Brand Strategy and the Quest for Meaning

Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, I often say I’m a corporate therapist. The responses I get are as entertaining as they are varied. They range from a quizzically raised eyebrow to a look of mock alarm and disbelief. But at least it gives me an opportunity to avoid the usual eyes-glaze-over look I usually get as a brand strategist and open a real conversation about the value of what I do.

Brand Strategy and its Components

In its broadest sense, therapy consists of guiding someone to understand how feelings, thoughts, choices, and actions affect each other and are ultimately responsible for the identity of that person. And so it is with brand strategy. Balancing perceptions, prejudices, choices, and actions, brand strategy defines the identity and the position of a business in its market for a strategic advantage. Concepts, such as brand personality, brand attributes, names and nomenclature, brand identity, brand architecture, and so on, are the tools we use to articulate a brand strategy and deploy across an array of applications.

Differing Definitions

Now I know as I write this that there will be other very competent brand strategists who will have their own definitions. Indeed, one of the peculiar characteristics of our profession is that many of the concepts have different terminologies with interpretations and meanings tied to an agency’s philosophy of the brand universe.

Ask one to define a brand and marvel over the plethora of definitions you get: “It’s a promise,” “it’s the image of a company,” “it’s the experience customers have,” and so on. The lack of a standard definition is a topic dear to my Roman friend Q, whose blood pressure rises quickly to dangerous levels every time I make the inconsiderate mistake of raising the subject, like right now.

The Internal Value of Brand Strategy

In my experience, while most understand the value of brand strategy as a means of helping businesses to achieve distinction and drive choice and preference, few are truly aware of the deeper internal value it often unlocks — the one below the tip of the brand iceberg.

Questions Brand Strategy Addresses

At its core, a brand strategy provides answers to an important set of quasi-philosophical questions: Who are we? What value do we provide? Why do we matter? Why are we going? Why should the world care about us? Taken together, the answers to these questions begin to paint a picture of an inspiring raison d’être, a deeper meaning beyond a business’ products and solutions.

Brand Strategy and Organizational Identity

Why is this important? Organizations are living organisms, dynamic entities made up of people that contribute their passion, ambitions, feelings, capabilities, and talents. A brand strategy can provide an identity for the collective whole, to explain what people are part of and how and why they matter together. This is particularly important for M&A situations where two entities come together to create something larger and different than the sum of the parts. Companies that are struggling have, more often than not, lost this sense of their identity — who they are and why they exist at a deeper level. But a clear organizational identity needs to be channeled toward what a business wants to accomplish in the future.

Brand Strategy and a Direction for the Future

A brand strategy focuses on the future: it needs to serve what the business wants to achieve and where it wants to go. This is why at BrandingBusiness we make sure every brand strategy is paired with a clear definition of where a company is going and what we want the company to accomplish in five to six years, with a clear explanation of why that matters and how the company plans to get there using investments and strategic moves.

All of this leads me to the final and most important “therapeutic” value that brand strategy delivers: leadership alignment.

Brand Strategy and Leadership Alignment

The journey to a brand strategy is often as important as the strategy itself. If business executives are to be in alignment and supportive of their strategy, then they need a forum in which they can express their views and perspectives throughout the process.

This is why we advise the formation of a Brand Council — a cross-functional body made up of executives from diverse parts of the organization. Once created, the Brand Council is responsible for decision making, and direction, and to maintaining momentum throughout the duration of the project, and often beyond. Its members provide expert-level input and perspectives at key decision points and help to achieve successful, company wide support and buy-in.

Creating Understanding, Belief, and Excitement about the Journey

When a business has a clearly defined, compelling, and believable brand strategy and organizational identity — a clear direction about where it’s going — and the leadership team is poised and aligned about both, the brand launch supported by all of the necessary assets can reinvigorate the entire organization, giving it a sense of unified purpose and conviction about its future direction.

The emotional capital created is a powerful asset to leverage in creating momentum towards the future, including making the necessary, logical, and desirable changes and activities to reach that momentum.