Strategy is often misinterpreted as planning of any kind. Some consider ‘strategy’ as being any big plan that answers the question ‘how can we make more money’. But this isn’t the case, and often means that people fight battles they can’t win, simply because they haven’t considered why they’re fighting them in the first place.
Strategies are indeed plans for achieving and sustaining success. Strategy is about creating, exploiting and protecting your competitive advantages. The manner in which this is done should determine a company’s response to any external threats. It should also provide a standard against which all significant decisions are made.
On a level playing field, where the market is open to everyone on equal terms, competition will erode the returns of all players to a uniform minimum. In other words, to earn more than your competitors, you’ve got to do something they can’t.
Brand strategy is no different. Fundamentally, it is the practice of identifying core principles and values which differentiate the company from its competitors. Unlike business strategy, brand strategy doesn’t rely on economic principles of differentiation; it relies on emotional principles. Economic principles can’t answer the question ‘Why should I purchase your product?’ Only value-led, emotional principles can answer this. Your competitive advantage is the way in which you articulate the reasons you established your business and the problems your business is solving.
A force from within
The outcomes from any strategy session can look very much alike.
Google’s mission statement is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Crafting this strapline will have taken days of workshops, multiple management meetings and lots of fun postcard exercises. But the value of their brand strategy is not in the strapline itself, it’s in the agreement it encapsulates. What has been formed is an agreement between members of senior management to uphold and protect particular central values.
When most people start a business these core values are defined by their unique ways of thinking, as well as the reasons they began the business. However, these values are rarely scrutinised, as founders have little reason to self-reflect. It’s like having a clear idea of the picture you are about to paint and then having to describe it to the person holding the paintbrush. Without a collective understanding of the desired outcome, no one in the business can successfully manifest the founders’ vision.
The real value of brand strategy can be effectively established through workshops with senior management. Scrutinising the reasons to do one thing and not another is not just another pointless self-reflection exercise: out of this scrutiny comes a series of mutually agreed missions, visions and values on which management can base their decisions.
Successful brand strategy comes from empowering founders to communicate their principles in every aspect of their business. These principles reflect who they are and should align with why they set up the business in the first place. This allows them to make decisions more effectively and focus on the company’s vision, whilst driving it forward.