How much rigor should go into my brand strategy?Lindsay Says
Your brand strategy should only be as rigorous as your business goals need it to be.
Brand is what you stand for. Brand strategy is the deliberate exercise of defining this. It is the articulation of how you will position your business to succeed.
This brand strategy exercise could take you 3 hours or 3 months. It could cost no money or lots. With just a bit of effort, you could achieve a “B+” grade. With more, you could achieve an “A+.”
So, how much should you invest in brand strategy? How much rigor should you dedicate to your positioning decision?
For the vast majority of companies on earth, a B+ brand strategy is not only sufficient, it is superb. The act of doing a brand strategy exercise itself unlocks vast value. That’s because brand strategy gives you a focused North Star, which is a lever to maximize output for minimal input.
Most companies don’t seek even a B+ brand strategy, and therefore deny themselves this North Star. The fact that you’re considering brand strategy already puts you in rarified air.
Spectrum of brand strategy rigor
While a B+ brand strategy is superb when goals and spending are modest, an A+ brand strategy is needed when goals and spending are audacious.
El Diablo is a coffee shop near my office. They have a single location and do not wish to expand. They employ 10 people and spend a few thousand dollars on marketing each year. They are happy with their revenue, margins, customer loyalty, employee engagement, and marketing ROI. They are coasting, living the dream.
By spending a few hours and dollars on their brand strategy, El Diablo could achieve a B+, and this North Star would well serve their modest business goals.
On the opposite end of the rigor spectrum might be Adobe, a global brand that employs thousands of employees. As a publicly-traded company, Adobe faces constant pressure to grow both the top line and the bottom line. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing each year. If they were to invest several million dollars on an A+ brand strategy, then amortized over hundreds of millions in marketing spend, it may be reckless not to make that investment.
While a B+ brand strategy is superb when goals and spending are modest, an A+ brand strategy is needed when goals and spending are audacious. There are many points along the spectrum between El Diablo and Adobe. Where is your business on this spectrum?
When is B+ Not Enough?
To evaluate how much rigor your brand strategy deserves, let’s take a step back and remember the outcomes brand strategy accomplishes for your business (see Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Forging an Ironclad Brand for more discussion of these). As you read these, consider how happy you are with your business’s current performance on each, given your business’s ambitions.
1) Elevates pricing power: A compelling brand enables your business to charge a premium price. When your brand is known and respected, customers are willing to pay more for your products or services.
- Crucial when your product is similar to that of competitors, and when you face downward pressure on prices (or upward pressure on costs).
2) Commands attention, understanding, and trust: A compelling brand enables your business to cut through the clutter and capture audience attention without their having to think hard. It gives customers an easy doorway in, as well as air cover.
- Crucial when your offering is bold, difficult to understand, highly novel, or requires your customer to stick out their neck to choose you.
3) Fosters loyalty: A compelling brand strengthens your customer bond, so that they consider you and only you.
- Crucial when you face high churn levels or churn that is particularly expensive.
4) Galvanizes employees: A compelling brand makes it easy for internal audiences to bond with your business, too, poising you to attract and retain the employees you want. The North Star of your brand nourishes them with purpose and empowers employees to grow your business in alignment with your vision.
- Crucial when your employee base is growing rapidly; you face a competitive labor market; your organization is mission-driven; employees are in direct contact with customers; and employees are making high-stakes, expensive decisions (e.g., partnerships, acquisitions, expensive innovation).
5) Broadens your moat: A compelling brand makes your business more "only." While competitors can often copy functional benefits and features, they cannot copy your customer bond.
- Crucial when you face product parity or feature "arm races" or hot spaces with masses of competitors jumping in.
6) Heightens return on investment (ROI) on marketing: A compelling brand pinpoints your unique value, enabling you to make marketing investments with precision and therefore a strong ROI. You no longer have to "spray and pray" because you know the single thing for messaging to convey.
- Crucial when your business is spending meaningful dollars on marketing, and when you compete with businesses with larger marketing budgets.
If you are currently satisfied with how your business performs on the above, then your business is a candidate for a B+ brand strategy. Do choose what your business will stand for in a deliberate way. It will unlock clarity and economic value that will compound and set conditions to thrive. But let a few hours or days of your time be enough.
If you are currently NOT satisfied with how your business performs on the above, then you are a business that may deserve more brand strategy rigor. In this case, dedicate time and money to a precise brand strategy, and the return will be high.
For most companies, a B+ brand strategy is superb. For companies with audacious goals, an A+ brand strategy creates conditions to meet audacious outcomes.