The 12 Principles of Brand Strategy

by Eric Tsai

In a situation where you’re selling to multiple personalities, it’s best to first connect everyone on a common ground then articulate clearly what’s in it for each of them.

The goal is to stimulate an engaging conversation that allows us to change perception, diagnose expectations and bring clarity to the dialogue.

That’s the essence of developing a brand strategy – the foundation of your communication that builds authentic relationships between you and your audience.

It is by defining your brand strategy that allows you to utilize marketing, advertising, public relations and social media to consistently and accurately reinforce your character.

Without defining the core strategy, all channels of communication can often become a hit and miss expense.

Here’s 12 brand strategy principles I believe to be the key to achieve business success.

1. Define your brand

It starts with your authenticity, the core purpose, vision, mission, position, values and character.  Focus on what you do best and then communicated your inimitable strengths through consistency.

There are many examples of companies acquiring other brands but only to sell them off later because they don’t fit within the brand and its architecture.

Microsoft acquired Razorfish in 2007 when it bought aQuantive, a digital marketing services company, for about US $6 billion then sold it a few years later for $530 million.

Simply put, Razorfish isn’t a good fit with Microsoft’s brand strategy.

2.  Your brand is your business model

Supports and challenge your business model to maximize the potential within your brand. Think of personal brands like Oprah, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson.

These individuals practically built their business right on top of their personal brand; everything they offer is an extension of their brand promise.

3. Consistency, consistency, consistency

Consistency in your message is the key to differentiate.

Own your position on every reference point for everything that you do. President Obama focuses on one message only during his campaign, CHANGE. BMW has always been known as the “ultimate driving machine.

4. Start from the Inside out

Everyone in your company can tell you what they see, think and feel about your brand.  That’s the story you should bring to the customers as well, drive impact beyond just the walls of marketing.

That’s example how Zappos empowers employees to strengthen consumer perception on its brand.

5. Connect on the emotional level.

A brand is not a name, logo, website, ad campaigns or PR; those are only the tools not the brand.  A brand is a desirable idea manifested in products, services, people, places and experiences.

Starbucks created a third space experience that’s desirable and exclusive so people would want to stay and pay for the overpriced coffee.

Sell people something that satisfies not only their physical needs but their emotional needs and their need to identify themselves to your brand.

6. Empower brand champions

Award those that love your brand to help drive the message, facility activities so they can be part of the process.

If your brand advocate doesn’t tell you what you should or should not be doing, it’s time to evaluate your brand promise.

Go and talk to someone that works at the Apple retail store or an iPhone owner and you’ll see just how passionate they are about Apple.  It’s a lifestyle and a culture.

7. Stay relevant and flexible

A well managed brand is always making adjustments.  Branding is a process, not a race, not an event so expect to constantly tweak your message and refresh your image.

Successful brands don’t cling to the old ways just because they worked in the past; instead, they try to re-invent themselves by being flexible which frees them to be more savvy and creative.

Here is an example: when the economy tanked this year automaker Hyundai came out with an assurance program that lets you return your car if you lose your job with no further financial obligation and no damage to your credit.

The results?

As of end of February, only two buyers have taken advantage of this program but it has boosted their sales by 14% year-over-year in Q1, only one of the two companies increased revenue while companies such as Honda experienced a drop of more than 30%.

Follow by that campaign in July, as gas prices expected to push higher during peak summer travel months, Hyundai came out with another program that guarantees a year’s worth of gas at $1.49 per gallon on most models.

8. Align tactics with strategy

Convey the brand message on the most appropriate media platform with specific campaign objectives.

Because consumers are bombarded by commercial messages everyday, they’re also actively blocking out the great majority of them.

Invest your branding efforts on the right platform that communicates to the right channels.

Television may be expensive but it has a broader reach, wider demographics and can produce instant impact.  On the other hand, social media may seem cheap but it takes time, resources and may not give you the desire outcome.

9. Measure the effectiveness

Focus on the ROI (return on investment) is the key to measure the effectiveness of your strategies.

Often times it is how well your organization can be inspired to execute the strategies. It could also be reflected in brand valuation or how your customers react to your product and price adjustments.

Ultimately it should resonate with sales and that means profitability.  But don’t just focus increasing sales when you could be getting a profit boost by reducing overheads and expenses as well.

Give yourself options to test different marketing tactics, make sure they fit your brand authenticity and aligns with your strategy.

10. Cultivate your community

Community is a powerful and effective platform on which to engage customers and create loyalty towards the brand.

In an active community, members feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s consumption.

We all want to be an insider of something, it excites us to tell people which community we’re part of and what knowledge we posses.

In many ways it’s our ego that prides us to be part of a sports team or a professional group.

Guess what car would members of the Porsche club consider first when it’s time to purchase their next vehicle?

Brand communities allow companies to collaborate with customers in all phases of value creation via crowdsourcing such as product design, pricing strategy, availability, and even how to sell.

11. Keep your enemies closer

Even if you have the most innovative, highly desirable product, you can expect new competitors with a superior value proposition to enter your market down the road.

The market is always big enough for new players to improve what you deliver better, faster, cheaper. Call it hypercompetition or innovation economics, competition could be good for you believe it or not.

It challenges you brand to elevate the strategy and deliver more value.

Just look at how the Big Three (automobile manufacturers General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) got crushed in the past decade by competitions from Germany and Japanese.

Not only do their competitors make a better product, they’re more efficient doing it and command a higher brand loyalty.

In 2008, Toyota overtook GM while Honda passed Chrysler in US sales.

12. Practice brand strategy thinking

IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown calls design thinking “a process for creating new choices.

Essentially it means to not just settle for the choices currently available but to think outside the box without being limited.

This concept actually applies to your brand strategy creation process that I called brand strategy thinking.

It’s always easier to execute tactics than coming up with a strategy because it implies the possibility of failure.

It’s much faster to emulate what worked for your competitor than to come up with something original and creative.

But the truth is, that’s not you and it violates the first principle of brand strategy.  Brand strategy thinking is about creating the right experience that involve all the stakeholders to foster a better strategy.

Leverage the ecosystem that includes your employees, partners and customers to help you articulate your brand strategy so they sync together.

The take away: Having a brand strategy will bring clarity and meaning to your brand so you can focus on making, creating, and selling things that people actually care about.

If you could do that, your brand would be unique and memorable on its way to become an esteemed brand.

Are there any you disagree with?

Let me know if I’m missing anything.

Further Reading



Comments Closed

87 Comments

  1. Kaylee   •  

    Shoud I build a personal brand or a business brand ?It’s really a big question buzzing ,esp.in the social media world.

    A recent film project ”The YES Movie ”I watched , some entrepreneurs also discussing this topic, quite interesting.
    http://www.TheYESmovie.com produced by Louis Lautman

  2. Richard Jacob   •  

    Hi, Your 12 principles are quite neat except for Principle NO. 2. Your examples reflect “brands” built. What about people who want to “start out”. Take the situation of Mercedes. It was Diamler’s daughter’s name. He just chose to believe in it and build it. Therefore my view is the “Brand Belief” is a choice and the Business model could work in any industry.
    Do think about it.

  3. Sandra Sellani   •  

    This is excellent. If every company and individual lived by these rules, they would flourish. I have another one, or maybe it just underscores what you’ve already said. “Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.” Everyone sells commodities until they prove themselves to be brand with a relevant point of differentiaton. Without this you will not be able to susstain a higher price for your services or a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Thanks for a great piece.

  4. Eric Tsai   •     Author

    Kaylee,
    Different brand serves different purpose regardless of personal or business. They can be reverse as well depending on which one has more influence. It’s one of the methods to differentiate and keep the brand at the top of mind.

    Richard,
    Brands that wants to start out should incorporate a pre-defined goal. In your case of Mercedes, it’s already defined in #1 then the name is less relevant. It really comes down to having a strategy behind what you offer – Obama isn’t exactly the best name to campaign with and what kind of a name is Red Bull? If you define your strategy, you can make things happen but you should have a business model unless you’ve got money to burn.

    Sandra,
    Differentiate is part of consistency #3 and stay flexible #7. Think about brand tag lines or slogans that you can remember – they usually don’t change especially the premium brands. Then think about the commercials, ads and images they put out, they always change – to stay with time and relevance. There is a fine line between differentiate and confusing your audience with your message.

  5. Polprav   •  

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  6. Eric Tsai   •     Author

    Polprav,
    yes, just follow the creative commons rule.

  7. Mopar   •  

    Your right. Car club members typically look to their brand first. I see this all the time with Mopar lovers, Cadillac lovers, etc. I am in a number of car clubs and see this first hand all the time.
    .-= Mopar´s last blog ..70 dart fan shroud =-.

  8. Ben@web design agency   •  

    Great list. very textbook and comprehensive. I really like the enemies part, and why it is important to keep them in your strategy.

  9. Eric Tsai   •     Author

    Mopar,
    exactly, club is essentially a community of people with similar interest. A common ground to connect is always what we try to do when we first meet others. Dropping hints about what we think we’re like, hoping to find the dots to connect.

    Ben,
    It is important to keep an eye out on your competitors but it’s not a competitive edge.

  10. Mark   •  

    With the advent of social marketing; brand management has really become essential to almost all businesses.

  11. xây d?ng th??ng hi?u   •  

    Great list. very textbook and comprehensive. I really like the enemies part, and why it is important to keep them in your strategy.

  12. shikha sumedha   •  

    Estabilshing a brand has always been the most difficult one to tackle with therefore this theories have greatly helped in creating a new and runnable one.

  13. shah   •  

    Topic :

    Branding strategies

    Discussion Question:
    “Delicate care” a company is dealing in skin care products. It is offering a wide variety of soaps targeted as beauty soap, whitening soap, medicated soap, and family soap etc. Each of the soap is having a different brand name and projecting a different positioning.

    The company has recently introduced a new soap with herbal extract for people looking for herbal products. Company has selected a different brand name for the new herbal soap following its existing product-brand strategy.

    Requirement:
    Being the student of brand management, you are required to provide the following:

    How do you think this brand name strategy will help the company? Discuss with logical reasons.

    send me answer. i am waiting.

  14. shah   •  

    i am waiting for answer please send me answer:

    Topic :

    Branding strategies

    Discussion Question:
    “Delicate care” a company is dealing in skin care products. It is offering a wide variety of soaps targeted as beauty soap, whitening soap, medicated soap, and family soap etc. Each of the soap is having a different brand name and projecting a different positioning.

    The company has recently introduced a new soap with herbal extract for people looking for herbal products. Company has selected a different brand name for the new herbal soap following its existing product-brand strategy.

    Requirement:
    Being the student of brand management, you are required to provide the following:

    How do you think this brand name strategy will help the company? Discuss with logical reasons.

    send me in time.

    shah
    +923138866819

  15. Shobha Ponnappa   •  

    Very good point about how to keep competition closer. This sentence you have written needs to be kept in mind by every brand strategist:

    “It challenges your brand to elevate the strategy and deliver more value.”

    I’ve come across a lot of clients who don’t quite get the idea! Competition can spur a brand to new heights!

    Shobha Ponnappa

  16. Silva   •  

    Seems like allot of research and expertise has gone into this. Great short and simple principles to be grateful of. Thank you and hope to come across more helpful points such as this one. Thanks again.

  17. Steffie2310   •  

    I want to source this article correctly in APA for a Uni paper. Who is the Author and date published?

Comments are closed.