s competitive edge—and keep moving that edge. The customer wins through progressively added value, and the company wins through customers who won’t settle for second best.
In brand strategy we don’t focus on “positioning the brand.” We focus on positioning the customer—to win. In other words, the brand wins through the customer.
“Creating customers” is a strategic act
“Creating customers” is a strategic act in itself. It is one reason why the “creating customers” approach to brands is so powerful. It is inherently strategic. It aligns company and customers in a shared context from the get-go. A brand strategy should transform the narrow context of “buyer-seller” into the mutually-rewarding context of “team.” That in itself is a key competitive advantage because it frames the brand in a customer context.
What a brand strategy must include
To be effective, a brand strategy must include these qualities:
- It is value-based. It aims to deliver new forms of value that advance customers beyond the status quo, and beyond the reach of competitors.
- It innovates. It aims to deliver a new customer context, a new vision of what customers can be, and do—exclusively through the brand.
- It is structured as a platform. Its goal is to make the brand a platform of new customer opportunities, a springboard for personal customer growth.
- It collaborates with customers. Brand strategy is a joint effort to free customers from current markets, illusions or fears that hold customers back. We structure collaboration through brand engagement.
- It’s an overt act of culture creation. A brand strategy aims to create a new culture of growth, initiative and discovery that advances customers to richer realms of living. This is a new level that should open up profitable new markets for the company. Compare a life with CD’s to life with an iPod. That’s a brand difference.
A brand strategy takes its direction from the brand mission. It includes the capability of brand vision, which is the ability to see your future through your customers’ eyes.
Many brands don’t have strategies
While there are a great many brands in the world, not all brands have brand strategies. Instead, they have sales strategies wrapped in marketing schemes. Such brands are constructed as calculated identities to be flogged by media campaigns, in which the “brand” operates as a stylized sales stimulant. Such brands are synthetic creatures of marketing and sales–and nothing more. They’re part of a persuasion package whose mission typically ends at the cash register. Are they creating strategic customers for the future? No.
Brand applications gain strategic advantage
Brands developed as customer-facing applications—where the brand is a method to create value—gain strategic advantage from the get-go. They build on brand synergy, the joint powers of company and customer structured and deployed to defeat competitors.
Dead-end brand strategies
We often see dead-end brand strategies, too. A dead-end brand strategy is one that tries to capture, contain and control customers, as if customers were sheep. It’s the brand as silo, or corral. This strategy does not tap into the talents, initiative and creativity of customers. It does not create customers as proactive brand partners. It doesn’t value the dynamic power of co-creation. Ultimately, it traps the brand in the same corral, with no way out. Companies that employ dead-end brand strategies pave the way for their own disruption.
Dead-end brand strategies often result in brands of illusion that go medieval on their customers. They follow a brand agenda to keep customers weak, because they lack a strategy for dealing with proactive cultures—often including those of their own employees.
A brand strategy heuristic
Finally, I’ll submit this quick brand strategy heuristic:
A brand that shouts “Buy me!” is not strategic. A brand that says “Join me!” is.
- Brand strategy: Develop your brand as a joint venture with customers
- Brands as collaborative strategies