Crafting a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Build a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

When you were young and slept over your friends’ houses, you noticed the difference of the whole home experience. Each house had its own smell, right? Your friends’ families had different routines, foods, laundry detergent, etc. Every family ends up making their own home style … you could even say they have their own brand. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. In the case of strong brands, all the “touches” of the house seems to make sense. For example, in my house, where we don’t watch much television, we cut cable and tuck our TV flat screen inside an armoire so it doesn’t show. That makes sense for our family and our home. A huge TV on our wall would be “off-brand.”

In thinking about building a branding plan like you would a house, I like to tell my students that they can build it up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Positioning – ‘The Foundation’

Positioning is what the brand is built on. How a brand shows it’s different than other brands is the beginning of being unique and making sure your story is something that is compelling. And if a foundation is made of concrete and soil, Positioning is made of Customer Research + Competition Analysis.

By understanding what customers want and are motivated by, plus knowing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you find a position that is both attractive to your buyers and different than your competitors. No single business is best at everything, and if your strengths align with what customers actually want, then leverage that strength to solidify your position.

Helpful Tip: Use this framework to craft an internal Positioning Statement: {BRAND NAME} is the brand of {FRAME OF REFERENCE} that {POINT OF DIFFERENCE} because {REASON TO BELIEVE}.

It worked for Snickers. Snickers laid a beautiful, simple, and extremely strong brand foundation with this Positioning Statement: SNICKERS is the brand of CANDY BAR that SATISFIES YOUR HUNGER because IT’S PACKED WITH PEANUTS.

Step 2: Brand Architecture – ‘The Floorplan’

With the foundation put down, the brand story has a place to start and be built upon. In previous articles I wrote about creating the five words that help describe a brand, and a description if your brand were a person, and those exercises come into play here. By using descriptive words and personality types, you place the shape and boundaries of what your brand is and is not.

Think of it as creating the rooms, angles, steps, roofing, landscaping and more when planning how a home will be built. What will the “house” will be? Will it be a cute and funky urban 1-bedroom, a fabricated suburban McMansion, or a minimalist Haus in grey and black?

For example, Warby Parker made an intentional decision to begin with an online experience (in 2010), and then expand into retail locations. They now have 100 locations, and the question would be, what would those retail experiences be like? The Brand Expression (Step 3) follows from that. Since personalization is the position of the Warby Parker online and instore experience, they made the logical decision to have unique stores in each city. Every store — San Diego to Pittsburgh — looks different. It’s really cool and personal. That’s a natural Brand Architecture to sit on top of their Brand Position.

Step 3: Marketing Expression – ‘The Paint, Furniture and Fixtures’

The “Marketing Expression” is finally what the customer sees. It’s the messaging, the actual words and images, the YouTube videos, etc. Continuing the analogy, the Expression is the choice of furniture, the armoire, the wall color, the decorative touches, etc., in a house.

With the Position (Foundation) and the Brand Architecture (Floorplan), the Marketing Expression should actually be a fairly easy set of decisions to where you can see if something fits or doesn’t fit. In my house, for example, a huge TV or a strobe-light “Miller Beer” sign would be a terrible and awkward fit … as would an antique suit of armor in the corner. Instead, a painted armoire, decorative fabric on the chairs, small cardboard Chinese dragons placed keenly around the house, are perfect fits.

For Warby Parker, the natural extension of the position of offering personal eyewear and the brand architecture of personalizing the online and retail experience is: The San Diego store has an image of two readers lounging on a big book that looks like a floatie in a pool. It’s the final touch of personalization for San Diego, which is different than the personalization for Pittsburgh. It’s a touch that gives their brand consistency, memorability, and uniqueness.

Just like the homes we visited as children give us a smell, sound, texture and memory, so do the great brands. They feel like homes we visit, giving us a wonderful and memorable experience.

Author: Chris Foster

Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.

For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.

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