May 27, 2021|
7 min read
Understanding Brand Strategy as Communication
A recent discussion I had asked how often people come to strategists looking for strategy. The answer? Not very often!
We all know that too. Most of the time, people show up on agency doorsteps asking for specific marketing items. They need a campaign or they want a logo redesign. This is the “quick fix” approach to marketing. Instead of looking at the root of the issue, we make tweaks to campaigns and website design and that kind of stuff. It’s easy to fix.
And sometimes, that is all we need. But most of the time, we’re in a situation where we keep making these kind of tweaks until we’ve moved far away from our brands. Even when we’ve lost the brand, it can be difficult to hear we need strategy. So we keep tweaking.
A few of the participants said they tell clients strategy is their method. Some said they tell clients what they need is to take a look at “core messaging.”
There are a few different ways we can approach this issue and help people see where the issue actually stems from—and get them to listen. Framing strategy as “communication” is actually a pretty smart idea.
Getting Clients to See the Problem
The biggest issue is that most people don’t see strategy as an issue. Or, if they see strategy as an issue, it’s not their issue. That’s something other brands do. Not them. They just need a website.
This is where the idea of focusing on communication works so well. A website is a way of communicating with people.
How do you design a website if you have no idea what you want to say, though? You can’t decide on anything, from content to colours. If you choose the wrong design, the wrong colours, you’re going to send the wrong message to your customers.
Same with logo design. Remember the new logo Smucker’s unveiled last fall? That was a great example of a branding decision that may need to be deciphered. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to reinforce or reveal the essence of a brand or create further confusion.
That the brand had to issue a “guide” to the “meaning” behind the new logo says it all. It wasn’t communicating effectively on its own. So, the brand thought it knew what it wanted to say. But it wasn’t able to say it in a way that would be easily understood by the public.
And then we have to ask: is that the message people want from this brand anyway? You can think of Abe Simpson here, trying to tell Homer and Bart he’s “cool and hip” and with it (except then they changed what “it” was!).
That’s … not the message Bart or Homer want to hear from Grampa Simpson. Same with Smucker’s. We have their new logo trying to communicate that they’re innovative and modern and super “with it.” But is that what their customers are really buying from them?
It’s difficult to deliver a message if you have no idea what you should be saying.
Branding Helps Us Figure Out What to Say
That’s where the brand strategy comes in. I’ve said that branding is how we communicate our strategic plans for our customers. They don’t want the boardroom talk version of our vision for where the company will be in five years. The values statements we deliver to our employees look different from what we communicate to our customers. Not because our values are different, but because we need to “translate” things for our customers.
That doesn’t mean we’re talking down to our customers. It means we’re speaking to them in a relational way—using their language. Try telling Gen Z about your corporate vision using the statement drafted by your board members and C-suite. I’ll wait.
So, brand strategy is all about communicating with our customers. It takes our brand’s core—its essence—and lays it bare for the customer. It lets us talk to them. The brand forms our identity, which then gives us the ability to form relationships. And good relationships are built on communication.
Every strategy, then, has two parts:
1. What we want to or need to say
2. How we’re going to say it
Let’s think back to our logo or our new website. Those are both Part 2 items there—howwe’re going to say what we need to say.
Neither of them address Part 1, what we’re saying. That’s the big problem most people have when they walk up to an agency or a strategist and say, “We need a website” or “we need a logo.”
They’re thinking about the how, not the what. And the what is the more important part of that! “How” we say something matters less than the content of what we’re saying. So figuring out what we’re saying is a big, big deal.
And that’s what branding helps us do. It helps us see the core messages we want to communicate. Think about how we communicate to people we just met. We tell them about ourselves: My name is Margo, I like this, I don’t like that.
It works the same way with our brands: Hi, my name is Brand! I like delivering organic hair products, I hate polluting the environment.
Starting with the “Why” of the Brand
We need to figure out what we want to say to our customers before we get caught up in howwe’re going to say it. What colours we choose to use on our website needs to reflect our values, our brand identity. So, if we’re very trustworthy and traditional, we might want to make sure blue is on the website. If we’re bold and outgoing, we might pick red.
Yes, colours, design, visual—all of that delivers messaging, communicates metaphor to our customers. So we do have to think about it. We have to know what our message is before we can pick the colours that will deliver it!
This is where strategy comes in. And strategy always goes back to another question: why. Why is our brand here? Why do we do what we do? Why do our customers turn to us over every other brand out there?
To figure this out, we need to get at the roots of our brands. And this is where so many of us lose our way: we ignore the roots and tweak this, tweak that. How can you tweak a website design to be in line with your brand message if you aren’t even sure what that message is or should be?
We absolutely have to get back to the roots then—we have to be able to answer why. And if we can’t? Then we need to turn to our customers! We need to ask them why they choose us, why they stick with us. From there, we can discover what our message is … and build a strategy—a communication plan—around it.
So remember to start with the why!
A little more about me. My goal is and always will be to inspire and create conversation!
I am a businessperson who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.
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