Elements of an Effective Brand Strategy, Part 1: 4 Internal Considerations

Elements of an Effective Brand Strategy, Part 1: 4 Internal Considerations

April 14, 2022

Successful branding strategy – which typically focuses on defining your brand relative to the competition – must give equal weight to managing internal dynamics. 

Here we will discuss four tips for managing the internal side of brand-building. Part 2 of this blog will provide six tips for managing the external side of brand-building.

Elements of Effective Brand Strategy: 4 Internal Considerations

1. ROI, Management and Advocates Matter 

To purposefully mix metaphors, you have to get your ducks in a row before taking your show on the road – and with brand strategy there are three precursors to starting.

The first is demonstrating the benefits of building a strong brand because it helps with the sell-in and can placate naysayers during development. The quantifiable impact of brand-building has been demonstrated with increasing sophistication for a generation. One leading study, Kantar’s Brandz, noted that Walmart’s brand was worth $59 billion. Boston Consulting Group found that for B2B brands, higher brand marketing sophistication strongly correlates with a higher return on brand marketing expenditure.

There are also tactical arguments: marketing that’s developed using a criteria of whether an execution is “on-brand” is a more efficient use of resources. 

The second precursor is bringing the same project management rigor to a brand strategy project as one would for a similarly important initiative such as a product launch. Defining success at the beginning, creating and adhering to (when possible) project schedules, and synthesizing feedback are crucial to success. I’ve observed that branding initiatives where clients gather internal feedback on our behalf run more smoothly than those where we have to make judgement calls on which viewpoint should win the day. Brand strategists can synthesize disparate options – but those skills are better tapped in thinking through external voices such as customers and channel partners. 

From market research that takes longer than anticipated to stakeholder feedback that points to different directions, brand development can take unexpected turns. That’s why involving internal decision-makers and thought leaders is as much about getting buy-in on a specific brand strategy as it is having someone support the overall brand development process. 

2. Authenticity Improves Employee Engagement 

Let’s start with the worst case. 

Your employees read an announcement of a new way of communicating the brand and they have no idea what company they’re talking about because it sure as heck isn’t the one where they work. A brand positioning of “pride in our hand craftsmanship” is at odds with a repair process that requires an otherwise satisfied customer to buy a box for the oddly sized small appliance. Did not providing a box outweigh the negative feelings on both ends of a customer service call? 

Your brand needs to be relevantly differentiated to customers; this point discussed in the next blog post. And it needs to be authentic to employees. One can’t work without the other. 

3. Brand Terminology Impacts Expectations

The right words matter in relationships, ad copy and brand strategy. While relationships are beyond the scope of this blog, and ad copy will be the topic of a future post, let’s talk for a moment about terminology and its impact on brand strategy.

Falls & Co. has standardized how we think about and refer to the many elements of brand strategy. For example, at Falls & Co., positioning is expressed as a multi-layered Brand Pyramid. The Pyramid’s base and pinnacle are the two most important parts. 

The Mission, Vision and Values form the base because a brand must be authentic to who you are as a company. What’s your brand’s purpose is the essential first question. At the pinnacle sits the Brand Essence, several words that distill your relevance to the market. The Pyramid’s middle consists of Brand Positioning (AKA value proposition), personality (AKA tone of voice), functional benefits, emotional benefits, key product attributes, and reasons-to-believe.

Our Brand Pyramids provide a framework for colleagues to develop creative executions and tangible deliverables for clients to show co-workers early in the brand development process. 

However, as a strategic document, it’s not a source of off-the-shelf content. That’s where the Messaging Hierarchy comes in. Falls and Co.’s work on Messaging Hierarchy centers on two components, the overall message, and the handful of key supportive messages. Overall messages typically clock-in south of 200 words. If a brand’s overall message centers on category leadership, the three supportive messages articulate what we mean when we say “leadership”. The supportive messages are each about a half page of bullet points. 

The Messaging Hierarchy, as a strategic document, informs how ads are written and landing pages are designed, to cite two examples. But it’s not plug-and-play copy. And that’s why terminology matters. The Brand Personality and the Messaging Hierarchy are connected but not interchangeable. If they’re conflated – or developing the Personality doesn’t come before crafting the Messaging Hierarchy – an initiative that got off to a positive start with the Brand Pyramid will hit its first bump.

4. Expect the Brand Minimum.

Ideal world brand strategy engagements include research to begin thinking about opportunities and research to validate insights. It includes clients we work with rather than those that we present to. There are moments to discuss closer-in and further-out solutions. And there’s time for copywriters, art directors, media buyers, and social media managers to create stories based on the brand strategy. 

The ideal world is, however, as elusive as a March Madness bracket that survives the first two rounds. 

But managing dynamics that are less-than-ideal, such as tight budgets or busy subject matter experts, is different than not committing the appropriate resources to help a brand strategy engagement succeed. 

There’s a Minimum Necessary Branding threshold because while individual dynamics such as an operating with an aggressive timeline, not having a point person to synthesize feedback, and choosing to not talk to folks outside of the company are individually surmountable, at some point an enterprise initiative such as brand strategy begins to lose its value. 

In Part 2, we’ll explore the six external factors you should consider when building brand strategy.

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