“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” - Morris Chang, Businessman
This quote from Morris Chang perfectly underscores the value of developing strategy in order to effectively reach your goals, but it also reminds us that execution without strategy is a recipe for failure. The two go hand in hand.
This inherent reliance is never more evident than when it comes to brand.
All too often, marketers and the organizations they work for forget that and jump right into execution — in this case, branding (usually in the form of visual identity development, such as logos, colors, fonts and more). And often, the next step involves determining why that cool new logo and color scheme have failed to lift sales, leads, and brand awareness.
Strategy should always come first. Here’s why.
Brand Strategy vs. Branding
Brand strategy and branding are related, but distinct.
- Brand strategy is all about defining your organization and positioning it for success. Developing that strategy requires deep understanding of how your stakeholders perceive your company -- what they think you do well, where you’re falling short, how they choose the products and services you offer and how you deliver value. A brand strategist analyzes this information and applies it in order to define the essence of your brand – your company’s heart and soul. Brand strategy ultimately determines what customers expect when they do business with you; defines your position in the marketplace; and defines, for both internal and external audiences, your company’s unique value within that marketplace.
- Branding is the execution of brand strategy. It’s about leveraging your brand strategy. Branding is the process of giving meaning to your company, product, or service by shaping your brand in your customers’ minds — most often through visual identity, such as your logo, color palette, fonts, imagery, and iconography — and through voice. Exceptional branding guided by brand strategy can positively influence brand perception, drive customer and employee behavior, and improve business outcomes.
Organizations that jump right into execution without a strategy to guide it miss out on a golden opportunity to understand current brand perception and market opportunity. A sound brand strategy brings a deep understanding of customer needs to bear on execution, better positioning you for success.
Without strategic, foundational knowledge, any branding is, at best, an educated guess.
Brand Strategy Guides Marketing and Operations
Brand strategy, your north star, both guides and aligns marketing and operations. That alignment is critical. Here's why:
Let’s say you’re a dentist. You’ve recently decided to rebrand your practice with a focus on convenience. You redesigned your logo and picked new imagery for your marketing communications. You’ve updated marketing messages to focus on the conveniences you offer, such as online appointment scheduling and Saturday morning hours. You tout your practice as one of the most convenient in the area.
As it turns out, current and potential patients with an interest in convenience actually want online chat and evening appointments on weekdays, too. You offer neither. As it turns out, your convenience branding rings hollow. You’re not that much more convenient than your competitors.
Prior to branding, you failed to talk to your customers to better understand their needs and their reasons for choosing a dentist. You didn't analyze the market. You failed to study competitors’ strategies and branding. You didn't look into the cost/benefit of chat and evening appointments. In sum, you failed to develop brand strategy based on fact. Instead, you took an uneducated guess and went straight to branding for convenience. And the level of convenience you offer didn’t align with patient needs.
You could still hope that no competing practice took the time to do the research. And that no competitor will offer chat and weeknight appointments. And that no competitor is executing a successful convenience branding campaign on the basis of those offerings. But that isn’t very likely.
Imagine the current or potential patient who sees your convenience marketing and attempts to schedule an evening appointment or tries to pose a question but finds no way to do so. How will that person perceive your brand? It’s safe to say they won’t think of your practice as convenient. Your new brand identity and convenience messaging not only missed the mark, they alienated your potential customer. They red-flagged the gaps between customer needs, what you claim to deliver, and what you can actually deliver.
Who’s closed those gaps? The competition.
Always Start with Strategy
If only our fictional dentist had taken the time to talk with customers and find out what they really want. If only the practice and its marketers had zeroed in on the value they offer that’s unique in the market. Their research might have led to more authentic branding. Maybe the practice really shines in service quality or certain specialties, rather than convenience. A rebrand based on service or unique specialties would have guided their visual identity and messaging and been far more successful.
The moral of the story: Resist the temptation to create a new logo, pick colors, change imagery and go out into the market with messaging based on a hunch. Listen to Morris Chang. Define and refine your brand strategy. Do your research. Understand your market and your place within it. Let your branding execution flow from your brand strategy.
If your company needs help to determine how best to position in a competitive marketplace, Northwoods can help. Learn about our Brand Strategy services and contact us today!