How To Develop a Brand Strategy

Arek Dvornechcuck
Branding Expert

I'm a strategist and designer based in New York who help brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch

Whether you are a designer who wants to become a brand strategist or an entrepreneur interested in brand building process—this is the ultimate guide to brand development strategy in 2021.

The 9-Step Brand Strategy Framework

  1. Brand Purpose
  2. Brand Vision
  3. Brand Values
  4. Target Audience
  5. Market Research
  6. Awareness Goals
  7. Brand Personality
  8. Brand Voice
  9. Brand Tagline

There are 9 elements of a brand strategy grouped into 3 sections: Brand Core, Brand Positioning and Brand Persona.

In this article I will show you how to develop your, or your client's branding strategy like a pro.

This is a step-by-step guide to building brand strategy with absolute minimum theory and maximum practicality.

Developing a brand strategy can be a daunting task, but when you have a clear process and the right toolkit — it's fairly easy.

Learn how to run brand strategy workshops and build successful brands, the strategic way.

And I have to admit that some of my colleagues think I'm crazy for sharing my secret sauce.

They worry that I may cannibalize my business by showing "amateurs" how to do what I get paid money for.

PS. Learn how to sell brand strategy to your design clients in my other article.

While I don't think this guide will put me out of the branding game, I do hope it will put you on.

So if want to learn how to build strategic brands — you're in the right place.

This is my proven 9-step brand strategy process to help you build strong brands.

I filled the worksheets with dummy text, so that you know where the answers go.

However, before we dive into the worksheets and exercises, let's quickly remind ourselves what brand strategy actually is.

What is a brand strategy?

When it comes to this subject, Marty Neumeier is a true brand strategist—this is how he defines brand strategy:

“A plan for the systematic development of a brand in order to meet business objectives.“— Marty Neumeier, Brand Gap

The goal of brand strategy is to shape the perceptions of a brand’s audience so that ultimately we can influence them.

Therefore, the brand strategy sets out the plan for shaping those perceptions through different forms of expression both visual and verbal.

Brand strategy used to be reserved for global brands, but now more business owners have started to realize the importance of building a brand and the strategy behind it.

In this article, you’ll learn how I became a brand strategist so that you can navigate your career in the right direction and raise your specialist profile.

Brand Strategy Worksheet

This is the main strategy worksheet that I use capture the insights from branding workshops that I run with my clients.

A one-pager that consist the final outcome of each of the 9 branding exercises.

Brand Strategy Framework PDF
Brand Strategy Worksheet

I've also prepared GIF animations that will help you understand the sequence of each exercise.

In this article, I talk to you as if you were my client, in order to maximize its practicality (from intro to outro).

*Full brand strategy workbook available only with premium guide purchase.

So that you can just read it out loud and run your first strategy session with ease.

Hope you’ll enjoy the actionable tips in this guide.

Why Brand Strategy Is Important?

As a designer, you may wonder why you need strategy.

Let's distinguish two scenarios of approaching a new branding project — with and without strategy.

Meet Arek and John:

  • Arek is a good designer, but he's also a strategist and his clients think he’s a genius.
  • John is a good designer, but he struggles with his clients who often tell him what to do.

Clients usually come to us, graphics designers, asking for a logo, brand identity or other brand design work.

The difference between strategist vs designer
Strategist vs. Designer — A new project*

*Click to see the full infographic.

As you can see in my animation, projects often fall flat without proper strategy.

This is because you need to take a step back and lay the foundation for your creative work to come.

Follow my steps for creating brand strategy to align yourself and client on the same vision.

The goal of this workshop is to engage your client in the process and define key brand strategy elements.

So that you can turn these findings into insights that will help you design something that is "on brand".

Your clients will love you, because they'll feel like the ideas come from them.

And you will get clarity for the creative phase - designing brand identity.

How To Run a Strategy Workshop

Below you will find my branding strategy templates, so you can use them to develop your own process and worksheets.

So there are basically three ways in which you can run this workshop:

  1. Run a whiteboard session
  2. Fill out the worksheets with pen
  3. Fill out the worksheets on computer

I'd strongly encourage you to run a whiteboard session — that's certainly the best option.

Who develops brand strategy? — You, the strategic designer, consultant, or facilitator.

It can be anyone, as long as you follow the framework.

How long does it take? — You should book at least 3 hours, which gives you about 20 minutes for each of the 9 exercises.

Who should be in the room? — You can have multiple stakeholders or just one CEO / Founder as participants.

Where to run the strategy session? — I usually rent a Breather office with at least 2 whiteboards and a TV to display the guide.

Hand out the worksheets to all participants so that they can take notes for themselves.

You can optionally meet your client in basically any quiet environment.

Brand Strategy Worksheets (PDF)
Brand Strategy Worksheets—Download the PDF with premium guide.

If meeting your client in person is not an option, then you can run this workshop online using Skype or Zoom.

I've also done a combination of both, where I run a whiteboard session over a video call, while my client fills out the worksheets with a pen.

And finally, you can just use my PDF templates (available only with premium guide) on fill them out on computer — either online, or in person.

So as you can see, the options are limitless and you can't really have any excuses.

Tips For Facilitator & Participants

First, get consensus from leadership — Brief the CEO or primary stakeholders on what's going to happen during the workshop.

Enroll them on being a “partner” in the process and explain what you are going to do and why it is important.

Give them a short overview of the brand strategy framework (see Intro) and what you're going to be able to accomplish together.

Here are the three principals that provide the foundation for what makes the workshop powerful.

  • Live Get all decisions makers in the room or on a video conference call
  • Visual — Document everything in a visual way where everyone can see it.
  • Fun — Make them feel comfortable to share ideas without reservation.

It's also important to ask participants to not veto, contradict or counter any suggestion a team member makes.

And as a facilitator, you need to:

  • Control the agenda.
  • Remain empathetic.
  • Be encouraging.

Note: From now on, use this article as your script.

This is what you say as a facilitator — just repeat after me, memorize it, or at least try to remember key concepts.

So that you can run your strategy sessions with ease.

Let's get started.

Intro

So first, let me give you a quick overview of what we're going to accomplish today.

The brand strategy framework is divided into 3 sections:

  1. Brand Core
  2. Brand Positioning
  3. Brand Persona

As you can see on the GIF below.

One-Page Brand Strategy Framework
Brand Strategy Framework — sections.

Firstly, we’re going to clarify your brand internally.

So, we're going to start with your brand core, which includes your brand purpose, your brand vision, and your brand values.

Secondly, we’re going to position your brand in the market.

So then we're going to develop your brand positioning, which includes your target audience, your market analysis and your awareness goals.

And thirdly, we’re going to define your brand persona.

In the last section, we're going to create a human brand persona, which includes your brand personality, your brand voice and your brand tagline.

So to sum up, we’re going to run 9 branding exercises in 3 different section.

I’m going to draw each exercise on the whiteboard, but you can take notes for yourself by using the worksheets provided.

For some exercises I’ve included additional resources at the end that will help us complete these exercises.

But for other exercises we might want to quickly search the internet to help us fill in the gaps.

How To Run Brand Strategy Workshop
Brand Strategy Workshop — Research

However, you know your business well, and we're all creative people, so that we can complete this workshop with what we already know.

And later on, we can also expand on that by using actual data and performing deeper research.

Now, we’re going to set timer for each exercise, and it’s important to do it fast rather than being super accurate — speed is more important than accuracy.

Don’t worry about being perfect in your answers, because it’s also going to change and evolve.

Let’s jump right into the first section — defining the core of your brand.

Section 1: Brand Core

And this is the part of strategy that 99% skip over.

Now, it might not seem overly important early on, but having this foundation in place as the core of your brand, makes all the difference when you begin to grow and expand.

Let's start with your brand core, which includes your purpose, your vision, and your core values.

There are 3 elements in this section of our brand strategy and each plays an essential role in providing clarity for the internal brand.

Brand Core — Define internal brand
Brand Core section.

Knowing these three elements and being crystal clear on each of them, builds confidence for the existence and direction your brand takes.

And this is because the expectations that consumers have of brands today are lot different than they had 20 years ago.

Now customers want to engage with genuine and authentic brands.

So in order to build a genuine and authentic brand, you need to know what you stand for, and then you communicate that well to the outside world.

You see, customers want the brands they do business with to have a strong core, so that they’re about something more than just selling them stuff.

Marty Neumeier
Marty Neumeier — The Brand Gap

So building up the brand from the inside out, one that has a strong core, is really important.

Brand building strategy always starts with defining the internal brand first.

And when your brand knows who it is, knows where it’s going and knows why it’s here, customers can feel that authenticity and will stick around because of it.

And not only customers, but it will also unite your team internally and will help you make meaningful decisions that are “on brand”.

Now, I’m going to draw each exercise on the whiteboard, but you can take notes for yourself by using the worksheets provided.

Ok, so without further ado let’s jump right into the first exercise — which is finding the purpose behind what you do.

Exercise 1: Brand Purpose

Firstly, we're going to find the purpose behind what you do.

What’s the greater good behind your work?

Here you need to know why you’re in business and talk about it to rally your team and foster connection with your audience.

Brand Purpose — Branding Exercise
Brand Purpose exercise.

Let's start off by quickly explaining what brand purpose actually is and why you need it.

Brand purpose is a higher order reason for a brand to exist, other than just making a profit.

But why do we need to do that?

Because once we align your brand with some cause, you will have an uncanny ability to attract a cultlike following.

Our goal is to give people a purpose, a cause to champion, or a reason to believe so that they feel inspired to come to work or to buy from us.

So it will both: unite your team internally and also externally foster a deeper connection with your audience.

Brands that have committed to purposeful endeavors report:

  • Increased market share
  • Higher ROI
  • Faster growth
  • Higher sales

In fact, more and more customers are now happy to pay a premium for ethical and purpose driven brands.

Let me give you an example here: Tesla believes in clean, sustainable energy and saving our planet.

Purpose Statement — Tesla
Brand Purpose Example — Tesla

So here, we need to identify that greater good and there are different causes that help either people, animals or the planet.

Ok so how do we find your brand purpose?

Here, we’re going to use the Golden Circle concept developed by Simon Sinek, the author of the bestselling book “Start with WHY”

Draw three concentric circles and label the outside circle “what”, the middle circle “how”, and the inner circle “why”.

First, In the outer circle (which is your WHATs

WHAT — List all the products you sell, the services you offer, or the jobs you perform.

Next, in the middle circle, let’s list your HOWs

HOW — all the values, actions and guiding principles that make you stand out.

Whether you call it differentiating value proposition, propriety services or unique selling proposition.

Basically anything that explains how you’re different or better.

And finally, let’s state your WHY, so here we need to define what your brand stands for.

Simon Sinek quote from "Start With Why" book
Simon Sinek — Start With Why

Why you do what you do, and when I say WHY I don’t mean to make money—that’s a result.

By WHY I mean:

WHY — Why does your company exist? What's your purpose, cause or belief?

And here, you can basically link what you do to one of the causes that help people, animals or the planet.

Check out the list of common causes to support and select one that makes the most sense for your brand.

Brand Purpose — Causes To Support

Now once we’ve done that, we need to list a few examples of contribution and impact.

So first:

CONTRIBUTION — Think about specific stories of when you've felt most proud to do your work.

Again, this is not about money or other metrics, but it’s about what you have given, not what you’ve received.

So here, we’re looking for specific contribution you made to the lives of others.

At the contribution starts with an action verb, because our ultimate aim is to make your purpose actionable.

Look at the list of action verbs and pick at least 3 that capture the essence of your contribution best.

Brand Purpose — Action Verbs.

And finally let’s talk about the impact, which is the result of that contribution.

IMPACT — What did the contributions of your organization allow others to do or to be?

So think about how people’s lives were different after they interacted with your brand.

What were those individuals able to do or become as a result of your contribution?

Let’s come up with 3 impact statements.

And once we’ve done that, now let’s draft your purpose statement.

Purpose Statement Template
Purpose Statement Template.

Spend a few minutes combining your contribution with your impact to draft your purpose statement.

You may actually need to try a few times to find something that ultimately feels right.

Now, let’s put your Purpose statement in the main Strategy Worksheet

We’re going to do the same with there outcome of each exercise — put it into the main strategy worksheet.

So that we're going to end up with 1 page strategy sheet, which makes it easy to share with your team and start acting upon it.

Ok, so once we’ve found your brand purpose, now let’s look into the future and define your vision.

Exercise 2: Brand Vision

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Exercise 3: Brand Values

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Section 2: Brand Positioning

Since you’ve defined your brand internally, now let’s position your brand externally—in the marketplace.

In the 2nd section, we're going to develop your positioning strategy, which includes your target audience, your market analysis and your awareness goals.

And the importance of each element of positioning can’t be underestimated, because each one give us a clear understanding of your competitive edge.

Brand Positioning — Strategy Framework
Brand Strategy — Brand Positioning section

Equipped with this knowledge, we can shine a light on potential opportunities that your brand can take advantage of.

So when you have a clear understanding of your audience, their problems and needs, but also the players in your space, then you can just

adjust whatever you’re doing to be more appealing.

And these adjustments don’t necessarily need to impact business operations.

It might simply be in the way you present what your brand does.

Because look, positioning is all about perception.

So the way we present your brand makes all the difference in how your brand will be remembered.

Now, you don’t have to be pioneer, or have some original products.

Yes, positioning starts with a product or service, but positioning it’s not what you do to a product.

Positioning is what you do to the mind of the customer, so positioning happens in the minds of the target audience.

Al Ries quote
Al Ries — Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

So we need to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of your customer.

Even if you deliver similar product or service, you can still position yourself differently.

And just to give you and example — Let's think of 3 luxury car brands.

Perhaps you think of brands like Mercedes, BMW and Volvo.

Now let's do the opposite — Let's think of affordable car brands.

Perhaps you think of Hyundai, Ford and Toyota?

Whichever brand comes to your mind, this brand was able to take a specific position in your mind.

And this is basically the simples way of how positioning work.

However, different customers can position brands differently, based on their lifestyle and experiences.

Certain audience could say e.g. that Lexus Is an affordable car and wouldn’t even consider buying a Ford or Toyota.

That’s why we need to start with getting to know your audience first, so that we can understand and resonate with them.

So let’s jump right into the first exercise in the positioning section of our strategy, or the 4th exercise overall — which is your Target Audience.

Exercise 4: Target Audience

Now, we need to get to know your target audience in order to resonate with them.

So, what’s your primary customer?

And we have to understand your audience well, so that you can address their problems and needs with relevant solutions.

Target Audience — Branding Exercise

So we need to uncover the details about their lives and explore the personal side of their lives and what makes them tick.

We also have to understand the challenges they face, when those challenges come about and the state of mind they’re in as they face them.

And we do this to uncover the emotions they go through, so that we can connect with them on a human level through those emotions.

Donald Miller quote
Donald Miller —Building A StoryBrand

Ok, so the first exercise in this section is creating your general customer profile.

Here, we need to understand the circumstances of their lives — from their day-to-day activities to lifestyle, preferences, and behavioral patterns.

Essentially what we need to do here is to get to know them better, and on many levels.

Draw 2 by 2 grid and label the cells as following: Goals, Problems, Feelings and Desires. Next draw a circle in the middle.

Here's the thing: speed is more important than accuracy — and this will change and we will adjust it later and dig deeper..

Don't worry too much about whether it's right exactly, because it's also going to change.

So who are the most common customers, man or women?

The first thing we're going to do is to pick a name for the most common customer.

And then let’s come up with some basic demographics. Let’s just give him or her a simple label e.g. “Stay at home mom in her early 30’s”.

First, let’s talk about their Goals.

What objectives and goals they have as it relates to your offering?

What kind of strategic aspirations or hopes they might have?

List here as many goals as you can in 5 minutes.

And we’re going for quantity over quality, because later we can eliminate those less important facts and focus on what actually matters.

So secondly, let’s talk about their problems.

What are the problems your customers face before they can get what they want?

What are their pain-points and core challenges?

And thirdly, let’s talk about how these problems impact your customer emotionally.

What do they fear because of those problems?

What emotions & feelings that they go through?

And finally, let’s talk about their desires.

What’d be the desirable experience?

Imagine what would be the best case scenario.

What would be the opposite of these problems and fears?

Once we’ve done that, now let’s circle the most important findings in order to describe our target audience in 1 or 2 short sentences.

And then we put this outcome in the main Strategy Worksheet.

Now, since we’ve created the overall target audience profile, now let’s analyze your marketplace to find your differentiator and write your positioning statement.

Exercise 5: Market Research

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Exercise 6: Awareness Goals

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Section 3: Brand Persona

Now, since you’ve defined your brand internally and positioned your brand externally, now let’s also create a brand persona.

In the 3rd section, we’re going to develop your brand persona, which includes your brand personality, tone of voice, and tagline.

Here, we’re going to focus on making a human connection with your audience.

Brand Persona — Strategy Framework
Brand Strategy — Brand Persona section

Because you see, back in the 80s and 90s consumers didn’t have much to say.

There was no social media, so brands communicated with one-way broadcast messages in the form of advertisements.

And if the consumer didn’t feel a connection or had a complaint, they basically had no voice.

Things are a bit different now.

Now, word of mouth, which is leveraged by social media, means that the consumers do have a voice.

So now, they expect that the brand their chose have a human side as well.

People expect brands to have a personality, so that they actually feel like they’re engaging with a person, when they’re really engaging with the brand.

Carol Pearson quote
Carol Pearson — The Hero & The Outlaw

So in this section our aim is to make that human connection with our audience.

Because brand development strategy cannot be fully defined without create a human brand persona.

And the way we gonna do that, is by identifying your brand personality, and then projecting the right voice.

And finally nailing it down with a memorable tagline.

So that we can create a brand persona, a real character that they can trust and feel connected to.

Ok, so without further ado let’s jump right into the first exercise in this section, or the 7th exercise overall — your brand personality.

Exercise 7: Brand Personality

In the seventh exercise we're going to define the personality of your brand.

If your brand was a person who’d it be?

Here we’re going to give your brand a human side by defining its personality in order to build relationship with your customers.

And the the way we're going to do that is by selecting an archetypal mix.

Brand Personality — Branding Exercise
Brand Personality exercise.

Archetypes were a concept introduced by Carl Jung, who believed that they were models of people, behaviors, or personalities.

Archetypes, he suggested, were inborn tendencies that play a role in influencing human behavior.

Archetypes are widely used in books and movies so in branding.

For example: Yoda is the Sage in Star Wars.

Indiana Jones is the Explorer, or Maximus is the Hero in the Gladiator.

So our goal is to assume one core archetype and alternatively one secondary for differentiation.

But before we do the exercise, we actually need to fly quickly through all of them, to help you understand what they are all about.

So the Archetype Framework identifies 12 personalities divided into 4 sections that group them based on common desires.

Draw the archetype wheel while shortly explaining what they stand for.

The first core desire, exploring spirituality, is common for:

They all have yearning for paradise.

They want to be connected with the Earth on a journey to know more about themselves and others.

The second core desire, leaving legacy, is common for:

They all want to leave a mark on the World.

They want to make an impact, so something meaningful and be remembered.

The third core desire, connecting to others, is common for:

They're all about having meaningful relationships with other people.

Whether is romance and love, mother love, or just belonging — They want to be around people.

The fourth core desire, providing structure, is common for:

They all want to provide structure to the World.

They desire to build something that wasn't there before, in their own name or in the name of others.

So now, as you can see, I’ve also included some of the famous brands on that wheel - just to give you an example, so that you can relate.

Now, the challenge is to define the right archetypal mix, because often what happens is, I see brands try to cherry pick some characteristic from different archetypes.

But the problem is that by doing so, you will end up diluting your focus and therefore confusing your customers.

So the key and the trick is to keep you archetypal mix refined and focused.

You might end up with 70% of the core archetype and then 30% of the secondary archetype for differentiation.

Look at the archetypal wheel and identify the core desire of your audience.

And based on that let’s think about what role your brand plays in their lives.

For example: If they desire power, it doesn’t necessary mean that your brand should chose the Ruler archetype.

Because if your brand is providing them with some kind of education, to help them get that power, then they're likely will be drawn to the Sage personality that demonstrates wisdom and knowledge.

So based on the research you’ve done so far, let’s now take all this into consideration.

Look at the wheel thinking about

What archetype would define your brand personality best?

Let’s just simply mark it on the wheel and decide on the percentage ratio.

Once we have that, then with your archetypal mix in mind, answer the two questions about what you (as a brand) love and hate.

Brand Attitudes Template
Brand Attitude Statement.

This will allow you to form your brand attitude and express your personality in simple messaging.

Ok, so once we’ve done that, then translate that attitude together with your archetypal mix to the main Strategy Worksheet.

Now, since you’ve defined your personality, now let’s add to that by projecting a compelling voice for your brand.

Exercise 8: Brand Voice

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Exercise 9: Brand Tagline

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PS. I've also released a case study video tutorial of this exercise on my YouTube channel.

Outro

Thank you for participating in this workshop.

Thank all participants for their time and input.

We’ve gone through many exercises and this is going to help us design relevant concepts.

So that ultimately we can build a successful brand that your customers will love.

Branding Strategy Template
Brand Strategy Framework

This is how the worksheets should look like at the end of this workshop.

Collect all the notes or take pictures — don't forget to record everything.

Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial of how to develop a brand strategy.

Graphic designers (like John) are good at making beautiful things—I know I used to be one.

But running workshops and building a brand strategy will bring tremendous value to your clients and to your design practice as well.

Feel safe and strong about your process and as a result attract powerful clients.

You will be able to charge money for thinking, rather than having clients forcing their ideas onto you.

With a proven strategy framework, you clients will see you as a competent, strategic designer rather than just hands to do the design work.

And most importantly, you will level up as a designer, charge premium fees and run projects effortlessly.

This is what I help my clients to do, and if you want level up and become a strategist I suggest you do it too.

Use this guide to run brand strategy workshops with your clients prior to doing any type of design work.

Need more information?—Check out my YouTube video where I present you with brand strategy examples.

PS. Also check out my Brand Story Framework and Brand Naming Framework.

What's next?—Check out my tutorial on how to translate brand strategy into visual design.

For creatives — Buy the premium guide and level up!

If you're a designer, check out my premium brand strategy kit and level up in 2020.

With the purchase of my premium guide, you will get all brand strategy resources that you need to successfully run discovery sessions with your clients:

  • 12 Training video tutorials
  • Brand strategy template PDF
  • Real client session recording (brand strategy case study)
  • Filled out worksheets (brand strategy example)
  • Facilitator's guide with tips and examples
  • Additional resources for each branding exercise
  • Fillable PDF templates to use on computer
  • Print-ready PDFs to fill out with pen
  • Strategy delivery document (Strategy Brief)
  • Brand strategy presentation document and more

Don't be just a designer (like John), level up and become a strategist.

Buy my premium Strategy Guide and level up today!

Download Brand Strategy Guide PDF
Brand Strategy — Guide to discovery session

If you have any questions, just shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

For brands — Hire me to run the strategy workshop for you.

If you're a CEO or Founder, book me to run the workshop for you and let's build your brand fast in 2020.

Brand Strategy Workshop for Startups

And don't forget to check out the preview of this strategy workshop on my YouTube channel.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Brand Strategy
What is a brand strategy?
“A plan for the systematic development of a brand in order to meet business objectives.“— Marty Neumeier, Brand Gap.
Why brand strategy is important?
An effective brand strategy helps you build a strong brand. It defines your brand on many level: what you stand for, who are you for and how you're going to connect with your audience. Without a solid brand strategy, you have no objective way to measure whether your brand is moving in the right direction to help you achieve your business objectives.
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