It’s common to feel like you’re chasing walls in the business world. You launch a brand and a competitor pops up. You get ahead of them, and another brand you never thought was a threat comes up from behind with a version of your same product. Plenty of brands today have content strategies focused on sharing and converting. But guess what makes that content really special? That’s right, establishing a solid brand strategy. We’re breaking down the difference between the two, where to start, and how to make strategies that get shares.
Brand strategy vs. content strategy: what’s the real difference?
In the hierarchy of strategies, a solid brand strategy should always come before a content strategy. That’s because a brand strategy is a long-term plan for the success of your brand. It includes your mission, purpose, and the plan to communicate all the intangible goodness that makes your company what it is. Often, it’s a documented plan that details the goals and KPIs that will signal “success” to your brand.
On the other hand, a content strategy is a bit more concrete and puts the brand strategy into motion. The two are similar in that they both involve a lot of planning and goal-setting. But instead of the higher-level company goals, a content strategy indicates how you’ll use content to support the brand strategy.
If you need something to visualize, think of a brand strategy as a map to where you’re going and a content strategy as the route you’ve plotted out with stops indicated along the way.
Elements of a successful long-term brand strategy
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…The ABCs of building a brand strategy don’t have to be complicated. By diving deep on your brand, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. Here’s how to do it:
Have a purpose
When you had that first ah-ha moment for your product or service, what was that like? Did you imagine how customers would use it and how it would stack up against other brands? Did you think about how it might positively impact people or the planet, or even why you wanted to start the brand in the first place?
Whatever this golden kernel of genius was, hold onto it. A strong brand strategy requires a strong purpose—one you believe in wholeheartedly. To make this step more concrete, you can use two guiding factors.
First, figure out if your purpose is functional and intentional. Functionally, you’ll need to consider how your purpose will work in the market and how it’s different from competitors to be successful (and make a profit). Intentionally, how will your brand do good in the world? What bigger purpose does it serve?
When you can answer those questions, you can then position your brand to enter the market. And while brand positioning is a topic for an entirely different blog, it’s also a crucial step in the overall brand strategy and purpose-building process.
Find the right audience
A good brand strategy also begins with who the strategy is built for. That’s right, the all-important audience. These are the people, after all, who will determine if your brand is successful or not. Finding the right audience includes a lot of research, first on demographics then on psychographics.
If your brand is already established, this is slightly easier because you can use data from Google Analytics and various social platforms to determine the average age, gender, income, and more of those purchasing your product. On the other hand, if you’re a startup, you might have to go old school with a focus group, surveys, and some leap-of-faith testing. Psychographically, you’ll also need to determine your target audience’s priorities and identify their needs.
Remember, no matter how noble your purpose is, you’re yelling into the void if you can’t get it in front of the right audience.
Ah, emotion. That little thing that drives our moods, feelings, and behaviors. It’s also what helps customers feel connected to a brand, which means it’s a critical part of your brand strategy. Think about it this way: are you more likely to connect with a brand that speaks at you and assumes what you want? Or a brand that seems to just get you?
In this stage, you might have to dig deep into your high school or college knowledge about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Use emotion in your brand to create a sense of belonging, higher purpose, and connection. When you can connect with your customers on this deeper level, you can “strengthen your relationship and foster loyalty.”
Create a strong visual identity
Often, people mistake brand strategy with a brand’s visual identity. This is part of your strategy—a big part even—but not the whole kit and caboodle. But once you’ve fulfilled the previous three elements of your strategy, you can get the creative juices flowing and dig deeper into how your brand will look and feel.
Your brand identity and guidelines include your brand voice, tone, and visual identity (i.e., logo, color palette, imagery, etc.). One important note here: your brand identity should represent the values, purpose, and plan you’ve put into your strategy so far. In other words, if you’re a serious brand with a lofty purpose, bubble gum pink might not be the best choice for your site’s primary color.
And don’t forget to keep it consistent. Once you understand your audience and establish the look, feel, and tone of your brand, you’ll need to develop a plan (and a style guide) to translate this across all touchpoints—physical stores and products, social media, and advertising.
Elements of a content strategy that clicks
Remember the map we talked about? If you’ve spent the necessary time in the brand strategy phase, it should be looking pretty good right now. You should have a clear beginning, a destination, and a rough idea of how to get there. Now it’s time for the details and depth that a content strategy brings.
Also known as a content marketing strategy, this is where you can implement and use all the elements of your brand strategy to connect and convert in the real world.
Here’s how to do it:
Understand your goals
Before publishing, posting, or campaigning, you should always ask, “why?” Why am I creating this piece of content? What are the goals and how does it play into my overall strategy? Content for the sake of content will be seen for what it is: hollow and inauthentic.
Having clear goals (and referring back to your brand strategy often) makes your content actionable. A good way to do this is to establish KPIs for your content strategy to measure the success of a post or campaign.
Create content that gets to your core
Those beautiful emotions that drive us should also drive your content. If your content marketing is aligned with your core identity and brings in storytelling, you maintain consistency and connection. Think about any campaign that’s resonated with you. One, it probably got you in your feels. Two, it also probably made you feel more connected to whatever brand it was because it embodied its core values.
Identify your pillars and channels
Essentially, this is what to talk about and where. If you’ve done your research in the brand strategy phase, you’ll know which channels your audience visits—both for social and traditional media. Keep in mind your personas, objectives, and content formats.
Content pillars help you create the right content for those channels. These could include lifestyle (your brand IRL), influencer, promotional (humble bragging), and testimonials. Also important in this step (and throughout your entire content strategy process) are your keyword strategy, brand messaging, budget allocation, editorial calendar, and storytelling opportunities. The combination of these elements is what strengthens your content.
Keep it consistent
Your content, like your overall brand, needs to be consistent to remain strong. Everything you’ve established and worked for up to this point—your voice, tone, values, identity, and purpose—matters. The brand you create is the brand your customers will come to know and love. Imagine how jarring it would be if Wendy’s turned from sassy to serious or Old Spice lost its spice.
That’s not to say that sometimes you can’t break character for a very good reason (we’re talking global pandemic or social injustice importance), but even these moments should still feel “on brand.”
Why we consider Savy a ‘brand strategy agency’
We’ve been imagining and re-imagining brands since 2007. And we keep coming back to the same conclusion: strategy matters. So many brands today go deep on their naming and visual identities without considering the basics first. But we know, without this, your brand and your content will fall flat.
That’s why no matter how new or established the brand, we lean into the brand strategy then the content strategy to produce something big and bold that can weather the changing market.
Ready for a strategy that gets shares? Let’s fire it up.