Brand Strategy is Confusing, Here’s Why

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When it comes to strategy, there seems to be mass confusion in the marketing industry. Many people use terms like brand strategy, branding, brand management, and brand plan interchangeably. It’s not good.

Compounding the issue is the fact that strategy as a core discipline within marketing seems to be in rapid decline. This means most marketers have an insufficient understanding of the nuances of strategy and the related frameworks required to actually build and run a brand.

A number of the students that enroll in my AMA course on brand management come in thinking they are going to learn about branding. If you’re not sure the difference, then today’s message is for you.

To help clear up the confusion, here you’ll get a rundown of what these terms really mean and the differences between them. You may need them all to run your brand, so read on to be sure you aren’t missing a critical part of your brand foundation.

Strategic Plan—Where It All Starts

The strategic plan is perhaps the most important strategic document that every brand must create. Unfortunately, it’s probably the one thing that most brands don’t have.

The strategic plan (a.k.a., brand plan) is part of the long-term business planning process and contains all the nuts and bolts of how you will grow your brand(s).

It starts with market research/analysis, competitive research, and the creation of a business assessment. Future goals are set and specific strategies are then selected for how to reach those goals.

Most brand leaders learn to write this document later in their career. It’s a shame because I believe the skills and thinking required to write a document like this should be taught early on in a brand manager’s career.

That’s why we make our strategic planning course one of the first courses we recommend to brand teams when we put together their training programs.

Brand Strategy—Defining the Brand

Not to be confused with the strategic plan (or brand plan), a brand strategy is a set of internal strategic documents that define a brand.

The brand strategy documents include targeting strategy, brand architecture, positioning/messaging strategy, and design strategy.

Together, the brand strategy documents clarify the intention of the brand and direct how the brand should show up and which equities to build in the marketplace.

If you want to dive deeper into brand strategy and its key components, check out our popular Ultimate Brand Strategy Guide.

Branding—Strategy & Execution Combined

When most marketers hear the term, “branding”, they think of logos, colors and fonts. While these are often parts of a brand’s visual identity, it doesn’t come near to fully describing what branding truly is.

Branding refers to the end result of the internal and external assets coming together to create or reinforce a specific impression or perception in the minds of a specific audience.

This can include previously mentioned brand strategy elements like positioning and design identity, as well as external assets like commercial campaigns, packaging and even customer experience. All of these things work together to drive brand equity in the marketplace.

Brand Management—All of The Above

Some companies define brand management as the “brand police”, in charge of monitoring brand activity and making sure everyone stays on message. But this view of brand management falls far short of what the role looks like in the best brand organizations.

At its best, brand management is a general management practice. Brand managers are leaders of a cross-functional organization, in charge of directing work across departments to execute the strategic plan (see first definition above) and achieve the growth goals.

As a brand manager, you are in charge of everything from strategy to new product development to media, communications, and organizational leadership.

But brand managers are not specialists, and as a result must work through others to achieve business goals. This is perhaps one of the hardest parts of the job to master.

So you can see how, in this world of brand management, something like branding is just one small facet of a much larger job. If your title is brand manager, are you up for that challenge?

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