Defining Brand Strategy and How to Develop One

Creating and maintaining a brand strategy can turn into a never-ending struggle, but it can also provide a great deal of fun. In this post we created a guide on the steps to take in developing your brand strategy. We’ve tested most as workshop methods on our clients in the last couple of years, and have included some research techniques as well. But first, let’s define brand strategy!

Brand strategy defined

By definition, brand strategy makes up a long-term plan which helps every employee communicate about your brand. This documentation explains why the company exists, what problems it solves, and how it wants to represent itself in its customers’ eyes. It holds the key to consistency and good collaboration between different divisions inside the company.

I collected the key steps to creating (or evaluating) your brand strategy and getting every stakeholder on the same page. Your company’s strategy will succeed only if you can agree on a unified vision together. In this post I will cover how to define:

  • Vision, mission and values,
  • Target audience,
  • Brand persona,
  • Value proposition,

and how to maintain these findings with the right documentation and research. 

How to develop your brand strategy?

Many well-established medium to large companies (more than 100 employees) out there struggle with communicating their brand message effectively. Working at UX studio, I had to realize that creating and maintaining a brand strategy makes for a lot of hard work in them. This happens either because they don’t know how to start the process or keep the information updated and shared across their teams.

When we start work with clients, we always organize a kick-off workshop to learn about their challenges. Inviting key stakeholders from different departments lets them participate and help us understand their identities. This also teaches us about their brand strategy (or the lack of one).

Most of these discussions happen in workshops, but some topics require research beforehand. So without any further ado, let’s look at the first step.

Define the company’s vision, mission and values

Vision

A long-term goal in the future tense, it represents a dream beyond the possible. Picture where your organization is headed and describe it in a sentence.

Vision statement examples

  • Tesla – “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
  • IKEA – “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
  • Nike – “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

nike brand strategy

Mission

The core purpose why your company exists and what it provides. Write it in the present tense and focus it on what you do, why you do it and how you do it.

Mission statement examples

  • Tesla – “To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”
  • IKEA – “To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
  • Nike – “Our mission is what drives us to do everything possible to expand human potential. We do that by creating groundbreaking sport innovations, by making our products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities where we live and work.”

See how they differ from the vision statements?

Values

Values represent enduring, passionate and distinctive core beliefs that influence your organization’s attitudes and behaviors. They establish what you stand for as a team.

Examples from IKEA:

  • Humbleness and willpower.
  • Leadership by example.
  • Daring to be different.
  • Togetherness and enthusiasm.
  • Cost-consciousness.
  • Constant desire for renewal.
  • Acceptance and delegation of responsibility.

These usually need some further explanation, so feel free to add a paragraph which explains them a little more. Just make the main value short and memorable. You can find a nice collection of company values here.

Define the target audience

Learn about your customers fears and motivations beyond basic demographics like age, gender, place of residence etc. What problems do they want to solve? How do they solve them? Does the problem have any alternative solutions?

With user research, we can answer these questions. User research focuses on producing qualitative data about what lies behind what people say. It looks specifically at what they actually do while using a product. Also, it prioritizes design guidance and improves the user experience.

user research interview
Timi, one of our colleagues interviewing in the office

Define your brand persona

After you’ve learned who you’re building your product for and where your company’s heading, define yourself. Treat your brand like a person. This lets you look at your company from a different perspective and imagine yourself in your customers’ shoes.

We have different methods of doing this, but we’ve found that placing your brand on a scale of extremes the simplest. Do you present as:

  • Friendly or professional?
  • Modern or traditional?
  • Fun or serious?
  • Accessible to all or upscale?

You can even go a step further and describe your brand like a person. Get specific! Decide on the gender, age, hobbies, friends, interests, good and bad qualities, etc.

Brand strategy archetypes
Brand archetypes also make for great tools. Learn more about them here!

Do competitor analysis

Now you know your audience and what they need. You’ve also defined yourself as a company and your goals. One more important aspect of the business to investigate: your competitors. Apart from direct competitors (who do the same thing as you) also collect the indirect ones. They solve the same problem as you but in a different way. We wrote a whole article on this topic, so make sure to take a look!

Create value propositions

Now you should have all the information to position your brand on the market. While keeping your core brand positioning the same for all audiences, each audience will have an interest in different aspects of it. You can create value props for all the different segments of your target audience.

In a nutshell, a value proposition lays out a positioning statement. It explains the benefits your product provides, who it addresses (target audience) and also how your product stands apart from the competition. Make it clear, trustworthy and benefit-oriented. Design and marketing meet here.

Don’t mistake a value proposition for a slogan or a catch phrase. Avoid superlatives and business jargon (‘The number-one product in the world!’).

trello brand strategy
Trello has a well-written value proposition with a clear headline and a short paragraph explaining the product in more detail. The illustration highlights the fun of using Trello.

Validate your ideas with brand research

Having arrived at this point with your brand strategy, you’ve already made a ton of design decisions. So congrats first of all on completing this tough process! But the question remains: Do people think the same way about you as you do?

Future customers can experience your brand in a lot of different ways: ads, blog posts, social media, email, support chats, your website, your offline media publications, etc. These outputs essentially communicate your written and visual tone of voice. Align them with your brand persona and values or they’ll misunderstand your message.

So how can you know what people think about you? Ask them! My colleague Pablo wrote a great article about brand research which I highly recommend. You’ll find some methods there.

How to maintain your brand strategy?

If you thought you’d gotten over the hard part, I have to disappoint you. How well you’ve defined your brand strategy doesn’t help if your employees don’t know about it. The greatest challenge comes in educating everyone in the company and making sure the brand stays consistent.

Document everything you do. The ideas you’ve generated in previous workshops and the research you conduct will form the starting point of the guidelines you’ll have to create. Keep brand strategy consistent on every platform where you communicate with customers. This includes everything from support emails to the landing page design. Some documents we create with our clients at UX studio include:

  • Design principles
  • Voice and tone guidelines
  • Brand guidelines

Design principles

Who are you making it for? Design and content teams inside the company. These considerations deal with design, interaction and tone of voice which form the basis of your product. They will help you with brand consistency and making decisions.

Example from Airbnb:

  1.  Unified
    Each piece is part of a greater whole and should contribute positively to the system at scale. There should be no isolated features or outliers.
  2.  Universal
    Airbnb is used around the world by a wide global community. Our products and visual language should be welcoming and accessible.
  3.  Iconic
    We’re focused when it comes to both design and functionality. Our work should speak boldly and clearly to this focus.
  4.  Conversational
    Our use of motion breathes life into our products, and allows us to communicate with users in easily understood ways.
airbnb brand strategy
You will find more examples here.

Voice and tone guidelines

Target: Copywriters, marketers, support and everyone who communicates with customers 

This material makes sure everyone’s speaking the same language. Provide examples on how people should write and speak about your brand. Don’t use business language if you want to show a friendly image. Don’t go for funny if your brand is trying to look knowledgeable.

Example from Mailchimp:

“The voice of MailChimp is familiar, friendly, and above all human. The personalities of the people behind the brand shines through with honesty. The voice of MailChimp cracks jokes (ones you could share with your momma), tells stories, and communicates with the folksy tone that might be used with an old friend.” Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide

Mailchimp voice and tone brand strategy example

Brand guidelines

Target: Designers and marketers

A brand guideline collects all your visual assets that the brand uses. It explains what you can and can’t do with some examples. Usually it comes in a pdf document but more and more brands have moved it to the web.

The three most important things you have to include: your logo, colors and typography. Of course the brand guidelines can go far beyond that. Take a look at Uber’s!

uber brand strategy

The takeaway

Brands are always evolving based on how their target market changes. That doesn’t mean their core purpose and values change along with them. On the contrary, you have to keep your company true to its original mission. With a well-tested and regularly reviewed brand strategy, you can make sure that you don’t go off track.

Continue learning with UX studio

Feel free to read our last week’s article, where you can find out how Yuval Keshtcher became an integral part of the UX writing community and what he thinks about the current state and the future of the industry.

For additional reading, check out our Product Design book by our CEO, David Pasztor. We ship worldwide!

Zsofia Paszternak

I'm a UX/UI designer who is passionate about visual communication.
I also love greyhounds and pizza.