For a long time, a company’s brand strategy relied mostly on IRL experiences.
Target’s bright red aisles, Best Buy’s polo-clad staffers, Jimmy John’s freaky-fast sandwiches—all vital parts of a greater brand marketing strategy that rely on customers coming into stores.
Now, as people turn toward digital channels to browse, purchase, review and rave, digital brand strategies have taken center stage for marketing and communications professionals.
Luckily, there’s one place where both teams can make an immediate impact. It’s not a storefront, it’s their social strategy.
Audiences experience brands primarily through social media. A social-first brand strategy opens the door to increasing market share and customer loyalty.
In this guide, we’re breaking down the basics of brand strategy. We’ve also included guidance on developing your own framework with templates to help you through each section.
Let’s get into it.
What is a brand strategy?
A brand strategy outlines how you approach the work that goes into building and maintaining a positive brand reputation. These blueprints explain how several brand elements work together to drive positive brand perception across channels. That includes your:
- Brand purpose and values
- Voice, tone and brand personality
- Visual content
- Brand storytelling
While your brand marketing strategy should apply to all channels, social is where it comes to life. People turn to social media for entertainment, information, support and more. A well-documented brand strategy can optimize those moments, creating experiences that build lasting relationships.
These relationships do more than just bolster your bottom line. They can be a powerful source of social capital during times of crisis, too.
That’s why creating a brand marketing strategy is a joint task for social media and communications professionals. When the two teams work together, they can build a strategy that future-proofs a brand for years to come.
Why strategic brand management matters on social
Your social profiles are like a showroom for your brand strategy.
Every new post is a chance to reinforce who and what matters most to your business. When grouped together, they have the power to shape consumer perception of your brand.
These reputation-building benefits aren’t earned through having a social media presence alone. To get the most out of social, you need a thoughtful approach to the three pillars of strategic brand management:
- Your brand persona: The voice, tone and personality behind your brand.
- Your visual identity: The creative design elements that make your brand stand out.
- Your engagement practices: The ways you engage and connect with followers and potential fans.
These three pillars work together to humanize your brand, supporting deeper connections with your audience.
In good times, these connections can lead to an active audience supporting new launches, announcements and more. A solid brand reputation can also help your business withstand tough times, too.
That extends beyond the crises you may face as a business. According to the 2022 Sprout Social Index™, 71% of consumers say it’s important for brands to raise awareness and take a stand on sensitive topics.
A documented brand strategy framework can help brands navigate their new role in world events and cultural moments.
What is a brand strategy framework?
When it comes to executing on a brand strategy, it all comes down to consistency. Consistency can’t be left up to chance.
A brand strategy framework provides guardrails to help you reap the full benefits of a strong strategy. Documenting your brand details can give your team a single, reliable reference point for decision-making.
Of course, you can’t predict every branding decision that comes your way. In fact, a handbook-style approach to brand documentation might leave people with more questions than answers. Providing your colleagues with a framework instead can set your business up with the foundation needed to hit the market with the right message.
This framework will apply across your organization but should specifically strengthen the following strategies:
- Executive communications: How your company’s leadership team communicates your brand message across channels.
- Internal communications: How you communicate your brand message across your organization.
- Public relations: How you communicate your brand message to the greater market.
- Social media: How you communicate your brand message to your social audience.
Using your brand to create holistic ties between these strategies will help you hit the market with a cohesive message. Creating that consistency across a multichannel marketing strategy builds trust with your target audience, leading to positive sentiment around your business.
Your template for developing a holistic brand strategy framework
You’re all set on the basics, so now it’s time to get to work. This step-by-step guide will leave you with a basic framework that you can expand on as you learn what works for your business.
Step 1: Assemble your team
You know what they say: Teamwork makes the dream work.
No single team member can create an effective brand strategy. You need multiple perspectives to get a thorough understanding of your brand and its place within its industry.
For this project, you’ll want to recruit two separate groups of people. First, you’ll need a tiger team. This is a small group of people who will help you with project management tasks and the final deliverables.
Second, you’ll need recruits for discovery groups. These are individuals beyond marketing who have opinions about your business and brand. People you might consider for these groups include:
- Senior leaders
- Company culture captains
- Brand designers
- Recent hires
Once you’ve settled on a shortlist of who you’d like to involve, it’s time to send invites. Here is an outreach template you can use to kick the project off.
I hope you’re doing well. I’m reaching out because we’re looking for participants for our upcoming brand discovery project. You’ve been identified by our team as an internal brand champion, and we’d love to have you involved.
We’ll be hosting a series of discovery sessions to develop a brand strategy framework unique to [Company Name]. Prior to your small group session, we’ll ask you to complete a brand questionnaire. During the hour-long session, we’ll discuss and build upon answers during a team brainstorm.
The total time commitment will be about 2-3 hours over the course of three months.
If you’re interested in participating, please respond to this email no later than [Date]. We will follow up with the brand questionnaire and details on your discovery session.
Step 2: Host discovery sessions
Once you have a green light from key contributors, it’s time to compile your insights. Schedule discovery sessions to get to the root of what sets your brand apart from the rest.
Keep these discussions focused for the best possible outcomes. If there are a lot of interested contributors, schedule several small group discussions as opposed to one large one. That way, everyone has time to share their perspective.
During these meetings, you’ll go over a brand discovery questionnaire. Another way to make the most of your time together is to send out a meeting agenda with detailed instructions on prep work.
Include a copy of your brand questionnaire in the prep work. These questions can be as direct or as out-of-the-box as you want. Go with whatever you think will deliver the best results from your team.
Here are some questions to consider as you create your final questionnaire:
- What does our brand do well today?
- What are our competitors doing well?
- What sets our business apart from the competition?
- What’s currently missing from our brand? What aren’t we communicating well?
- If our brand was an actor, who would it be?
- How would you describe our brand personality?
- What emotions would you associate with our brand?
Use the discovery sessions to encourage group members to challenge or build on each other’s answers. Take notes on a whiteboard tool like Miro or Google Jamboard so you can group similar discussion themes after the meeting.
Step 3: Document your findings
Now’s the time to take the raw data from your discovery sessions and translate it into the first iteration of your framework.
This version of your framework should focus on four key areas:
- Your brand stance: Describe the “what” and “why” behind your brand (your purpose, personality, value props, etc.)
- Values: Describe the guiding principles that serve as your cultural north star.
- Messaging guidelines: Describe what your brand’s voice and tone looks like in action (your tagline, messaging pillars, etc.)
- Visual guidelines: Describe the creative throughlines that connect your visual assets (including fonts, typography, colors, design elements, mascots, etc.)
It’s tempting to try and finish this step with a comprehensive, finalized framework but this is an iterative process for a reason. Brand strategy frameworks are living documents that require input from several stakeholders. If you find yourself letting perfection get in the way of progress, don’t be afraid to move on.
Step 4: Create a crisis plan
When a crisis strikes, it may be hard to look at the situation as anything other than majorly stressful. However, recent crisis communication examples show they can also serve as a brand-building opportunity.
Take Slack’s 2022 service outage. Although the issue brought workdays around the globe to a standstill, they still left the situation unscathed. If anything, their on-brand approach to customer care throughout the crisis actually earned them more fans.
Things we’ve learned on 2-22-22: Tuesdays can go two ways, two deep breaths can make a situation more manageable, two heads are better than one, and we’re twice as grateful for your patience during today’s disruption—no two ways about it.
— Slack (@SlackHQ) February 22, 2022
Creating a crisis plan as a second layer to your brand strategy framework can prepare you to deal with tricky situations as thoughtfully as possible. You may not be able to prepare for specific crises, but you can build a process that mobilizes the right people when one strikes.
You can add a basic crisis communication framework to your strategy by creating a crisis response team. You’ll need to assign and approve the following roles:
- Crisis communication team leader
- Crisis communication coordinator
- Final approver
- Legal counsel
You may need additional support from other teams throughout your organization depending on the factors surrounding the crisis. Use this comprehensive crisis communications plan template for an additional layer of preparation.
Step 5: Circulate for review
Now it’s time to share the first version of your framework with your tiger team for feedback.
Here’s an email template you can use to share your initial brand strategy document:
The first iteration of our brand strategy framework is attached and ready for review.
This framework is designed to help leaders across our business build and maintain our brand across channels. Here are some specific areas of feedback I’d like you all to address as you review this document:
- Is anything missing or unclear?
- Does the format of this document make sense for its intended use?
- Is there anything that we can improve?
Please share your feedback with me via email by [Date]. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Step 6: Monitor your progress
After you implement feedback, rely on routine check-ins to keep your new framework top of mind.
A quarterly brand roundtable is a great way to regroup with your tiger team and track key initiatives. Use these meetings as an opportunity to discuss progress toward goals, brand wins and opportunities coming down the pipeline.
Brand perception goals can be tricky to measure. One way to introduce quantifiable metrics to the discussion is by pulling data from a social listening tool.
Social listening tools provide meaningful insights on how perception and sentiment around your brand trends over time. If you’re using Sprout’s social listening tool, you can also track how your share of voice stacks up against key competitors.
Pro Tip: Your executive team may not be able to attend regular check-ins but they still play an important role in your brand strategy. Host an initial coaching session to give leaders a primer on brand-friendly executive communications. From there, share the insights surfaced during roundtables with them via email.
It’s time to build your own brand strategy
Creating a brand strategy framework for your business is an amazing career opportunity. It’s a chance to flex your creative chops alongside other key leadership skills like project management, collaboration and strategic thinking.
If you want to learn more about how social insights can shape thriving brands, check out this article on brand storytelling. It’s packed with examples from real companies, plus tips on creating a data-driven brand narrative.
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