1. The Ultimate Guide to Building a Successful Brand Strategy

The Ultimate Guide to Building a Successful Brand Strategy

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Whether you’re a fresh start-up on the tech scene or an established multinational corporation, effective branding is important to the continued growth and success of your company. But a brand isn’t anything if you don’t have a solid strategy behind it.

Your brand may be recognized by your visual identity – the company name, logo, colors, ads, and product designs – but the essence of your brand, or brand positioning, goes much deeper. Your brand is your company’s reputation. It’s how customers perceive your brand personality and values.

Mac laptop and magic mouse with a Canon camera lens, a plant, sticky notes, and a coaster on a desk.

The iconic Apple logo and minimalist product design is instantly recognizable. Image via Canva Photos + Pexels.

This is where brand strategy comes in. Customer perceptions shouldn’t happen by accident. The identity of your brand(opens in a new tab or window) needs to be intentional, crafted, and carefully tended. In developing a brand strategy, you will establish your target market, build brand equity(opens in a new tab or window), and nurture positive emotional associations for your customers that will grow over time.

A positive brand image builds brand awareness, contributes to company growth, and serves as a powerful differentiator against the competition. Plus, how you build and manage your brand can turn a small business into a thriving enterprise brand. It all starts with a well-crafted marketing strategy and how you approach brand development over time. Here’s how to get started.

Table of Contents

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What is a brand strategy?

Brand strategy is the plan to achieve long-term goals that will make your brand identifiable to and preferred by customers. Your strategy will involve working with teams across the company to build brand awareness, brand equity(opens in a new tab or window), and brand sentiment in order to meet business goals.

Building an effective brand is a huge undertaking that will involve almost every team in your company in some way. It also involves a lot of intangible elements, making it difficult to measure success. For that reason, it is important to establish a brand strategy to guide your branding process and metrics to quantify your progress.

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To set goals for your brand strategy, evaluate the following:

  • Brand awareness. What qualities of the brand do we want customers to be familiar with?
  • Positive brand associations. What is the first thing that comes to a consumer’s mind when they think about us?
  • Brand loyalty. What does a loyal, regular customer look like? What are their needs and values?
  • Perceived quality. When referring to us, what qualities will customers highlight in our product or service?
  • Brand preference. How do we ensure customers choose us over the competitor?
  • Brand experience. What will customers say after trying our product or service for the first time?

Why is building a brand strategy important?

Two people sitting at a desk with brand strategy documents and creative campaigns surrounding them.

Image via Canva Photos

Without a focused, intentional brand strategy, your company won’t be able to use your brand to achieve the goals that are important to you. Creating a brand strategy can have additional benefits in addition to the financial success of your business.

A brand strategy aligns your marketing efforts

Your brand strategy will align all your marketing campaigns across channels. It ensures your assets, imagery, and social media marketing share a consistent voice and vision.

Consistency of message and identifiable branding are important for your marketing efforts to succeed.

A cohesive brand strategy helps you to communicate with your customers more clearly. Consistent messaging will build familiarity with your brand and encourage loyalty in existing customers.

Create a Brand Kit(opens in a new tab or window) in Canva for each unique entity and collaborate with the whole team to finalize brand guidelines.

A brand strategy supports collaboration across teams

A brand strategy provides a set of goals and a shared vision for your employees across teams. Product, marketing, and design may all be coming from very different backgrounds and be focused on different things. Develop a brand strategy, or customized brand guidelines(opens in a new tab or window) specific to each audience, to give them a shared reference for your branding and your goals for that branding.

A clear brand vision allows you to come back to a shared reference point on a regular basis. Your teams can see how their efforts contribute to the bigger-picture project and ensure that every decision helps achieve the larger branding goal.

When multiple teams are working with the creative elements that need to go past brand or marketing before launch, implement a streamlined design approval process(opens in a new tab or window).

A brand strategy gives you metrics to measure success

It is important to have clear metrics for success for any large project. Your brand strategy will set benchmarks for your teams and give them a shared set of metrics to measure the success of their efforts. When you measure your efforts, you can use that data to inform future projects and guide existing ones toward favorable outcomes.

How to build a brand strategy

Two women working on a laptop and tablet and smiling while collaborating.

Working on your brand is easier as a team. Image from Canva Photos + Pexels

You’ll develop your brand strategy in collaboration with teams across your company. You want to assess where your brand is now, make plans for the actions you will take in the near future, and establish long-term goals for your business.

Define your brand

The first step in building your brand strategy is to define your brand. This could be a newly developing brand or a refresh of an established brand(opens in a new tab or window). You need to establish your brand personality, voice, identity, and values.

  • Brand personality. A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to your company. You will build brand equity by building a consistent brand personality that permeates through all of your external-facing communication. It is important to ensure that your brand personality aligns with the product or services you offer. For example, if you’re a law firm, it’s likely that you want to be seen as trustworthy and strong. However, if you work for a creative agency, you might want to be seen as creative and playful.
  • Brand voice. Brand voice is about ensuring there is a uniformity in grammar, tone, and word choice so that all your communication accurately represents your brand. Voice is how your brand conveys its brand personality to your audience. Your brand voice may be casual, formal, authoritative, or approachable. What is important is that it is consistent.
  • Brand identity. Your brand identity(opens in a new tab or window) is composed of the visual elements that help communicate your brand. This includes your color palette(opens in a new tab or window), graphic design(opens in a new tab or window), logo(opens in a new tab or window), and images(opens in a new tab or window). These visual elements will make your brand easily distinguishable to new and existing customers.
  • Brand values. Your brand is a lot more than the products or services you sell; it’s also about the values that guide your business(opens in a new tab or window). Brand values are about both the way you conduct business with the world around you and the ethics you follow while doing so. They are also about how you develop your products and what is most important to you when you are developing them. Your brand values will communicate to customers that they can trust your product.

These core traits of your brand are what inspire emotional connection and loyalty in your customers. An Akeneo study on consumer behavior(opens in a new tab or window) showed that 52% of respondents would pay more for products that communicate their company’s brand values, with 82% being willing to spend up to 30% more. Customers want to know who you are and what motivates your business. Develop a strong company identity to drive your brand strategy forward.

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Establish your brand purpose

Your brand purpose is the reason your brand exists(opens in a new tab or window). It speaks to the unique value you have to offer and the impact your product has on the world. When developing and marketing new products, you can guide your decisions based on how those products align with your purpose. To define your brand purpose, it can be helpful to think back to the origin of your business and identify what gap you were initially aiming to fill.

Patagonia is well known for its commitment to the environment, the outdoors, and a culture of appreciating nature. Here’s how Patagonia defines their core brand values(opens in a new tab or window) – “Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to protect nature. Not bound by convention.”

Mural of Patagonia’s mission statement with their brand identity and colors, “Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Patagonia’s mission statement on a mural that incorporates their brand identity and values.Image via Doug Stewart

Along with other activism initiatives, Patagonia has a “1% for the Planet” program(opens in a new tab or window), and relationships with environmental groups that align with their brand purpose.

Establish your visual identity

A core element of any branding endeavor is to use the power of design to help communicate with your target audience. This is where a brand kit(opens in a new tab or window) comes in. When thinking about your brand strategy, it’s important to assess whether the visual elements of your brand—think logo, brand colors, fonts, photography—align with the overall brand strategy and what you are trying to achieve.

Don’t be afraid of refreshing or rebranding if it feels necessary! A rebrand(opens in a new tab or window) can be a great way to bring your visual identity closer into alignment with your brand purpose or goals.

Want to learn more about rebranding? Here’s an article on the 10 questions to ask yourself before starting a rebrand(opens in a new tab or window).

Identify your target audience

Identify who your target audience is and what their core needs are to further focus your brand strategy. If you try to appeal to all people all the time, your identity and messaging will be unfocused and ultimately ineffective. Your audience may have various sub-groups and nuances that you can target with specific campaigns, but your target audience should be well defined.

To define your target audience, identify what group or groups of people have a need that your product meets. Your target audience may be defined by demographic (women, men, children, young adults, urban) or by shared interest (fitness, fashion, pets). Identify what they have in common, including their pain points and values. You will tailor your brand strategy to appeal to the needs of this group. Once you have successful customers, develop branded case studies(opens in a new tab or window) to attract similar audiences and show them how they can benefit from working together.

Perform a competitor analysis

It is important to assess the competitive landscape or perform a competitor analysis(opens in a new tab or window)when building a strategy for brand growth. You need to know exactly where your brand is positioned in the bigger picture landscape in order to make strategic decisions. You can make more informed decisions by understanding what your competitors are doing and how your brand differs from theirs.

The basic questions to ask are:

  • Who are our competitors?
  • How do our target audiences overlap? What are those audiences’ opinions of our competitors?
  • What do they do better than us? What do we do better than them?
  • What are the gaps in their offerings?
  • What brand strategies are they employing? How successful have they been?

Determine your brand objectives

The final step is to set the ultimate objectives for your brand strategy. These will guide the direction you focus your strategic efforts. Your objectives will generally focus on building overall awareness of the brand, positive brand associations, brand loyalty, perceived quality, retention, and conversion.

Actively assess and adjust your brand strategy over time

Your strategy isn’t set in stone. In a world that moves so quickly, it’s easier than ever to experiment, pivot, and rewrite strategies that aren’t working. While it’s important to be focused and create goals you see working for your business long-term, it is always important to leave room to optimize your strategy as circumstances change.

As a team, the more content you can create and promote, the more you can learn about your audience and grow your brand. Use collaborative tools built for productivity(opens in a new tab or window), encourage exploration (within brand guidelines), and reevaluate your brand process on a regular basis.

9 best practices for a successful brand strategy

A brand strategy needs to be backed up by distinctive visual branding and communications that are consistent in tone. All of the elements you create to support your brand should build a strong identity for your brand in the mind of your customers.

Your logo(opens in a new tab or window) is one of the most important building blocks of your brand. It represents your brand in one easily recognizable visual element, which is a lot to ask of one graphic. The S.M.A.R.T.(opens in a new tab or window) principles of logo design are a good place to start when developing a logo. Your logo should be:

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Appropriate
  • Resizable
  • Timeless

Most importantly, to support your brand strategy, your logo should be distinctive and memorable. Your logo will do a lot of the work(opens in a new tab or window) of making your brand stand out in the customer’s mind. If it is memorable, your audience will begin to recognize and become familiar with it. Your brand will emerge in their minds when they consider services in your industry, making them more likely to choose your product.

Your logo should also suggest what you do and what type of company you are. A logo for a law firm should communicate serious, professional competence, while a cupcake shop logo will likely be more fun and colorful. It might even include an image of your product, like a cupcake, to make it even clearer. A logo that suggests your brand’s purpose will help customers understand what you do more quickly.

Yelp’s logo quickly tells audiences that they’re about communication and sharing your thoughts with your network.

Yelp’s logo with a red logo mark.

The Yelp logo represents their community-oriented brand. Image via Yelp.

The Colorful Squares Nursery Education Logo(opens in a new tab or window) and White Minimalist Automotive Logo(opens in a new tab or window) communicate very different things, and each is effective for the specific type of company it is representing.

Give your product a unique form

For retail-based brands, the product that you supply is a tangible representation of your brand, so you should create something memorable and fitting.

The shape of a KitKat(opens in a new tab or window) bar is a great example of branded form. The trapezoid-shaped bars of chocolate encourage the consumer to snap the bar in half, making the experience of eating this particular chocolate bar unique. Even though the shape doesn’t have an overtly practical purpose, it does brand both the physical form and experience of eating a KitKat bar.

Someone breaking a KitKat chocolate bar in half.

The unique shape and “break” of a KitKat bar. Image via Nestlé.

A simple and unique form is the driving force between the successful branding of KitKat bars.

This unique shape supports the company’s brand strategy of identifying its product as the snack you eat when you need to have a break, with the memorable brand tagline(opens in a new tab or window) “Have a break, have a KitKat.”

The simple consideration of shape and form has paid off by helping brand KitKat bars more uniquely.

Your packaging and materials are also important to your brand strategy. If you are positioning yourself as an eco-friendly brand and you want to capture an environmentally conscious audience, you might want to make sure your packaging is minimal and biodegradable.

Examples of Kiehl’s cosmetic and skincare products that are refillable, including shampoo, lotion, conditioner, and body cleanser.

Kiehl’s communicates its brand values by offering refills for its packaging. Image via Kiehl’s.

Cosmetic retailer Kiehl’s(opens in a new tab or window) is a great example of a brand that has used its packaging to support its brand strategy. Kiehl’s highlights sustainability on its website and links it directly to the form and packaging of its products. The company explains(opens in a new tab or window), “We aim to use recycled materials in all our packaging and only use secondary packaging for our formulations when necessary.”

From recycled bottles and caps to the non-PVC laminated labels to the recycled aesthetic of its brown card packaging, Kiehl’s has fostered its eco-friendly brand through careful and deliberate decisions when it comes to form. Whether you’re designing a chocolate bar or a cosmetics brand, be sure your brand identity and values are reflected in every aspect of your product.

Letting people know about your brand’s advocacy and supported causes can go a long way to building your reputation. Posters like Teal and White Coral Reef Photo Environmental Protection Poster(opens in a new tab or window) and Informative Illustrated Environmental Protection Poster(opens in a new tab or window) are great inspirations for your own event, or try our poster maker tool for personalized poster recommendations.

Use color with intention

Color can make or break a brand(opens in a new tab or window). You need to choose the right colors for your brand(opens in a new tab or window) to help your strategy succeed. Color affects brand strategy by communicating information about what your company does, by evoking specific emotions in your audience, and even by being distinctive enough to your brand that the color itself is trademarked. Guide your choices with color theory(opens in a new tab or window) and market research.

Colors or color combinations can be so distinctive they communicate the brand as effectively as a logo. Brands may even trademark their color if it gets recognizable enough. Tiffany & Co.’s(opens in a new tab or window) “little blue box” is instantly recognizable and has come to communicate luxury. Other instantly recognizable branded colors include Home Depot orange(opens in a new tab or window), Coca-Cola red(opens in a new tab or window), UPS brown and gold(opens in a new tab or window), and McDonald’s red and yellow(opens in a new tab or window).

Colors evoke emotion, so the colors you choose to use for your branding should speak to your brand values and tone. A bright primary color palette will feel energizing. A soft, cool palette will give a calm feeling. A contrasty neutral palette may feel clean and confident. Consider the feelings you want your brand to elicit when choosing your brand’s colors.

Colorful stripes starting with greens and yellows and gradually changing to oranges, pinks, purples, and blues.

Colors have a massive impact on brand identity and customer perceptions of your brand values. Image via Canva Photos + Pexels.

Choose colors that evoke the mood and emotions that you want your audience to associate with your brand.

Your color palette(opens in a new tab or window) will sometimes be the first communication to customers of what your brand does. Colors are frequently associated with certain industries or audiences, so you should consider your industry and competitors when selecting a color palette. Technology or finance companies often use blues and cooler tones in their branding, and health food brands will often use greens and earthy browns.

To establish a color palette for your brand, you can sample colors from your company’s images or product history. Find photos that you feel represent the tone and essence of your brand and sample directly from them to create a palette. You may find you already have a color scheme developing in your imagery.

Using the eyedropper tool over an image is a quick and easy way to create a stunning palette.

Pick a color that best represents your brand. With the Elegant Professional Media Kit template(opens in a new tab or window), the bright orange color stands out from the stark background. Find out how to create your own media kit with Canva(opens in a new tab or window).

Inspire your next big brand idea with creative brainstorms using Canva Teams(opens in a new tab or window) – quickly test out brand colors, fonts, and styles to find the perfect combination, then get feedback on your designs instantly.

Make your brand names memorable

We all instantly recognize what that lowercase ‘i’ in front of a noun means. From iPod to iPhone to iMac, Apple(opens in a new tab or window) has been incredibly successful at using naming to distinguish its products from the competition. When you create a name for your brand or your products, your hope is that customers will refer to it frequently enough that your name will become recognizable and widely known.

Developing a name for a brand or product is an important part of branding, and there are many different approaches you can take to find the right one. Below are six of the most common approaches.

  • Initialism - Using a set of initials to stand for a larger name.
  • Foreign Word - Using a word from a language outside of the brand’s current market.
  • Combination - Combining many words to create a new one.
  • Founder’s Name - Using real names of the founder(s) or key figures in the industry.
  • Neologism - A completely new and made-up word.
  • Descriptive - A name that explains the brand’s product or services.

Another approach could be using an existing word and repurposing it to represent your company. Apple would be a good example of this or Google’s appropriation of the mathematical term googol. This is a bold move, especially since it may make your company harder to find on search engines, but if you pull it off, you can make a big impact with it.

Your name should be simple and memorable, so don’t get lost trying to incorporate too many ideas at once. Conduct customer tests, use a questionnaire(opens in a new tab or window) to understand whether your choice has the desired impact, and do your research to make sure the name isn’t being used in conflicting ways.

The possibilities for brand names are just about endless. Create a memorable one.

What’s interesting about brand names is when you think about some of the most familiar ones—Google(opens in a new tab or window), for example—the word itself doesn’t actually mean much. It’s the cultural and emotional associations the company has nurtured that give it its power. This is a perfect illustration of why your brand strategy is so vital to your overall branding.

These two brand names refer specifically to what they do—sound and coffee! Try the Yellow Sound Wave Icon Band Logo(opens in a new tab or window) and Brown and Turquoise Coffee Machine Cafe Logo(opens in a new tab or window) templates.

Craft clever taglines and slogans

Taglines and slogans are useful tools to quickly communicate your brand’s position and value to customers. Let your taglines and slogans broadcast the beliefs, functions, and tone of your brand in the simplest and quickest way possible. Whether your slogan is for the brand as a whole or a specific campaign, you want to choose the few words you have carefully for maximum memorability and impact.

Playa Bowls was started by two Jersey Shore natives who wanted to bring the beachy, surf vibe to a smoothie and health food brand. Their tagline, “Welcome to Pineappleland” perfectly sums up their brand vision, and a cohesive brand identity helped them grow using social media.

Playa Bowls is a franchise, so its slogan needs to speak to each region and individual shop. Make sure your slogan or tagline communicates the core purpose of your brand, too. The fewer words, the easier it is to remember, so most slogans should stay between 3–5 words in length.

There are a few ways you can approach creating a punchy tagline for your brand.

A good tagline is simple, short, and memorable. It tells you something about what the brand stands for.

A clever slogan or tagline will catch the attention of your target audience, and don’t shy away from puns. See Green Photo Food Facebook Post(opens in a new tab or window) or Mountain Travel Facebook Post(opens in a new tab or window) for inspiration.

Set the tone for your brand personality

While brands used to communicate only through ads and their physical stores, the advent of social media(opens in a new tab or window) means that companies are doing a lot more talking a lot more frequently. The tone of your communications, both in ads and across social media channels(opens in a new tab or window), is part of your brand strategy as well.

Two examples of skillfully branded tone—in two wildly different ways—are Nike(opens in a new tab or window) and Old Spice(opens in a new tab or window).

Nike is a multinational sports goods retailer with an extensive presence on social media, from Twitter to Facebook and even Pinterest. And over these platforms, Nike has created a specific tone, best described as motivating, authoritative, and determined, very in keeping with its brand. The company’s motivating energy encourages consumers to get active and engage with its brand.

Auntie Anne’s has taken a completely different approach to their brand voice. The company brought on some young marketing talent, and focused on being relatable, youthful, and modern. Its Twitter page(opens in a new tab or window) is full of humor and banter with an occasional plug of its product. By prioritizing new brand partnerships, jokes, and community created content, Auntie Anne’s has built a strong relationship with their audience and grown their brand awareness significantly.

Auntie Anne’s Twitter profile with their current marketing tagline “Get refreshed”.

Auntie Anne’s Twitter presence has evolved, now paying homage to Mean Girls in their bio.

Develop a tone for your brand that suits its personality.

Ask yourself this: If my brand were a person, how would they speak? Find a tone that is both fitting, functional, and unique to your brand.

Write a compelling mission statement

A brand with no mission is like a car with no fuel—it has just about all the right equipment, but it’s going nowhere. Your mission statement is the motivation that drives your brand strategy and will inform the other choices you make about branding. A good mission statement is obvious and clear.

Consider Oxfam(opens in a new tab or window)’s mission statement: “Oxfam’s vision is a just world without poverty.” Clear, concise, and reflective of its brand, Oxfam’s mission statement provides a solid foundation for the brand to build upon. All publications, designs, and campaigns Oxfam undertakes call back to this one declaration which helps direct focus and strengthens the consistency of the brand.

A good mission statement should ring true to anyone familiar with the brand. What would you assume Google’s mission statement is? Probably something about information, order, and searching. According to its about page(opens in a new tab or window), “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This mission statement is an accurate representation of the brand’s reputation and has clearly guided the company’s brand strategy overall.

Purpose, mission, and values are key to a clear and logical mission statement. Customize this template for your brand mission statement(opens in a new tab or window).

A good mission statement helps give your brand direction, keeps everything consistent, and strengthens your brand’s values and effectiveness.

Let your audience know what your mission statement is with the Blue Pink Mobile App Pitch Deck Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) template.

Dare to be different

A unique or unexpected brand will stand out in an oversaturated market. You can harness originality in three ways. You can develop a product that takes on a previously unexplored niche(opens in a new tab or window). You can go against trend, or even get ahead of trend, in your visual design(opens in a new tab or window). You could also come up with a surprising or counterintuitive marketing approach(opens in a new tab or window) to make yourself stand out as Auntie Anne’s(opens in a new tab or window) did with its marketing refresh.

Apple is a brand that has established itself through unconventional choices. Its focus is on pushing the limit on its products, always thinner, faster, more patented, but they have always had equally as heavy a focus on original aesthetics. The company’s atypical design choices made its products appeal to a larger audience than the typical tech company and have driven extreme brand loyalty for years.

While taking risks with your brand can be, well, risky, a well-calculated and informed risk can pay off big time. Whether you want to stand out with an atypical product, a distinctive design, or unique brand objectives, make sure your decisions are driven by your brand purpose and not just made for the sake of being different.

A unique and original brand will attract attention; just make an effort to ensure that difference is driven by your brand’s purpose and values.

Maintain a consistent brand

In order to build brand recognition, you need to keep your messaging and branding consistent. That consistency is what will build customers’ image of your identity and maintain their emotional connection to your brand. The easiest way to maintain consistency is by making sure the decisions you make in your brand strategy are always driven by the values and mission you have established.

For example, Dove(opens in a new tab or window), whose brand identity is focused on natural beauty and body positivity, would flop spectacularly if it began communicating on social channels in a satirical tone. Customers would be confused and lose their trust in the brand.

To keep your teams on the same page, you need to help them collaborate effectively(opens in a new tab or window) and create authoritative brand guidelines(opens in a new tab or window) that can be used across your company.

Apple’s strong brand is built through consistency and cohesiveness across all channels.

A brand mood board can help keep marketing materials consistent and on-brand.

Brand strategy strengthens your emotional connection with your audience

Brand loyalty is as strong as ever(opens in a new tab or window) – 59% of shoppers are willing to wait for their preferred brand to restock, and more than 6 in 10 consumers want to shop with brands they feel connected to. Today, brands need to prioritize a seamless digital experience and deliver high-quality content across the entire buyer’s journey.

The culmination of all your brand strategy efforts will be a customer base with strong emotional ties to your brand. Customers will be more likely to select a product whose brand they have a connection with and will be willing to pay more for it. Your brand strategy will build a strong reputation and a loyal customer base that will propel your business to success.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were the top brands. It takes time, effort, communication across the board, and it takes purpose. Plan it out, seek advice, seek feedback, seek opinions. Find solutions that make sense and that feel right, and go from there.

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