What’s the difference between a brand strategy and a marketing strategy? Does your business need them? And if so, which comes first?

Short answer: New and established businesses need both a brand strategy and a marketing strategy to inform their business development and marketing campaigns. Always reference your brand strategy when building a marketing strategy.


The Difference Between Brand Strategy and Marketing Strategy

While a marketing strategy outlines the frequency and methods for promoting a company, a brand strategy explains a company’s relevance in the market. A brand strategy serves to remind you of your company’s strengths to keep you focused as you navigate challenges brought on by changes outside of your control. Working from the brand strategy, marketing’s role is to express a company’s relevance creatively and to the right people to reinforce your message and encourage sales.

Both a brand strategy and marketing strategy should be laid out as reference documents—simple, straight-forward, easy-to-read rationale for you and your team to review at least quarterly.

These documents serve multiple purposes:
  1. documentation of the thought process that drives the decisions your company acts on. This is especially helpful to have as a reference when working with a team of people. Working from a static document helps steer conversations so they can develop around a common set of knowledge.
  2. An outline for revisiting the rationale behind a brand and to steer the execution of new marketing and business development ideas.
  3. measurement tool to mark stages of growth and track the tactics and ideas that have helped your company progress.
  4. A starting point to avoid “blank slate syndrome” or starting over from scratch each time new content or offerings need to be developed.

Which Comes First—a Marketing Strategy or a Brand Strategy?

Marketing is often seen as the first thing businesses need to do to make sales. It seems logical—people won’t know your company exists or what it offers unless you tell them. It’s easy enough to hop online and use free social media tools to spread the word, but how do you know what word to spread?

Promoting your company requires knowing what to say, how to say it, who to say it to, where to say it and how often to say it. If you’re marketing your company without knowing the answers to these questions first, you’d just be guessing what to do and say, making it nearly impossible to track progress or reproduce positive outcomes.

The purpose of a brand strategy is to give shape to your promotional activities and guide any decisions that impact the business, from hiring to production. It provides an overview of where your business is at currently, and where you would like it to be. Through breaking down the essence of your company into manageable categories, you can view your business more objectively, seeing it as others might see it from the outside. This provides valuable context, especially when you’re in the midst of conducting day-to-day business.

A brand strategy covers things like:
  • how your brand is perceived and valued
  • how your offerings compare to your competitors
  • which audiences are worth investing in as you develop new products and services
  • where your real strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are
  • what distinguishes your company from others like it in an increasingly noisy market

Your brand strategy should be something you can reference frequently without a need to update it more often than once every 3-5 years. This length of time is a typical growth cycle for a company that is actively maturing or adapting with changing demands or technological advances.

While putting something out there can feel more productive than sitting and planning, it tends to generate scattered and unpredictable communication. This can damage the perception of your company and complicate your business development, especially when you’re busy juggling new opportunities and challenges. As you grow and bring in more team members, the problem will scale with you.

A marketing strategy works to reinforce the brand by expressing the core message in a variety of formats. It describes things like:
  • segmenting your audiences in a way that makes it easier to speak to specific pains or pleasures
  • proposed sales funnels that can be tested and adapted as you try it out on select groups
  • which communication channels to prioritize to capture and maintain relationships with the audiences identified in the brand strategy—for example, should your company focus your energy on promoting via Twitter or Facebook?
  • a schedule for email templates, automated messages, marketing campaigns and follow-up responses to make sure your prospects don’t get lost in their attempts to reach you

Your marketing strategy should evolve as you learn from your marketing campaign and website analytics. It should also take into account your consumers’ changing tastes, preferences, and demands, as well as new technological advancements or social platforms. To adequately serve as the voice of your company, it should always be built in line with your brand strategy, and synchronize with your sales strategies.

Why It’s Worth the Upfront Effort

Unless you have a way of objectively guiding the creative process behind your marketing tactics, you’ll experience tail-chasing hang-ups each time you set out to promote your company. This kind of marketing costs extra time, money, energy and even your reputation, creating missed opportunities rather than reinforcing a clear message that people can respond to.This is why starting with a documented brand strategy is so helpful!

Strategies outline how to get from point A to point B in the most beneficial and efficient way possible. Both a brand strategy and a marketing strategy can save you from wasting resources on attempts to attract prospects to your company. The primary thing to understand is that one strategy follows the other—you can’t have a viable marketing plan if you don’t have a well-conceived brand strategy. That is, you can’t say what you need to say if you don’t know what you need to say.

Your Brand Strategy Should Not Box You In

If you love to dream up ideas, or hate the thought of a rigid plan, don’t worry. A brand strategy doesn’t restrict any ideas except those that don’t make sense for your company. It’s intended to remain abstract enough to inspire new ideas without being so abstract that it becomes a load of fluffy nonsense. Everyone should be able to obtain some value from this document, whether used as a source of inspiration, clarification or unification. This is the whole point of creating it.

The bottom line for any business is to operate with as little waste as possible. Waste is only waste if it is no longer usable. As many well-known entrepreneurs would attest, failed ideas are not waste if something valuable can be learned from them. Remaining open to unusual or risky ideas provides a creative advantage in business. Strategies support this kind of adventurous thinking by giving room to reinterpret big picture ideas. If anything, a brand strategy should provoke new thoughts while reducing the risk of wasting energy on ideas that don’t uphold your message.

Small Teams Can Use Brand Strategy to Save Time, Money and Energy

Small teams, will especially benefit from having clear, actionable strategies in place. With more limited manpower, marketing activities can easily consume a lot of valuable staff time. Plot Creative works with small and medium businesses to develop your brand strategy. Contact us if you’re looking to present your company with more confidence and get back to doing the work you enjoy.