How to Develop a Brand Strategy

By Madison Taylor
March 31, 2023
Pieces of a board game connected by lines on a table

It’s easy to confuse brand building with brand strategy, but you can’t have a strategy without a strong foundation to build it on.

Once you’ve built your brand and established a basic understanding of who you are and who you’re talking to, you can start to plan a strategy to implement it.

Think About Brand Messaging

Brand messaging refers to every image and piece of copy that your brand puts out — taglines, ad slogans, blog titles, headlines, sales pitches, and even how your customer service reps answer the phone.

No matter what form your messaging takes, it all comes back to your “why” — what your brand stands for, how it stands apart from its competitors, and why it matters. Your core brand message will inform all subsequent messaging — ad slogans or taglines might take a different form from the core message, but what matters is that all of your messaging describes aspects of your brand that are relevant to clients.

When creating your brand messaging, think about a few different criteria. Does your brand message differentiate you from the other brands in your space? Is your messaging easy to understand?

Is your messaging realistic? It’s one thing to be aspirational, but it’s another to make pie-in-the-sky claims that have no basis in what your brand actually does. Keep it realistic, and your messaging will be much more credible.

What Does Your Brand Sound Like?

Once you’ve established what your brand is saying, it’s time to think about how you’re saying it. This is generally referred to as voice and tone, and it’s going to be integrated from top to bottom.

Your brand’s voice and tone will range from the mundane, minor details — 8 a.m. vs. 8 AM, August 24 vs. August 24th, whether or not to use the Oxford comma, and so on — to much broader and more obvious things about the way you convey your message.

Think of your brand as a person. How does that person talk? Do they use long sentences and big words, or do they keep it brief? Do they use swear words? Do they poke fun at anyone? Do they make jokes about themselves, or are they self-serious?

Think long and hard about how your brand wants to come off and establish guidelines for everyone in your company who communicates with the outside world. Like it or not, customers will start to think of your brand like a person, and they’ll notice when a piece of messaging “doesn’t sound like you.” If Dove deodorant said on the label that it was going to “punch body odor in its stupid face,” you’d think that was bizarre. If Old Spice said it? Par for the course.

Your voice and tone will apply in every single piece of outward-facing collateral, from your web copy, mission statement, and social media posts to your customer service reps, how you answer the phone, and every email you send. Consistency is paramount.

Where Does It Make Sense For You To Be?

People use a lot of social media platforms — the average American is signed up for at least three social media sites — but that doesn’t mean that you need to maintain a brand presence on every site.

Not only would it be a huge investment — it takes time and money to properly maintain accounts on social media — but some sites just aren’t going to fit with your brand. If you deal in high-end real estate, sites that deal in quick takes and fleeting attention, like Twitter and Snapchat, probably aren’t going to help you. If you sell software, then visual-oriented sites like Instagram and Pinterest don’t fit the bill.

The exception is Facebook. Facebook is so big — over two billion monthly active users — and so diverse that every business should be keeping up a Facebook page. Facebook’s targeting is so comprehensive that it’s easy to exist in your own target markets’ microcosm — spending money on the people who might be interested in you and ignoring everyone else.

Thinking about where you belong extends to advertising, too — and not just the social media kind. If your target market skews young and tech-savvy, then magazine and newspaper ads may not be the best way to reach them. If they skew wealthy, they’re probably not riding mass transit. Think about who you’re talking to and what their lives are like to decide where to put ads.

And don’t be too literal. Let’s say you’re running a brewery. You’re advertising to beer drinkers on social media and in all the right magazines. But you know who else loves beer? Cyclists, climbers, and other outdoorsy people. Think about sponsoring a cyclocross race or an obstacle course. Partner with local climbing gyms. The more touchpoints you can have with your customers, the better.

Finally, think about influencer marketing. Does it make sense for your brand? When it comes to influencers, authenticity is crucial, so make sure you can pull it off in a genuine, believable way.

If you make a product that people can take out in the real world and show off — clothing, a piece of tech, a personal accessory — then by all means, find an influencer who will do your product justice on social media. If you can’t, or you think it’ll look forced, then leave that channel alone.

Always Be Consistent

Your brand — the way you look, sound, and act — must be the same everywhere it touches the outside world. From your website to your business cards, everything you do should be informed by your brand.

Make a brand guidelines document and distribute it to everyone at the company who makes anything outward-facing. Address things like which logos to use, their size and placement, and whether they can be altered. Establish company colors, complete with color codes in RBG, CMYK, and maybe Pantone. Make a list of which fonts should be used when a choice is available.

When your brand posts an image on social media, what kind of image does it use? Dark and gritty or bright and clean? Saturated colors or muted tones? Which Instagram filters do you use, and which do you avoid?

Talk about language. Do you refer to the people in your company as employees or team members, or maybe “sandwich artists” (thanks, Subway)? Do you have clients, customers, or guests? All these variations carry their own implications, so it’s important to know which you plan to use.

Finally, spell out your buyer persona and target markets. Lots of companies even create a fictional person. If you run a brewery, maybe you make a biography of “Brewery Bob.”

Bob likes breweries with new varietals on tap, and buys 22-oz bombers in the store rather than six-packs. Bob makes over $50,000 and buys tickets to the Great American Beer Festival every year. Bob doesn’t shave his face, buys organic groceries, and reads the New York Times. We made this one up, but it’s the type of thing you should be thinking about.

A Final Metaphor

Navigating the world of brand strategy is like setting sail on a ship. Before you embark on your journey, it’s essential to ensure your vessel is sturdy and your course well-charted. Once you’ve established your brand’s identity and identified your target audience, it’s time to steer your ship with purpose.

Think of brand messaging as your North Star, guiding every piece of content with clarity and consistency. Just as sailors rely on familiar constellations, your audience should easily recognize your brand’s voice and tone, whether it’s in web copy, customer service interactions, or brief emails.

In the vast sea of digital platforms, choose your destinations wisely. Not all shores are meant for exploration. Select channels where your audience congregates and tailor your message accordingly. However, don’t hesitate to explore new territories that may offer unique opportunities for brand connection.

Consistency acts as the steady wind in your sails. Craft clear brand guidelines, much like a captain’s log, detailing logos, colors, fonts, and language choices. Finally, sketch out your buyer persona and map your target markets to create a compelling and authentic brand narrative that resonates effectively. With this approach, your brand strategy becomes a well-prepared voyage.