How to develop a brand strategy: Your roadmap to success

Your brand is how people feel about your business or products. It’s what they say about you when you’re not around. And it’s in your best interest that they say positive things. But a strong brand doesn’t magically develop; it takes considerable thoughtfulness and care to build.

If you’re interested in developing a brand strategy, you’re in the right place. This guide will define what a brand strategy is, why it’s critical for your success and how to develop a brand strategy.

What is brand development?

Developing a brand strategy is a long-term plan that defines who you are—as a brand—and how you present yourself to customers and prospects. It’s not just a name and logo; it’s your unique identity and personality. But it’s also more than just what you put out into the world; it’s also how consumers experience your brand and relate to it. The goal is to build a connection with your audience.

A brand strategy is a roadmap to understand the market, your role in the market and how to gain a greater share by satisfying customer needs. Brand-building strategies include your story, voice, values, mission, audience, differentiators and visual representation.

When executed successfully, a brand strategy helps improve loyalty, drive brand awareness, encourage repeat business and inspire word-of-mouth referrals. The intangible elements of a brand strategy get you noticed by consumers and create emotional relationships through resonance and trust.

A strong brand identity is an essential part of successful marketing. It ensures your brand stays consistent, recognizable and memorable. Brand development strategies are meant to adapt with time as your products, objectives, identity and purpose change.

The importance of strategic branding

Branding isn’t just an excuse to make things pretty or buzzworthy. It plays a powerful role in achieving business goals. Specifically, branding has an impact on how well you acquire new customers, meet sales goals and grow revenue.

Once you understand what branding means, you can see why it matters. 84% of marketers say brand awareness is their most important objective because they understand the impact. One such impact of a great brand is on customer lifetime value (LTV); consumers who connect emotionally with brands have a 306% higher LTV.

When you know who you are and portray that identity in all your marketing and branding efforts, customers notice. An exceptional branding and marketing strategy can:

  • Help you stand out from the competition, making it easier to grow market share
  • Establish emotional connections and loyalty with consumers
  • Communicate the value of your products
  • Prioritize marketing efforts and channels to appeal to your target audience
  • Build trust and awareness with new audiences
  • Create long-term viability of the business

On the flip side, brands without a strong brand strategy—who don’t know who they are, why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve or what they value—will struggle to succeed. Low sales, poor employee morale and inconsistent marketing are key issues that stem from a poor brand strategy.

How to develop a brand strategy

Now that we’ve covered the definitions and importance of designing a brand strategy, let’s dive into the key elements of your strategy. Each of the following elements is critical for business success. Each one plays a role and builds upon the others to create a sound strategy.

Once you put them all together, you’ll have a comprehensive brand strategy to guide the development of your marketing plans. And you’ll understand how to put the customer at the center of everything you do.

In this section, we’ll dive into the elements of your brand strategy, including defining purpose, understanding competitors, creating a brand voice and identity, developing messaging, and executing your brand in marketing campaigns.

Get clear on your brand purpose and values

The first step is to understand your brand purpose and values. Why do you exist? Who are you (or who do you want to be), and how do you want to show up in the world? This might all feel a bit fluffy and strange, because it's as if you’re trying to apply human qualities and concerns to a brand. But that’s exactly what you want to be doing. Consumers respond favorably to brands with a strong identity that shows their humanness. Brainstorm and write down your brand purpose, values, goals and mission/vision.

Brand purpose: This is the reason why the brand exists, beyond just selling products and making money. Consider and define what purpose the brand has in the world.

Brand values: These are the fundamental beliefs or principles that guide your brand’s actions and decisions. It’s what you stand for—or against.

Brand goals: This is what you’re trying to achieve. For example, do you have overarching goals around sales numbers, loyalty signups or long-term growth? If you don’t have a defined North Star metric or goal, your team won’t know how to prioritize, and your brand will suffer.

Brand mission and vision: This is what you’re here to do. A mission statement, often 1-2 sentences, describes your purpose, values and goals, and how you can fulfill them. Your vision is a clear, long-term roadmap for where your brand is heading or the future you want to create. It’s often more aspirational.

The final piece is to get clear about how your mission aligns with your customers' needs, preferences and expectations.

Understand your competitors

You need to understand what your direct competitors are doing and what’s working for them. But do this competitor analysis with curiosity and to understand, not as an outline for creating your own strategy.

Remember, your brand has an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Mimicking their brand strategy is not a winning approach. But you should research all your competitors to understand what they offer, where they are strong, where they are weak and where your brand is different. This should start to highlight opportunities for you to differentiate as you develop your brand strategy.

For example, if a competitor developed a plain, corporate-style brand but you think your audience is more clever and fun, you may win by incorporating elements that your customers can better relate to. Or, if you like how they approached their messaging but don’t think the colors are right, start noting your observations to be used later.

To win, you’ll need to go all-in on branding to create memorable, impactful and consistent experiences. Our recent research revealed that 60% of respondents say they engaged with a marketing message because they are “familiar with and like the brand,” which was the most selected option over other responses around optimizing for the purchase journey.

Another component of this is market analysis. You need to have an intimate understanding of the overall market, including trends, customer needs and historical data. It’s difficult to have clear sights on where you’re going and how you can win if you don’t understand the broader ecosystem.

Identify your ideal customers

Your ideal customers are a specific group of people your brand aims to reach and influence.

You may already have a strong sense of who these people are, but in this branding strategy exercise, take time to dig deeper. Consider both who your products and services are best suited for, and who your actual customers are. You may find that who you think you sell to isn’t accurate. For example, maybe you think it’s men, but it’s actually the women in their life typically gifting the products to them and making the actual purchases. This is exactly the type of nuance you need to understand before you start crafting your messaging.

To successfully reach and communicate with your ideal audience, you need to understand what they value and desire. You also need to know their pain points and long-term objectives.

Some marketers take the audience component a step further to create audience personas. These personas define who your ideal customer is, what they look like and how they spend their time. Note that you may have more than one target audience: In the example above, while it’d be the men that you want to attract, you also have to be appealing to the women in their lives who make the purchases most often.

Audience identification happens now because your brand needs to resonate with your audience. Your audience will then inform your brand voice, messaging, visual identity and marketing tactics. They also influence your pricing strategy.

Create your brand voice

Words matter, but it’s also about how you say them and the overall vibe. This comes down to your brand personality, voice and tone.

Personality: Your personality is your brand’s human characteristics, traits and attributes. If you think of your brand as a living thing, how would it act? How would you describe the way it exists in public, in private or with loved ones?

Some examples of personality traits of a brand include playful, straightforward, professional, creative, witty, funny, lighthearted and serious.

Voice: Your brand voice is the way you talk, or your unique way of communicating that reflects your personality and values. This is your style, and it needs to be consistent across channels and uses.

Some examples of voice could be authoritative, friendly, helpful and empathetic.

Within voice, you start to define rules, like whether you use “we” or “us” language in marketing, or if your brand speaks using contractions to have a more conversational tone speak using contractions. These decisions should all reflect your voice and personality.

Tone: The next part is tone, or your attitude. While voice is more overarching, tone takes context into account. While voice is consistent, tone may change slightly based on the audience or channel.

For example, your tone in a cheeky social post may be different from a serious educational piece on your blog. The voice should be the same, but the tone can fluctuate.

Also remember that while voice and tone may have contradictory elements, they combine to make you, you. For example, if you have a professional and straightforward voice, you can still be friendly and even funny.

Brand voice and personality is a great way to bring uniqueness and humanness to your brand. We’ve seen this play out on social media in recent years, and consumers love brands that have something interesting to say.

But, be careful to ensure that your voice resonates with your target market. Brands that take their personality and voice to extremes risk alienating and even losing their customers. Create your voice to be authentic, which will build trust with consumers.

Develop your messaging and positioning

Your brand strategy is the story you’re telling the world. So it makes sense to actually determine and document what that story is.

This is where you start to define what makes your brand different from the competition. Find the balance between how consumers perceive your brand, how your products or services benefit your customers and what your products do.

As you start writing your messaging and positioning, don’t forget about your target audience, their values and your voice/tone/personality. This will create a narrative that resonates with your audience, and can offer a deeper connection to your brand and products. As you work through your tagline, messaging pillars, value proposition and brand positioning statement, focus on how you help solve consumers’ problems.

Tagline: This is a memorable sentence, word or phrase that captures your brand’s essence and promise.

Messaging pillars: These are the primary stories you want to tell about your brand, focused on what makes you unique. Once you identify your pillars, everything you create, publish or advertise should ladder up to one of your pillars.

Value proposition: Your value proposition (or, commonly, "value prop") is a succinct explanation of the value of your product or services. It explains why consumers need and want what you offer. It’s not just who you are or how you’re different, but also how you can solve real problems for real customers. Your value prop may also include guarantees or other differentiating factors to encourage shoppers to pick you over the competition.

Brand positioning statement: This single guiding statement serves as a reminder to customers, employees and the general market of your brand values. Capture your personality, but focus on what makes your brand special.

Taking the time to develop and test your messaging and positioning will ensure brand consistency across all channels and teams. Without this step, you risk inconsistent—or even contradictory—messaging, which makes it difficult to attract and retain your ideal audience.

Once you’ve determined your messaging and positioning, ensure it makes sense to your target audience.

Design your visual identity

We can’t talk about how to create a brand strategy without visual identity.

Visual identity is the stuff you normally think about with a brand, like logo, typography, color, imagery, photography, illustration and iconography. These are critical elements to help present your brand to the market.

But before you start working through logos, colors and fonts, take a moment to revisit your audience, brand personality, purpose and voice. How do you want to present yourself? What are your values? How do you speak? Every visual choice needs to reflect that. Think of this step as the visual translation of everything you’ve just outlined.

Visual identity is key to developing brand awareness and recognition. This is necessary to build trust in the marketplace, which ultimately impacts sales and loyalty. But it needs to be cohesive, across digital assets and physical products. And it needs to be relatable and memorable for your target audience.

Create brand guidelines

Developing a brand strategy isn’t something that happens once. It’s an iterative process, adapting to the market, cultural changes and product expansion over time. Adding new products or shifting your values initiates a revision of brand strategy.

One way to help navigate changes is to develop brand guidelines. This is a playbook for how to use your brand in all communications—internal and external. Guidelines are especially vital in large teams, or if you work with outside agencies or freelancers. You need a concise and digestible way to educate them on your brand, audience, voice, messaging and visual identity.

Brand guidelines need to be comprehensive and provide enough direction for a writer, designer or marketer to create work that is “on brand.”

Having documented brand guidelines helps ensure your reputation is upheld. With clear instructions on how to use your logo, which logo to use in which scenario, the correct font for presentations, whether you use title or sentence case, and a paragraph company boilerplate, employees across the company can uphold your brand strategy.

Though you should have a designated point person who owns your brand guidelines to ensure they are kept up to date. Your guidelines will need regular updates, especially around brand voice and tone. Store them in an easy-to-find location.

Align your marketing to your brand strategy

Now comes the fun part: activating all this work in your marketing efforts.

But don’t forget that how you approach marketing is also part of your brand strategy. Creating unique and memorable experiences for customers sets your brand apart.

Once you understand the other components of your brand strategy, you can make marketing and business decisions that reflect your purpose, values and mission. All these elements allow you to experiment in an authentic way. You can also reach and engage with consumers in more meaningful and emotional ways.

Having a strong brand identity—with clear guidelines—empowers your team through your social media accounts, website, marketing campaigns, SEO efforts, email marketing and more. This is an opportunity to test your branding, engage with your audience and make revisions where appropriate.

The key is to use all your brand strategy elements to increase brand awareness, drive sales and increase ROI. All this is possible with great brand marketing strategies.

Use multiple channels to reach your audience

Having a strong brand strategy and effective marketing campaigns is instrumental in achieving long-term success. But modern consumers expect you to have an integrated approach.

In fact, 90% of consumers expect to have a similar brand experience across multiple channels. This means your display ads need to line up with the last email you sent them, which also needs to line up with the information they would get when they walk in-store. Connecting all of these disparate channels isn't an easy task; brands need to consider how their marketing and advertising technology work together, how their cross-channel teams work together, and (maybe most importantly) how data and information on their customers and prospects flows between all of these things.

If a brand can achieve true omnichannel alignment, the consumer will always have a connected experience with that brand, no matter where they are. This consistent experience is vital for strong brand recognition, trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

To effectively and seamlessly reach your audience—across platforms—with similar messaging, you’ll need to implement omnichannel marketing strategies. An omnichannel approach ensures you offer the same experience, message and outcome to customers, regardless of how they interact with your brand.

Analyze and adjust as you go

Every good strategy requires frequent review and updating; a brand strategy is no different. Some marketers erroneously think a brand strategy happens once—or again in the case of a brand refresh—but in reality, a brand is constantly evolving.

You’ll need to continuously monitor and adjust your brand strategy based on audience response and market changes. The key is to make your refinements small and incremental, rather than large and sweeping, which only confuses customers.

The tricky part is in the analysis. Much of a brand strategy isn’t tangible. It’s difficult to measure how well you drafted your brand messaging. Or whether a color was the right choice. Or how using photography would have had a different outcome compared to illustrations.

The primary metric for brand strategy lies in sentiment. How do your customers and prospects feel about you? Full circle, this is the definition of "brand," and you need to determine whether you’re winning.

Here are a few ways to measure the success of your brand strategy:

  • Monitor how your audience responds to your messaging, visuals and personality in aggregate. How? Through social listening, and reading and engaging with comments on your social media channels, you can get an adequate read. Also, watch your DMs and tags. These will help you understand how people feel about you.
  • On a more granular level, dive deep into your marketing campaigns. This is a treasure trove of information on what messages, images, types of communications, etc. resonate with specific segments or individuals, which allows you to better understand who is engaging with what and why, so you can create more of the desired engagement moving forward.
  • Test different words or visuals to see what has a greater impact. How? Try A/B testing your email campaigns to test brand elements. Your open and click rates will show you which approach resonated with your audience better.
  • Get rid of what doesn’t work and evolve toward what does. This is perhaps the most difficult part, especially in large organizations. But you need to continually adapt toward what’s working in the market. This might mean frequent style guide changes to ensure your designers know what to use, and what to ditch.
  • Watch your competitors. Go back to the competitive analysis step regularly to see how others are adapting and positioning themselves. Again, don’t copy, but use this regular check-in to stay abreast of what’s happening in the marketplace or with your audience. Adjust your brand strategy and marketing plans accordingly.
  • Establish benchmarks for your marketing tactics. If you know your consistent email open rate, or social media engagements per post, you’ll be able to quickly tell when things are declining. Setting KPIs and knowing your benchmarks helps you know when to test and iterate. If you’re not meeting your goals or benchmarks, you’ll need to adjust your strategy and tactics.

In short, figuring out how to develop a brand strategy isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s a recurring, interactive process that allows you to continually refine your brand to better convey your values. That allows you to continually improve how you connect with your audience.

Activating your brand strategy is made easy with Epsilon

Now that we’ve outlined how to build a brand strategy and the key steps you’ll need to take, let’s talk about technology.

With the right tools and technology, you can build a brand strategy and effectively communicate your story, values and unique differentiators to your audience across media channels.

Epsilon Digital is a digital advertising platform that reaches across media channels to serve up personalized messages to real people, ensuring that what you want to communicate about your brand is customized effectively to your ideal target audience. Digital media is an effective medium for brand awareness and driving people to action, offering them relevant information for their purchasing needs.

Learn more about the only digital advertising services partner that connects every display, online video, connected TV and audio impression to a real person.