Branding Or Strategic Plan? Which Comes First?

Should our brand inform our strategic planning process or should our planning process set the stage for our brand? It’s a question we hear often. And it’s a smart one. If you’re underway on one or the other of these initiatives, rest easy. You can find success with either progression (with one key condition).

First, the simple answer. Strategic planning is always a great foundation from which to begin a branding process. The community vision is clear, objectives are clear, critical success factors in a variety of areas (such as place planning, housing, social services, utilities, growth management) are established. A capable brand strategist will ensure that the brand strategy is supportive of the goals, whether they hold a 5-, 10- or 50-year horizon.

Now let’s consider the inverse order. If your branding process is merely a visual identity or logo exercise, don’t count on it helping your strategic planning process. But branding can precede and significantly inform a strategic planning process if it involves community research and the formation of a strategic brand DNA that will guide community actions. The strategic DNA articulates:

Your key consumers (today and in your preferred future)

Your geographic and attribute context (the spaces that define you)

Your point of difference (what your community alone stands for in the world)

Your benefit (what ultimate value you propose to deliver you consumers)

The research and that DNA statement can be an invaluable tool to those leading the strategic plan. It succinctly expresses your unique place in the world. That clarity guides how strategic plans will be made.

Think about it. The community with service in its brand DNA will lean harder into residential and human services in its strategic planning. The community that embraces bold ingenuity and blazing a new path in its DNA will budget more distinctive and inventive approaches to community assets and policies. If natural capital defines another community’s DNA, they will envision and plan more heavily in the area of natural and recreational assets.

In the end, the application of thoughtful, best-practices approaches provides the best answer to the “which comes first?” question. If you’ve already completed your strategic plan, you have a great basis for your branding process. If you haven’t yet branded, use strategic brand DNA to inform both your brand and your still-to-come strategic planning initiative. There’s no more powerful input to a planning process than knowing your authentic, distinct and ownable position in the world.