Understanding Strategy: Branding’s Superpower

You know those four-year-old kids that like to ask “why?” over and over and over again until you want to rip your hair out? They probably grow up to be strategists.

Whether the end-goal for a brand is to create an elevated brand identity, a beautiful new website, or launch a compelling global campaign, it should all start with a strategy – and the reason is to be able to answer that exact question. Why?

Why do you exist? Why should you exist? Why and how do you do things differently than others? Why should your audience choose you? Why should they care

For starters, a brand is so much more than a good logo or an interesting color palette. Branding, as one could attempt to define it, is about who the brand is behind its product or service; it’s the connective tissue between you and your audience. A brand is a feeling, thought, or connection that one makes in their mind about you. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. A strong brand strategy can help you answer these “why” questions to ensure that people’s feelings and perceptions of your brand are compelling, impactful, and true to you. 

Tangibly, a solid brand strategy lays a solid foundation. It informs all subsequent steps in your branding process, giving you a unified language for internal and external communications, helping identify challenges and areas of opportunity, establishing long-term goals and measurements for success, and providing clear direction and purpose to your creative teams moving forward. 

One of our favorite case studies at Bald that demonstrates a solid brand strategy and changed the whole course of a brand’s identity and communications is Old Spice. They began their research and discovery phase by identifying what they are really trying to solve – “Old spice does not have a product performance problem. It has an image problem”. How could they craft a strong positioning that articulates who they are and what they represent, and establishes a strong emotional connection with consumers?

It started with recognizing a series of truths: culture had created an idealized image of masculinity, which men in the grooming space are trying to navigate but don’t know where to start. Brands like Axe took advantage of this with an oversexualized ladies-man image of masculinity, but Old Spice realized that this sort of uncertainty generates desire for authenticity, not gimmick. Old Spice had been the traditional choice of “manly men” for years, and they realized that an evolution was necessary to keep up with the speed of culture and re-establish that connection with male consumers. 

That evolution ultimately came from a single, utterly key insight – men are not their audience. The “manly men” they’d targeted for so long are not actually the ones buying Old Spice’s products, rather the women in their lives are. Their girlfriends, mothers, and wives are largely the ones running household errands and picking up the men’s grooming products for them. Thus, the Old Spice “I’m on a horse” campaign was born. These ads feature a shirtless man on a romance novel-esque horse, telling the feminine consumer to “look at her man, then look at him,” boasting that he is the man her man could smell like… with Old Spice. This campaign made an incredible splash in culture, leaving a new and lasting mark for Old Spice in the minds and hearts of their consumers.  

Cases like Old Spice and other wildly successful campaigns, activation, and brands most aptly demonstrate the true power of a strong brand strategy. Sure, it’s important to have a good logo and memorable tagline. But, it won’t make an impact anywhere close to that without laying a solid foundation.

The lesson in all of this is that brand strategy, while often overlooked, is pretty damn important.

Erin Cunningham, 
Head of Strategy