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Brand Strategy Framework

Brand Strategy Framework

Ranking the Top 12 Elements that Build Brand Value

Many organizations recognize the value of a coherent brand strategy framework.  That’s because the brand strategy is foundational to recruiting and retention of employees, customer marketing, sales, customer experience, product design, research and development.   

We set out to identify the most crucial elements that work together to build brand value.

Our final analysis comes from a review of these six highly-ranked sources on the topic:

As a caveat, these sources can use similar but not identical language to describe different elements. Additionally, for readability, we combined several into buckets with similar concepts, recognizing that some may quibble about the combinations.

We’ll analyze them in order of frequency of mentions.

2 Highest-Tier Brand Strategy Framework Elements

1. Brand personality, logo, tone, voice, and visual identity: The most frequently mentioned brand strategy framework bucket of ingredients was brand personality, tone and voice, along with visual brand identity. Audio brand identity is also rightfully part of this area. Descriptions include:

  • “Brand identity: Future intended associations including visual representation (logo, color, symbols).”
  • “Look, feel and sound.”
  • “What’s our personality?”
  • “Personality, voice.”
  • “Messaging style guide.”

Many brands will translate this into a brand style guide.  Further discussion of brand personality and examples can be found here.

2. Target audience: The second top-tier area is the target audience. This can be expressed as a customer segment, or through a persona (profile of a desired “typical” user).   Definitions of this area include:

  • “Best, narrow, focused target audience.”
  • “Who are we here for?”
  • “Find your target audience.”
  • “Who you’re for.”

In Insight to Action’s experience, aligning on the target audience is a non-trivial exercise, as there is a tendency to want to include all possible customers. Another reality is that for brands in multiple product categories, they often need target audiences who are sufficiently category-specific and tailored to be actionable. In other words, they can’t always target the same customer across categories.

The target audience will need to work together with the personality, logo, tone, voice, and visual identity components as part of the overall brand strategy. A mismatch between the two will undermine the brand strategy.

4 Top-Tier Brand Strategy Framework Elements

The next set of brand strategy framework elements are also essential.   These include:

  • Brand positioning and differentiation
  • Brand purpose, mission, and vision
  • Brand values
  • Brand value proposition or pillars

3. Brand positioning and differentiation: Before the positioning process begins, these references recommend a review of the competitors’ positions and messaging.  With that insight available, as well as knowledge of the target audience, the brand team typically will identify several brand positioning alternatives. Exposition from these sources include:

  • “The conceptual place you want to own in the target customer’s mind.”
  • “Who you are and what you do differently.”
  • “How are we different?”
  • “Knowing your true differentiation.”

We recommend that the brand positioning follow the classical brand positioning framework:

  • To target [specific audience],
  • For [defined] frame of reference,
  • Brand X is the [functional/emotional] point of differentiation
  • Because [attributes] reasons to believe

There are 11 brand positioning examples that are consistently identified across multiple sources to learn from.  These are Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, HubSpot, Tesla, Starbucks, Amazon, Chipotle, JetBlue, Disney, Pepsi.  

4. Brand purpose, mission and vision: These components are identified by two sources as the “brand heart” or the “core.”  Similar to brand values, these elements can be important to attract and retain the organization’s talent. As such, they can serve as a source of inspiration for both customers and employees. These are defined as follows:

  • “Purpose: why exist?  Vision: desired future? Mission: what are we here to do?”
  • “Brand purpose: goal behind your work.  Brand vision: where your brand is heading.”
  • “Why are we here? Where are we going?”
  • “Have a clear mission and objective.”
Brand Strategy Framework

An example of a purpose-driven brand is Dove (purpose of boosting women’s self -esteem). Since purpose is more important to younger Gen Z and Millennial customers and employees, this is an essential area to develop.

5. Brand values.  The next brand strategy framework component is brand values. This is highly related to brand purpose, mission and vision. In Los Angeles, we’ve observed that job seekers often check the brand values page on a firm’s website before applying (of course, the firm must enact those values to be credible, but articulating and publishing them is a first step).   Clarification for brand values was relatively succinct:

  • “Brand heart – values – principles that guide our behavior.”
  • “Brand core- values- your guiding principles.”
  • “What are we committed to?”

An example of a brand’s core values at Starbucks:

“Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.

Acting with courage, challenging the status quo.

Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

Delivering our best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.

We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.”

6. Brand value proposition or pillars: This component typically includes the emotional and functional pillars or benefits that the brand provides to its customers. Together, these brand pillars create value. Elaboration on the brand value proposition or pillars by these reviewers:

  • “Succinct explanation of both the functional and emotional benefits, the product or service provided to customers.”
  • “The functional, emotional and self-expressive benefits delivered by the brand that provide value for the customer.”

Brand pillars and commitments (expressed as benefits) can be on applied to product/service guidelines. To bring these to life, measurement compared with competition is needed.

Brand Strategy Framework

6 Mid-Tier Brand Strategy Framework Elements

There are six mid-tier brand strategy framework drivers for consideration. These are:

  • Tagline
  • Competitive position / market position
  • Brand image
  • Brand architecture
  • Messaging pillars and strategy
  • Brand Guidelines

7. Tagline.  The tagline is one of the most visible parts of the brand strategy. These reviewers included the following explanation:

  • “Sentence or phrase or word that summarizes market position.”
  • “Few concise memorable words that tell the brand’s story.”

Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline is a famous example, along with Apple’s “Think Different.”

8. Competitive position / market position: This area is arguably addressed within brand positioning and differentiation. In case it has been overlooked by a brand strategy team, several sources recommended this as a precursor to brand strategy development.

  • “Who you’re against.”
  • “Market analysis.”

9. Brand image: Similar to competitive position, the brand strategy team will consider the current brand image (e.g., strengths, weaknesses, personality, benefits) as the starting point. If there isn’t an existing brand image, then the team may explore the image that is suggested by the brand name, the product or service, and its visual representation. Explanation for this area:

  • “Current perceptions of the brand.”
  • “Imagery.”

10. Brand architecture: Brand architecture looks at the role of sub-brands, endorser brands, master brand and co-brands. In our experience, this is very important to resolve challenges around extending into new categories, and different price point levels. Descriptions include:

  • “The strategic, relational structure of all brands in the portfolio.”
  • “Use for branding and sub-branding applications. Includes guidance for service and product categories and brand delivery standards.”

Brand architecture can be very helpful in resolving brand strategy questions.  For example, one organization included both the parent company brand name, along with the product brand name on the front of each package, both at equal size. This led to confusion for customers.  The solution was to make the parent company name an endorser, and de-emphasize its size, while increasing the size of the product brand name.

Brand Strategy Framework

11. Brand guidelines:  Brand style guidelines may be addressed in point number one above (brand personality, logo, tone, voice, and visual identity). However, if they have not been addressed, then it’s important for the team to formalize these and share with their marketing and communications partners. Reviewer’s descriptions include:

  • “Verbal and visual guidelines.”
  • “Brand rules of the road/ guidelines. Identifies brand keeper of the flame and organizational processes to manage brand, stylebook.”

Our experience is that the organizational guidelines and processes are not always clearly defined. For example, who will decide if the brand can be used in a new product or service category, and what information is needed to make that decision? We’ve seen brands go astray without this clarity.

12. Messaging pillars and strategy:  Messaging pillars and strategy are closely related to the brand positioning and differentiation, along with the tagline. There may be distinctive streams of messaging underneath the overall positioning and tagline. The definitions provided included:

  • “Key stories you want to tell about your brand.”
  • “What’s our message?”

When completing the brand strategy framework, keeping the intended use or application in mind is helpful. For instance, if there is no desire to extend the brand into new categories, then the category extension zones are not needed. Similarly, a new brand may not have to address issues of brand architecture. We recommend that the various elements be prioritized and considered, in light of the brand situation and intended applications.

For more examples of brand strategy, visit our resource page, or contact us to start a conversation with the Insight to Action experts.