Strategy is all about Choices
“It’s all about choices” is how my marketing professor started every class. He’d repeat it about 8-10 more times each class, sometimes after someone made a choice and sometimes after someone didn’t. I still see a fear among many marketers to make choices–whether it’s a target market, brand positioning or strategies or the allocation of spend. Good decision-making starts with forcing yourself to use the word “or” instead of keep using the word “and”.
The most important element of Marketing Strategy is the exact area where most Marketers struggle: FOCUS!
Why should you focus?
- Every brand is constrained by resources—dollars, people and time. Focus makes you matter most to those who actually might care. Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the greatest movement towards sales and the highest return on investment for those resources. I was leading a session on a Tourism Region and asked who the key targets were. The first answer was pretty good–it was some of the regions that were within close proximity. Then people around the room kept saying “well, what about…” and “we can’t forget…” and “we don’t want to alienate…” And the President says in serious tone: “we target everyone, because it could be anyone really”.
- In a competitive category, no one brand can do it all. Focus makes you decide whether to be better, different or cheaper. Giving the consumer too many messages about your brand will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything is the recipe for being nothing. I was lucky that my first marketing job at General Mills was managing child cereals, where each quarter, I had to do a promotion on 5 different cereals. So, twenty times per year, I had to work with the 2 x 2 inch corner of the cereal box and put a message that would make a 5-year-old scream at their Moms to buy the cereal. That taught me a lot about focusing my messaging.
- Trying to do everything spreads your resources and your message too thin, so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. With a long to-do list, you’ll never do great at anything. And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through so you’ll never get the early win to gain that tipping point that opens up the gateway to even bigger success. I once had a director working for me, who kept spinning around never getting anything done. His team was complaining that every time they started a new project, he’d come up with new ideas. I sat down with him and asked him to bring his project list for the up-coming quarter. He came in with 83 projects!!! I said “how do we narrow this list down to five”. He looked at me like I was insane.
When You Focus, Four Things Happen
- Better ROI: With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be find out if the strategy that you have chosen is able to actually moves consumers, drives sales or enhances other key performance indicators. Did you actually get done what you wanted to get done? If you spread those resources, you may never see any movement and then figure your strategy is wrong.
- Strong Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing. With consumers, you get the reputation as the “fast one” or the “great tasting”. And internally, as people in the company start to align to your one thing, eventually you become very good at that one thing. Look at Volvo with “safety”. Every consumer message for 30 years is about safety. And internally, everyone at Volvo is fixated on safety, coming out with new safety innovations ahead of everyone else. Yes, Volvo’s have leather seats, go pretty fast, have a CD player and even come in multiple colors. But they don’t feel the need to have to say it.
- More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that one thing and your are able to better defend the positioning territory. As categories mature, brands start to stake claims and if you’ve got something that’s unique, relevant and motivating, you’ll be able to own it.
- Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. With a better ROI, you get to go back to management and say “it worked” and they’ll say “ok, let’s increase the investment”. And that means more resources will be put to the effort to drive even higher growth. As you efficiently drive the top-line, the P&L opens up a bit and becomes easier for a brand leader to work with.
Where your Focus shows up
- Pick a focused Target Market: While it’s tempting to sell to everyone. Focus your resources on those most likely to buy. Realizing not everyone can like you is the first step to focus on those that can love you. Whether you are a niche player focused on guerilla tactics, or the number two player attacking the category leader having a focused target market is crucial. I see a difference between a “buying target” which is those consumers who currently buy the product naturally without your effort and a “strategic target” of those consumers who you want to get to act–whether it’s considering, purchasing or continuing to buy. Rest assured that the buying target will not likely leave you because they aren’t in the strategic target–whether that’s in your TV ad or as part of your promotions.
- Pick a focused Brand Positioning: Start with the target market you just picked–and assess their need states to see where you can best match up. Beloved Brands are either better, different or cheaper. Or they are not around for much longer. There’s too much pressure to be a copy cat brand–your channel might be the first to reject you, but if not, the consumer surely will. The winning zone is to match up what your consumer wants and what you do best. Avoid taking your competitor on in the space that they are better than you or you’ll get your butt handed to you. Where you are both trying to meet the needs of the consumer and are equal in performance, be careful that the leader may win, unless you can find ways to connect emotionally, be more innovative or find ways to provide superior execution. But even then, this space is a risky place to play.
- Pick a Focused Strategy: Brands need to understand where they sit before picking strategies. Evaluate the health of your brand using the Brand Funnel to understand where you are strong and should keep pushing or where you have a weakness (a Leak) that you need to close. Where you sit competitively–whether you are the Leader, challenger or a niche player–impacts what competitive strategy you might choose. I also promote the idea of the Brand Love Curve where the relationship between the consumer and brand move along a curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and onto a Beloved Brand for Life. The farther along the curve, the tighter the connectivity, which means more brand power and a potential to drive growth and profits. Where you are on the Brand Love Curve can help focus your strategic choices. If your brand is Indifferent, you need to establish your brand in the mind of the consumer so they are aware and consider your brand. If you’re stuck at the Like It stage, you need to separate yourself and drive the rational and emotional benefits into your consumers mind. If you’ve made it the Love It stage, keep finding ways to tug at the heart of your consumers and find ways to build it into their daily life. At the Beloved Brand stage, keep fuelling the magic to maintain the love. Attack yourself before others attack you. Leverage all the power you’ve created to stay in the lead position
- Focused Activities. While everyone talks ROI, I talk ROE as well. Return on Effort forces you to prioritize all your activities. If you put all the proposed tactics and activities on a grid, plotting the ideas as Easy vs Difficult to and then Big Wins vs Small Wins, you want all your focus to be on the Big and Easy ideas. If the ideas are Easy and Small then brainstorm ways to make them bigger. If they are Big but Difficult then brainstorm ways to make them easier. The Biggest Easiest ideas will drive a higher ROE and in turn a higher ROI. It’s the point where you’ll see an impact for what you do.
Challenge yourself to Focus
If I can challenge you in each of the areas. Push yourself on the target to have a bulls-eye target of no more than 5 years. Force yourself to have one “shout from the mountain” style main message supported by a maximum of two reasons to believe. As you’re doing your brand plan, try to narrow it down to 3 key strategies and for each strategy a maximum of 3 tactics. That leaves you taking your resources and spreading them across a maximum of 9 tactics in total. Spend 75% of your resources against the top 3 tactics. That’s much more focused than 5 strategies with 5 tactics per–which spreads your resources and efforts across 25 tactics in total. None of these are hard and fast rules, just challenges to be more focused.
Watch what happens when you start saying “or” and stop saying “and”. After all, “It’s all about choices”.
Beloved Brands: Who are we?
At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.
We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.
To contact us, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.