Brand Strategy, Positioning, and Messaging - A Content Strategist's Overview

“Is this on brand?” We’ve all heard it asked.

But the tougher question to answer is “What does my brand even look like?”

As a brand strategy consultant, I work with high-growth companies on their brand strategy. That means my clients are often earlier stage companies in quickly growing spaces like software as a service (SaaS) for businesses to streamline their operations with. My clients often haven’t set their brand strategy. They can’t answer “is this on brand?” because they’re still figuring out what their brand looks like.

To establish parts of their brand, I help my clients answer questions like: 

  • Who needs my company’s services the most?

  • What is unique about my company?

  • How do we talk about ourselves?

  • What’s our plan for setting our brand down on paper?

I’ve documented my perspective on these questions — and more — right here. Use this piece to start thinking about your own company’s brand.

Here’s the TL;DR: I believe your brand should reflect your customers, your industry, and your team:

  1. Your best customer’s demonstrated needs;

  2. Your business’s unique place within your industry; and

  3. Your team’s values and shared story.

Have even more questions or thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an e-mail at adrienneksmith9@gmail.com.

what is brand strategy - adrienne smith consulting

Brand Strategy, Positioning, and Messaging

WHAT IS A BRAND?

Your brand brings your company to life for customers. It’s what your company represents and what you promise to your customers as a result of that offering.  Think of brand as everything that surrounds the offering itself. 

Here are two examples of brand. If Nike’s offering is athletic apparel, its brand promises to support your best personal and athletic performance. If Disneyworld’s offering is a heavily-branded amusement park, its brand promises to connect you with the magical world of your childhood. 

WHAT IS A BRAND STRATEGY?

Your brand strategy is the act of determining each element of your brand. A brand strategist or brand strategy consultant is the person who helps you do it. 

Here’s how I break down major elements of “brand.

  • Brand positioning is an internal reference that defines the core elements of your business. As I put it, your brand positioning includes all of your business’s primary talking points. It’s typically Step 1 in building your brand. 

  • Brand messaging is your North Star copy. It includes the polished language that describes your company, its mission, its promise to customers, its story…. 

  • Brand voice and tone breaks down your communication style, so that everyone in the company can write in your brand voice. Your company’s personality, values, writing guidelines, and word choices all fall under voice and tone. 

  • Brand visual identity sets what your brand looks like. Your logo, colors, fonts, use of imagery these all fall under your visual identity. 

  • Brand architecture organizes your business while keeping your brand cohesive. For example, Nike’s brand architecture could include both shoes and apparel. They’re different businesses, but they both fit under the Nike brand of encouraging top performance. 

  • Brand name: Self explanatory. SO much work goes into setting your brand’s name! 

As you can see, the elements of brand are pretty far-reaching. To truly set a strong brand strategy, you’ll likely need experts across multiple elements of brand strategy. 

For example, I help clients with all elements that fall under “brand voice.” That includes positioning, messaging, and voice and tone. I’m no designer, so I can’t help with visual identity. 

Brand strategy deliverables - adrienne smith consulting

WHAT IS BRAND VOICE?

Think about how your best friend communicates in contrast to, say, your brother. They each have a unique voice, right? Your best friend, let’s say, is assertive and direct. Your brother is witty and dry. 

Companies should have a unique voice that reflects who they are. This is their brand voice. 

For example, Nike’s brand voice might be motivating while Disneyworld’s might be nostalgic. 

In my work with clients, we aim to establish a brand voice that reflects three things. 

  1. Your customers: Your voice should mirror your customers’ by representing the same values. Do your customers value integrity? Empathy? Matter-of-fact-ness?

  2. Your unique offer: Your voice should reflect the features and experience that your company does better than the competitive alternatives. Does your company excel in saving time? In inspiring curiosity? Ensuring peace of mind? 

  3. You and your team. Your voice should reflect the values, history, and perspective that you and your team bring to the table. 

WHAT IS BRAND POSITIONING?

I like to say brand positioning is the world’s messiest sentence. With good reason! 

Your position needs to include all the core talking points on your business. Brand positioning deliverables could include:

  • Your target audience and their needs

  • Your company descriptor

  • Your functional offers, or what you provide customers 

  • Your emotional offers, or how you make customers feel

  • Your brand promise, or what customers can expect from you with every interaction

  • Your differentiation, or why you’re better than the competitive alternatives

I believe every business needs its positioning upon launch. But checking in with your positioning is also a worthy exercise at key junctures of your business, like mergers or major market expansions.

Positioning is my favorite part of what I do. It requires challenging major assumptions about my clients’ businesses and, as an outside consultant, I can help push those assumptions. Sure, we could all fill in those six talking points for our company. But I’ll bet you $5 that your best customers would answer differently. And their answers count double. 

To truly establish your brand position, you need to understand your best customers. Doing so could include: 

  • Competitive research on the alternatives to using your company

  • Market research on the industry you’re in

  • Customer interviews

  • Interviews with prospective customers

  • Analysis of customer behavior

  • Analysis of sales performance — why people commit to your company and why they don’t

  • Analysis of marketing performance — why people express interest in your company and why they lose interest

For more reading on positioning, I recommend April Dunford’s Obviously Awesome.

WHAT IS BRAND MESSAGING?

I spent this summer in Berlin, which has had some major heatwaves and has no AC to speak of. 

In a recent moment of desperation, I scoured Google Maps for the nearest ice cream shop and headed over. Turns out it only sold vegan, gluten free, organic ice cream — despite their website not saying as much. 

That, my friends, is inconsistent brand messaging.

Your company needs to be consistent in how it talks about itself. Customers shouldn’t expect ice cream and get vegan chocolate coconut sorbet (although it was tasty). 

I believe brand messaging provides that consistency more than anything. It takes your positioning — your internal talking points — and polishes ‘em up for everyone in the company to use. That way, every team member is communicating in a way that reflects your company values and culture.

Brand messaging framework - adrienne smith consulting

Brand messaging deliverables could include ready-to use copy for: 

  • Vision

  • Mission

  • Brand promise

  • Company descriptor

  • Value propositions

  • Feature descriptors

  • Sell story

  • Press boilerplate

  • About Us story

  • Taglines

WHAT IS BRAND VOICE AND TONE?

Your company has one voice. It reflects who you are: Your mission, your values, your personality, and your story. 

Your company has multiple tones. Tones can shift based on where and how you’re communicating. Amp up or lower elements of your tone to craft a message tailored to your audience. 

For example: Nike’s voice is always motivating. Its tone may be more inspirational in its TV commercials (“change the world”) and more tactical in its digital ads (“run faster with our shoes”).

Your voice and tone serve as guidelines. They help everyone in your company capture your voice in their writing. You should apply voice and tone to every communication: 

  • Phone calls

  • E-mails

  • Text messages

  • Sales collateral

  • Product copy

  • Website copy

  • Social media promotions

  • Content creation

  • Ad copy

I highly recommend documenting your voice and tone in guidelines that the entire company can access. Think about how much easier writing is when you have an outline. How much easier jogging is when you have a route mapped out. How much easier dinner is when you have a recipe. A good Voice and Tone Guide provides the recipe for creating new company communications. 

For reference, Mailchimp has the best Voice and Tone guide publicly available.

Psst… Have questions on brand? Thoughts? I would love to hear from you. Shoot me an e-mail at adrienneksmith9@gmail.com.