You may already have a marketing strategy in place, but what about your brand strategy? The latter is often overlooked as it’s considered by many as a "soft" item, one that can be dealt with at a later time.

But hold on; a brand strategy actually lays the foundation for a marketing strategy. By overlooking it, you may be building a brand that is imprecise and one that you never intended thus arresting your momentum in corporate growth. Therefore, having a good brand strategy and marketing strategy that work together are important, especially for mortgage lenders of which there are many fighting for the same business. 

Without very precise strategic decisions, a brand turns out to be a moving target in the effort to rush and compete with the messaging of the competition. "The competition is saying 'x' so we need to let everyone know that not only can we say 'x' as well, but we can also say 'y' to make ourselves look even better." So, it becomes a game of perpetual catch-up and attempts at one-upping the competition, and you can lose whatever clear identity you have or had in the process.

The only way to solve this is by taking the time to develop your brand to begin with. Done the right way, this brand is something intentional - one that you will truly own because it's representative of you. Every company has its own story.

If you're a mortgage company, you may think this is next to impossible because your products are many times quite homogenous, so what can possibly make you different? First, your loan products are not your brand. Your brand is developed from an intensive look underneath the hood of your company that gets to the core of everything associated with why you exist.

Your brand is what gives your company meaning. For example, when you think of Disney, Tiffany's, Four Seasons and Gatorade, they all mean something to you and you have certain expectations of the product associated with each.

What's the difference between a brand strategy and a marketing strategy?

A brand is your most valuable corporate asset; it's the entire experience your customers and prospects have with your company. The brand is what defines who you are, how you're different and why you exist and is conveyed in the day-to-day interactions you have with your market. The answers to these questions are not simple. They require deep introspection to really get at the core of your company, the essence if you will, that defines you. Marketing activates your audience while your brand strategy encourages loyalty.

So, once your brand is developed, then a brand strategy is the next step. Think of your brand as a person with a distinct personality. Describe that person and convey these traits in everything you do. 

Your brand strategy takes into consideration the following items:

1. How you will communicate with your target audience: Know your target audiences motivations for selecting your product or service so that you can persuade them rationally but motivate them emotionally with your messaging. For example, if you’re a business-to-business company that sells pipeline risk management software, you will communicate differently with a CEO of a mortgage company than you would with a secondary marketing manager, right? If you're a retail lender, your messaging would be different for first time homebuyers than for move-up buyers.

Additionally, consider that all communications should have a consistent tone and style. 

2. The images you use: A picture is worth a thousand words; we've all heard this and we know it's true. Therefore, the imagery you use in connection with your brand is an important component of your brand strategy because of what they communicate and how they make your audience feel.

The type of images you use should be consistent across all mediums so that they come to be known as representative of your distinct brand. They should incorporate your unique characteristics and personality. 

3. Where you will communicate your messages: Be aware of where your target audience is, that is, where they get information to meet their needs. For example, if you sell pipeline risk management technology to mortgage bankers, which on and off-line publications would you target to get your message across? What events might you consider sponsoring to raise awareness?

Position yourself with strength in the right places with an understanding of where to place emphasis from a time and investment standpoint based upon effectiveness in reaching your audience.

4. To whom you will communicate your messages: Understand the lives of your target audience - their concerns, aspirations, personalities, behaviors and lifestyles. This will help you shape your message or messages. For example, is your primary audience the typical homebuyer or investors? Your key messages will be different for each. 

Success evaluation: Measure how far you've been able to "move the needle" within your target audience with respect to key, preset brand metrics. These may include items like familiarity, differentiation, credibility, preference, customer acquisition and many more.

A good brand strategy properly executed gives you benefits such as your target audience will come to know exactly what you deliver which makes it easier for you to engage them.

Because you can engage them more quickly and easily, the path to closing more sales is much quicker because everything they see and understand about you supports what you say.

In some instances, depending on the service you provide, you may be able to charge a premium for that service. If not, your ability to build market share is accelerated beyond that of your competitors.

Now, to isolate the difference between a brand strategy and a marketing strategy, a marketing strategy includes efficient ways to reach your target audience and encourage them to purchase your products or services. Let's take a look at the elements of a marketing strategy"

1. Goal setting: Setting realistic sales and profit goals is part of a good marketing strategy. Goals could include closed sales, number of new website visitors, new Facebook followers, inbound inquiries and more. Your brand "greases the path" for achieving these goals.

2. Target audience determination: Your target audience should be made up only of the companies or consumers that are most likely to buy from you. Do not be too broad and describe them in as great of detail as you can so that you have an accurate list of the most viable candidates for what you sell.

For example, on a business-to-business level would your target audience for your product be mortgage bankers that fund over or under 1 billion annually? Or are you a lender that targets first-time homebuyers within a particular credit score range that live in a particular geographic location? Add on as many details as you can, but don't overdo it.

3. SWOT analysis: A solid marketing strategy includes an honest review of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The results of this analysis will help guide your strategy.

4. Undertake a competitive review: As Sun Tzu states in "The Art of War," "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." Accordingly, reviewing your top three to five competitors, their key messages, what venues they use to communicate about themselves, tactics they leverage, etc. This information allows you to develop your messaging appropriately while keeping it in line with your very own brand. It can also help determine in which similar areas and ways you may wish to compete.

5. Create an activity schedule: Getting the word out about your products or services and educating your target audience about them is very important to your strategy. These activities will include marketing, public relations, events, sponsorships, print advertising, banner ads, social media and much more.

6. Monitor the results: This is too often done on the fly instead of planned in advance. While you develop your strategy, be sure to include appropriate tracking mechanisms to determine whether or not your marketing strategy is working. Without this element of the strategy, the goals you set are no more than hopes and dreams.