By Dan Dufour, brand strategist, theTeam

Branding is, and always has been, about making an emotional connection with people. Changing the way they think, feel and act, whether that’s influencing them to choose a product or service, support a charity or join a social movement. But what are the key building blocks to success? Let’s investigate.

Is your focus on brand management or leadership?

The first step is to agree your approach to branding. Do you see it as a tactical tool to manage consistency, or as a strategic tool that should run through the DNA of the whole organisation?

The writer David Aaker makes the distinction between ‘brand management’ and ‘brand leadership’. Brand management has a shorter-term perspective and is based on building and measuring image and impact. Brand leadership has a longer-term strategic perspective, driven by what the brand stands for, and it uses the brand strategy to direct the whole organisation, from employees to products. This may include ‘brand-driven innovation’, where the brand strategy is used to inspire new ideas and filter out old ones through a clear purpose.

In the excellent A very short introduction to branding, Robert Jones describes the difference between managing and leading: “Branding may be a relatively unimportant, tactical tool, and the brand manager normally sits a long way down the hierarchy, with a small team and little power. Their role is limited to managing communications or policing design.” Alternatively: “branding is seen as a strategic activity, encompassing all the ways an organisation touches its customers. The brand team is usually large or powerful, and brand gets talked about a lot at the top of the business.”

Personally, I like Dom Boyd’s definition of ‘brand entrepreneurship’: “Strategists now need to be less ‘thinkers who hold the strategic line’, and more like activists who proactively sniff out competitive commercial opportunities and make them happen.” In other words, you need to be business savvy. A brand entrepreneur helps an organisation step into the future by setting out a compelling purpose. They make change happen by driving commercial innovation.

What audiences are you targeting?

The next step is to be clear about which audiences you are targeting and why. This is where audience segmentation is helpful to manage ‘brand stretch’. Because few of us have the luxury of marketing budgets big enough to target the whole of the general public, or to shift spontaneous awareness figures.

Going deeper than just gender, life stage, geography and socio-demographics, a good segmentation covers attitudes and beliefs, consumption, or giving patterns for charities, and should be linked to media channels, in order to be helpful for marketing purposes. This will enable you to both create a good brand strategy and put it into action, based on target audience segments.

What is your brand positioning?

This is the heart of a brand strategy. If your brand is the space you occupy in somebody’s mind, your brand positioning plants the seed. Brand positioning is commonly defined as positioning your brand in the hearts and minds of your customers. What do you want them to think – and feel – about your brand in order to inspire action?

The foundations of a strong brand are a clear articulation of what you stand for. What you do, how you do it and why, championed by Simon Sinek and his infamous Golden Circle. It’s the ‘What, How and Why’ we use to create something unique that will stand out from others – called ‘differentiation’ in marketing speak.

Brand strategy models and platforms come in all shapes and sizes and the jargon can be confusing. Over recent years, there has been a big trend for Brand Purpose, where brands look to define why they exist and the value they create for society.

Some brands look to have one core proposition, while others will have several propositions for specific products that sit within one framework. In the commercial sector a proposition will often convey the benefit of a product, while in the charity sector a proposition might convey the benefit of support. Sometimes the proposition becomes an external strapline, while other times it provides a springboard to inspire a strapline. Don’t forget, a good proposition should be underpinned by what you want people to think, feel and do to be effective.

From a brand perspective, while it is important to have a good product or service, it is often the brand strategy and brand positioning that gives a company a competitive advantage. At the heart of every brand strategy is a compelling story built around an emotive personality or character. The theory is that if we can build a brand around a clear personality, it will help audiences to understand its role in the world and can build brand salience.

Check out part 2 here.