Brand Strategy as a competitive advantage — beyond inspiration

Victor A. Fatanmi
6 min readJun 2, 2023

A few days ago, I tweeted @victorfatanmi: “Brand strategy should provide clarity and inspiration, but also an advantage.” Yes, it sounds great but what exactly does that mean?

Today, when you think about brand strategy or read through some examples, it is always about ‘deep’ mission statements, core values, and memorable taglines. And by this description, I mean the good ones.

A screenshot from the (evolving) brand strategy of Fullgap

And yes indeed, this inspiring stuff — which has to be built off sessions, interviews, and research towards clarity and extraction of embedded truths and aspirations — is an important part of what the brand strategy document should do or include, but not the full picture.

Screenshots from the (evolving) FourthCanvas brand strategy document.

What then, is missing?

A focus on the definition of the word ‘strategy’ — “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.” But wait a minute, don’t mix it up. A brand strategy is not a business plan. You have to combine the ‘strategy’, which is originally a war term with the ‘brand’ adjective. When you do that, you arrive at a plan of action to achieve the “perception you want your target audience to hold of you” which in turn helps you to achieve the goal of business success.

We are talking about long-term perception here, and that’s why brand strategy rightly focuses on the values that will influence behavior — which comes to life in action and communication — and less on what we will do this week and the next. It’s also why it is usually extended into communication and marketing strategies that can then be more granular. While it is not supposed to compete with those, the brand strategy document must be created with a conscious effort to gain a competitive advantage with the brand that helps the business win in the long term.

What can we do better, specifically?

Two things.

1. As we determine the inspiring and memorable proses, we must obsess, in every section, with the question: “Does this give us an advantage over our competitors?” We must combine this with the first question we already ask: “Is this true or potentially true for the brand?” To achieve this, research is inevitable. We would need to understand our target audience, our market, and our competitors well to be able to ‘tell’ what is an advantage and what is not. This also makes a case for why the brand strategy doc is better as a living, evolving document because things will change and understanding will deepen over time.

We would never be able to ‘tell’ though — “conditions of uncertainty” — but the effort in research and critical thinking will increase our chances

2. We must think about the new employee or third-party service provider reading through. “Can this easily guide them to act like us so that we are always on-brand to gain the advantage in 1 above?” This influences how we break the language down and how we use examples to bring the ideas to ‘reality’.

A screenshot from the (evolving) brand strategy document of Fullgap shows more text volume committed to the example than the concept description itself.

I want to assume that point 2 was clear enough since I gave an example of how to give an example, but let’s drill into point 1 a little further. Where and how can you use brand strategy to gain a competitive advantage? I will lay down some of the possible components of brand strategy and the corresponding advantage points.

Brand core (Purpose, beliefs, story, vision & mission)

If it’s true and communicated in a way that everyone realizes: “Wow, there is a need for this company to exist, this is not random”, it will inspire higher dedication internally and brand loyalty externally, especially where it is true and backed by actions. The effort here is to ensure it doesn’t sound like anybody else because why then should you exist?

*The Big Idea / Brand Voice

If it latches onto an insight that no other competitor has owned, or owned in that particular way, it will take a solid, rooted place in the minds of people, more than other brands.

Core values

If it is inspiring and not cliche, and clear to see that the organization leaders care indeed about every single word, it helps to create a culture of trust and consistency that your competitors probably aren’t able to inspire. And this will lead to higher productivity and better results from employees.

Brand positioning

If it puts forward an inherent area of strength (that your competitors can boast of as much as you) and that is translated to the customer as a point of benefit to them, then they have a reason to justify staying with you, and not them.

Target audience

If you take a more thorough effort at defining your own audience, identifying the most important sub-sections of your larger audience, and defining who influences them, whose opinions they care about, who they ‘buy’ you for, etc, you can outstrategize your competitors, especially when you all look at the same audience but you see a different pattern.

Value proposition & promise

If you are able to communicate your value proposition in a way that understands your audience’s pain point better than your competitors or realizes a side to their pain that others didn’t even see, or an ambition/desire that neither your competitors nor your audience are even conscious they bear, you earn a huge advantage.

Brand Personality, Communication style & tone of voice

Your competitors are probably shy or afraid. If you are ready to be true to your personality as a team, or a component of it that does not hurt your business, and can define it well enough in a way that anyone can grab and bring to life in your communications (and actions), you can earn more love and fans as a brand.

Brand experience

If you thoroughly analyze the entire journey of people with your brand, internally and externally, and can map out what to do better and stop doing across different components of your business, in fulfillment of what you have defined the brand’s blueprint as (all the above), you can create an actionable plan where everyone in your team is able to act on the brand while your competitors’ team probably only have a doc that even if is inspiring, may not lead to any action, let alone results.

*an example is “power to the creative ones” and how with it, we owned this insight that none of our direct or indirect competitors had held on to — that many people have the talent but lack (and need) the structure, and they know it, and they want to feel like they can excel without limits too, this connecting with our own truth that we are ready and able to help them be that. It was stronger because no one else was currently saying it, surely not in that ‘revolutionary’ tone. That’s a positional advantage for Fullgap.

In conclusion, while we must keep the inspiring soul of brand strategy and ensure it leaves a strong effect on people whenever its read, we must ensure that it does not only move them to action but it guides them to action, and when they act, they increase our likelihood of winning as a business.

--

--

Victor A. Fatanmi

‘Finding my writing’, under the blanket of the known image of a Designer and Agency Founder.