Four Methods Of Strategic Brand Building

Derrick DayeNovember 1, 201114634 min

Building successful brands is not a one-size fits all activity. Brand building is both art and science, and the method of creating brand strategy is never the same for every brand.

Brand strategy is an obsessive and often the most misunderstood discipline in marketing. It’s of critical importance to know beforehand what will be the most effective strategy for building your brand. Brand owners and managers who desire brand innovation often end up with brand imitation. In a world predisposed to sameness, there’s nothing worse than clawing your way to the middle with a brand strategy that doesn’t fit the realities of your business strategy.

It’s extremely difficult to build a brand that breaks through the slush pile of images and messages consumers are drowning in today. Not only must brand strategy differentiate your proposition from others, but more importantly, this differentiation must also be highly valued.

Most contemporary brand managers would agree -– we’re way past the traditional thinking and point of view that brand building is an activity that endows a product or service with a catchy name, snappy slogan, pretty logo, compelling packaging and advertising.

Brand strategy is like creating mythology — stories people care about and remember. People don’t buy products, they buy personalities and meanings associated with the story of those products. People will only find meanings in brands with personality.

A brand strategy worth investing money in over the long haul has to tap into the emotions and feelings of your target segment in ways that transcend the functional and rational benefits associated with using the product. Depending on the nature and culture of your organization, and the reason your brand exists in the first place, here are four different methods for brand strategy development you may consider useful to your strategic and creative thinking:

1. Branding By Thinking
In this method, brand strategy is approached in a rigorous, centralized and formal business planning process. Typically this approach is used by companies with large and diverse product portfolios that are defined as a “house of brands”.  Each brand within the portfolio has it’s own management team, customer segment, product life cycle, supply chain, performance metrics, market share, and profit contribution mandated by centralized planning and tons of data.

Companies like Proctor & Gamble, Coca Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Gillette and GM favor centralized planning as the cornerstone of their brand strategy.

2. Branding By Imagery
This method is usually driven by advertising agencies in a leading brand development role and linked to creative execution of various ad campaigns. Marketers and their agencies closely link the brand to imagery driven by the latest trends and fads in the culture, and expressed through art directors, photographers and commercial directors. Brand strategy is approached in a more functional manner driven by the cultural associations customers have that are surrounding the brand image.

Image conscious brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, BMW, Absolut, Tag Heuer are brilliant at this type of strategy.

3. Branding By User Experience
In this method, the target customer segment perceives product quality, functional benefits and brand image as a given. What these customers seek is an experience that dazzles the senses, touches the heart and stimulates the mind. In this method the customer is the most important component of the brand. Brand managers focus on service design and usability, which are at the very core of these experiences, to drive brand strategy.

Brands built on user experience include Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Disney, IKEA, Costco, Tiffany.

4. Branding By Self Expression
In this method, marketers place the role of brand building as a collaboration with their customers. Marketers innovate new meanings rather than products. Customers are actively participating in creating the meanings associated with the brand that are a reflection or a symbolic representation of their own personal identity or inner self. Here the strategy is centered on “brand as a badge”.

Brand examples that are built on self expression include Swatch, Apple, VW Beetle, Mini, Louis Vuitton and Herman Miller.

At the end of the day, regardless of the method used to drive your brand strategy, the question remains “what does your brand stand for that matters to people and makes a difference”. Brands that lead markets know the answer and build accordingly.

All over the world, humans are drowning in data and information. As information and our collective intelligence becomes more automated in the goo of the internet, human beings will value more of what can not be automated- emotion, imagination, connection and engagement. Brands will live and die on the ability of their stories and meanings to deliver what is highly valued by the marketplace.

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  • Kaleb

    November 2, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Thanks for the post. Where do you think Zappos’ brand strategy fits in?

    “We’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

    Their brand strategy fits nicely into what great social media is about: fantastic customer engagement, employee empowerment and transparency.

    However with Zappos they don’t just do it online, but across all communications channels thus catering for all types of consumers.

  • Thomson Dawson

    November 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm


    Thank you for reading the post and for your comment.

    Indeed, Zappos has built an amazing brand in just a few short years.

    The Zappos brand strategy is grounded in the user experience model. You can buy shoes anywhere… Zappos provides its customers with a compelling experience each and every time. Customers really care about Zappos.

    The experience of engagement with Zappos puts the customer at the center of the brand promise that you have correctly outlined in your comment.

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