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In brand development, strategy precedes creativity
John Foligno

Developing a branding strategy is vastly more important than creating new advertising campaigns or making other tactical changes to your marketing plan. A clear branding strategy will create the foundation on which subsequent tactics will function effectively and work together. Simply put, it provides a blueprint for how you will communicate to your internal and external customers.

The branding strategy is the first step and precedes any design, product development and execution activity. While there may be many approaches to developing a branding strategy, I'll offer five steps you should check off somewhere in your process.

1. Discover your brand: The first step is what I call "discovery and synthesis." As the phrase suggests, you begin by putting your brand under a microscope and taking an inventory of what you see: not just your physical product, but all the related assets and perceptions that comprise your brand. The discovery lens will reveal gaps in the marketplace.

Once a gap is found, consider ways to leverage your brand to exploit it. If the gap is in your own brand, figure out whether or not you need a minor plug or a major overhaul to protect your position. The simple practice of going to school on your competition and reading about trends in consumer spending will have you become proficient at this kind of "gap analysis."

To start the "synthesis" process, hold a brand ideation session among a group of internal folks involved in marketing and sales. Take the ideas that result, combine it with the other information you have compiled thus far, and share major findings and implications with your management.

Once you have a clear sense of direction and purpose, move to the second step, which is defining the brand.

2. Define the brand: This starts with a simple statement of what your brand has to offer; i.e., a brand positioning. The positioning will serve as a platform for your entire marketing effort and provide a distinct place for your brand to live in the minds of your target customers. As part of this phase, use visual design to create your brand's identity--the "look and feel" by which your audience will come to identify your brand.

3. Craft communications: Step three in branding is to develop a communications strategy--one for your internal audience, consisting of your sales force, vendors, marketing team and customer service; the other for external audiences, including the wholesale trade, consumers and retail partners. Internal and external strategies and tactics must be in lock step to have your brand be seen and talked about in a coherent manner.

4. Create the brand: Step four is the "fun" part: crafting your creative strategy and brand language. With this, a brand can now begin to take shape via development of your product, packaging, point of sale, advertising, etc. Together, this bundle of tactics is the live face of your brand and business.

5. Assess the brand: Last, and most often forgotten, is the assessment. Step five is probably the most challenging and crucial part of the process. Establishing measures to help determine whether or not all of the careful work thus far has led to an actual success in market. And if it hasn't, what correction is needed to avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water?

A last bit of advice: Most brands experience mediocre success because they zip past the strategy work and go to the fun stuff. And without the strategy, judging creative is more like conducting a beauty contest than holding a rational discussion. It becomes a repeating cycle of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and waiting to see what sticks. This waste can most often be avoided with a proper strategy--simple to say, hard to do.

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Editor's note: John Foligno's "Behind the Brand" column first appeared in the June 2008 print edition of National Jeweler in the Your Store section. John Foligno is managing director of Cubism Branding (CubismBranding.com), a branding, design and integrated marketing communications firm. You can e-mail him at jfoligno@cubism branding.com.

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