Build a strong brand strategy in 3 steps

7 min read
Ashliegh Gehl

Within every brand, there is a promise. A promise made to customers, clients, staff and community partners. Top brands like Tim Horton’s, Westjet and McCain Foods are acutely aware of the promises they make. It’s through a robust brand strategy that they reinforce their commitments to their customers and strengthen that loyalty and trust.

Consumers are quick to call businesses out when they break their promises.

As you begin to create your brand strategy, tap into the experiences you’ve had with other business promises — both positive and negative — and extract what’s relevant to you. Your personal interactions with various brands have prepared you for this moment.

Related: Learn how successful startups choose a brand name

Map your destination

Starting a company is an exciting endeavour. It’s only natural that you want to get your name out there and run full-speed ahead. The thrill of the launch often takes over, and brand strategy takes a back seat.

Bundle all of the passion you have for your company and direct it into this reflective and emotionally involved process.

Woman Pointing to a Spot on a Map

The task of strategising demands patience, honesty, vulnerability, creativity and big-picture thinking. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in!

Step One: audit your business idea

When you were developing your business idea, you may have conducted market research. This process would have helped you identify trends in your industry, analyse your competitors and identify what makes your company one of a kind.

Take all of that into consideration as you answer the following discovery questions:

  1. Where does your company stand in the marketplace?
  2. What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses?
  3. What’s your brand’s value proposition?
  4. Who is your target audience?
  5. What’s your mission, vision and values?
  6. What’s your definition of long-term success?

You can read more about preparing a business and marketing plan on this Government of Canada web page.

One example of a successful brand strategy

Clothing company tentree incorporates its mission, vision and values into its branding strategy. Tentree plants ten trees every time someone makes a purchase.

This company’s brand promise is:

  • Right in the company name.
  • Transparent to customers, both new and returning.
  • Reflected in its product materials.
  • Reflected in its actions

One way to better understand brand strategy is to see how a company’s brand promise is communicated and judge for yourself what works well and what may be off-brand. While browsing tentree’s website, see if you can answer the discovery questions above with tentree in mind.

Step Two: fill your toolbox

Now that you’ve taken a close look at your business idea, you’re ready to assemble the tools, you’ll need to bring your brand strategy to life. With these tools, you’ll create what’s referred to as brand guidelines or brand standards.

A brand guide details your brand and company culture.

It also ensures consistency in your communications — website, social media, print, signage — so that you’re not reinventing yourself over and over again (or allowing your image to drift over time). Strong brands are consistent brands.

Here’s a fun exercise: If your company were a person, what would it look like and sound like? How would it behave? How would it make customers feel?

Keep this in mind when you’re filling your toolbox with the following essential items:

  1. Mission, vision and values
  2. Company colours (both primary and secondary)
  3. Style of typography/fonts, including how/when to use each
  4. Style of photography for visual assets such as website images and advertisements
  5. Your logo and/or wordmark (and rules on how to properly use it)
  6. Your tagline (if you have one)
  7. Style guide for writing

A logo or wordmark will represent your business throughout its life. Since it is often one of the first things a customer sees, your logo will play a significant role in how customers view you. You can learn how to create a logo here.

The importance of tone

‘Voice’ is everything.

Take a peek at these companies and assess how their voice — the way they craft their messages, the words and tone of voice they use — connects to their visual brand.

Take into consideration what the voice says about each business and their brand promise.

  1. Bell
  2. Mint Mobile
  3. Telus
  4. Freedom

If you’re picking up Ryan Reynolds vibes from Mint Mobile, that’s because the actor became the owner of the company in 2019.

Digital assets

Your website and social media channels are critical business tools.

For many companies, their website is their primary marketing platform.

If you own a physical store, make sure your branding is consistent in your store and on the web. If you don’t, customers will be confused because the colours, imagery and typeface you use in your store are different from your business website and social profiles.

Related: The benefits of using a branded email address for business

Step Three: future planning and reflection

Now that your toolbox is full, you’re ready to incorporate everything into a roadmap that will guide the strategic moves your company makes — not just today, but weeks, months and years from now.

One of the most common mistakes new business owners make in creating a brand is confusing sales goals (e.g. revenue, units sold) with brand goals (e.g. social engagement, customer loyalty).

Take the grand opening of a new brick and mortar business. There’s usually a surge in sales that first week, but then what? After the novelty wears off, how do you nurture the relationships you’ve just struck up?

That’s where a brand strategy roadmap comes in. It takes the assets in your toolbox and plugs them into a marketing and communications campaign to keep customer interest high.

Work backwards from sales goals

One way to tackle goals and roadmaps is to write down your monthly sales targets for the year. Once that’s established, write your monthly brand strategy goals. For example, your brand goals could be to:

  • Increase traffic to your website month over month
  • Raise awareness of your business
  • Turn first-time buyers into repeat customers
  • Increase engagement on social media as measured by Likes, clicks and shares

At the beginning of each quarter, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve achieved and what needs to be improved. Adjust your goals and tactics for the next month; review at the end.

Brand strategy recaps

Creating a brand strategy isn’t just about what you present to your target audience. It’s also an internal guide for your team as it grows. If your employees understand what’s at the heart of your company, they can live and breathe your company culture.

Once you’ve defined and documented your mission, vision and values, employees can communicate it using the language you’ve established.

If you follow these three core steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a strong brand.

  1. Step One: audit your business idea
  2. Step Two: fill your toolbox
  3. Step Three: future planning and reflection

As you dig into your sector and look at your competitors, you’ll begin to notice how a strong brand presented consistently over time leads to long-term success. With a little planning and reflection, you can create one for your venture.