Brand Strategy: How to Develop a Brand Activation Plan
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Brand Strategy: How to Develop a Brand Activation Plan

October 3, 2019

Insights are only as good as the ideas they inspire, the decisions they inform, and the momentum they build. Here's how to create a brand activation plan that enables your brand to harness those insights and drive consumer action and engagement.

Let’s say you’ve just created a fabulous new product or service (or enhanced an existing one). Or maybe you’ve just wrapped new brand strategy research (either internally, or with a brand strategy firm). You’re armed with a deep understanding of your target audience, competitive landscape, consumer perception, and have a shiny new brand positioning strategy. Now you want to use these insights to drive consumer engagement and action — but how? The answer is a brand activation plan.

What is a Brand Activation Plan?

Insights are only as good as the ideas they inspire, the decisions they inform, and the momentum they build. A brand activation plan is the critical asset that allows you to start transforming those insights into business realities. Crafted in the right way, it enables your brand to drive consumer action and engagement via brand experiences.

If you’re working towards the launch of a new product, service, line of business, positioning strategy — whatever the case may be — it’s time to start thinking about a brand activation plan. And if you don’t know where to get started, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how some of the world’s biggest and best-loved brands get it done.

  1. Activate Your Brand from the Inside Out

Before you start devising brand activation strategies, you need to align internal stakeholders and engage employees so that they’ll rally around your brand activation. To do this, schedule a short, in-person share-out of noteworthy findings and impactful stories from your fieldwork with essential internal stakeholders. Make it clear why they’re important to the business. If key people from across the company understand the research driving your brand, you’ll have their buy-in down the line. And that makes for a much smoother brand activation process.

  1. Brand Activation Strategies

Now on to the fun part! The specific activation strategies your brand might implement depend on a number of factors, including the scope of your objectives, available resources, your industry/category, etc. That said, we’ve seen organizations of all types benefit from the strategies outlined below. When your teams gather for their initial breakout sessions, have them start their conversations with the following list.

Communications Strategy

Brainstorm creative campaigns that center around your new brand strategy research. You now have in-depth insights on your target audience, so use them! Do your consumers really love or dislike something about your category? Dig into that idea to elicit an emotional response. Be sure to leverage different types of media to reach your unique audiences and share your brand story from a variety of angles. The goal is to create a communications strategy that outlines how your brand can differentiate and drive conversion across paid, earned, owned, and shared channels.

Brand Activation Example: When BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management company, wanted to differentiate itself from competitors as a global thought leader in financial wellbeing, it released the findings of one of its largest ever global surveys. The survey of 27,000 respondents in 13 countries explored what financial wellbeing meant for consumers of varied nationalities, ages, and income brackets.

The newsworthy findings about consumer concerns, fears and hopes about money made headlines in major media outlets, successfully positioning BlackRock as an innovative thought leader.

Cause Marketing

Aligning with a meaningful cause is an excellent way to express your brand values and create an emotional bond with consumers. What do your customers care most about? Identify a cause that ignites their passion, making sure that it also relates to your brand vision and drives differentiation. Then figure out how and where to participate.

Brand Activation Examples: Warby Parker and Toms are among the brands that have done this particularly well, ensuring that their charitable giving is organic, authentic and an integral part of their brand DNA and mission. Warby Parker’s ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’ partnership with VisionSpring has resulted in over 5 million pairs of glasses donated to those in need. Toms has donated 93 million pairs of shoes as part of its ‘one for one’ charitable giving program, and has since expanded its programs into clean water, safe births, bullying prevention and vision initiatives.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is a great way to create dialogue, invite consumer feedback, and enable consumers to interact with other like-minded people. Use your research to determine what kinds of community spaces and events resonate with your customers, then brainstorm the best ways to get involved. Your goal is to create connections — among consumers and with your brand.

Brand Activation Examples: Lululemon produces high-quality athletic clothes and accessories and then creates community with its online yoga classes and running communities. The brand connects customers with fitness instructors, participates in global festivals and training series, and selects brand ambassadors to share fitness stories.

Sephora is another example of a brand with a great community engagement strategy. In 2017 the company launched its Beauty Insider Community, which enables customers to communicate with experts and fellow shoppers in real time, receive instant feedback and recommendations on products, get beauty news updates, view and post on the Sephora gallery, and connect with other users of similar skin types and beauty profiles. The community also offers access to beauty events.

  1. Brand Activation Planning

With some strategies in mind, it’s time to start proper activation planning. That means making sure the teams at the front lines of your new brand strategy — marketing, PR, customer service, UX, etc. — understand what roles they’re expected to play. Hold consultative breakout sessions to discuss the planning, development, and implementation of new initiatives, programs, and messaging. Provide the necessary tools to turn ideas into reality. Your goal is to enable teams so that they can work independently at pushing the brand forward.

These initial breakouts won’t be enough, however — create accountability through consistent check-ins. Schedule follow-up sessions every three or four weeks so you can be sure progress is tracking to goals. Use these meetings to review and enhance each team’s activation plan, setting aside time for troubleshooting and Q&A.

  1. Brand Playbook

Whatever brand activation strategies you decide on, it’s important to document them in a brand playbook. A good playbook will articulate a clear strategic vision for your brand. It will inspire teams and inform future branding, communications, marketing and innovation strategies. In other words, it’s another great way to make sure brand activation is seen as a continuous process, and not something that’s ever fully “finished.” We recommend including the following in your brand playbook:

  • Value propositions for key targets
  • Emotional and functional reasons to believe
  • Brand character and personality
  • Brand voice and experience

If you need help with brand strategy and activation, let us know. We’ve got more than fifteen years’ experience helping global brands bring their stories to life.

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