A Systematic Approach to Brand Strategy

Lone Fir Creative’s resident Brand Strategist and Director of Strategy and Innovation, Frank Rocchio , has developed brand strategy for both clients and Lone Fir’s agency brand, developing brand identities, positioning, go-to-market strategies, and guiding the strategies needed to bring it all to life. 

In this interview, Frank outlines the systematic approach he has taken to brand building with proven frameworks any team can use to design a defensible brand.

What We’ll Cover:

Understanding the Value of Brand
Brand Strategy is a Playbook for Growth
Essentials of Brand Strategy
Brand Strategy in Practice
Chapter 01

Understanding the Value of Brand

A brand is not something you can drop on your foot. Yet, it’s the most significant tool a business can use to increase perceived value, market share, retention and ultimately, profitability. Equally, a weak brand can hurt business performance. 

So how can something so intangible be so influential?

According to Frank: “It’s because ‘brand’ is the idea someone has about your company based on the sum total of everything it offers the market.” 

The power of that perception cannot be underestimated. Humans often make irrational, emotionally-based buying decisions. It’s just who we are. And as goes your brand, so goes your business. 

Though it’s been shared at length elsewhere, it bears reiteration: a brand is not limited to logos, fonts and colors. In fact, as commerce becomes more dynamic and complex, “brand” is made up of much more — product, point of view (POV), location, community, features, price, look, feel, tone … and many other factors.

“This is good news,” notes Frank, “because even though the essence of a brand can’t be ‘measured,’ it can be designed and influenced to achieve the desired results — ones that certainly can, and should, be measured.”

That pursuit is called brand strategy.

Chapter 02

Brand Strategy Is a Playbook for Growth

Your brand strategy should promote growth. Plain and simple. However that growth is measured — revenue, profitability, awareness, users, touch points — brand strategy can support it by creating perceived value. 

This concept is just what it sounds like. The perception people have about your brand directly influences the value they see in your product or service — hence perceived value. 

Frank says this is the “golden key that unlocks business growth.” No matter what your team’s growth goals are, increased perceived value provides the leverage you need to do it. 

“Very early in my branding career, I learned that the basis of branding is getting people to make irrational decisions,” Frank explains. “I think that makes sense, though, seeing as emotions (and not just logic) heavily influence purchase decisions, even in more rational markets. Hence, the power of a strong brand.” 

This emotional decision-making process is why developing a brand strategy that increases perceived value is so valuable.

If prospective customers believe they’ll get more value from your offering compared to competitors (or the status quo), you’ll have an easier time setting premium prices, creating greater margin, earning greater market share, increasing LTV, decreasing CAC, etc., etc.  

The basis of branding is getting people to make irrational decisions.

A great example of perceived value is Ford and Ferrari. Both are in the car market (broadly speaking), but the two companies’ brand strategies are vastly different.

“Ford has positioned itself as the vehicle of choice for anyone — from cool moms to heavy-duty construction workers,” Frank explains. That’s why their cars are promoted as safe, reliable and economically priced. Ford’s brand strategy reflects their overarching business strategy and revenue model, which focuses more on sales volume and greater market share. 

Ferrari, on the other hand, has positioned itself as an elite luxury car. Frank points out they use status and scarcity (we’ll talk about these tactics in more detail later) to drive up the perceived value of their product. That’s why Ferrari can charge $300,000 for its cars, and Ford trucks hover around $35,000. 

To put this in context, Ford has to sell 908 vehicles to match the profit margin Ferrari earns selling just one.

ford vs ferrari 1

ford vs ferrari 2

Source: Section4

That’s good branding. And it’s just one example of many that prove the growth opportunity perceived value can unlock. 

But let’s be clear: creating perceived value is not about making stuff up or lying. That’s not ethical, nor is it effective. Even though you’re creating perception, you still have to add some form of real value to your offering based on what your target audience thinks it’s looking for. 

To build the right perception and increase perceived value, you’ll need an organized and cohesive brand strategy.

Chapter 03

Essentials of Brand Strategy

First, a more concrete definition of brand strategy. The simplest way to grasp brand strategy is to first understand brand image and brand identity. 

“Brand image is a reflection of who you are, or what people say you are,” Frank says. “Brand identity, on the other hand, is more aspirational. It’s the picture you cast of what you want your brand to be in the future. Brand identity can include aspects of what your brand is today, but it mostly shows what you hope your brand’s future will be.” 

Your image is the vehicle that drives your identity (as shown in the graph below.) The line in between them — the route to get from point A to point B — is your brand strategy.LFC_Brand Strategy Pillar_Brand Strategy Framework@2x

“Brand strategy is every investment and action needed to transform your brand from its current state to your desired state,” Frank says. 

Unfortunately, brand strategy is defined pretty vaguely even by marketing pundits. Which leaves most companies either in the dark about how valuable (read necessary) it is or struggling to find an efficient, systematic approach to it.

To bridge the gap, Frank has created his own systematic approach to brand building that can work for any business. “It functions sequentially from the most aspirational elements down to the most tactical,” he explains. “This way, the brand is authentic and every aspect is connected back to deeply held beliefs.”

His approach includes seven elements that work together to create a strong brand strategy:

LFC_Brand Strategy Pillar_7 Elements of a Strong Brand Strategy@2x
Each element heavily influences the next, so it’s critical to work through them in order.

Check out our video series on the essentials of brand strategy.

Chapter 3.1

1. Brand Transformation

Above and beyond all other elements, the most critical step in a brand strategy (or any strategy) is identifying the gap between where you are and where you want to be. 

“The biggest mistake I see in brand building and marketing efforts is investing in tactics that are not intentionally introduced to solve a specific problem,” Frank notes. “That’s why we always start with brand transformation.” 

The model is made of two lists, titled “Current Situation” and “Vision.” 

Under Current Situation, you’ll list the key elements that define your brand today, including both strengths and challenges. On the Vision side, note the most critical factors that define the desired future state of the brand. 

Frank often uses the following questions as a guide for each section. 

LFC_Brand Strategy Pillar_Present vs Vision@2x

The outcome of this is a high level “before and after” snapshot that begins to shed light on the road you need to build to get there.

Get Our 5-Step Method to Positioning Your Brand

Chapter 3.2

Purpose and Vision

To succeed in the modern market, your brand needs a deeper meaning. Sometimes called a “mission,” your purpose and vision is the foundational belief about your brand. It’s why your company exists in the first place. It’s the cornerstone of your brand strategy.

“I like to solidify brand purpose first because it sits at the very core of your brand building efforts,” Frank says. 

Its importance doesn’t make it any easier to find, however. In fact, many brands struggle to find their purpose and vision. Unless you’re a smaller business that started out of a pure passionate interest for something specific, finding your purpose will take time. However, there are a few common places to look:

  • Origin or founder story of your company
  • Customer focus
  • Cumulative values
  • Previous mission and vision

👉 Check out our deep dive into defining your brand purpose.

As you can see from these four areas, teams often already hold the keys to identifying your brand’s purpose. It just takes the right cue to extract them. When working with your team to uncover your purpose and vision, ask these questions:

  1. Why do you exist beyond money?
  2. What do you want to be known for?
  3. How do you want to change the world for the better?
  4. What do you want your brand to do for people over the next ten years?

After you gather feedback and consider these questions for yourself, you should be able to narrow down the heart of your brand.

Chapter 3.3

Brand Identity

Again, brand identity is the desired future state of your brand. It can, and likely will, include elements of who you are today but also casts the picture of how you would be perceived in a perfect world. 

As much as we always want to simplify things in business (and we should), a brand is complex. Not because we want it to be, but because it’s based on people’s perceptions … and people are complex. 

“That’s why we try to get out in front of that complexity by strategically deciding which elements and functions of a business we’ll leverage to influence the desired brand perception,” says Frank. “We’re making a hypothesis based on what we know about human behavior that X + Y will result in Z.”

Teams can use proven frameworks and tools that help guide the development of their brand identity. There are multiple constructs that can be used, but the Brand Identity Model (also known as Brand Vision Model) from David Aaker seems to provide the most well-rounded approach.LFC_Brand Identity Model@2xAs you can see, there are three circles, which each represent a core element of every brand identity — brand essence, core identity and extended identity. 

  1. Brand Essence. “This is at the center of the brand identity process,” Frank says. “It’s the controlling philosophy of your brand based on the purpose and vision you’ve outlined.” Your essence outlines who you want to become and how you want to be known in the eyes of your audience as you progress toward your aspirational identity goal. “If someone were asked to describe your brand in two to three words, that’s your brand essence.”  For example, Nike’s brand essence might be “Inspire Athletes.” 
  2. Core Identity. Within your core identity are those tangible factors that differentiate your brand and assert its relevance to customers. This could be the expertise of your team, a unique service or product you offer, a highly specialized focus area or catering to a niche problem and audience. Your core identity firmly shows who you are, how you’re unique and why people should care about your products or services.
  3. Extended identity. “Think of this aspect kind of like your brand’s personality. It’s who your brand would be if it was a guest at a party,” Frank explains. To form this portion of your brand identity, consider how your brand interacts with its audience and behaves in the marketplace. Are you cool and casual? Professional and authoritative? Find attributes that match your purpose and vision, brand essence and core identity. This will help you portray the right message to your audience through your actions as well as your words.

Thinking through your brand identity can require a significant investment of your time, but it’s well worth it. When crafted and used correctly, your brand identity will serve as the guiding light in all of your business decisions. It’s the tangible product of your purpose and vision that keeps you on track to your goals.

“Your brand identity allows you to take a high-level view of your business,” Frank explains. “It gives you a wireframe of how to relate who you are and what you do to your audience through your positioning and messaging. And when you can do that, it becomes much easier to show people why your product or service matters and how it can solve their problem.”

Chapter 3.4

Growth Goals

Goals do more than just keep you motivated. In businesses big and small, measurable growth goals help you accomplish the vision for your brand. They help prioritize the initiatives needed to do so and keep your team focused. They also provide objective criteria to measure against so you can double-down when doing well and course correct when problems arise. 

To set appropriate, attainable growth goals, you have to know the problems you’re solving for. Do you want to reach new markets? New customers? Boost annual revenue? Get acquired? Whatever it is, your goal will act as a measuring stick to see if your efforts are producing the desired results over time.

Defining your growth goals can be tricky. “They have to be specific enough to be attainable and measurable, yet ambitious enough to actually push past where you are. All while making sure they’re aligned with your greater purpose and vision,” Frank counsels. “Just saying you want to ‘get better’ doesn’t give you much of a direction or tell you where to focus your energy.”  

Frank finds, as with defining your purpose and vision, it helps to work backward.

  1. What’s your end goal? What final outcome do you need to achieve to move your brand forward?
  2. Why is it a goal? This addresses the problem you need to solve. What will accomplishing your growth goal allow you to do? 
  3. What objectives do you need to accomplish this goal? What action steps are required to pursue this goal? 

Here’s Frank’s example to help this make a little more sense: “Let’s say your growth goal is to increase your profit margins within the next year. This goal is important because you want to get acquired by another company next year, but you have to show a higher value first. To reach this goal, you need to increase the perceived value of your brand so you can increase prices.” 

In this example, you’d likely need to create new value or enhance current offerings, and possibly reposition your brand over time.   

Speaking of positioning …

Chapter 3.5

What Is Brand Positioning?

“Brand positioning, in short, is how you frame who you are and what you do — the ‘thing’ your brand is known for by prospects and customers,” Frank says.

Positioning is what helps brands earn market share in their space, even if it’s crowded with competition. For example, look at HubSpot and Salesforce. Similar products, similar services, sometimes even similar customers — two totally different positions in their market. 

Even though there’s some overlap between the business models, each can exist and do well in their market because they’ve done such a good job identifying and catering to their target market. 

But how can you do this? And which comes first, your positioning or your products and services?

“Your product offering influences your position and your position influences your product offering. So the answer to which comes first is very dependent on your business,” Frank says.

What’s not subjective to your business is the three hurdles you’ll have to overcome when establishing your positioning:

  1. Differentiation – how are you unique?
  2. Relevance – does what you offer matter to anyone?
  3. Sustainability – can you defend your position in the market?

👉 Learn more about these hurdles in our brand positioning blog!

As you consider your position, you also have to think about how you’ll present it to your audience — a.k.a. your creative strategy.

Chapter 3.6

Creative Strategy

Creative strategy, the way we see it, is made up of two equally critical pieces: messaging and design. 

The wording and imagery you use will tell the story of your brand to the world. If your brand was a computer, everything we’ve discussed up to this point — purpose, brand identity, positioning — is the programming behind the curtain, and your creative is what shows up on the screen. 

“Your creative is the final and full expression of everything you are and represent as a brand,” Frank says. “It’s everywhere (at least, it should be). It’s on your products, website, content, company material, sales pitches, swag, social media accounts, email signatures … it’s everywhere your brand is. That’s quite literally how people know it’s your brand and not another.”

So, to recap, the role of your creative strategy is to translate your brand identity and positioning into an external narrative. Cue example: Oatly

Oatly’s brand positioning and messaging is a great guide for how to communicate a different, yet relevant, purpose. In case you’re not familiar with them, Oatly is a plant-based milk brand. So what, right? 

Oatly brilliantly positioned themselves as something different with their tagline, “It’s like milk but made for humans.” This simple, yet strong message carved out space for the brand to be seen (and ultimately, dominate) in the crowded plant milk market. It even hints to their core value that people should drink milk meant for humans.

But Oatly wasn’t always the market giant they are today. Their revised creative strategy and rebrand efforts in 2012 — which included the previously referenced positioning, messaging and package design — timed with a US launch in 2016, filled their glasses to the tune of millions of dollars in growth over just a few years. 

From 2018 to 2019, Oatly increased revenue from $6 million to $40 million. Then, in 2020, Oatly reported revenue of $421.4 million. And the oat-milk fueled train shows few signs of slowing down, with revenue up 40% as of Q1 2022 (reported at the time this article was written).

TL;DR: A creative strategy that executes on a strong brand strategy is critical for growth. 

Of course, it’s not the only factor. 

Chapter 3.7

What Is Brand Positioning?

“Your growth strategy is your brand’s primary method for customer acquisition, retention and expansion. There’s no one-size-fits-all here, but there are a few general best practices,” Frank says. 

If you take a high-level view of your brand and split your buyer journey into three key segments, it helps simplify where you need to invest to grow.

brand strategy purchase graphic

Source: Section4

  1. Pre-Purchase: points that influence a consumer’s perception of your brand before they’ve engaged directly with your product, storefront, sales team, etc. This addresses the stages of awareness, consideration, and intent, and can include elements such as ads, articles, social media, PR, trade shows, books and more. 
  2. Purchase: the customer’s first point of contact with the physical product or service you sell and includes elements such as sales strategy, onboarding, service process, distribution, packaging, store design and financing. 
  3. Post-Purchase: everything that happens after conversion, ideally to further engage and retain the customer. This can include elements such as customer service, loyalty and referral programs or renewals. 

Most successful brands have a well-rounded approach to all three, so you can’t ignore any of them. But you should have a bias to being world-class in at least one area that supports your core need.

“Most successful brands have a well-rounded approach to all three, so you can’t ignore any of them. But you should have a bias to being world-class in at least one area that supports your core need,” Frank says. 

For example, most B2B service companies in complex industries or pursuit of upmarket clients will need a highly skilled outbound sales team. That doesn’t mean there’s no need for content marketing or referral programs, but the initial focus for growth should be heaviest on outbound sales. 

Another example is a start-up SaaS product focused on both individual consumers and business teams. (Think about something like Adobe Creative Cloud.) A good bet is to go with a product-led growth model, where the heart of your sales funnel is a trial or freemium version of the product to gain exposure and build trust. 

“Either way, think of your growth strategy as the focused set of tactics your team will use to accomplish the growth goals you’ve set for the next 9 - 18 months,” Frank advises. 

Chapter 4

Brand Strategy in Practice

Now that you’ve outlined each aspect of your brand strategy, you can start thinking of ways to put it into action. Let’s look at a few successful brands that own their space and how their strategy helped get them there.


Using Apple as an example of success is cliche, but for good reason. Apple’s origin story holds particular interest for those in the marketing and product development world. Mostly because, at the time, it was a genius move. IBM was pushing complex machines and highlighting every technical aspect of their computers, so Apple went in the opposite direction.

Apple stakes its claim in innovation. But not fancy, all the bells and whistles innovation. Sleek, simple, user-friendly innovation. And because their technology was new and groundbreaking, the perceived value of their products skyrocketed.

Fast forward to today and nearly half the population owns an iPhone

“Apple customers are fiercely loyal to the brand because they truly believe it’s the best quality phone, computer, tablet or smartwatch out there. Because of this perception, Apple can charge premium prices for every single one of its products,” Frank points out.


Back in the ‘90s, Amazon was just a small online bookseller. But Jeff Bezos had a big goal for his company—to become the largest online retailer in the world. 

Today, Amazon is as ubiquitous as Walmart or Target. And existing exclusively online isn’t the only way they differentiate themselves. The bulk of Amazon’s brand strategy is built on customer experience. It’s how they originally developed trust in their platform and how they retain their status in the marketplace.

Their platform is incredibly easy to navigate in an effort to reduce friction for the buyer. Think about how accurate their search function is and how easy it is to swipe “Buy Now.” Even their return process is easy—drop off your item at a UPS store, Whole Foods or Amazon locker, no package required. 

“This commitment to the customer experience is what built up Amazon’s brand in the mind of consumers,” Frank explains. “They’ve created a far-reaching perceived authority in the retail space simply by having what you need and making it easy to buy.”


Garmin is another brand that has come far from its inception. The company was created for the GPS business, but when those started going out of style, it had to find a way to leverage its products in other markets. So it pivoted into wearables.

“It took some time to gain traction, and the company spent years focusing on having the best GPS in wearable tech as their differentiation strategy. But once they got a firm foothold in the market, they were able to shift their positioning again,” Frank says.

Today, Garmin targets their marketing strategies to their ideal customer’s personal identity. Their products are for serious athletes who want a watch as rugged as their training routine, and the design reflects this. Even their messaging caters more to the audience than the product by featuring images of elite athletes and discussing how the various features can help you improve performance.

This brand strategy works because of Garmin’s unique audience. Elite athletes training for marathons or triathlons swear by their Garmin, but someone who’d rather take a daily walk probably isn’t willing to pay $200 for a watch. And that’s okay! Because the brand strategy accounts for costs by increasing the perceived value of Garmin products among the target audience, which allows them to charge higher prices to the right people instead of fighting for more sales to a wider audience.

Where Will You Take Your Brand?

A well-thought-out brand strategy can guide your business to long-term goals and help you create the perception you want to see in the market. It’s important to always start with your purpose and vision and let the rest build on those foundational elements. That aspiration will be your true north throughout the brand strategy process and as you grow your business.

To learn more about brand strategy and brand building, check out Frank’s take on Nike’s Brand Positioning.

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