“Brand strategy” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around a lot in the branding and design world. But what does brand strategy actually mean? I’m going to break down the process that I go through with my own clients to help them develop a brand strategy for their creative business.
When it comes to a personal brand, you know you want to end up with something that accurately reflects your true personality. One of the biggest worries I hear from people is that their brand won’t “feel like me.”
The thing is, you are a multi-faceted person. If you’re anything like me, you’re both chic and boho, you value minimalism but also appreciate beautiful ornate designs, you’re super sweet and encouraging but also a fan of “no-bs realness.”
That’s because you’re a real person! And real people have many, many layers. But when it comes to your personal brand, you need to be strategic with how you share yourself and your work with others.
A brand strategy for your personal brand helps you narrow down how you want to present yourself. It’s a plan on how to best develop the reputation you want to build for yourself and your business.
That is not to say that you create a fake persona. Not at all. I love wearing cutoff shorts (my daily work uniform, in fact), but I’m not going to wear my cutoff shorts to a potential client meeting. They just don’t fit the initial impression of professionalism that I want to give to people. That doesn’t mean I’m being “fake” when I choose to wear a cute dress, instead.
Then again, depending on who you work with and what you do, wearing cutoff shorts might be exactly what you wear to YOUR client meeting. It might fit perfectly with the reputation you want to build and the people you want to work with. That’s what makes a personal brand so personal!
One of the primary goals of your brand is to attract more people. The fact is, you can’t effectively attract people to your business if you don’t know who exactly you’re trying to attract. The more you know about your ideal client, the more you can tailor your services, your marketing, and your brand design to appeal directly to them.
The old adage is true, if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Getting daringly narrow and fleshing out your target audience as much as possible is a crucial part of the branding process. If you want to sell twice as much, you need to know twice as much about the people you’re selling to.
Your dream clients are real people, not merely made up archetypes, so real market research (aka actually getting to know real people) is needed. That’s why as part of my own brand strategy process, I always guide people through market research designed to flesh out the values, emotions, and pain points of people who you’ve worked with and love, or would love a chance to work with in the future.
This is the core thread that should weave through everything you create for your brand. Your brand story is the story of how you help people and what it feels like to work with you. It should paint a clear picture of the transformation and benefits that your clients will experience and differentiate you from other people in your industry.
However, it’s important to note that you are not the hero of your brand story, your clients are. As David Miller states in his book, The Story Brand, you are the experienced guide, taking people from where they are to where they want to go. So your brand story is only about you in regards to how you can help them, the true hero of the story.
There are lots of ways to approach fleshing out your brand story, but the way I like to do it is to write a short paragraph that sums up your brand story as much as possible. This is something that you can use directly in your copy word for word (your homepage and about page are great places to do this). But more importantly, it should serve as a filter that you use whenever you create any marketing materials for your brand.
Here are a few examples of brand stories I’ve written in the past:
“My deepest aspiration for you is to create space. Space to be fully present and to savor this season. Time to relish each other and to reflect on what it truly means to embark on the sacred journey of marriage together. When that day comes, I’ll document your wedding as it unfolds in a way that honors the beauty of each moment and celebrates the relationships and connections that feel like home. You’ll be left with photos that encourage you to cherish your relationship and reignite the excitement you felt on that special day you said, “I do.”
“As a creative, you know the details matter. You put care and attention into every part of your craft, taking the time to get it just right. Showcase your brand with imagery that communicates all the little actions and moments that make up the overarching story of your business, and portraits that show the world how fierce you truly are. Because the story is in the details.”
“When we hold photographs in our hands, we see more than the external beauty of the ones we love. We see the natural beauty of their character that radiates from within. More than creating perfectly composed portraits, it is my mission to create imagery that captures your character: the pure, candid love you have for each other and the familial relationships that built you into the people you are today.“
Also known as your mission statement, this is related to the “why” behind your business. Why do you do what you do? Why is it important? Why should people care? How do you do it differently than other people? A clear mission statement provides focus and allows you to decide what types of content and offerings fit within your brand, and what doesn’t.
Core values are the guiding principles that dictate the way we behave, act, and live our lives. When it comes to your business, your core values define what is most important to you, how you want to impact the world, and guide the way that you interact with your people. As I wrote about here, your core values can help you differentiate you from other people in your industry and appeal to other people that share those same values. Your core values should also serve as a guiding light whenever you make decisions for your business.
A personal brand should definitely feel like an extension of yourself. It should feel authentic to who you are. The last thing you want is for people to meet you in real life after interacting with your brand online and have them say, “Wow, you’re not who I thought you would be at all!”
That being said, you are not your brand. As I discussed earlier, you are a multifaceted person, capable of showing up in multiple different ways each day. Your brand’s personality, however, should remain fairly consistent. Your brand can be sarcastic and funny, sweet and encouraging, sassy and motivational, or some sort of blend of those and more, but people should know what to expect.
When I’m branding my clients, I always ask the question: “What do you want your dream clients to feel when they think about your business?” Choose five “tone words” to use as a filter, or write up a description of your brand’s personality to make sure you’re showing up consistently.
This is usually the part of the process that clients are most excited about, the mood board! I love looking at beautiful mood boards as much as the next person, but an effective mood board does much more than just look pretty.
The purpose of the mood board is to say “Hey, here is the vibe we are going for, and a visual representation of the emotions we want to evoke.” This is an important step during the process to make sure that you and I are on the same page. The mood board becomes the go-to reference for all design that takes place and can also be used as inspiration for brand photography or other visuals that you create on your own.
I don’t even start the visual design process, aka, designing the parts of the brand that you can see (like the logo) until after we’ve worked through these previous steps. Brand strategy establishes a solid foundation for your design. The result is a visual identity that feels completely genuine for you, and is designed to attract exactly who you want to attract. Everything should work together to get you closer to your vision and goals for your business.
It doesn’t matter how pretty your brand design is if it isn’t effective. You need a strategy.
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