Lisa M. Hastings
May 26, 2021

3 keys to defining your brand strategy

SGK's global creative director explains why an agile brand strategy and consumer-focused tone of voice are essential to building and maintaining a brand for the future.

3 keys to defining your brand strategy

Evolving your brand doesn’t have to be scary—far from being all about risk, rebranding is a huge opportunity.

First, what is brand strategy? Simply by definition, it is a plan for the brand. It helps define the who (are you) what (do you do) and ultimately, as a consumer, why should I care. And how the alignment of values and purpose is managed and communicated across relevant channels.

It sets perimeters around the goals of your brand, including where you want to go, and where your brand currently sits within the competitive market. Setting those perimeters will take your brand where you want it to go.

Brand strategy also must be a true collaboration between strategists and designers. As author Marty Neumeier states, “Brand is where logic meets magic". There are designers who think they can’t do strategy, and there are strategists who think designers are just making something look appealing. But the reality is that they work symbiotically—one cannot exist without the other.

2020 was a game changer. Following a year of bold pivots and global shifts, change has become non-negotiable, so the brand strategy should be agile too. Setting those goals and perimeters quickly, but also allowing those elements to be flexible and fluid enough to adapt and evolve along the way.

Find your niche

Core values count, so define and deliver yours. By defining your brand’s values, you’ll better understand who your target audience is and who you’re trying to appeal to. You need to know what your brand stands for, what it believes in, and why it exists first, which will lead you to understand your brand’s purpose in the world. 

Having a complete understanding of those principles will help you determine who you’re trying to reach and serve. Because it shouldn’t be about hitting a target demographic just because they are there. It’s about reaching a demographic for whom your brand will truly resonate, to build your tribe.

Develop your tone of voice

Developing a tone of voice (TOV) is critical. The TOV goes back to everything you build into and around your brand. It should live within the brand architecture and the core values, and dictate how you speak to your customers. 

TOV also serves as a reference point for the three Ws: the who, the what, and the why. If you build a brand strategy and TOV, but don’t consistently refer to it, or track how it’s being used and applied by your experts and team members, it can really go wayward. It's how you talk and act internally and externally.

Having something to serve as the center of the brand, to anchor your brand to its roots, helps. This is especially true for smaller brands and startups, whose tendency toward agility can sometimes translate into a quickness about social-media posts or promotion through different marketing streams without proper due diligence. It’s important to always relate back to why you started. Stay true to you.

Words matter. People really underestimate the power of words—which encompass not only the way in which you speak about your brand but also how your brand modulates across platforms. Sure, stay agile with your language, but be consistent and relevant.

Embrace change

There is a big difference between bravery and risk. If you’re already thinking about evolving your brand or completely rebranding, it’s not a risk. If you’re already asking and considering things like “Should I change? Should I adapt?” then it means you’re already feeling perhaps like your brand might be stuck. It means you’re already in the process of decluttering and knowing that you need to do something to keep moving your brand forward. 

For those reasons, don’t view evolution as a risk if there is proper thought and brand strategy involved. The brave step is to try differentiating your brand and taking it to an unexpected level, which takes working with the right team of experts. Rebranding shouldn’t be viewed as a risk. Not moving is more so. So stand out while others fade away. Embrace brave branding, and own who you are and what you stand for as a business or service.

Lisa M. Hastings is global creative director at SGK in Sydney.

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