J.B. Davis | April 14, 2022
In Part 1 of this two-part series on the elements of effective brand strategy, we discussed how a successful strategy gives equal weight to managing internal dynamics. Now we turn our attention to the external considerations brands must consider. There are six:
Brand strategy must align with business strategy and the premium coffee shop category illustrates why. Within three broad business models:
• Starbucks is built on operational efficiency
• La Colombe is anchored in product innovation
• Cleveland’s Rising Star goes to market via customer intimacy
If the Starbucks business model were to change from efficiency to innovation, their brand would need to follow suit with a full range of executions, from site experience to point of sale representations. Understanding these connections drives our discovery process and creates opportunities to build strong foundations.
With the blur caused by tens of thousands of new product introductions every year, it’s debatable whether a famous candy brand – ahem, the one with chocolate and peanut butter – is staying relevant or confusing consumers by adding so many SKUs to its portfolio.
What’s less debatable – and, therefore, a guiding principle of brand strategy development at Falls – is the centrality of relevant differentiation.
Back in the day, a major clothing brand introduced men’s athletic socks in a resealable package. Less because I’m a brand strategist and more because I’m a guy, what’s the use case here? Sure, it’s differentiated – but is it relevant?
About the same time that the resealable package of socks came out, one of the Big 3 automakers came out with a minivan that had a table in back. Well, there’s your use case – kids playing cards, doing homework, and eating lunch at rest stops. Differentiated, too.
A guiding principle of brand strategy development at Falls is that being relevantly differentiated to the market is foundational to building competitive advantage. In Part 1, we discussed the other foundation, authenticity to your culture. We live this belief by regularly asking ourselves – and (respectfully) pushing back with clients on whether a Point of Difference is relevant enough to be included in our Brand Pyramid positioning framework.
As someone who spent 26 years living in Chicago, it pains me to quote Vince Lombardi, former coach of the much despised (in our house, anyway) Green Bay Packers. But he was right. The best offense is a good defense.
It’s the same with brand strategy. Strong brands are relevantly differentiated over the long-term, a time horizon that’s more achievable if it’s more defensible.
For example, Falls works with a large industrial brand anchored in the quality guarantees its vertical integration model allows it to make. Vertical integration is relevantly differentiated and defensible over the long term. It’s a key Point of Difference Falls is helping to bring to life across online and offline expressions.
A corollary to the rule of thumb that brands must be relevantly differentiated over the long term is the importance of adaptable brand architectures.
Brand architecture is a critical strategy to ensure that all your branded assets – from your corporate brand to product names and from proprietary processes to marketing executions that come along with a TM – work together as a powerfully cohesive narrative.
Take, for example, the brand architecture challenges and opportunities faced by a big box retailer I once worked with. While its overall brand was compelling enough that it was one of the top three players in its category, the point-of-sale branding made that story harder to tell. One branded service worked on its own but didn’t jive with other branded assets “underneath” the overall brand or with the overall brand identity.
Brand architecture can be a difficult conversation to have with clients because once everything that’s trademarked is shown in its totality, solutions can look impossible. But they’re not – which is why, as brand stewards, Falls looks at the whole picture.
Strip away the strategy frameworks and the behavioral science – and the idea that strong brands make strong emotional connections – is, well, a duh. Nike empowers everyday athletes, Apple is a symbol of individual expression, and Modelo elevates often under-represented voices. Emotion is a powerful tool for these and other consumer brands.
But what about B2B?
Falls’ work with leading and emerging B2B brands has taught us that an important branding lever that’s infrequently pulled is emotional benefits. For example, while our $20 billion manufacturing client is going beyond the functional benefit of improved quality, its vertical integration model elevates the emotional benefit of peace of mind. Suggesting that line managers will sleep better at night versus “just” increased units shipped is a powerful brand identity opportunity.
Conducting brand strategy discovery interviews with consumers on unmet needs and not charting their online and offline gives you an incomplete picture.
Creating two foundations of brand expression – a Messaging Hierarchy to guide the overall story and a Brand Voice to inform specific touchpoints – is crucial to communicating on-brand, but not as effective if an SEO audit identifies the category’s verbal vocabulary. Brand positioning can live or die through UX. And so on. That’s why all the foundational elements of brand building are housed under one department at Falls. Brand strategy can’t be divorced from SEO, UX, and other strategies.
Because the only thing that belongs in silos is wheat.
J.B. Davis is Director of Brand Strategy at Falls & Co. He has 20 years’ experience helping a wide variety of brands solve complex business issues. He’s partnered with large and small brands, worked in B2B and B2C categories, and worked on the client- and agency-side of our business. Contact us to learn more about how Falls & Co can help you use brand strategy to create business value.