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Brand Strategy: Dare to Be Different

The following article appeared in the March 2024 Issue 34 Edition of Branders Magazine. Strangely I was also placed on the cover of that edition! Enjoy!

“Strategy” is an overused word. Tagged on to anything and everything - often to make initiatives sound important and official. True strategy is not a buzzword. Done properly, a brand strategy is lived and baked into the macro and micro decisions of businesses. And it creates value. Huge value.

Before we get into “strategy”, lets set out a few definitions. Sadly (and ironically) it’s my belief that “branding” has a bit of an identity problem because it means all sorts of things to everyone. My definition of a “Brand” is: “The meaning people attach to a company & its offering”. In essence its a businesses reputation. This exists in the hearts and minds of the businesses audience. “Branding” is “The management of meaning”. It’s the attempt to send out the right signals to the right audience so that they create the right meaning in their minds about a brand. Its about how people experience the offering of the business.

“Brand Strategy” is a strategic plan to help manage the meaning a business wants its audiences to attach to it and it is particularly a definition of the unique value the business intends to offer the market. Simply put, its about what a business offers and how it positions that offering. Its about the value it intends to create for the people it intends to impact. And this is essential to formulate, appreciate and protect if a business is seeking to attract new customers, stand out and grow. And which business is not trying to do that?

Recently, Kantar research discovered that brands that are "meaningfully different" grow three times faster than brands that aren’t. That goes for B2B as well as B2C brands

The pivotal question at the heart of every successful brand strategy therefor is: "What unique value does our brand offer to customers?”.

Strategy Is revolution

Great strategy is therefore about change. Revolution. It’s the art of crafting a future so bold, so unique, that it can't help but disrupt the status quo. It's about declaring war on the status quo and forging a path that only your brand dares to tread. It’s about moving your customers from where they are now, to a new and improved future. It’s about being different. Not just in your marketing and comms. Not just in your logo, fonts and colour choice. Not just in a veneer. Its about being radically unusual in a way that creates value.

So, it’s time to be brave. Toss out the industry playbook. Stop copying others. The path to greatness is littered with the carcasses of "best practices" and "industry standards." Your brand's destiny is to become an anomaly, an entity so profoundly unique and indispensable that the notion of alternatives evaporates from your customers' minds. This mission transcends evolution; it's a revolution.

As a brand builder and leader, your mission is to work out what the unique value is that your brand will stand for and set about to deliver it. Notice. Not just any value - we’re talking about the kind of value that makes customers pause, think, and realise they can't get what you offer from anyone else. This isn't about being a little different. It's about being the only choice. To get there requires vision, reliance and the ability to rally your people and your customers around the unique value you will relentlessly pursue in your market.

To start with, it requires you to define your “Unique Value Proposition” (UVP). The big idea which sits behind everything you’ll stand for.

Unique Value

Now, lets be clear. We are not talking about the classic value proposition of a product or service. These are important. But they don't give a whole business a direction. We're talking about uniqueness at the brand level. This means we need to think way more strategically. A UVP transcends mere product features or services; it encapsulates the distinct benefits and experiences that only your brand can deliver in the categories it plays in. Its an amalgamation of the value all of the services and products you deliver (and will deliver).

At its core, a strong brand UVP serves several key purposes:

  • Differentiation: In a world where consumers are bombarded with choices, your UVP will set you apart, making your brand the clear choice in a sea of alternatives.

  • Customer Engagement: It resonates on an emotional level with your customers, aligning with their desires, needs, and challenges, thereby fostering loyalty.

  • Strategic Focus: It provides a clear direction for all aspects of your business, from product development to HR, to marketing, ensuring that every action and investment reinforces your brand's unique value. Clearly defined, it builds confidence in the direction the business is going in and makes sense of your big moves.

A well-articulated UVP benefits your brand in numerous ways. It simplifies decision-making, aligns your team under a common vision, and optimises resource allocation by focusing on what truly matters to your customers. Moreover, it enhances your marketing effectiveness by communicating a clear, compelling message that speaks directly to your target audience, boosting your brand's market presence and profitability. Ultimately knowing your UVP helps your people pull together, your brand position itself and your business to grow.

Four hallmarks of a great brand strategy

Most businesses have a strategy to be “the best” at something. But this is far too short-sighted. Should we aim to “be the best”? No. Basing your strategy on being better, is a fools errand. Why? Because anyone can claim to be better. And everybody is claiming that. Such claims become part of the noise. Great brand strategies push things to new limits. To become the “only” brand that creates a certain type of value in the market for a particular audience. They are “meaningfully different”.

Here are four hallmarks of a great brand strategy:

1. It sets out the unseen - A great brand strategy should picture a future that only you can create. Your vision shouldn't just be big; it should be colossal. A beacon that guides every strategic decision with unwavering conviction.

2. It sets apart - A great strategy is mindful of the terrain. It understands the context. It does this, not to blend in but to find the gaps where a brand can plant its flag. This isn't about following the crowd; it's about leading it. Its about competitive advantage. Standing apart. Deliberately. They are X. We are Y.

3. It defines uniqueness - Your strategy should shift contexts. Deliver the unexpected. Break the rules. This is where your strategy comes to life, breathing unique value into every aspect of your brand. It's not just about being different; it's about being indispensable.

4. It’s simple - Leaders should be able to articulate their strategy simply. To all unite around a clear “big idea”. A great brand strategy should not therefore be buried in 100 slide decks. It should be easy to explain because leaders will need to rally their people and engage them with it so that they too are inspired to further the cause. It therefore needs to be easy to understand.

Iconic Examples of great strategies in action:

“Ok this all sounds wonderful”, I hear you say, “but give us some examples”. Here’s some examples of great brand strategies which are being lived right now in the world around us:

Uber has and is transforming the taxi category. Not by buying cars and hiring employees but by investing in technology that connects passengers with taxi drivers in an unparalleled way. The brand “reimagines the way the world moves for the better”.

Specsavers turned a fear of public embarrassment into a juggernaut of an idea; "Should've gone to Specsavers." They didn't just sell glasses; they sold a safeguard against life's awkward moments, making their brand synonymous with solving a universal dread. To do this they created new customer experiences based on the concept of “changing lives through better sight and hearing”.

Tesla don’t just make electric cars; they have electrified the very concept of what a car could be—sustainable, high-performing, and luxurious. They didn't simply enter the automotive market based on the status quo - they transformed it, creating a new paradigm where electric vehicles are coveted, luxury possessions with the aim to “accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy”.

Airbnb reimagined the travel experience around the idea of “creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere”. They did this, not by offering a new type of accommodation - but by unlocking existing ones - the world's homes. They didn't join the hospitality industry; they expanded its boundaries and flipped it upside down, making global travel more personal and accessible.

All of these examples have one thing in common. A big idea centered around creating unique value in a category. These brands did not simply try to be the “best” at doing things the way they had been done already. They had the audacity to step into the unknown to create unique value. In so doing they out-maneuvered their competition and created unique valye in their mark.

The call to arms

Great brand strategy isn't just about standing out - it's about standing alone. It's a relentless pursuit of uniqueness, a challenge to the conventional, and a commitment to delivering value so distinct that your customers can't help but choose you.

So. Manage your meaning. Dare to be different. Dare to be bold. Don’t make the mistake of thinking brand building is just a “Marketing” thing. Or that it simply relates to communications. Great brand building is strategic. Branding should touch all parts of an organisation. Each part needs to be aligned around that “unique” value the organisation is seeking to build in the market. To create experiences that matter. That truly mean something of value to customers.

Your brand doesn't belong in the shadows of giants but standing tall as a giant itself. Let your brand strategy be your declaration of independence from the ordinary. Do this in a considered way which creates real value for your customers and watch as the world takes notice.


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