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How to Build a Timeless Brand | A Case for Strategic Branding

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

As we move deeper into an age where attention is the most valuable currency and our customers are key stakeholders in any business, building a brand is no longer just about logos, fonts, a website or even the business' product or service.

Great brands are built upon a foundation of strategy and research that sometimes spans not just weeks, but months. That said, the foundations that we build our brand and our business culture upon need to be reworked from time to time. Everything needs to be thought out and looked at one more time - the strategy, the research, the products and services, and sometimes even the business model.

Building a brand is about getting to know our audience well. What drives them? Why do they do what they do? What are their hopes, fears and dreams? It is about anticipating and adapting to their needs, and influencing their perceptions to occupy a position in their minds. It is also about knowing our competitors well, identifying the gaps they've left in the market, and innovating solutions to meet a need of our audience that has been left unmet by our competitors. It involves empathizing with our audiences' needs and pain points, answering crucial questions, and crafting innovative solutions and experiences based on research that lets your audience build your brand around your business for you.

But how do we go about all this?

Research & Strategy - The Two Horsemen of Timeless Brands

Formulating an effective strategy for your brand before even the business goes off the ground can help the brand occupy a place in the minds of our audience by catering our offerings and experiences specifically to their tastes.

For what was way too long, it was common for businesses to create a product, put together a quick logo and a website, and do a grand rollout. Or, they'd hope it'll be a grand rollout, because once the time of the launch arrives, there would be way too many holes in the foundation of the brand. Although entrepreneurs with this kind of wishful thinking are still out there, more and more people are realizing that without a strategy, their business is going to sleep with the fishes in a fortnight.

The method to building a brand that resonates with its customers and drives business growth is Brand Strategy, and the only way this process yields results is when you implement a proven Brand Strategy Framework. It is highly recommended to conduct a lot of research and strategy even before our brand shows up in front of our audiences, because in this age of abundance of information, our audience are always on the lookout for something they feel is human. If they don't feel a human connection with your brand and smell your sleazy sales tactics from a mile away, they'll look to your competitors for the connection.

What is Brand Strategy?

Brand strategy is a roadmap for how a brand will shape its core, its culture, its offerings and its reputation in the long-term, and the course of action that the stakeholders need to follow to achieve their vision for the future of the brand. If the strategy is successful, the brand will claim a position in the minds of the intended audience, and shape their perception of what the brand means, what it stands for, and the value and experience it offers them. Visual Vs Strategy

A visual identity project can bring you any or all of the following:

  • A logo

  • A website

  • Imagery

  • Graphics

  • Brochures

  • Illustrations

  • Business Cards

  • Brand Style Guide

  • Environment Design

Although, a great looking and coherent visual identity is important for successful branding, having a $2,000 logo and a $20,000 website isn't going to tell your audience what they need to understand about you, neither are they going to remember you when making a decision about what brand to go with when looking for a solution to their problems.

Having a visual identity that is professionally designed, but without a foundation of strategy is like going on a date with an attractive person, and they stare at their phone all evening while you make eyes with the person on the table behind your date. Our need for the alleviation of our problems doesn't draw us to brands that look amazing, but to brands that demonstrate a deep understanding of our problems and pain-points. They feel familiar and speak to us in a manner that a friend or an acquaintance might do. Our brand is what connects our business to our audience, and while we set up the foundations for our strategic direction for the long-term, our audience are ultimately the ones that end up building the brand. "Your brand is not what you say it is. It's what they say it is."

Marty Neumier, The Brand Gap A branding project essentially involves conceiving and putting into practice a set of guidelines that will help to shape the perceptions of the brand in the minds of our intended audience. If the exercise is successful, the audience will feel an attachment with the brand, which can become readily apparent as time flows by. It's important to note that the affinity that your audience will feel for your brand wouldn't be possible without carefully thought-out and personalized brand messages. Developing any element of the strategy at the wrong point in time, or an oversight of any of the processes can result in misaligned brand, and a rather ineffective attempt at brand strategy. That's a ton of time, effort and money down the drain.

Brand strategy for long-term foundational stability

Uncovering the brand core As we move towards creating a complete brand, we will start with uncovering the brand core. Here, all business and project stakeholders will have a discussion spanning an hour or two, where the group throws answers around to room to a few critical questions:

- Why does the brand exist? - Where is it going? - What is it committed to? - How will it behave? The answers for these questions are scrutinized and consolidated to form a Brand Purpose Statement, a Vision Statement, a Mission Statement, the brand's values and philosophy.

Developing audience personas

After the brand substance has been clearly defined, it is time to conduct audience research. Here, we will hypothesize on the kind of life our audience might be living and conduct research to validate our hypotheses. This will help us create archetypal user personas that represent the whole of our core target customer base. We will discuss our audience's demographics, psychographics, hobbies, interests and much more.

Competitor Analysis

Approaching the market with the same or very similar options to what’s already out there is definitely going to work against your brand. Supplementing our existing research on our audience, a comprehensive competitive audit allows us to put the market landscape under the microscope allowing us to find any unmet needs of our customers that our competitors might have overlooked.

The process of looking at the competitive landscape through a microscope allows us to see patterns that tell us where customers are satisfied, and more importantly, where our competitors are not meeting the needs of their customers and where the gaps in the market are.

Forge your differentiation strategy

After we know enough about our audience and our competitors, we will define our differentiation from existing options in the marketplace. At this stage, we will have a bird's eye view of all the gaps and unmet needs that are present in the market. This will help us create added benefit and value on top of what our competitors are already offering.

They might already have decent brand awareness and returning customers, but we will be at an advantage when we approach the market with superior offerings thanks to our differentiation strategy. Once we’re clear on how we want to approach the market and how we define our difference, we need to develop a framework around how we communicate that difference. Let me tell you a story about a little known brand called Netflix. Founded in 1997 by CEO Reed Hastings, the business started out with a model that depended heavily on renting out media CDs and DVDs. But as soon as he noticed the potential of a new technology called the internet and saw every other business cashing into getting their business online, Hastings was patient, and calmly worked towards understanding how he could transform the way people would consume media after the rapid adoption of the internet. As CDs and DVDs slowly started becoming obsolete, Netflix identified an unmet need - the need to watch entertaining media without having to rent a disc or deal with any hassle when it comes to relaxed entertainment. Coupled with the rapid adoption of the internet, there was a gap in the marketplace that none of their competitors thought to fill.

This differentiation helped Netflix end up as the market leader in the space of online entertainment. Netflix now has over 220 million online subscribers worldwide. For 10 years, Hastings had experimented and finally succeeded in getting his customers used to the idea of convenient streaming rather than going through the ordeal of renting DVDs and plugging it in. Its competitor Blockbuster, on the other hand, decided to stick to the older business model of CD and DVD rentals, thinking the "disc era" wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. Failing to adapt to the rapidly changing market landscape with their customers buying devices that readily connected to the internet, and their competitors innovating solutions that moved in alignment with their customers' adoption of new gadgets and behaviours, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010, with their books screaming a $1 billion debt statement.

Align the brand archetype

Once we know our audience, their hopes, fears and dreams, we can slowly start peeking into their personality and uncover their personality type using a scientific framework called the Personality Archetype.

This framework acts as a tool to first understand the personality of the audience and then develop a brand personality. Once we understand their personality and their desires around their challenges and pain-points, we are able to develop a personality to appeal to those desires.

Shape brand personality strategy

Key to developing our personality strategy is by defining the archetypal framework that we develop it around. This framework provides a solid structure for our personality and also assists in keeping it defined and familiar. Once we have a clearly defined personality, we need to ensure it’s displayed across all brand communication. Our personality will be a point of difference as well as a key tactic in resonating. It’s important that we have a guide to make sure this personality comes across consistently.

Brand tone & voice

Our personality will directly impact the tone of voice we adopt for our brand. Our personality allows us to display characteristics though our tone of voice is a large part of the delivery method of those characteristics. The characteristics we want to display through our personality and tone of voice will shape the language and vocabulary we use in our messaging. We need to build a library of vocabulary that will form the foundation of our messaging framework. These will help enhance our personality characteristics and carry it to the audience through written and spoken word.

Brand messaging framework

We will already have a large piece of the "How" through our personality and brand voice but now, we need to clearly define the “What”. Knowing what we want to say and how we want to say it will be based on our audience and the difference we want to represent to them. Our brand messaging should reflect upon our audience's hopes, fears and dreams, and should be equipped to resonate with them at a deep, human level. Much of what we want to say will take direction from the position we take in the marketplace. When we know the difference we want to represent to our audience and what that difference means to them, that becomes to the core message we want them to understand.

Storytelling framework

When they ask "What is this brand going to provide me with?", the story that we develop through our storytelling framework should make the benefits and their prospective transformation from Point A to Point B extremely apparent. We need to develop a story around a clearly defined journey our audience goes through from starting to interact with our brand, to the end of an experience of their choosing. Once we understand the journey, we can begin to develop the story. Both our brand and our audience play key roles in the journey though it’s vitally important that we have the limelight firmly focused on our audience and not our brand.

Design brand identity system

This is where the branding exercise crosses over from strategy to the development of the visual identity. Our strategy, position and personality will heavily influence our brand identity system. The logo, typography and colour palette have major roles to play and we need to ensure they align with our message. We will need to develop an image library that we can use throughout our brand presence. These images can be highly influential in communicating characteristics depending on the direction. Once the brand identity system has been developed, we need to make sure it’s applied as it’s intended. We’ll develop guidelines the provide rules of application to make sure the identity remains focused over time. At this stage of the project, the designer is armed with strategic direction and they can relish on the perspective they have gained on the brand and the intended audience, that a non-strategic designer simply does not. This translates into a visual identity with an edge.

We will be breaking down the different phases we include when providing our clients with a visual identity in a later article. Stay tuned!

Brand presence & marketing strategy

We are only now getting to the marketing strategy, and that is because now we're equipped with a lot of knowledge about our audience, our competitors and the direction of the brand for the future. We have also defined the method that we will use to interact with our audience and get our core message through to them, that we developed during the earlier stages. In order to get that message out there, we will now need to establish a brand presence in the form of a website and pick & choose possible traction channels for the audience to have access to your brand. This again, is all about understanding the online whereabouts of our audience and effectively direct them towards a better outcome for their future through the transformation you offer them.

We will also be sharing with you what happens Beyond the Brand Strategy Framework in a later article. Consider bookmarking this page! :)

Final Thoughts

Building a successful brand doesn't happen in a design tool or a word processor. It is built over time with the help of a strategic plan and a lot of critical considerations on the direction for the brand. Without a brand strategy, business owners are sailors without a single compass on deck.

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