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We recently had a chance to sit down with our Director of Strategy, Nancy Villa, to discuss the importance of brand strategy in today’s business landscape, and how Forge helps companies get to a meaningful articulation of their brand’s purpose and core values.
How do you define brand strategy, and what are the components of it?
Brand strategy at is basic level is about building the outward expression of your company or product in the world and the connections it is able to successfully make with people – from the people that work for you, to the people that invest in you, to the people that ultimately select you by spending their time and money with you.
At the core of any brand is your “Why?”: why do you exist, why do people feel an affinity for you, why do your people get up in the morning to do the work they do? This is really driven by two key components:
- Your brand’s core values – what do you believe in above all else?
- Your brand’s purpose – what do you exist to do in the world?
Every time we work with client teams, we find there is typically a core set of organic shared values that drive the culture of a place. This is what propels successful businesses to reach their vision. Making sure the brand conveys those values, extends from a business’ purpose, and speaks in a way that ‘feels right’. It needs to feel authentic to the people both inside the company and those outside the company that shop with, buy, or support the brand. This is what brand strategy delivers.
Why is it important for a business to articulate a clear strategy for their brand? How does brand strategy relate to other aspects of the business?
Brand strategy also critically helps you deliver on your business strategy. There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review that draws a direct connection between a company’s purpose and its ability redefine the playing field for their business, as well as reshape their value proposition. We couldn’t agree with this more.
Many of our client organizations, and in fact most businesses today, are constantly evolving – creating new offerings, optimizing user experience, in many cases even investigating new business models. This can be complex stuff. Having a clear purpose and purpose-driven brand strategy helps make these business strategies more accessible, more human, more directed, and more meaningful.
How does a clearly articulated brand strategy help you manage change?
We hear all the time that “we need to maintain the audiences we have, our core and loyal following. But, we are evolving to new spaces that require us to figure out how to reach new audiences. How do we grow and expand without alienating our core?”
Nothing unites disparate groups of people with slightly different motivations than a human value or clearly articulated purpose. And this works for internal teams as well. In fact, one of the biggest challenges is often rolling out changes internally. People who work for an organization often have more work to do in times of change, more ambiguity, more friction in the short term. For these teams, understanding the business and brand strategy from the standpoint of purpose and values helps put it all in context. And it makes good business sense: employees who feel their work is meaningful are 3x more likely to stay with their employer and contribute to driving growth.
How does brand strategy inform marketing strategy and creative ideas?
We think about brand strategy as crystallizing your “why” or purpose in the world. This purpose connects the dots between the business vision and the people who represent and choose the brand, internally and externally. The purpose is as an anchor for the brand, serving as the critical foundation for developing and evaluating marketing strategy and creative ideas.
A purpose-driven brand strategy inspires creative teams and media teams to new connection points, allowing them to be solution-driven vs. campaign-driven. When it starts from a place of deeper human truths and needs, these connection points engage the audiences we are trying to reach in far more meaningful ways. And they are far more interested and receptive to what we have to say.
Ultimately, brand strategy helps us keep that course through all our work, helping us to develop and evaluate new initiatives and ideas, product launches, etc.
Once the brand strategy has been established, how do you recommend rolling it out?
We get a lot of questions about the best approach for brand roll-out. Truthfully it is often about keeping that authentic purpose in mind and using all the great insight we’ve gained about the organization and the customers they serve. Roll-out needs to feel as natural as the brand idea itself, but it also needs to happen in meaningful ways. Showing executive level support and commitment to a brand’s strategy has incredible power. Selecting a pilot project or two to use for rollout in the first year is also huge. Often people think of roll out in terms of a campaign, but the more deeply it can be woven into the business, the more successful it will be.
What’s unique about the way Forge approaches brand strategy development for clients?
We see brand strategy development as really an exercise in unearthing and co-creating the strategy together. We believe in collaborative sessions we call Shops. The power of bringing the right teams together to think and work through issues is unparalleled.
We run our workshops, or Shop Sessions, with different focus areas: brand, innovation, new corporate initiatives, etc. We find that these sessions really help teams quickly come together, work collaboratively with us, and generate ideas in structured and creative ways to solve business problems.
Shops also help us collaborate with our clients through our creative process. Unlike the traditional agency model that focused on crafting creative ideas for big presentations or “reveals” to clients, we find it far more productive to test initial hypotheses and pose informed questions in the Shop discussions. The cross-functional discussions can surface deeper insight into how creative and media can help solve the business problems our client teams are facing.
We started the Shop Process as a way to be more efficient with strategy time and client dollars. But over time we also heard a tremendous amount of positive feedback from client teams who just appreciated the time together with one another as well—to discuss and debate vision for the future and thoughts and ideas they had independently, and to build momentum for those ideas to become a reality.
Any recommendations for further reading on Brand Strategy?
- David Aaker – for some tried and true classic brand strategy education and theory in action
- Ben Jones – on the surprising connection between rapid change and timeless values
- TBWA Backslash – for continued connection to culture and its impact on our world
- Ideo – for inspiration on culture change and innovation