I get asked often what branding is. I get it. People use the word incorrectly SO MANY TIMES.
Branding is how people view your brand. If you have a business that is out there in the world in any way, you have a brand because people are going to feel something about it.
Your brand strategy is when you define how you want people to feel about your brand so that you can use it to guide people to those feelings. Here comes the standard disclaimer that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
So really, branding is when you bring your business strategy to life. It’s how you communicate your internal brand (your beliefs, vision for the future, commitment to clients or customers, and philosophy).
All of this means that you need a business strategy (where your business is going), a brand strategy (the messaging you’re going to use to help shape feelings), and a marketing strategy (how you’re going to put your message out into the world). You need all three for a successful business.
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These three strategies also build off of each other. For example, you define your ideal client in your brand strategy. Your marketing strategy will use that ideal client profile to figure out what platforms and media to use to attract those clients.
How I Started Thinking about Strategy
After another month of no new clients thanks to this wonderful thing called COVID-19, I was about ready to give up. Every potential new client I spoke with was saving their money because of the global pandemic.
My only potential clients were people looking for champagne on a beer budget, and I had vowed not to work with those people.
Perhaps the answer was hidden in a new service or a new audience. The only problem was that I had tried that before, and failed. When people asked me “What do you do?” I would struggle with an answer, often changing it based on the situation.
As my credit card reached near its max, it was time to have a come to Jesus moment. I wasn’t happy with a failing business and our financial situation couldn’t take another hit. Frustrated and discouraged, I vowed to put in one more month while the global pandemic ran its course and then I’d start looking for a dreaded nine-to-five. I may not be able to take care of my discontent, but I could at least help our credit score.
As I wearily attended a weekly networking meeting, I noticed a tall stranger in the room. He introduced himself as Mike the business coach and all I could think was “Here we go again.”
I had worked previously with three business coaches and still wasn’t doing so great. I was so disillusioned by the process that I wrote him off.
A week later he was sworn into our group and offered a free business coaching session. I wanted to see what type of coach he was personally before I referred anyone to him, so I decided to give up an hour of my time.
Imagine my surprise when after just 20 minutes he had put into words all of the things that I was feeling for close to a year. He knew my questions before I asked them, and cut right down to the point.
We decided to work together. I had a tough decision to make. You see, when I went into business, I had skipped over the traditional first steps. I never created a business plan or took the time to define my business. I figured I’d get to it along the way. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
Now I was faced with what felt like an impossible situation. Alone with a three year old for most of the day, I had limited time. Would I need to stop my current marketing efforts in order to work on my business plan? That would mean giving up time and income to do something different, to make a change.
Change is hard. It’s scary. Our brains are programmed to fight against it.
With a coach in my corner, I jumped off the cliff.
What is Business Strategy?
Business strategy is the long term plan of where your business is going. It’s that big-picture strategy and is an action plan for how to get there.
If you don’t have a goal, then you have nothing to aim at. Which means you’re probably going to wander around aimlessly for a while (and most likely burn time and money along the way).
The point of a business strategy is to help a business be profitable. Unless you’re a non-profit, you want your income to be higher than your expenses. If you can’t do that, you’re not going to be in business very long.
You take this strategy can create a business plan. This is the first step in creating a lucrative business. As a business, you need to know how you’re going to get to your end goal, and what your end goal is.
What is Brand Strategy?
People no longer want to deal with businesses. They want to deal with other people. One of the best strategies then is to help show the human side of a business to potential clients or customers.
Brand strategy is when you take that human side with its characteristics, values, and qualities and outline them. It’s the strategy that is going to guide people to see your business as a more personal entity.
It is made up of a brand’s position in the market, the brand story, personality, and tone of voice. It also includes details about the target audience and the main substance of the brand. Together, these form your main message.
Your brand strategy also informs your business’s visual identity like the logo and website. All of these pieces come together to help lead your audience to identify your company and get those warm and fuzzy feelings about it.
A strong brand strategy can help your business take off if it’s aligned with the business goals.
What is Marketing Strategy?
Marketing is putting the right solution in front of the right people at the right time. That’s really all it is when you break it down. So why is it so hard?
There are many ways to attract and retain clients and so many different avenues and mediums to work with. What makes marketing complicated is the sheer volume of opportunities and possibilities.
A marketing strategy takes the business and brand strategies to narrow these possibilities down and defines how you’re going to attract your ideal client. How are you going to speak to this client to get them interested in your service or business?
Your marketing strategy helps you gain brand awareness. It helps give you that competitive advantage and figure out when the right time is.
With that strategy, you can create a marketing plan, which is the functional plan you put into action.
What is a Marketing Plan?
Your marketing plan takes all of your strategies and puts them into a document that plans how the company is going to position itself in the marketing. It also defines how to find those clients and customers.
Marketing plans usually have a variety of tactics used, like building a website, social media marketing, content marketing, advertising campaigns, and email marketing.
For example, if my target market includes Gen Zers, then part of my marketing plan may include putting out product videos on TikTok. If I’m targeting Generation X, then Facebook may be a better platform.
If my target market prefers video over text, then I’m likely going to focus on that type of media for my advertisements and attraction marketing avenues.
How They Come Together
Ok, so now that you know you need three different strategies, how do they come together?
There are certain parts that are essential to all three. So once you develop these parts in one strategy, it carries over into the next one to be expanded upon.
Your target market, that ideal audience, is crucial to all three strategies. You start with an overview of your target market in your business strategy. For your brand strategy, you expand on it to include psychographics and archetypes. Then for your marketing strategy, you add in platforms and media preferences.
So while it can feel a bit overwhelming, it all comes down to working the strategies in the right order and building off of them.
All strategies are also going to take a look at your competition for different reasons. Having a strong competitor list when starting out will save you lots of time. You’ll want to track information like their website, social channels, and services.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you’re looking at the market trends across all of the strategies. Are there new business models that are doing well these days? What brand awareness trends are working right now? And what marketing platforms are doing well these days?
What comes first?
Speaking from experience, there’s an order to creating these strategies. If you go out of turn, you’re not going to see the results you’re looking for.
You need to start with your business strategy so you have that main goal in mind. You have to know what you’re working toward and how it fits into your life.
Next, you build out your branding strategy so you understand who you are as a business. You need to develop your message and the strategy behind it.
Next, you focus on your marketing strategy. How are you going to attract those clients to your business?
Finally, you put together a marketing plan to execute. If done correctly, now is the time to watch your business grow and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
To Wrap It Up
So what happened after I took that leap of faith?
Over the next few months, every night and weekend day was spent refining my business. I dug deep into a series of questions about who I am and where I want to go personally at Mike’s instruction.
And as it all came together, everything clicked. I was able to clearly see what I wanted to do, and was able to find the business model to do it. Soon, my daughter went back to daycare and I started to put all the pieces into place.
All of that uncertainty disappeared. I knew what needed to be done, in what order, and what to prioritize. When people ask me what I do now, I’m able to confidently tell them. And the funny thing? It’s really not that different from what I was doing before, just packaged differently. And the best part? I was doing what I loved instead of what I thought would make me money.
With a clear strategy and all the right pieces in place, I was finally doing what I wanted to do from the very beginning.
Some entrepreneurs would tell you that they were writing this story from a beach in the Caribbean. I’m not. Instead, I’m sitting on my bed next to a sick three-year-old, reflecting on how there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Don’t ever lose sight of the life you want to lead and the reasons why you started your business. I’m living the life I want, with a clear plan for moving forward, and I couldn’t be happier about it.