As many of you hit Q4 and pushing as hard as you can to drive sales as hard as you can to make the year or at least make your latest estimate, it might be time to wonder how good your plans are for next year.
A well-written Brand Plan helps to align an organization around the direction, the choices and the tactics that need implementing for a brand to achieve their goals. The Brand Plan unites functions such as marketing, sales, product development outlining what each group needs to do for the brand to be successful, while setting goals that operations and finance need to support. The Brand Plan gains approval from senior management around spending options, strategic choices and sets forth the tactics that will be implemented. It holds senior management accountable to the plan. The Brand Plan helps frame the execution for internal stakeholders and for the various agencies who will implement programs within the plan. Execution is an expression of the strategy, and the plan must hold agencies accountable to delivering work that is on strategy. And lastly, the Brand Plan helps the Brand Manager who wrote it, stay focused to deliver what they said they would. It helps them to refer back to the strategy and the intention to ensure the Brand Manager “stays on strategy” the entire year.
The questions you should be asking when you look at your plan:
Are you trying to do too much?
The biggest flaw of most plans is they try to do everything, which just spreads your limited resources–both financial and people resources–across too many projects. You end up doing OK in everything, yet never great at anything. So you never really see a return on that investment. If you went to Vegas and put a chip on every number, you’d walk away broke. With your plan, you have to make the choices on those activities that will drive the biggest return on your limited resources. My rule of thumb for a one year plan is to have a maximum of 3 strategies with 3 tactics per strategy, which means you’ve got only 9 key projects you need to do next year to be successful. Contrary to that, if you had 5 strategies and 5 tactics per, you’d now have 25 projects that just deplete your resources and exhaust your team’s efforts. One of the biggest flaws in a plan is trying to drive both penetration for new customers and getting current customers to use more. Of course you want that, but getting that in the same brand plan will never happen.
How aligned is your plan?
Too many times, plans are a disjointed collection of small projects that don’t really add up to a strategy. The vision helps guide where you want your brand to be in the next 5-10 years. You should brainstorm things that are getting in the way of that vision, which helps align you around the top key issues your business is facing. Your strategies should directly line up to these key issues and then have tactics line up to your strategies. There should be a flow to a well-written plan so that everything sings to the same song-sheet. Every part of that plan that is not aligned to that flow, should stand out as a sore thumb. The importance of good flow to a plan is more pronounced when you realize the entire organization has to align behind the plan, not just the marketing team, but every functional area–especially sales, product development, executional agencies and every employee working on that plan.
How Deep was the Thinking?
I’m a big believer in using my instincts. But equally so, I’m a big believer in digging in deep and uncovering the real issues on the brand. My biggest pet peeve is when we make too many assumptions. A great analysis you should be doing before writing a plan is to figure out the drivers and inhibitors that are happening now on your business as well as the risks and opportunities that could happen in the future on your business. Look at your market data, listen to your customers and consumers, do the needed market research and challenge everything. I love doing Brand Funnels because it helps you see what’s slightly beneath the surface on your business. It’s the equivalent of blood pressure and cholesterol where you can–the health measures in our body you can’t see. The same thing with Brand Funnels where you can see how well you’re doing on converting your awareness into purchase and your purchase into repeat business–relative to how you were doing last year and relative to your competitors.
How many B.S. Buzz words are in your plan?
Too many times, plans are a disjointed collection of small projects that don’t really add up to a strategy. As a brand leader, you should be the first to call B.S. when you see “drive awareness” and “be relevant” and “create more loyalty”. All those are great ideas, but let’s be real. Driving awareness gets you no revenue. What do you get when you drive awareness? You get in the consideration set to purchase. Put that instead. Every brand should be trying to be relevant, but that is the fattest word in marketing. It’s like saying “nice”. My best friend is “nice” but Jessica Alba is “nice”. But not the same type of nice. I banned the use of the word relevant because once a marketer uses that word, their brain shuts off. Drill down beyond the buzz word and tell me what your type of relevant you want is, and then put that in your plan. Loyalty takes more than just marketing–you have to align your entire organization to delivering a brand promise, a story, innovation and an experience. It goes beyond a marketing tactic, so yes it’s good to have as part of your plan, but if its just a program then I call “BS”.
If you are not happy with your plan, what do you plan to do about it?
Here are some tips to help you to get to a better plan.
Writing the Plan
Most people get stuck in writing a Brand Plan, because they sit at the computer frozen with writers cramp, over-thinking what to put down, uncertain how to frame it all and unsure how to even write. In the most simplistic of terms, here are the main elements of a Brand Plan and how simple you should keep it:
- We have some long-term thoughts on where the brand can go (vision) and the special assignment to get us on our way. (mission) And that help shape the things we want to achieve with our brand. (goals) To get started, the brand has different options (strategies) for how to get there and programs that most effectively deliver the choice you make (tactics)
- We try to find a slice of the population (target) to get them to take an action (expected result) that makes our brand bigger. We then find out what to say and how to talk to them to trigger that action (main message) We need to re-enforce why we can do it and others can’t (support)
- We then create the most motivating stimulus (product, advertising, sales promotion etc.) to get them to take action and put it in part of their life where they are most likely to hear it and act on it (the medium, launch or channel etc.)
If it is that easy, why do we struggle and how do we screw it up. Maybe it is the fancy buzz words that get in our way of our intention. Instead, start with what you want to do in the plan, not the buzz words of vision, mission or strategy, because those words can get in your way.
One thing I like to do is use 5 key questions to help frame the Brand Plan, the answers help frame everything you need in a brand plan. The five questions to ask yourself are: 1) Where are we? 2) Why are we here? 3) Where could we be? 4) How can we get there? and 5) What do we need to do to get ready? With these 5 questions answered, it can get you on your way towards a situation analysis, mapping of the key issues, statements of vision, mission and goals, choices around strategies and tactics as well as the execution and measurements:
From there, you could easily write a Brand Plan as matched up and outlined below:
In terms of analysis, there are so many ways to do it but my preference is to use a force-field analysis of Drivers and Inhibitors. Basically, drivers are what is pushing the brand and inhibitors is what’s holding it back. These are happening NOW. Then add in the a future looking analysis of Risks and Opportunities. These could happen in the future. The simplicity of this analysis helps the next stage of your brand plan, and set up the Key Issues which are focused on finding ways to continue/enhance the growth drivers, minimize or reverse the inhibitors, avoid the risks and take advantage of the opportunities.
I like to put the Key Issues into question format, as a rhetorical question (eg. Key Issue: How do I drive more distribution for Listerine?), because the answer to these questions becomes my strategies (Leverage New products to gain added Distribution in the Food channel). The better the questions, the better the strategies.
Not enough plans use a vision and mission statement. They are essential in helping to frame the direction of the brand. Think of the Vision Statement as the end in Mind Achievement, thinking 5-10 years out of what do you want your brand to become. It can be a balance of qualitative and quantitative. And it should be motivating and enticing enough to motivate people to get behind it. The Mission Statement becomes the “special assignment” and is tightly connected to the vision, but is more likely a 1-3 year direction—if a vision is a destination, then a mission is a major milestone on the path towards that vision. While a vision focuses on the future state, the mission focuses on the movement the brand must undertake to go from present day to future state.
In terms of writing of the Brand Plan, my recommendation is focus on the top 3 strategies and then map out 3 tactics per strategy. That’s a total of 9 tactics per year, which is plenty to put all your money behind. Having only 9, allows you to do a great job at each of the tactics, focuses your money on the top tactics that will drive the highest return on investment and effort. Just imagine if you had 5 strategies and 5 tactics per–you’ve just gone from the top 9 tactics up to the top 25 tactics. It might feel like you are covering more, but really you’re just spreading your money too thin and not really doing a great job at any of them. Too many brands end up with a “To Do” list that’s long at the start of the year and mysteriously unfinished at the end of the year.
A good brand plan should have a consistency from the vision all the way down to the execution. It should flow. Think of a band playing in perfect harmony. When you write something that does not fit, it should stand out like a “Tuba” player, trying to play his own song. It’s misfit to the plan. As you near completion of your plan, go through your document and see if you can spot misfits. Find the Tubas!
Lastly, I recommend organizations come up with a common format for plans across all plans. Freedom in formats just forces Brand Managers to try to come up with the coolest of power point slides. I’d rather have my Brand Managers putting their creative juices into tactics that get into the marketplace rather than doing cool slides. And while Brand Plans might use 10 or 20 slides (no more than that) ideally you can find a way to get your entire “Plan on one page” making it easier for everyone to follow along.
Use the Plan to Guide Everyone, including Yourself
To read more on How to Write a Brand Plan, read the presentation below:
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