Before we jump into this while thing let’s reach a common understanding of the term brand — so we can understand why having a brand strategy is so important.

BusinessDictionary.com defines a brand as, “Unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind (positioning). Thus brands help harried consumers in crowded and complex marketplace, by standing for certain benefits and value.”

Geez, that’s boring.

Basically, they say it’s your name, logo, customer psychology, and purpose. In time, customers get to know you for those things and keep buying your product.

Globally recognized brand guru Marty Neumeier defines a brand in his book Zag. Neumeier describes a brand as, “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” Neumeier’s view on this feels like a simplification of BusinessDictionary.com’s “level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind.”

Neumeier aims at the heart – feelings and emotions, and their impact on your customers’ mind. Designs, signs, symbols, words; etc. are the visual manifestation of your brand. Kind of like blood appearing red is the manifestation of breathing. But those aren’t the only manifestations your brand. As more businesses are realizing, the full customer experience uses all five senses. Increasingly, experience designers tailor smells, sounds, and tactile sensations to engage physical and digital touch points and endear brands to customers.

What is Brand Strategy?

Brands revolve around a person’s feelings; so a brand strategy is the concept of crafting experiences to create specific feelings. A broad example of brand strategy for an evening encounter may involve romance, including gentle music and candlelight, or it may involve suspense, in the form of mysterious sounds and dark settings. The purpose of strategy is to provide guidance. This guidance makes it easier for business and marketing decisions to reinforce your customers’ feelings and create an emotional bond.

Who Uses Brand Strategy?

Ultimately, your brand strategy is an internal-facing statement that describes the emotional impact your brand aims to create with your customers.

Brand strategy is not a tag line. It’s not a slogan. It’s not a marketing tactic that gets replaced every quarter. When created with care, a brand strategy lasts decades and informs every aspect of a company from hiring to production and marketing to customer retention relationships. Amazon’s brand strategy is to provide the best customer experiences for everything they sell. This hasn’t changed since the company started and continues to drive every industry revolution they champion.

Brand strategy requires buy-in from the top. If the leaders of a company aren’t involved in crafting brand strategy then there’s no ownership. There’s no direction. There’s no interest in communicating how the brand is different to employees and customers. Employees who understand and align with the brand strategy are the best ambassadors for the brand because they interface with customers and strangers. Imagine you loved your job, what you work to create, and you knew how you fit into building something amazing. Wouldn’t you want to tell everybody why?

How Can We Create Brand Strategy?

There are six attributes that we examine to create brand strategies.

The first attribute is Culture. Describe your brand as it relates to your people, how you act in your business, and the feeling or vibe that you want to embody to your customers. Think of your brand as a person. Is your brand a rebel or wizard? Are you helpful, brilliant, or curious? The core of your brand’s personality is in your customer’s perception of the brand. To create this perception requires attention and focus on your decision-making over time.

Next, it’s important to define your Customers. Who are they? What do they like? What are their hopes, dreams, and pain points? How well do you know who you’re selling to? One of the challenges for your branding is to define an audience with precision. The more broad your brand appeal, the more generic the message. Compare the messaging for a local burger hutch, like the Chuckbox on the ASU campus in Tempe (www.thechuckbox.com) with McDonalds. The Chuckbox understands their audience and conveys a humor, and if McDonalds every tried to duplicate that humor they would likely upset many people.

Gaining a deep understanding of your audience lets your brand play and make jokes that only your specific customer will understand. This is embodied by your brand’s Voice. The voice and tone is the personality of your brand in words and thoughts. How should your brand speak and sound in order to create the right feeling for your customers? The voice of Gilbert Gottfried created an iconic brand character for Afflac insurance, but he’s probably not the best voice for the high-quality and premiere products in a Tiffany’s advert.

Next, Values help describe the motivations driving your customers to use your brand. Values are the personally-felt results of your product’s features and benefits. Leather seats and a well-insulated cabin are features of several top-of-the-line cars. The benefits of such nice details are comfort and quiet. Consumer values may include premium quality or pampered excellence. Understanding the values your brand conveys to your customer clarifies your positioning.

Impact defines how your brand touches and changes your customer’s lives. How do you solve their problems? Imagine you sell a soap product; other than cleaning, how else does your brand touch and improve the lives of customers? Which leads to the last attribute, the thing that separates and distinguishes your brand from all others. Businesses have flexibility that they can be profitable while remaining a commodity. Brands, however, define themselves by their Differentiation. Analyzing and expressing what makes your brand unique is imperative so your brand stands out from the competition and connects with customers.

Focus on Your Customers

You might notice the target on customers and the perception of your brand. Your customers, and the customer experience, ultimately guide for your strategy. Instead of deciding moment-to-moment, or quarter-to-quarter, we aim at the end goal and work backward to find the best avenue to make that happen. This is unlike traditional corporate marketing, appealing to sales and short-term goals. Branding, built correctly, comes before marketing to determine an appropriate position and emotional appeal to your audience. Branding doesn’t replace marketing and advertising, it provides an emotional core to make marketing more effective and connect with customers.