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The brand development process

Why read this? : We explore how to build brands using the 5 steps of the brand development process. Learn how each step works, and how they all fit together. Read this to perfect the process of brand development.

Brand development process

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Understand the value of branding.
  2. Learn how the brand development process works.
  3. Explore the best ways to manage the brand development process.

The dictionary definition of a brand is simple :- 

‘A type of product manufactured by a company under a particular name’. 

But most marketers will say this is too simplistic. The brand name clearly matters. But there are many more factors to consider in building brilliant brands.

For example, branding also covers how customers identify you in the market. e.g. through your logo, packaging, and customer experience.

Customers need to tell you apart from other brands. Branding is how you differentiate yourself in the market and bring your positioning and competitive strategy to life. 

Branding also drives what you do to help customers evaluate you. For example, your advertising, website and PR activities. Services you offer. These show customers what you do and what benefits you offer them. 

An old pocket watch dangling hypnosis style in front of a leather chair with a speech bubble saying "Buy me..."

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Strong brands perform better

There’s also much evidence to show strong brands drive overall company performance.

For example, this Brand Z study from Kantar Millward Brown tracked the performance of “Strong Brands” against the average of the S&P 500 and the MSCI (a global weighted average of all stocks).

You can see that as far back as 2007, strong brands deliver superior value and shareholder return over a longer time. The return on $1 invested in a ‘strong brand’ company is almost 4x higher than for ‘average’ brand companies.

Two key factors drive this. First, customers are willing to pay higher prices for ‘strong’ brands. For example, they pay more for Coca-Cola than for supermarket own labels. More for Ferraris than for Fiats. Strong brands also often have less need to run price discounts and promotions to drive sales.

And second, strong brands occupy more space. Both physical space e.g. in-store and online, and mental space. Customers are more aware of strong brands. This means strong brands are (a) more likely to be chosen the first time someone buys and (b) more likely to be chosen when that person buys again. Strong brands create more loyal customers. 

This is why brands matter and why an effective brand development process is so vital. 

The brand development process

There are different views on what the brand development process should look like. From academic marketing books to agency and consultant PowerPoint decks, everyone likes to claim their process is the best.

The exact steps you follow depend on your business and your category.

However, most of the processes follow a similar flow and logic, even if they use different words. These usually consist of the steps we outline below.

You start with analysing your market and go all the way through to brand activation and evaluating the results.

The brand development process 5 key steps

Step 1 :  Analyse your market

Your first aim is to look for opportunities and issues in the market. Opportunities come from unmet or poorly met customer needs. You can grow your business by meeting these needs better. Issues come from not meeting customer needs or a competitor who meets those needs better. These will damage your brand and business.  

You start by collating and analysing your existing marketing data. You’re looking for insights about what customers think, feel and do. If there are things you don’t know, those become market research questions. You go talk to customers using qualitative and quantitative research and explore what’s available via secondary research.

As per our market research in the marketing plan guide, this information gathering and analysis is what connects the market research process to the brand development process.

Step 2 : Define your brand goal

Your brand goal is driven by your brand purpose and vision.

Brand purpose

Your brand purpose is your brand’s reason for being. Why does it exist? This could be as simple as “make money”. But you assume every business has to make money, right? So the purpose is usually at a higher level. It’s a more motivating idea around changing your customers’ attitudes and / or behaviours.

It’s sometimes also called a brand mission. What is your brand trying to do?

Brand purpose examples

For example, look at Starbucks. Their purpose / mission is, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.

Or look at Apple’s mission statement, “To bring the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.

These statements define what each brand does, and what it stands for.

For Starbucks, it sets the focus on the individual and community connection of their stores. For Apple, it sets the focus on customer-centricity, innovation and design.

Green Starbucks logo on a concrete wall background

The clearer your purpose, the easier it is to prioritise which activities deliver that purpose. So Starbucks expanding into overseas markets fits its purpose. But expanding into an adjacent category like soft drinks doesn’t. Apple improving its operating systems fits its purpose. But selling branded T-shirts wouldn’t fit the purpose. (See our logo evaluation article for more on the stories behind Starbucks and Apple). 

So your brand purpose makes it clear what you do and don’t do. It informs decisions you’ll make on brand identity and brand activation

Brand vision is about the future

A logical follow-on to the brand purpose is the brand vision. This is more around painting a picture of what the future looks like for the brand. Where the purpose is what the business does now.

It can be a description, image or video which brings to life the 3 to 5-year ambition of the brand. And in some businesses even further out than that. As global branding expert, Professor David Aaker puts it, it’s …

“… ideas behind a brand that help guide the future  … it reflects and supports the business strategy, differentiates from competitors, resonates with customers, energizes and inspires employees and partners, and precipitates a gush of ideas for marketing programs”.

Together, your brand purpose and vision combine into a brand goal that gives clear direction for strategy and actions. 

Step 3 : Segment, target, position

The segmentation, targeting and positioning stage is where your market analysis and brand goal come together. This is where you make key marketing decisions.

You tighten and define who you’ll go for, and how you’ll persuade them to choose your brand.

There are 3 key actions in this step. 

First, you look at the total market and segment customers into groups based on shared buying attributes.

You then look at each segment’s attractiveness and prioritise which to go for. You target the segments which best fit your brand purpose and vision.

Archery target with arrows in bullseye to symbolise marketing targeting

Lastly in this step, you define the positioning you want your brand to occupy in the target audience’s minds. You create a positioning statement and map which shows where you’ll play, the benefits you’ll offer and why customers should believe you. (See our separate segmentation, targeting and positioning guide for more detail on this). 

Step 4 : Brand identity

Your positioning statement helps you start the process of building your brand identity.

This documents how to bring your brand to life. It defines key assets like your brand essence, values and personality. You use these as a reference to ensure consistent delivery across all brand activation.

This also helps define what your brand looks and sounds like. These assets include visual items, like your logo, photography and icons, and your tone of voice which shape the words your brand uses. Together, these all form the DNA of your brand. 

Brand identity

Step 5 : Brand activation

Your brand identity then goes into your brand activation. There are 2 steps to this. First, your marketing plan. Then specific activity briefs and performance measurement you do over the year. (See our brand activation guide for more on this, plus our specific guides on communications and digital marketing).

A final point on the brand development process and it’s an important one. Once you hit the end of the process, you should set up a measurement system to see if it works. This final step in the process takes you back to the start, as you analyse the market with your updated measures. 

This is about gathering marketing data. Sales numbers. Brand health tracking. Customer feedbackDigital data. What your brand and your competitors do will change the nature of the market. So, this new market analysis kicks off the process again. It drives any changes you need to make to your brand. 

Key tips to manage the brand development process

Processes look good on paper. But they’re only as effective as your ability to manage them with real people. So, we’ll close with a couple of final tips on how to manage the brand development process. 

Tip 1 - Flex the process to fit your business

And not the other way around. 

Many agencies and consultancies make great claims about being branding experts.

However, in our experience, many of them develop a standardised approach to the brand development process. They then force-fit it to your business.

This often doesn’t work though. What works in one category won’t always transfer to another. You should look for flexibility in how the process will work.

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

Bigger agencies bring teams of consultants (with the fees to match) to craft your brand. If you’re a big business, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, as was the case with Diageo, for example. The Diageo name was created from the Latin for ‘day’ and the Greek for ‘world’ and is now embedded in the company’s brand identity. But at the time, it received a lot of mocking press coverage for the expense of creating the name.

Often, involving more people and spending more money doesn’t lead to better results.

Find brand experts flexible enough to adapt to you and your business 

Ask them questions to make sure they can tailor their approach to suit your needs. Do they feel engaged and interested in you and your brand? Do you feel they’ve put in the effort to understand your category‘s challenges?

A strong brand is a valuable asset for your business. It’s why they matter so much. So it’s worth searching for the right expert to help you build it. (See our marketing agency evaluation article for more on finding a good marketing partner). 

Tip 2 - Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

Customers choose brands,  because of what the brands can do for them. And in most categories, they have a lot of brands to choose from.

As you build your brand, you should consistently have customers in mind. What is it you uniquely can do for them? What is it you can do that will make you meaningful and distinctive? Why would customers care about your positioning or your brand assets?

Keeping this customer mindset stops you from falling down the rabbit hole many businesses fall into when they go through the brand development process.

Close up of Converse Chuck All Stars shoes, person lying on ground with feet in the air

Agencies often have an agency-centric view of the world. There’s often a lot of jargon and psycho-babble in what they say. While some of this may be helpful, it’s not what the customer is going to see. 

Customers look for the benefits your brand can offer them. There’s a famous marketing quote from Theodore Levitt  “customers don’t want quarter-inch drills, they want quarter-inch holes”. 

Keep this in mind, so you don’t get hung up on what you or your agency want, and lose sight of what the customer wants.

Tip 3 - Have a clear brand owner who makes decisions

Our final tip is more pragmatic. As you start to develop brand assets beyond the brand name and purpose, the need for someone to own decisions about the brand becomes clear.

There’s a lot of decision-making to finalise brand assets.

Is this shade of blue better than that one? Should the logo be in a circle or a square?

Now, these sorts of decisions should be tested with market research. But ultimately, there should be a ‘brand owner’ who makes the final marketing decisions.

Wooden law gavel on a plain white background

In bigger businesses, this might be a brand manager or marketing manager. In smaller businesses, it’s often the owner or founder. However, someone has to be responsible for ensuring consistency. To ‘own’ the brand.

This role becomes especially important when you start to work on the brand identity.

We’ve had too many hours wasted in the past arguing the difference between very similar-sounding words. Is the brand ‘playful’ or ‘mischievous’? Is the brand ‘clever’ or ‘considered’? These sorts of semantic arguments happen all the time in the brand development process. But they slow the process and create frustration and disputes. 

This ownership and accountability, when you have a brand owner, helps speed up the decision-making process. And it helps to have someone to resolve disputes and issues. We highly recommend you identify who the owner is and make it clear to everyone at the start of the brand development process. 

Conclusion - The brand development process

This guide covered why branding matters. You use it to drive more value, either via higher prices or more loyal customers. Strong brands drive growth. 

We outlined the 5 key steps you of through to create brands. And we highlighted the importance of measurement to go back and continue to refine and define the brand.

We finished with 3 key tips on how to make the brand development process run more smoothly. Those were – finding the right branding expert, thinking from the customer’s point of view and having a clear brand owner. 

Following these steps is how you start building a strong brand that connects with your customers. 

Flow diagram showing the 5 steps of the brand development process - analyse your market, build your brand goal, segment, target and position, build your brand identity, brand activation

Three-Brains and brand strategy

Need help building your brand strategy? Confused by the claims of agencies who say they can solve all your problems? Before you’ve even told them what the problems are. We have many years of experience as marketers building successful brands. We offer coaching and consulting services to help you successfully solve your marketing challenges. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you sharpen your brand strategy. 

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