The Basics

Brand strategy comes first, its communication later…

Prajakt Raut, Managing Partner, LetsAccelerate

Many startups start their marketing activity without giving enough thought to the overall, long-term brand strategy. Often founders leave the brand marketing programme entirely to a marketing team without realising that these activities are required to be deeply rooted in the overall brand strategy.

Below is a list of the mission statements of some of today’s market leaders:

  • Alibaba: To make it easy for businesses to do business anywhere
  • Facebook: To give people the power to share and make the world more open & connected
  • Google: To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible & useful
  • LinkedIn: To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive & successful
  • Adobe: To give web developers and designers the best tools & services to enable them to move the web forward

While, the mission statement may not have been as well articulated for InfoEdge (Naukri, 99acres, Jeevansathi), Sanjeev Bikhchandani has often articulated it as a mission to kill legacy print classifieds with a vision to be the leading marketplace for infrequently bought services.  

Key terms that you must think about as you sit down to pen down your brand strategy

Vision: A statement of what we want to achieve in the next 5 – 10 years

Business Strategy: A series of ways in which you will achieve your mission & vision

Product Strategy 

      • What is the core offering(s) to customers
      • What is the current value proposition i.e. why does your customer buy or use your product/service
      • What is your pricing strategy and business model
      • What will we do to strengthen your value proposition, ex. product features
      • What will you do to improve access, ex. distribution channels, EMI
      • What will you do to improve user experience, ex. UI, UX, customer support, better on-boarding
      • What will you do to expand your margins, ex. on-demand freelance service provider model like Swiggy instead of people on your rolls

Market penetration strategy: How do we expand sales of our existing products in existing markets and customer segments (this will also dovetail into your media, distribution and channel partnership strategy)

Market development strategy: How do we expand our market – this could be new markets or new consumers in the future

    • What is our current target customer – this needs to be very, very sharply defined – demographics, psychographics, need, etc
    • Which other customer segments would we want to service in the future, ex. If you are a mid-market brand, would you ever want to go mass-market? If so, when? Would you want to go the premium segment? If so, when? If yes to either or both options, would it be with the same brand name or different brand?

Diversification strategy: Leveraging some things from your current business, what new revenue lines / businesses / divisions / value proposition can be launched in the future

    • What new product lines can you offer to your customer base. This should be evaluated on whether you will have an added advantage because of what you already have, ex. customer base, technology, service provider network
    • What new businesses can you explore because of your insights in a market or customer segment. And if yes, what is the right time to launch this? When you have 10,000 subscribers or when we have 100,000 subscribers? If it is 100,000 then the base product itself may need some thinking

Sustainable competitive advantage: What will give you a defensible differentiator, that will be hard for someone to replicate

Goals: 

    • What do you focus on, ex. increasing customer base or increasing revenue per customer or improving unit profitability
    • What are your business goals (see attached image and excel sheet attached for framework on how we can summarise it)
    • What is your roadmap to achieve your goals

I’d like to say here that not all strategies need to be executed at the same time, or immediately. But if you have a long-term plan outlined, it allows you to be cognisant of what competencies you may be able to build even in the current stage. The reason why mission and vision are super critical to define is because then your strategies can be assessed on whether they deliver on the mission & vision; else, even if some plans seem lucrative, it might be better to drop them if they don’t help you achieve your mission and vision.

All this will drive the brand communication strategy:

  • What is your target audience? This could be different for the corporate brand and for specific offerings – who is the user, who is the influencer, who is the buyer
  • What is the positioning of the brand? Ex: convenience, experience, dependable/reliable, value-for-money, functional, etc. Think of Indigo Airlines here, they have a very clear positioning: Always on time.
  • What is brand personality you want to create or reinforce in the long run?
  • What is your brand’s communication style?
  • What is your media mix and why? Ex: What role is each medium going to play, for instance, is PR for awareness or for lead generation
      • PR
      • Content marketing as different from marketing content
      • Outdoor (hoardings, posters, in-cab advertising)
      • Print
      • Video (TV, cinema, YouTube)
      • Digital
      • Direct marketing
      • Outbound calling
      • Feet on street
      • Channel partners

Your marketing mix will differ by stage and business goals. Ex: For a subscription service targeted at retail consumers, direct marketing may work in getting the first 500 customers but may not be the most optimal for getting to 50,000 customers.

Doing the above exercise also helps you plan for and focus on the things that will add the most value, rather than just things that may add quick revenues but may be tactical. And the larger point is that even if you do do some tactical things to get quick revenues, you recognise them as that and do not take your eye off the core of the business i.e. mission, vision and strategy.

Getting all the above in shape will involve a lot of back and forth and a lot of debates about what to keep and what to drop, what numbers to look at, what should we focus on and what will be the trade offs. There is no one ‘right strategy’ because a strategy is nothing but making a choice of which direction to follow, and aligning the rest of the resources behind that decision.

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