Build Your Playbook

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You’ve gathered insight. You understand your brand's equities. You’ve identified your key differentiators. And you know the audiences you want to reach. The next step is to assemble your brand knowledge into messages segmented by the areas that are vital to growth and business success. This is called your Brand Playbook.

Stephen Stewart | JANUARY 19, 2016

LAST WEEK CATE NEWSOM wrote an excellent post about how to gather the data and insight necessary to understand your brand and how it interacts with the world. Today, I’ll look at the next step: what do you do with all this great insight once you have it? It’s pretty easy to see what the next step should be–get your brand position in front of potential customers–but a bit tricky to know exactly where to put your feet. And once you’ve taken the first step – what comes after that? 

Your Brand: What makes it different?

If you saw David Kippen’s earlier post you’ll recall he said “brands exist to make people take selective action.”  There are lots of definitions for Brand Strategy, and all of them support this idea. My personal favorite is the simplest: brand strategy is building a long-term plan for the development of your brand in order to achieve specific business goals. A well defined and articulated brand touches all aspects of the business and is directly connected to consumers, their emotions and the competitive landscape.

The first step in developing a band strategy is to understand the equity that your brand has and what it’s differentiators are. In the case of a well known brand, say Nike or Intel, the equity (short hand for the intrinsic value of having a well known brand name) in your brand is enormous. In the case of a start-up the brand likely has little equity – the challenge then is to create value in the brand.

Differentiators are the key to  building brand equity (and sales, and profits and business success generally). A differentiator can be a feature, service, program or ingredient. One of Coca Cola’s significant differentiators is the “secret ingredient” that goes in every can of soda. For Apple, it’s a product promise (“open the box, turn on the device and it works”). Identify the right set of brand differentiators and you’re on your way to building brand equity.

There are two other important aspects of developing an effective brand strategy. One is nearly common sense: extending your brand into every part of your business. The second is harder to pull off, developing and executing a long-term plan. This is where you have to resist the temptation to chase after shiny objects and do something “because our competition is doing it.” Instead you want to execute a plan that thinks about your brand in terms of years, not quarterly results. There’s a reason we recognize advertising from Apple before we see the logo – they communicate their brand differentiators in simple, clear communications year after year.

Brand Playbook

So you’ve gathered insight into your brand. You understand the specific equities of your brand, you’ve identified your key market differentiators and you know the audiences you want to reach. The next step is  to assemble your brand knowledge into messages segmented by the areas that are vital to growth and business success. This is called your Playbook.

Why create a Playbook when you could go to market right away with an ad campaign? Isn’t this just complicating the process? Sure, if you have only a couple of differentiators, one mass audience and a competitive landscape of with only one or two rivals. But if that’s not you, I’ll sketch out the sections that make up a Playbook and how you can develop a guide that will support your brand for years to come.

1.     The Dashboard: images and messages

This is the section of the Playbook that will get the most use by your marketing team, members of your social media team and whoever is responsible for internal communications. People will turn to the dashboard because it’s a rollup of all of the key elements that can be used to communicate about your brand. The Dashboard houses thumbnails of images from your asset library, tracked to descriptions of brand personas that line up with your target audiences. For each persona and audience segment the Dashboard has supporting messages, headlines, sub-heads and supporting statements (statements are not to be confused with final copy – rather the statements are the basic bullet points from which final copy can be crafted). We think of the dashboard as your brand messaging at-a-glance.

2.     Messages & Definitions

How do you get from brand equities and points of differentiation to headlines and copy points? Align the connection between equities, headlines, testimonials and artwork. We do this through a tool we call “Messages & Definitions.” It’s important as you think about moving from a brand equity to the headline, sub-head and supporting facts, that you want to limit the number of both – even for complex organizations. Intel has dozens of silicon-based products for hundreds of markets. They have fewer than 20 core brand equities.

3.     Audiences & Personas

There’s nothing more vital to your business than understanding who is going to use your products or services and the benefits of doing so. In this section we look at key audience members, their uses for your product or service, the most relevant features and, where possible, the persona details for your audiences. When developing personas, it’s not necessary to define all possible audience members, just the major users of your product or service (three to five personas per audience type is a good rule of thumb).

4.     Pain Points & Solutions

Your sales team will typically get a lot from this section. Identifying the pain points that your customers have – and defining how your product or service solves that pain point is powerful information. Think of this in terms of pain relief. This spreadsheet provides the sales trigger (“headache moments”), the evidence is the description (aching temples, sensitive to light, throbbing behind the eyes…etc.”), the Key Solution is our best solution for the pain (“aspirin, ibuprofen, a double macchiato) and the testimonial is anecdotal evidence that supports our solution (“wow, that aspirin/macchiato completely wiped out my headache!”).

5.     Messages by Audience

Just what you’d expect. This takes your audiences and maps equities, key messages, product features and any empirical evidence for each one. The equities and messages should be in rank order from most to least important. Ultimately this sheet articulates the universal sales proposition and the elevator pitch for each audience.

6.     Messages by Equity & Customer Funnel

And finally, we look at how your brand equities align with the customer funnel (aka sales, funnel, purchase funnel or, my personal favorite, the conversion funnel). What’s important to note here is that this shows how different messages are put in play for the same customers at different stages of their brand journey, from awareness to consideration to decision. It’s also important to note that not every equity comes into play at every stage of the funnel. For instance, for Coca Cola their “secret ingredient” is not likely a driver in building awareness (I have to know about Coke and what it is before I care that it has a secret ingredient), whereas it can play a role in conversion (experience the secret for yourself) and it plays a huge role in advocacy (just ask a Coke devotee why it’s better than similar products).

Now Start Making Plays

Those are the core components of a Brand Playbook. Most of our Playbooks end up with a number of other components as well. For example, if you are a B-to-B brand you will want to look at Messages by Department to understand your customer’s business and how you can connect with the right personnel and departments. If you are a small business a more simplified version of this may work well for your needs. Once you’ve developed your evidence base, building a Brand Playbook will allow you to articulate and execute a long-term brand strategy. And by executing your brand strategy you’ll be able to quickly and efficiently achieve your business goals.


Stephen Stewart is the Executive Strategy Director at Evviva Brands. With a background that includes public relations, marketing consulting and more than a decade as the National Creative Director at global agency TMP Worldwide, Stephen Stewart brings an unique combination of game development and advertising marketing experience to his role. A graduate of Yale University with a degree in English literature, Stephen currently lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife Marin, children Miranda, Arden and Dashiell and lovable mutt Carmen.

Main image credit: Flickr – Chris Blakeley

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