What does Brand Strategy actually mean?

Many people talk about brand strategy, but what does it actually mean?

Choose the recipe before buying the ingredients
You could say that a brand strategy is a recipe for your business, it tells you: what ingredients you need to buy (logo, website, campaign plan), how you cook ‘em up together (get your name and logo right before you buy ad space) and gives you serving suggestions (garner a local following before launching internationally). If I were to take that analogy further, I’d also recommend the quality of the ingredients. You might get away with cooking with a cheap wine, but cheap fish is probably gonna stink up your kitchen.

Brand Strategy Insights by David Freer. Journal illustration by O Street.

Don’t blow your budget on the canvas if you can’t afford the paint
Although strategy is important, it can often be a comfort blanket that business leaders cling to for a lot longer than they need to. If you spend too much time and too much budget on talking about strategy (months of mission, vision & values workshops) you could leave yourself with not enough time and budget to actually deliver it. Balancing the value of strategy AND design delivery is key.

You are not the audience
Business leaders are the experts and there is an argument for confidence and leading the market with bold and experimental ideas. But, if you don’t consider the actual audience of your branding (whether that be consumers, other businesses, or employees) then you are missing key insight into how the people who will be paying your bills make their purchasing decisions. Audience analysis can be as in-depth as speaking to real people in workshops or interviews, or it could be as light as building hypothetical characters and putting yourself in their shoes (pen portraits).

Understand your competitors
No brand identity strategy needs to start with a blank canvas, others around you will have made the same mistakes and wins already. Have a look around and see what you want to copy (sorry, I mean emulate) and what you need to avoid. Even if your product is truly unique, often looking at indirect competitors can help. We fortuitously looked to baseball team’s websites in the noughties for inspiration to ensure that Celtic Football Club became the first team in the UK to share video highlights on their homepage.

Brand Strategy Illustration - Keep it Simple

Keep it simple, stupid
I feel like I am stating the bloody obvious here, and if I haven’t lost you already, calling you stupid is maybe gonna push you over the edge. But, obvious as it may be, we always advise our clients to keep reminding themselves to simplify the strategy. When you get close to this stuff, your level of understanding and capacity for concepts is naturally much broader. But, in real life, this stuff needs to resonate with audiences with less understanding: who might be engaging with your brand for the first time; or be the remote marketing team that needs to run with this while you are in other meetings. If you can distil your strategy in simple terms, it is much more likely to be taken on board by your staff and resonate with your audience.

It’s as easy as it sounds
O Street help our clients get the strategy right at the outset so that the design delivery part of the project follows a logical path. It helps us justify not only the safe decisions but also the bold creative ones we make (not all design studios do this, so always worth checking!)

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