During the past month, I have heard the same situation over and over. It goes something like this:
“We keep trying different things, and some of them seem to work okay, but we just aren’t consistent, and there is definitely no strategy. It feels like we are just throwing stuff at the wall. There is no clarity or consistency in what we are doing.”
Or maybe something like this:
“We just invested in a big new initiative (launched a podcast, redoing our website, updated our packaging, launching a new product), but I am worried it might not be right. We still don’t really have a succinct, compelling message, or any clear plan to get the word out about it or use it to generate sales.”
These are symptoms of the same issue: No brand strategy.
Why is brand strategy fundamental to making marketing execution more effective? And what IS a brand strategy anyway?
Imagine this scenario. You are getting ready to go on vacation to Belize that has been on your bucket list for over a decade, and you are about to pack your suitcase. You stare at your closet, and realize that you don’t even know where to start. What size suitcase do you need? Do you pack long sleeves or just beach gear? Sandals, hiking boots, or swim fins? You start listing all of the things that you could possibly need on your trip.
So here are some tips to start building a brand strategy that will give you the clarity you need to move forward with confidence:
- Ask the question: “If nothing else changed in our business, what is the one initiative that would make the biggest impact to get us to our goals?”
This is an easy way to start to separate the “must-haves” from the “nice-to-haves.” Instead of framing it as what is most important to the business (which is often difficult to answer), framing it as a creative problem within the framework of “nothing else changes” starts to elicit a different kind of energy and a different response. You can still brainstorm and have heated internal discussions about what the “one thing” is, but chances are, the options won’t be a list of random marketing tasks you can spend time and money on.
- Talk directly to your customers or prospects, and find out what matters most to them.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am a broken record when it comes to this, but that’s because it works so well and companies simply don’t do it. If you aren’t regularly talking to your ideal customers about what their biggest pain points are, where they learn about new products or services, and what brands they couldn’t live without and why, and what they wish you knew about them, building a meaningful strategy is going to be practically impossible. If you are ready to take the plunge, you can download my step-by-step guide on how your team start interviewing your ideal customers today. (for email, this should be a link to the download instead)
- Talk openly about your fears. Then make a practical plan to mitigate them.
I see a lot of family businesses spin their wheels because they are afraid of making a critical mistake. They don’t want to offend a critical customer. Or create confusion in the market. Or waste a large, rare opportunity. These are all legitimate fears, but they can all be dealt with, usually through a clear and consistent communication plan. Figure out who needs to know what and when (and then tell them a few more times!), and you’ll be good to go.
- Involve an outsider.
You can’t read the label on your own bottle, and that truth is pretty much our team’s job security. Have someone involved in the process who understands your business but who isn’t in the weeds or emotionally attached to the status quo. It can really help you get much further, faster. (I have advisors and colleagues who I will involve in my own brand strategy work because I know I simply can’t get there efficiently on my own.)
- Be clear about what outcomes you will see, hear, feel, and measure if you are successful.
It is all too common for growing companies to make an investment that they “feel should be valuable” without taking the time to clarify what success looks like. If you just end up with impressions or awareness, is that enough? I often see sales and marketing teams track metrics like impressions, open rate, or engagement, and then they are disappointed when the activity doesn’t result in any new sales or leads. Not all impacts need to be directly measurable, but at least some of them should be. The desired outcomes need to be clear in everyone’s mind before any new initiative is kicked off.
If you can identify your “one thing,” talk to your ideal customers, make a plan to mitigate risks, involve an outside perspective, and clearly envision and measure success, you will have the clarity you need to make strategic decisions. You may not have a formal strategy document, but your team will have the guardrails they need to be able to make informed judgment calls. They will never be perfect, but they won’t be far off base.
And if you feel stuck, we do offer a three-session Build Your Brand Strategy workshop that guides your leadership team through the process and decision-making so you walk away with clarity and a road map to execute. Just respond to this email if you want more detail.