Brand Strategy Explained - as if your brand were the ‘98 Chicago Bulls

If you’re trying to understand Brand Strategy and the place it has in the success of your business. Look at your business’ brand as if it were a basketball team.

Now picture this, one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Six-time champions in eight straight years and one of the all-time greatest players at the helm of the team. It begs the question… How the hell to do you create success like this?!

Strategy… yep, the answer isn’t “MJ”.

Just like on the court, having a game-winning strategy is no different in business. Be it marketing, financial, PR, advertising, hiring or brand strategy. This is a game of getting the ball to the basket by developing a playbook game plan. A game plan to outmanoeuvre the opposition before the buzzer and to win championships.

This is where the analogy comes in.

It comes off the back of the 🔥 Netflix/ESPN documentary, ‘The Last Dance’. Put simply, look at your brand or your clients’ brand as if it were a basketball team 🏀

Below are eleven parts that make a successful brand based on how the brand strategy developed for the business is implemented and executed.

  1. The Playbook = The Brand Strategy

  2. The Team Owner = The CEO and organisation of the business

  3. The Coach = The Brand Strategist

  4. The Players = Brand identity, marketing, website, social media, etc.

  5. The Ball = The products or services

  6. The Opposition = Brand pain points & competitors

  7. The Basket = The Brand’s customers

  8. The Game = Customer segmentation

  9. The Court = The shopfront (digital or physical)

  10. The Crowd = The Brand’s audience

  11. The Season = The Brand goal(s)

Beyond this list is a deep dive into each aspect. To illustrate how the consideration of each area comes into play when developing a championship-winning strategy for success.

1. The Playbook — The Brand Strategy

Every successful brand, just like the 90s era Chicago Bulls, has a strategy to win. The playbook a coach has is a compendium of strategies tailored for the team to help them overcome different opponents, score more baskets and win games.

In branding terms, a well-developed brand strategy is there to facilitate the need to reach the desired goal(s) you have as the business owner or the goals your client is trying to achieve if you are the strategist. It’s a step by step plan to get from point A to point B and potentially achieve smaller goals or milestones along the way on the road to achieving the overarching goal.

We’re talking things like a more relatable brand that its customers can connect with. An identity that expresses a shared belief between the business and its customer. A desire to be uniquely transcendent beyond that of a customer's expectations and be wildly different from its direct competitors.

Now, these aren’t your typical financial business goals. Nor is the brand strategy focused on “how do we increase our customer numbers or repeat sales?”. Those are business goals. However, achieving them can be directly impacted by the overarching brand goal if it has been successful. Typically these are seen as smaller goals that form part of the yardstick for measuring the success of the brand strategy. Which is why they still form part of the overall brand strategy.

So if you looked at a brand as the roof above the players on the court that overarches everything within. This gives you the perspective that EVERYTHING needs to be taken into account when developing the right strategy for the brand at that particular point in time. Or for the relatively near future. Meaning, a brand and its brand strategy should evolve over time.

This is why brand strategies typically include:

  • Discovery of all the businesses goals in all facets of its existence. Along with its future plans, wants and needs.

  • Market research and Competitor Analysis to best understand the industry you’re in and the market need for the brands offering. Be it a product or a service. But it also factors in the territory or multiple territories the brand is actively engaged with to understand cultural nuances and buyer behaviour. As well as how our brand can differentiate itself from the competition by understanding their offering, especially if they are a more dominant market leader.

  • Positioning that solidifies where, on a sliding scale, the brand sits amongst its competitors based on it’s offering. Is the brand affordable and accessible? Or is the brand luxurious and high value? The positioning strategy also considers where consumer perception sits on that scale. Both considerations can not only determine the best communication strategy in the brands messaging and copywriting. But also how the brand looks in its visual identity, the craft and presentation of its packaging and even the product or service itself. For example. If it’s more viable to create a low-cost but high-impact end product that meets current market demand, the brand is positioned as such to align with that end goal.

  • Customer Profiling. We want our brand to know who its customers are. We also want to tell their story just as well as our own. What is their back story? What are their pain points and needs? What can we do to best solve their problems and exceed their expectations of what our industry typically offers? The more granular this gets, the more we understand our ideal and regular customers so that our brand is for someone, not everyone. That in itself is a proven winning strategy. One that can simply influence the main colour used by the brand, or provide a particular experience that is signature to the brand like a Tiffany’s little blue box.

  • Segmentation can also be considered off the back of your customer profiling. It’s the opportunity to realise if there is a need to segment your customer base into different categories to better deliver a tailored brand experience based on their demographic or psychographic needs. As a rudimentary example, think McCafé at a McDonald’s. It’s for the customers who are looking for a more premium barrister made coffee experience and end product. Rather than a pot coffee that’s been brewing for hours. Which is why the decor of a McCafe area looks different to the normal counter right next to it. As does the attire their barristers wear.

  • A Value Proposition that is just as evident to the customer as it is to the business. Knowing a brand’s worth in the value it delivers, not just in a monetary sense but potentially also psychologically or emotionally. For example, a movie can cost a billion dollars to make but the value of watching that experience for one person is potentially worth a lifetime of connection to something that becomes part of their identity. Think of Star Wars fanboys like me, a multi-billion dollar franchise based on a story I’ll connect with for life is worth way more than the $25 dollar ticket stub to see episode IX. The value proposition is where the product/service combines with the experience and what the brand means to that customer.

  • Which is rounded out by an actionable set of strategies based on a host of Prioritised Goals. They could be awareness goals like implementing a brand presence on Medium to share your perspective on the industry you are in as the business owner (like I’m doing). Or it could be a financial goal that requires an additional revenue stream. Such as implementing online takeaway ordering for your restaurant, during the crisis and restrictions we are currently facing. Either one of these requires and consistent brand presence, which might lead to a goal being prioritised that involves a redeveloped brand identity to meet those needs.

Ok, so THAT was a deep dive into some of the facets a decent brand strategy can cover when better establishing a direction for your business, based on the overarching needs or problems you approach a strategist to uncover and solve/achieve.

Now some brand strategists, depending on who you work with, may not touch on this type of strategy. It may be more focused on a strategy to best develop your brand identity. Both intangible (eg. brand values and messaging), or the visual identity (eg. logo and colours). This is what I call ‘Brand Identity Strategy’. It’s just as helpful for the success of your business by developing an identity that connects with a customer and it’s also the part I most enjoy when working with my clients.

So this is what the brand strategy playbook is used for. It’s the north star your business can use to execute and refer back to, to know that it’s doing the right things when building a trustworthy, memorable, recognisable and engaging brand.

2. Team Owner — You the CEO and your team (or your client)

You (or your client) are the Jerry Reinsdorf — the Team Owner of the Chicago Bulls. You own the organisation and you no doubt want to win games and championships, right?

Of course, you do. But as an owner, especially if you have a business of many moving pieces and people involved to make the game happen, you can’t create a winning brand/business yourself if you want to win championships. Which is why you bring on a coach to manage your team for the season.

You also have your own team in the organisation - your staff. They need to be just as aligned as you are with your brand goals and strategy to succeed. If everyone is on the same page, you and your staff can share the same values and present a consistent customer-facing experience. It’s why all Apple stores look the same, as do their staff wearing who wear matching coloured shirts.

This is not only important for a consumer-facing experience, but also for your business as a unified