Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

5 Steps to Revitalize Your Brand

Using a brand strategy template is an excellent approach to fleshing out your organization’s brand strategy and gaining alignment to the brand strategy among leadership.

Warning Signs that a Brand Strategy Update is Needed Using a Brand Strategy Template

There are several situations that suggest the need for an updated brand strategy, using a brand strategy template as a guide.  These circumstances include:

  • The leadership team is not aligned, and there are meaningful organizational differences on the brand strategy
    • In this situation, there can be a tendency for leaders from areas like finance, operations and technology to equate the word “brand strategy” with brand marketing and advertising taglines and to view the brand strategy as the responsibility of the marketing leader
    • It’s important to recognize that the brand strategy requires the involvement of their cross-functional areas, and isn’t limited to marketing
  • The brand has changed significantly in the benefits, services and products offered, either by choice or in response to outside factors. Here are two examples:
    • In 2020, restaurant brands began providing a very different service experience because of COVID requirements and consumers’ shift to more online orders, takeout and delivery
    • Another example comes from the expansion over time of a non- profit’s services delivered.  From a starting point in the area of foster care services, the organization has evolved to now focus on providing services for the fast-growing Southern California immigrant community

If these situations resonate with your organization, it can be a good idea to suggest using a brand strategy template to guide the team.

The brand strategy template we use requires answering five key questions to drive brand growth. Let’s review each step with some examples to bring the brand strategy template to life.

Brand Strategy Template Step 1: Identify Team Members & Define Brand Strategy Objectives

It’s worth taking a step back to carefully consider who the core team members for the brand strategy team should be.  Often, a cross-functional team may include marketing, sales, insights, finance and operations.  Some environments and market spaces may require collaboration from regulatory, legal, fundraising, medical, actuarial or underwriting leaders.  

External partners may also contribute to the brand strategy, for instance, co-packers, distributors, outside legal counsel, retailers and/or co-branding partners.  There are many benefits from including diverse internal and external perspectives as input and for early hypotheses.  At the same time, we suggest keeping the core team to a manageable number, typically from three to seven core team members.   The extended team will provide input and guidance, but not participate in all the work sessions and meetings.

The core team’s first task it to align on the brand strategy objectives, how progress will be measured, and the approach the team will take to develop the strategy, for instance completing a brand strategy template and addressing the five key questions.  Brand strategy objectives may include:

  • Subscribers
  • market share
  • revenue
  • gross margin
  • EBITDA
  • brand value goals  

In 2020, Forbes ranked three of the FANG brands in the top five world’s most valuable brands. 

  • Facebook (now Meta) #5
  • Amazon #4
  • Google #2 (now Alphabet)
  • Netflix came in at #26 

Other highly valuable brands included:

  • Apple #1
  • Microsoft #3
  • Coca-Cola #6
  • Disney #7
  • Samsung #8
  • Louis Vuitton #9
  • McDonald’s #10
Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

An example from prior brand strategy work that we’ve helped lead was for the Sara Lee brand.  The Sara Lee brand has been widely extended into a range of product categories from its origins in desserts, to deli meats and bread.    At that time, the Sara Lee corporation was a market leader in panty hose, and a brand strategy question on leadership’s mind was whether the brand should move into panty hose in the US (along with a wide range of other categories).  This question was carefully explored and the decision was made not to expand the brand into panty hose in the US.  

However, it turned out that there was another question on leadership’s mind that was not surfaced as an objective in the first step, namely, should the Sara Lee brand offer coffee?   Since Sara Lee is also a strong competitor in the coffee business, this was a logical question.  While the brand strategy work was able to provide some guidance, we weren’t able to address this question as directly as would have been desirable.  While the work was actionable, I wished that we had better studied the coffee brand extension.  I’ve never forgotten the lesson to make sure that these questions are surfaced in the beginning.

Brand Strategy Template Step 2: Develop Common Understanding of the Marketplace & Opportunities

Step 2a. Brand Strategy Template: Customer Landscape

Most of the work Insight to Action does includes a customer landscape that identifies the different segments of customers in the market.    We were asked recently if we would look at both current and lost customers for a segmentation of parents of infants and toddlers interested in purchasing baby gear such as high chairs, toys and strollers. 

To be sure, current and lost customers are very helpful, but our practice is to ensure we also understand the prospects who may be attracted to both competitor and our client’s brands.  We also want to understand the segments who are less likely to be attracted, and what it may take to overcome their barriers.

The questions to address include:

  • Who are the potential customers for your products or services?
  • What are the relevant occasions where the product is purchased? What are the relevant usage occasions?
  • What are their unmet needs?
  • Why are customers purchasing or using your or competitor’s products or services?
  • What products or services are they currently using?

The frame of reference for the customer landscape is important and takes some consideration.  Often, we’ll explore multiple frames of reference to identify the most actionable approach.

Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

In B2B, a brand strategy frame of reference may include only commercial segments.  For instance, in foodservice, commercial segments include QSRs (quick service restaurants, commonly called fast food, (such as McDonald’s), fast casual restaurants (e.g., Panera Bread), casual restaurants (e.g., Olive Garden), convenience stores, or family restaurants (e.g., IHOP).

By comparison, non-commercial foodservice segments include K-12 education, hospitals, stadiums, hospitality or hotels, military and many others.  Some foodservice brand strategies will focus on both commercial and non-commercial, while others will focus on one or the other.

Another B2B frame of reference example comes from voluntary health insurance.  In that market, there are private and public commercial customer segments (similar to foodservice commercial), along with state and city governmental customers (similar to non-commercial in foodservice).  Non-profits provide another customer group. In this market, decision-making is very different between the government customers and the commercial customers.

For instance, we explored through customer segmentation consulting how the frame of reference of “cheese loaf” for Velveeta is too narrow to be actionable.  On the other end of the spectrum, “foods with protein” is too broad.  For the Velveeta brand strategy, the frame of reference of cooking cheese was the right level.

Step 2b. Brand Strategy Template: Macro Trends, Category & Competitive Landscape

Macro trends are important to examine as part of the brand strategy template as they are already shaping current demand, and can have a greater impact on future demand.  As an example, one widely discussed macro trend is the long- term impact of remote work and hybrid work models brought on by the pandemic. 

The category or categories are the same as the frame of reference.  Some packaged goods organizations like to use a market structure study to see where the category “partitions.”  A good example of this is a broad category of convenient foods for convenient family dinners at home.  

The competitors in the “convenient family dinner at home” category include a wide range of products sold in supermarkets, take-out and delivery meals such as pizza, and subscription meal delivery services.

In recent years, we’ve seen an onslaught of subscription meal delivery services like Blue Apron.  

Consumers preparing more meals at home led to growth in 2020 for many supermarket product categories that can be the basis of convenient family dinners, including products like macaroni and cheese and frozen lasagna.   

Time will tell in terms of the sustained popularity of the subscription meal delivery services, many of which are have been mainly unprofitable.

Step 2c. Brand Strategy Template: Product Cost & Financials

Understanding the costs to make and market the product is critical to the brand strategy.  Even for brands that are sold direct to the customer, DTC, this cost information may need to be reevaluated in light of global supply chain disruption and price increases from suppliers. 

For example, one B2B company has recently needed to increase their product costs from 10 to 35% based on cost increases from their suppliers and higher shipping costs.

Brands that are sold by distributors or retailers also need to consider the margins these channel partners require in the relevant category.

Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

For instance, brands that sell bars in the HBA (health and beauty aid) portion of a supermarket or mass merchandiser, such as Atkins, are typically sold at higher price points, with higher expected retailer and manufacturer margins than snack bars such as Nature Valley, that are sold in the center store aisles. At Kroger, Dr. Atkins Endulge Lemon Tart dessert bar retails at $6.79 for a package of 5 bars (approximately $1.36 per bar),  while Nature Valley retails at $3.59 for a package of 12 Oats’N Honey bars (approximately 30 cents per bar).

Brand Strategy Template Step 3: Have a Clearly Defined Target Customer & Compelling Brand Positioning

From the customer landscape, the brand strategy team will select target customer segment(s) to focus on to drive growth. Often, the selection process involves using agreed-to criteria, as several segments may appear attractive.  Typical criteria include:

  • Financial attractiveness of the segment, e.g., size, profitability
  • Total addressable market that the segment represents
  • Future growth of the segment
  • Share of wallet for the brand, and upside. Similarly, share of wallet for the competitors
  • Current number of customers in the segment
  • Barriers to entry. Is this customer segment relatively insulated from additional competition or substitutes entering it? Why, why not?

In a brand portfolio approach, one brand may focus on a given customer segment.  For instance, Banana Boat focuses on adult men “Alex” and women “Alicia” with active outdoor lifestyles and a commitment to prevent sunburns and sun damage.  The sister brand from the same company, Hawaiian Tropic focuses on indulgent sun and beauty seeker women “Angelique.”

Another approach is to use sub brands to focus on different customer segments or occasions.  Banana Boat, for example, has the Banana Boat Sport sub brand, along with a Banana Boat Kids sub brand. 

Brand positioning is the next step in the brand strategy template process.  The brand positioning framework starts with the target customer that was just identified in Step 3, and moves on to the frame of reference from Step 2. It then requires differentiation and a reason to believe. 

The brand positioning framework:

  • To (target)
  • For (frame of refence)
  • (brand) is the (functional or emotional point of differentiation)
  • because (reasons to believe).

Some examples of current brand positioning approaches include:

  • Brand as hero: SNOO is taking this approach
  • Brand provides belonging, community and identity: Peloton is using this approach referring to the consumer in its advertising as “Peloton.”  Literally, it says you are the brand
  • Brand as helpful problem solver, consumer as savvy user who learns and realizes they need something better: Swiffer

For other positioning case studies, visit our positioning resources page.

Brand Strategy Template Step 4: Establish Brand Strategy Guardrails to Aid In Execution & Drive Organizational Clarity

If the brand strategy team has done its homework, there should be a wide range of possible brand extension categories.

We recommend using two tools to clarify the brand strategy guardrails:

1. Brand Strategy Pillars

The brand strategy pillars identify the most important benefits that your brand will deliver to customers.  There are typically between three to six pillars.  Moving beyond six pillars will likely be unwieldy for the team to work with over time.  Each pillar is articulated in terms of a brand benefit. 

Measurement standards are defined as compared to competition.  The brand is then assessed for its current performance in that benefit, and actions are identified to address any gaps.

As an example, a beverage or food brand might have a brand pillar of superior taste, and this might be measured by a blind taste test compared to competition.  The Pepsi challenge provides an example of a taste test that was also used as a marketing campaign. 

Another example is for a consumer products retailer that claimed to have a superior SEO content library with product reviews as part of its brand strategy.  As it turns out, they were getting visitors and customers from organic search, but their organic search was not as strong as the leading competitor by a number of measures.   

2. Brand Strategy Expansion Zones

The brand strategy expansion zones define the concentric rings for product extension as well as areas not to expand into that drive negative value for the brand.

Brand Strategy Template: Is it Time for an Update?

An example of this that we’ve explored before was whether PepsiCo should allow the powerful Quaker brand to be used on a value-priced water.  Since the Quaker brand is healthy, and water is healthy this might seem like a logical extension.  The value pricing, however, is inconsistent with Quaker’s mainstream price position.

Another example comes from the Barilla US brand strategy, where examples of danger zones for Barilla to avoid expanding into included wine, coffee and fruit.  Areas for brand expansion included Italian meals and sides, Italian breads, and selected cooking items.

Brand Strategy Template Step 5: Executive Buy-in with Prioritized Opportunities, Milestones & Support Request

Once the team has completed the hard work of developing the brand strategy, it’s critical to ensure executive buy-in to the strategy.  While it can vary by industry, often these brand strategies are used for three to five years.

Some of the considerations for the brand strategy to address include the role of the brand in the company portfolio (if there is more than one brand), and as needed, an updated brand architecture. 

The resources required in terms of new capabilities, marketing and product investment, operational investment should also be outlined, along with the financial impact of the strategy. 

Milestones should be identified to deliver against the strategy, along with who is responsible for each milestone. Metrics and the cadence for the review cycle of the metrics should be spelled out.

Additional brand strategy resources are found at the brand strategy resource page, along with case examples for a number of brands, including Quaker and McDonald’s.  Or join us at an upcoming Office Hours to share your perspective on brand strategy.

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