December 5, 2023


Trailblazing shopping quality

Why it’s never too late (or too early) for a brand strategy – Retailing Africa


by Kirsty Bisset. Articles, think pieces, talks and tutorials around brand strategy are endless. We hear about the importance of it, we’re bombarded with strategies around how to conduct these strategies, and many companies have become disillusioned with buzzwords that result in maximum costs with minimal impact.

What is a brand strategy then? Theoretically, it is the plan put in place by key stakeholders to achieve a series of long-term goals that ultimately result in the identification and preference of your brand by consumers. This plan includes a number of answers to the question ‘what’, such as what is the brand’s mission, what are its promises to its customers, and what elements of the marketing and communications mix will we use to communicate these and other messages.

But I would argue that those ‘whats’ are nowhere near as important as the ‘why’. Let me walk you through my reasons using Red Bull, in my opinion, one of the best examples of a brand that centres purely on their ‘why’ is Red Bull. As a starting point, Red Bull’s team asks itself three foundational questions:

  1. What do we sell?
  2. What do we do?
  3. How do we do it?

Its answers are:

  1. What do we sell?– An energy drink that elevates mental and physical fortitude.
  2. What do we do? – We push the limits of human performance.
  3. How do we do it? – We give wings to people and ideas.

And here’s the important bit – by working through the process to answer these questions, Red Bull identifies the reason behind why it exists and how that surpasses a drink in a can. The idea of ‘giving wings’ to people by aligning with sport, music, subcultures, and adrenaline gives the brand more of a reason to exist beyond functional objectives. It gives Red Bull its ‘why’.

Most companies don’t have a clear foundation for their brand. Although they may be able to answer the three key foundational questions, in way too many cases those answers are different throughout the organisation. This means that all players within the organisation are pulling in different directions. The strongest businesses and brands in the world build their brands and business directions based on these key foundational principles, and they ensure that every layer of the business knows them.

So, when should a brand strategy be built? Well, business strategy comes first, closely followed by brand strategy, and then marketing strategy.

Business strategy

Your business strategy will outline how your business makes money through scalability, distribution, pricing, and finance plans. Your brand strategy will focus on how to build your brand to grow your business by assessing your foundational principles mentioned above, your brand story, brand archetypes and purpose. Your marketing strategy is the vehicle that drives and delivers your brand strategy through active promotion to selected audiences.

It would make sense to set this all out as your business is starting, but to be honest, your time would be better spent on driving sales to customers to bolster cash flow. It can also be tricky to solidify a brand strategy when your business is new as you’re constantly learning and adapting to mould your product perfectly for your audience.

Conversely, having recently worked with a 25-year-old business on the brand strategy for the very first time, it’s clear that brand strategies are becoming more and more fluid. The most important elements of your brand strategy like key client messaging, internal culture, communication strategy and growth and expansion plans, can change quarterly. In the past, brand strategies could be long-lived (relatively to what we know today) but today we need to be more flexible as consumers’ attention span shrinks.

Brand strategy is a long-term commitment to your audience, and branding should be consistent across all channels and campaigns, so it’s crucial to establish this. With certain business changes such as international expansion, product expansion or new market exploration, it needs to be revisited by key stakeholders to ensure successful growth that aligns with the business strategy and feeds into your marketing strategy.


Main image credit:


Kirsty Bisset is Managing Director of HaveYouHeard Durban.




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