The words BRAND and STRATEGY are so misunderstood

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

There remains a lot of debate out there in the marketing world on every potential term. Sometimes when I introduce myself, I’ll say: “Hi, I’m Graham, I’m a Brand Strategy Consultant, the three most mis-understood words in business”.  I think I need a new introduction, but save that for another story. The problem about the word “BRAND” is that a lot of really smart people still see brand as a name, a logo, an identity and possibly a slogan. The problem with with the word “STRATEGY” is people throw that word around for anything and everything they do as a way to justify they are smart. Agencies abuse the word strategy, building it right into their title, yet advertising by itself is a tactic. In fact, a brand strategist at an agency is figuring out how to convert strategy to tactics. And of course, the problem with “CONSULTANT” is that anyone can be a consultant. My friend says “young consultants don’t really know yet what they want to do in life and old consultants wish they still did what they used to do in life”. That’s very true!


So what is a Brand?

There’s a lot of debate in this industry on what makes a great brand.

  • On the one hand, there are those in the industry who want to believe that brand is all about the product or service. Brand to them is very simple, 100% rational and there is almost a ‘what you see is what you get’ view of brand. The product is the brand. Even with a brand like Apple, they’ll say it’s because Apple has “great products”.
  • The other side believes that brand is all about equity and success comes strictly from an emotional connection, no matter how exciting or boring the category.  They tend to think that great communication can overcome any product deficiencies.

This division shows up in various places, including how companies organize their people and resources.  There are too many companies set up with “product departments” and “brand departments”. I also hear the term “brand tax” where the product budgets pay a percent of their marketing spend towards the brand. And finally, I’ll hear “no that’s not our decision, that’s the BRAND’s decision”. And the ad agency and the client might say “this is an equity spot, but we want to put a 5-second tag of the new flavour at the end”.


Here is our definition of a brand.

A Brand is a unique idea, perceived in the minds and hearts of theconsumer, consistently delivered by the experience,  creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve.

Let’s break that definition down.


Part 1: “unique idea”

In a crowded branded marketplace, BIG IDEAS help simplify your brand message so it’s easily understood and remembered, own-able in the consumers’ mind and heart and motivating enough to change consumer beliefs and behavior. Brands are based on a unique idea, promise or reputation. Yes, most brands start as a product or service, but the best brands find an idea to make the brand even bigger than the original product.  The idea is big enough for consumers to love, and the brand’s idea becomes a DNA or Brand Essence that you’ll see and feel in every part of the brand. These days as things are so competitive, and consumers have so much access to information, I do think brands need to find a uniqueness, because there really are only four options for brands: 1) better 2) different 3) cheaper or 4) not around for very long. Push yourself to find your brand’s unique point of difference and create a big idea that you can use to manage every part of your brand.

The big idea for the Apple brand is that it takes out the complexity and makes it so simple that everyone can be part of the future. Everything from there falls under that big idea: the promise, purchase moment, brand story, freshness and the experience.


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Build your brand around a big idea that’s simple to understand and big enough to create a lasting impression with consumers

  • Create a simple brand promise that separates your brand from competitors, based on being better, different or cheaper.
  • Use your brand story to motivate consumers to think, feel or act, while beginning to own a reputation in the mind and hearts of consumers.
  • Fundamentally sound product, staying at the forefront of trends and using technology to deliver on your brand promise.
  • The moment of truth as consumers move through the purchase cycle and use channels, messaging, processes to make the final decision.
  • Turn the usage of your product into an experience that becomes a ritual and favorite part of their day.


Part 2: “perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer”

The image of the brand is no longer owned by the brand, if it ever was owned. At best, we can send out brand messages but the consumer still gets to decide whether or not those messages fit with their perception of the brand. I always say “there is truth in advertising, because all un-true messages are rejected by the consumer”. Too many Brand Leaders go rational, but the reality is that brands are 50% rational and 50% emotional. With social media, the consumer has even more ownership over the brand’s image as their own messaging now carries more weight than your basic TV ad. This is called co-creation, where both you as the brand leader and the consumer own the brand messaging together. I believe Brand Managers should make the choice to represent their consumer back to the brand, rather than representing the brand out to the consumer.  You should act as the consumer advocate, telling your brand what your consumer wants.


Part 3: “consistently delivered by the brand’s experience”

A brand really is a stamp that ensures consistency. Before Kellogg’s decided to brand their own corn flakes back in 1906, consumers would go into town and scoop out corn flakes out of a bin, with a random experience because who knows which farmer made them that day. But now with Kellogg’s the consumer could expect the same experience in every bowl.  Fast forward today, as the landscape is even more competitive and the brand experience is everything. Look at the amazing brands in the market place, like Starbucks, NFL, Disney and Apple and you’ll see each brand backs up their brand promise by constantly over-delivering upon the expectations. As brands hit the loved stage, making sure you nail the experience helps re-enforce loyalty and builds brand rituals into the lives of consumers.


Part 4:  “creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve”

The most beloved brands are based on an idea that is worth loving. It is the idea that connects the Brand with consumers. And under the Brand Idea are 5 sources of connectivity that help connect the brand with consumers and drive Brand Love, including the brand promise, the strategic choices you make, the brand’s ability to tell their story, the freshness of the product or service and the overall experience and impressions it leaves with you.  Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers.  It is not just one or the other–it’s the collective connection of all these things that make a brand beloved.


So what is STRATEGY?

I love asking brand leaders “so what is strategy?” and get lots of blank stares. Even if they are well-trained, they might say vision or choices or the how part. But no one has really given me a great answer yet. I spent 20+ years in the corporate world, we promoted people on “being strategic” and held them back when “they aren’t strategic enough”. But have you ever had a discussion or debate with your boss about what it means to be strategic. Has anyone ever come up to you and said “hey, you need to be more strategic, here’s a few ways how”. 

At Beloved Brands, we’ve tried to put together a definition and it comes down to outlook: “Strategic thinkers see questions before answers. Non-strategic thinkers see answers before they know the right questions.”

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Strategic thinkers never divide and conquer, they make choices to focus and conquer. They make decisions, using the word “or” more than they use the word “and”. They understand the limited  resources available and can see how there could be an unlimited number of solutions you could do.  But they find the way to apply those limited resources to invest against pressure points that break through.

The six elements of strategy

We have dissected the best strategies and come up with six elements that make for good strategy. It’s a good test to see how your strategies are lined up.

  • Vision: an aspirational stretch goal for future, linked to a well-defined purpose. The vision should push you. It should scare you a little, but excite you a lot.
  • Focus: alignment of your limited resources to a distinct strategic point you wish to penetrate, creating positive momentum on a pathway towards your vision.
  • Opportunity: something happening in the market, as a potential strategic opening based on trends in the market (e.g. consumer behavior, technology).
  • Early Win: break through point where you see a shift in momentum towards your vision. It offers potential proof to everyone that this strategy will work, helping rally others–the team, agency and even your boss.
  • Leverage: ability to turn the early win into creating a momentum, that leads to the tipping point where you achieve more in return than the effort put in.
  • Gateway: realization point where you see a shift in positional advantage or power that allows you to believe your vision is achievable.

To us, focus is the most important element in strategy and the one most marketers struggle with. They always try to do too much. When you focus, five great things happen to your brand

  1. Better return on investment (ROI).  By it’s very nature, return means you get back more than what you put in and this is where you find the pressure points to gain that big payback. 
  2. Better return on effort (ROE).  Rarely do marketers look at ROE, but “Talent” is one of your biggest resource constraints as it’s easier to add money than it is to add well-trained staff that can execute.
  3. Stronger reputation. The tighter your focus around being one thing, the stronger chance you have in owning the reputation for that one thing. Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for being nothing to anyone. 
  4. More competitive. The best brands are either better, different, cheaper or not around for very long. Focusing on your uniqueness will allow you to defend against and attack your competitors.
  5. Bigger and better P&L. The odd thing is that brand leaders try to spread their resources so thinly, fearing they won’t be able to do everything. Everything is just ok, and there is never enough money on any tactic to maximize the full potential. And then you’ll never get any more money. However, with focus giving you the ROE and ROI, you’ll be able to ask for more money that gives you the chance to do the things you couldn’t get to.  


Use the Brand Love Curve to frame your strategy

In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans.




It’s this connection that helps drive power for your brand: power versus competitors, versus customers, versus suppliers and even versus the same consumers you’re connected with. The farther along the curve, the more power for the brand. It’s important that you understand where your brand sits on the Love Curve and begin figuring out how to move it along towards becoming a Beloved Brand. With the power of connection, the brand can leverage that power into increased growth and profits.

To figure out your strategic options, you need to understand where you are on the Brand Love Curve, so that you can start to understand HOW to move to the next stage. A brand at the Indifferent stage needs to establish itself in the consumers mind, brands at the Like It stage need to separate itself from the pack and create a following, brands at the Love It stage need to tug at the heartstrings of those consumers who have shown some love in order to tighten the bond and finally those brands at the Beloved stage need to find a way to continue the magic and activate the most loyal followers turning them into fans.


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Here is a guideline for Brand Leaders to use in their plans with the 16 possible strategies to use. For instance at the Indifferent stage, you can use a mind shift, mind share, new news or a turnaround to establish your brand in the consumers mind.


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Use this as a guideline to get you started on your plan and you may need to add specific flavoring to your situation. As you’ll see, if your brand is at the Indifferent stage, you can’t easily cross sell and you certainly can’t get loyalists to influence others, since you have no real loyalists.


Here is a tool to help Brand Leaders write better strategies:

As I review brand plans for clients, there’s one glaring area where Brand Leaders need to do a better job: the writing of strategic statements. Too many times, they are framed as tasks or objectives, but miss out on the “how to get there” part of the plan. What’s missing is a pathway to power (health) or a pathway to profit (wealth). Brand Leaders need to be better at writing brand strategies that everyone can follow. A good brand strategy focuses and moves the consumer to do something, thereby putting the brand in a better position–either healthier (more powerful) or wealthier (higher profits)


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Here’s how this tool works. The basic idea is that you will mobilize one of the possible brand connectors to get a specific target profile to take action against a stage of the buying system and then use that to either harness brand power for the future or use it to a specific area that delivers added profitable for the brand. Here’s the five stage process to the tool.

a. Select one of the 5 brand connectors: (brand promise, brand story, innovation, purchase moment or experience

b. Pick target market you will move (user profiles, demographics, regional)

c. to take a focused action along buying system: (awareness, consideration, search, purchase, satisfied, repeat, loyal or fan)

d. To either harness your brand’s power to unleash in the future

e. Or drive one of the 8 profit drivers for your brand

Here are two examples of how you can put this tool to work, and write best in class strategy statements for the Apple brand.

  • Launch the new innovative Apple Phone (a) to Mac loyalists(b) converting interest to trial (c) to successfully move Apple into the phone market. (e)
  • Create an in-store Apple training experience (a) to young seniors 55-60 years old (b) to tighten the bond with apple (c) creating a new user segment for Apple. (e)


We make Brands better.
We make Brand Leaders better.™
We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at or phone me at 416 885 3911


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