Creating a brand strategy is something most small business owners push to the side — “I’ll get to that later” or ‘Meh, I don’t need that.” — and opt for the default strategy instead: “I’ll just wing it.”
Part of the problem is the language used by marketing professionals–it’s convoluted and confusing as hell and that makes “doing strategy” a chore we’d rather avoid.
In a NO-BS, jargon-free way, I’m going to answer the questions:
- “What is brand strategy?”
- Why you need a strategy for your brand, and
- How to go about implementing it in order to attract high-quality clients
Why Words Like “Brand” and “Branding” Are Confusing
I mean, it’s a simple question we all have: “What do we need to do to attract clients?”
We look to marketers for answers, but the definitions and the models and the questionnaires and the frameworks and the blah blah blah they give us often fail to answer it in a way that’s actually useful.
Case in point. I was reading this today: “What is Branding?” A branding student gathered 100 definitions of branding from 100 different people in various industries: marketers, designers, strategists, authors and more.
It comes as no surprise to me that they were all completely different. Some of them I appreciated and some made me go like …
Let me just state for the record that I have a degree in this and I’ve worked in branding and marketing for over 20 years. I’m not saying that to brag about my résumé or anything like that (ha!), I’m sharing that because even for me, someone entrenched in this day-to-day… this stuff makes my head spin hard. Sometimes I even start to question myself what the hell it is I actually do! 😂
What really drives me nuts is how marketing and communications professionals, designers and business consultants use all of these terms differently and interchangeably at times:
Not only that, did you know there’s quite a lot of debate among professionals and academics about what some of these things mean, which is more important, what needs to comes first and so on? Oh, and there’s tons of overlap, too? Yeah. Also not helpful.
If we professionals can’t get clear on all this, how the heck are you supposed to know what you need?
When you don’t know what you need, that creates all kinds of problems — overwhelm, jumping head-first into the middle because you’re not sure where you’re supposed to be starting, trying every tactic and trick you come across and wearing yourself out.
Starting with a strategy for your brand should always (always!) be the first step in business. And if you skipped over it, it’s never too late to create one.
If you’re anything like the clients I work with, you don’t care about words like “brand” you just want answers to questions like:
- How can I get clients?
- Do I need a website? What should I put on it?
- Do I need to be on social media? How do I go about that, what should I be posting?
All of those questions can only be answered well when you have a strategy for your brand, anything else is just winging it and hoping it works out.
Not to pick on anybody, (I realize the audience for this stuff is hard-core industry peeps), but phrases like #78, “Branding is a means of manipulating identity in order to manage perceptions,” to me is just like…”What?! Am I supposed to say that to a client and expect them to know wtf I’m talking about?!”
People who are “doing branding” for a living may understand all this mumbo-jumbo, but these types of definitions are so esoteric, they’re rarely helpful to business owners who actually need branding.
So much so that a lot of business owners don’t even think it’s important or feel that they need it.
YOU NEED IT.
What is Brand Strategy?
A brand strategy is simply figuring out how you want people to feel about your business in comparison to everyone else’s business.
It answers the questions:
- Why does your business exist? What change do you want to create in the lives of your customers?
- How do you do business differently than your competition?
- What do you offer?
- Who will you offer it to?
Your brand strategy informs nearly every decision you’ll make in your business and most importantly, it’s the way you’ll make an emotional connection with your customers–it’s all the reasons why they’ll choose you instead of the alternatives.
Brand strategy comes first, then you spread your brand message through marketing.
What’s marketing? Marketing is brand building.
If you want marketing to work for you, you must be clear about the brand you want to build.
Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical. Make sense?
Brand Strategy Basics
I’m going to throw industry jargon out the window for a little while and explain how the puzzle of “attracting clients to your business” by using brand strategy using real-person language.
You will need:
1. A solution to a customer problem
You need an offer that solves a problem that enough people have who are be willing to exchange their money for the solution
For me, it starts here. I follow a lot of business coaches and inspirational people online who promise a dream — that all you really need to do is “tap into your passion” and “follow your heart” and then apply some “marketing magic” so you can turn that into a business.
I’m not here to stomp all over anybody’s dream or even argue with any of that. You do need passion, the right mindset to get visible with the right people and to choose something that’ll fulfill you in order to create a thriving dream business, but that’s not a business plan. No. No no no, please no.
I’m going to share a truth with you: Over the years, I’ve been hired by a lot of very smart, very ambitious business owners who’ve had ideas they were suuuuuuper passionate about, and they hustled hard … right up until the time they realized they were never going to be able to make any money at it.
Businesses fail, and it isn’t a matter of not being “passionate enough,” believing in yourself enough or working hard enough. It’s not always “marketing’s fault.” Sometimes it’s that there just isn’t a need in the market.
And while we can all think of examples of how advertising has “created a need” for something where there wasn’t one before, that’s not realistic for small business owners. It’s always better for people to already have a need and the awareness that they need it.
Now, if this thought has you in a PANIC OMG! hang in there with me.
If you’re worried that people don’t know they need what you’re selling, or if you aren’t clear about the problem you’re solving, usually all it takes to create a client-winning brand strategy is to explore a bit more deeply what your customers underlying frustrations and desires are, and then telling the right story.
This is something I cover more in-depth in The Brand Story Blueprint, which is all about creating a brand message that speaks your customers’ language.
You must use clear language they understand and can identify with. The goal is to get to: “Oh hey, yeah! I HAVE THAT PROBLEM! I need this solution in my life.”
Ya get me?
It all starts with having the right offer that solves a customer need and how you guide them to the outcome desire in a way that’s different from your competition.
Are you clear about the problem you solve? Are you certain people have this problem and know they need your solution?
If you can answer those questions, then it becomes a matter of attracting customers who need that. So your next step is to identify some…
2. People who have this problem to sell your solution to
You’ve defined the problem you solve, now… who can you solve it for?
- What kind of people are they (who do you really want to serve?) and what qualities do they have in common?
- What categories can you put them in?
- What industries do they come from? (Which industry’s problems do you understand the best?)
- What values do they hold that align with yours?
The more deeply you understand who they are, and the more you can get inside their heads to understand what motivates them, the better you can speak their language and the easier it’ll be for you to attract them to you.
- What is the outcome they’re after?
- What does their future look like if you solve their problem?
- What are they struggling with?
- What gives them pain and frustration?
- What language do they use to describe their problem?
- How can you join that conversation in a way that’ll get their attention?
Okay great. Now you have a solution to a problem and you’ve identified people who need your solution. Most people just stop there but that’s a big mistake. You’ll also need…
3. A reason for them to choose you (and not someone else) to solve their problem
When someone becomes aware they have a problem, they’ll do a bit of research before trading their money for a service that solves it. They have lots of options to consider, so your job at this stage is to articulate why you’re the best one.
This means understanding why the experience of working with you is different and explaining the specific benefits and outcomes they can expect. Then, overcoming all their objections and answering any concerns they have and proving all of the claims you’ve made.
At this stage, you’ll communicate what it’s like to work with you and what you stand for — your values, your philosophy, your personality. These are points of difference and comparison that will help your customer notice you and choose you.
(The Brand Strategy Blueprint goes into this in much more detail.)
The main way to communicate all of this is through words, but also through visuals — which are essential for recognition and memorability, facilitating understanding and helping to establish credibility.
Are you clear about who you are, what makes you different from the competition and the specific reasons your customer should choose you over the other options they’re considering? Can you prove it to them?
If you can put these puzzle pieces together, you’re well on your way to creating a plan (a strategy!) that’ll help you attract clients.
These first three things are foundational and need to be decided before you start marketing your offer. Grab The Brand Strategy Blueprint and get clear about how you’re positioning your business relative to the competition and who you’re going to target.
You must know the answers to these questions like the back of your hand and the language you’re going to use to join the conversation that’s going on in your customer’s mind in order to move forward to the next step, which is …
4. A way to get visible so you can deliver your message to them
Your job at this stage is to make customers aware of you and the solution you’re offering. If they can’t see you, they’re not going to be able to consider you. You’ll need some way to disrupt the noise, get their attention, and remain in their field of vision until they’re ready to purchase.
This means creating content that demonstrates you have the solution to their problem.Content is how we introduce ourselves to one another online and it’s what establishes trust between internet strangers. Content gets discovered in search and it’s what gets shared on social media.Content is how we introduce ourselves to one another online and it's what establishes trust between internet strangers.Click To Tweet
- Where’s your customer most likely to be looking for their solution?
- How much time and money can you devote to creating content?
- What strengths can you use to create valuable content that will help them notice you? (What type of content? Blog posts? Video? Podcast? Long-form content like books and whitepapers?)
- What unique personality traits can you communicate with visuals and words (the pillars of branding) so people begin to recognize and remember you?
- How will you create a connection with them until they’re ready to purchase, and what steps will you take along the way to nurture that relationship and remain visible? (It’s usually email marketing.)
Once you’ve created your plan for getting visible with your dream customers, then you need to …
5. Deliver the right message at the right time
In everything you do in an attempt to attract clients to you (a.k.a. branding and marketing), your customer must always be at the center of the story, and what you do depends on how close or far away they are from choosing you and handing over a bag full of money. 💰
It’s important to understand the decision-making process from your customers’ point of view.
This is where understanding what’s going on in their heads really comes into play. Things like:
- Have they ever heard of you before? If not, it’ll take effort before they even see you and some time before they remember and trust you.
- Do you have competitors? They’re probably checking them out and weighing their options, they’re looking for information that’ll help them move toward a decision.
- They’ll have some questions and may even try to talk themselves out of it, so they’ll be looking for reassurance.
Here’s a super-stripped-down version of how all this comes together. (I tried to make it as simple as possible because OMG IF I SEE ONE MORE OF THESE WITH A BILLION THINGS ON IT!)
The headlines indicate where your customer’s head is at and underneath are the actions you take…
You don’t need to know that this is a “customer journey” or a “marketing funnel”, you just need to know that all of this stuff works together and that it can all fall apart if you don’t have clarity before you go out and “just do things.”
Brand-Building Tactics (Marketing)
The “SPECIFIC HOWS” (the tactics) come last, but businesses without a strategy get this backward. The tactics you use will depend.
“How” do you get visible?
It depends. It might be social media, SEO, a blog, a podcast…
“How” do you demonstrate you’re the best choice?
It depends. It definitely includes your website copy, but it may also include sales pages, an email program, reputation-building through book authorship or public speaking…
How do you help them make their decision?
It depends. The stronger the objections the more reassurance you’ll need to give. It might be as simple having an FAQ, testimonials and case studies on your website, or it might require a “free trial”, a demo, a low-price offer as a first step or a free initial consultation.
Getting clarity, understanding how the puzzle fits together, and creating a plan that makes sense for you helps you avoid being random and inefficient (and wasteful, and overwhelming, and…) in your actions.
This is all a strategy is and why it’s so valuable to have one; simple as that.
All of that said…
You don’t have to wait until you have a strategy to put yourself out there
I know this is a lot to process, but you don’t need to nail everything down before launching your business or taking action to get more clients coming to you so you can make that cash-money.
If your client pipeline is empty and you just need clients now, or if you’re just getting started and you’re still testing the market… you don’t have to wait for every puzzle piece to click together. Getting clarity takes time, and creating a plan that works for you usually takes some experimentation too.
Just get out there and find clients to work with as quickly as you can. This is actually a great way to learn more about what they’re really struggling with and how you can best serve them (create offers your future-clients will love and be drawn to).
This also serves the purpose of getting case studies, testimonials and reviews that will help your future-clients’ overcome their objections.
If you have questions, hit me up in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.