In any walk of life, you don’t take advice from anyone who hasn’t been there and done it before.
You wouldn’t take advice on parenting from a twenty-something, single, Shoreditch hipster more concerned if he has oat milk or soy milk in his flat white – he has no clue as he has never experienced it. People are quick to give advice based on what they think they know but there are few that can back it up.
As hard as it was, we at ikon put ourselves through a long and detailed brand strategy process to really get to the core of what drives our business and our people. You have to walk the walk if you want people to listen to what you have to say. This has not only shown people we collaborate with how serious we are about what we do but how deeply we understand the brand strategy and what is necessary to help their business grow.
In this article, we'll go over the importance of brand strategy and how to start building the perceived value of your company.
As we are so passionate about branding and the positive impact it makes, we will dive deeper into what we have learned, why branding is important and how it can help you stand apart from your competition.
We have come a long way since the early days of branding cattle to the digital age where technology has allowed anyone and everyone to bombard people with marketing messages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The increase in these messages plays a big part in why getting your branding right is more important than ever before. A clear brand strategy helps you rise above the noise, and there is a lot of noise.
A common misconception of branding is that it’s often seen as the visual identity of a business but your brand encompasses so much more.
As Marty Neumeier states “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” They are your target audience or potential customers and if you haven’t spent the time on a brand strategy to figure out who they are, and what you need to say to them, it’s unlikely to translate into making money for you.
People perceive what your brand means to them comes from every single touchpoint you have with your potential and existing customers. Whether it’s on the phone, in an email, on your website, on product packaging, or on social media accounts – how you communicate and what you communicate will give an indication of whether you can be trusted to do what you said you would.
As the old saying goes, people buy brands and not quality products. And for good reason.
With no unique brand, you are seen as a commodity and that’s when you compete on price and we all know where that ends, a race to the bottom. Instead, invest in a strong brand to create loyal customers.
We see it all the time, so many businesses are failing to effectively communicate what they do which usually means you get ignored and customers look elsewhere. Before you waste any money on marketing, a brand strategy agency helps you understand who you are targeting and what kind of messages will build an emotional connection with them. Building a humanistic connection on an emotional level is how you build customer loyalty and capture a larger market share.
Look at the stats, over 90% of startups fail within the first 3 years. We are not saying an effective brand strategy is the only answer because if your product or service isn’t desired, you can consider yourself in the 90% bracket.
Marketing can be seen as a dirty word. Yes, marketing can be used in unethical ways to sell things to people who they really shouldn’t be marketing for more profit. However, it can play a major part to create change and do a lot of good in the world.
Whether we like it or not everyone is a marketer. You market yourself in a job interview to a new employer, you market yourself to the opposite sex and you definitely need to market your business if you want people to know who you are. A strong brand strategy ensures what you say in your marketing is speaking to the right people to take action.
Before you do anything, target audience research is essential. Detailed customer research will point you in the right direction.
How do you know you are different until you analyze the market? You don’t so the first thing to do is see what your competitors are doing so you can find your differentiation points. Effective brand strategy defines what makes your product offering or services different from competitors.
Is it more technologically more advanced like Uber has made hailing a cab so much faster and more accessible? Or is a new business model like ikon delivering agency quality work with a freelance team so a client’s budget can be maximized without a drop in quality?
Not only should this research inform where you should position your business in the market, but it should also give a clear indication of how to stand out visually from what your competitors are doing.
At ikon we have a unique process to ask the right questions to ensure we define what problems and frustrations your audience is facing so you can develop the next stage of figuring out how to communicate with them.
The next stage is to define a mission statement and your key differentiators, develop a strapline, set your brand's core values then decide what your tone of voice will be, and finally set a messaging framework to influence all of your marketing moving forward.
ikon can help you create the story for why your brand exists, speak about your company's benefits, and help you write a laser-focused brand strategy.
Why are we talking about marketing when we should be talking about branding? It’s like talking to a logo design agency without considering the rest of the identity, your branding should look at how your identity and brand strategy influence your marketing. They are not mutually exclusive.
If you don't have a clear brand strategy, you will waste an enormous amount of money trying to market something that’s unlikely to hit the mark. A lot of businesses think a strategy isn’t necessary as it will be a lot of work and it will be costly but it’s short-term thinking.
For example, imagine running ads for your product or services and hoping your messaging resonates with your customers. If you would take the time to understand what resonates with your customers, Lay the foundations at the start and your efforts will be crystal clear, more focused, and more consistent with every piece of marketing after.
When you think about how much branding costs, keep this long-term thinking in mind.
This tends to start with your logo which is important but this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building your brand.
You will find plenty of logos on the internet with clever designs of either a word or icon depicting the most cliche element associated with the industry of that company. For instance, a plumber using a leaky tap but these types of logos might get some likes on Instagram but will often never be seen on any reputable brand’s website.
Every aspect of your brand identity is an opportunity to stand out, whether it’s color, typography, iconography, illustration, photography, or even the way you speak and what you say. Take every opportunity possible to rise above the noise for your prospective customers. You may also consult with a brand identity agency.
Typography makes up a monumental part of your branding but it is often overlooked and free fonts can often be the default option based on the accessibility.
Designers can get obsessed with picking typefaces to experiment with and showcase the latest font they have been itching to use on a project but it’s not just about how good typography can look, there is a psychological reason grounded in science to how it makes people feel. Typography can create emotional triggers. Just ensure your brand font matches the impression you want to give and works well across print and web.
Seeing your brand plays a huge part in how you make people feel and that people buy on emotion, it’s amazing why it is often neglected.
Ever come across a site with light grey text or fonts not formatted properly that causes users to head to the close button on their browser tab straight away. It can have a profound effect on how users interact with your content.
Paying attention to how you present information is just as important as what you say and if that helps engage people to read what you have to say, it’s worth investing the time to do it well.
The cost involved with paying attention to the design and the quality of your typography will not only look good but encourage people to engage and read about your business with a more positive outlook.
Not only does typography make sense on a psychological level, but choosing from the same Google Font library as most of the world is like saying “Yes please, but I would also love to look like every other website on the planet”. Done well, typography not only elevates your brand identity above most branding out there but your brand font (or fonts) becomes synonymous with your business.
More recently this has been highlighted by the fact that more and more brands are commissioning bespoke typefaces for their brand so it truly is unique. One of the most recently talked about and distinctive typefaces designed was by the renowned graphic designer, Neville Brody for the Channel 4 rebrand.
F37 Foundry run by Rick Banks hits the nail on the head: “A custom brand font is deeply ingrained in a brand’s identity. It works away tirelessly and seamlessly, even when other brand assets such as colour, logo or imagery aren’t around."
Even if a custom font is only reserved for big brands with big budgets, which is not always the case, choosing a higher quality and less common typeface can give you a visual edge over your competitors.
Another element of your branding that can give you a visual edge is printed marketing literature. With the ease of creating digital copies of everything from brochures, to guides and even ebooks, spending the time and money to create an elegant piece of print can make a lasting imprint in your customer’s mind.
With the advancement in printing techniques, the possibility of creating something of beauty is more possible than ever. Especially in the luxury market where what customers perceive and their experience is everything. Strong brands are embracing story, ritual, and mysticism to take people on an unforgettable journey but this is not limited to the physical as it needs to be seamless across their digital presence too.
James McCrae, Director of Brand Strategy at Blue Fountain Media talks about how technology is challenging brands to embrace technology and the ones that do are likely to be ahead of the curve and win:
“Technology is once again creating new challenges and opportunities for brands. We are now entering the “third wave” of the internet, which introduces immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, wearable devices, and conversational interfaces like voice-controlled speakers and chatbots.
Nowadays, customers can easily compare products or services from different brands on the internet. You can’t engage audiences by ramming your message down their throat so brands have to be clever about how they use technology to attract their tribe. We have to be more transparent as a business because social media will quickly expose any lies and that will do more damage than good.
Branding and marketing is changing dramatically and we need to shift our thinking to be more about the customer. Take Amazon or John Lewis, for instance, their customer service is second to none and this is for good reason. Amazon understands that a good brand build relationships with their customer base. With any business, if you don’t look after your customers they can easily go looking elsewhere and you will find no shortage of competition.
Even if you have to lose money to keep them happy in the short term, the amount they are likely to spend over the long term far outweighs the insignificant amount you would be set to lose.
More importantly, a bad brand experience can reach a lot of people on social media so not only their opinion of your brand would be shattered, they could shatter it amongst everyone they know. Big business with antiquated thinking is being caught out by challengers willing to deliver exceptional standards of customer service.
There is a distinct difference between agencies for branding and advertising. People are being sold daily in massive excess and we are getting numb to it, the trust in advertising agencies and advertising as a whole is at an all-time low. You see it on TV, on your phone, on your way to work, it’s incessant so we need to build that trust with new customers first.
Yuyu Chen, who is in charge of Agency and Brand Partnerships at TikTok writes about the mistrust millennials have in advertising: “Marketers today face a huge obstacle when trying to reach young consumers: 84 percent of Millennials don’t like traditional advertising nor do they trust it”
And then goes on to quote Matt Britton, a CEO, and new media entrepreneur: “To embrace people-powered marketing, he suggested brands should deliver their value by “showing” rather than by “telling.
Understanding your target audience through an effective brand strategy allows you to deliver content to educate and inspire rather than beat your audience into submission.
Our advice would be not to skip the strategy. Whether you’re a personal brand or in B2B or B2C, everyone needs an effective branding strategy to understand where they are, what makes them different, and where they want to go. Without this, people or businesses tend to float around with no direction and are likely to disappear into obscurity. That's why brand strategy is important.
Like the earliest form of branding when cattle were stamped with a hot branding iron, businesses need to create this same metaphorical imprint in the minds of their customers that they are the brand you turn to when they have a problem you solve.
You do that through trust, understanding your audience, and knowing how to stand out.