How strategic thinking can help your brand win in the market.

I will outline the five elements of smart strategic thinking. Strategy starts with having a vision of the future. This sets up questions, that outline the major issues in the way of the vision. From there,  you must allocate resources against your strategic programs that fill an identified focused opportunity you see in the marketplace. When successful, the strategy must generate a market impact that can be leveraged into a performance result, making the brand more powerful or more profitable.

I always joke that strategic people share similar traits to those we might consider lazy, cheap, or conniving. Rather than just dive into work, strategic people will spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking of all the possible ways for them to get more out of something, while exerting the least possible effort or wasting their own money. After thinking of every possible option, they have this unique talent to make a firm decision on the best way forward. They are great at debate because it appears they already know the other options you might raise. They already know why that option will not work as well. .

Strategic Thinking

Are you naturally Strategic or Instinctual?

I see a big difference between strategic thinking and intuitive leaders. Smart strategic thinkers see the right questions before they look for answers. Instinctual thinkers see answers before they even know the right question.

Strategic thinkers see “what-if” type questions before they look for potential solutions. Have you ever been a meeting and heard someone say, “That’s a good question”? This is usually a sign someone has asked an interruptive question designed to slow everyone’s brain down.  They take the time to reflect and plan before they act, to force them to move in a focused and efficient way. Strategy is the thinking side of marketing, both logical and imaginative. Strategic people are able to map out a range of decision trees that intersect, to imagine how events will play out in the future. The risk is that if they think too long, they just spiral around, unable to decide. They miss the opportunity window.

Instinctual Thinkers

On the other hand, instinctual thinkers just jump in quickly to find answers before they even know the right question. Their brains move fast; they use emotional impulse and intuitive gut feel. These people want action now and get easily frustrated by delays. They believe it is better to do something than sit and wait around. They see strategic people as stuck running around in circles, as they try to figure out the right question. Instead, these instinctual leaders choose emotion over logic.

This “make it happen” attitude gets things done, but if they go too fast, their great actions may solve the wrong problem. Without proper thinking and focus, an action-first approach might just spread the brand’s limited resources randomly across too many projects. Instinctual leaders can be a creative mess and find themselves with a long to-do list, unable to prioritize or focus.

Changing brain speeds 

Brand leaders must learn to change brain speeds. Go slowly when faced with difficult strategy and quickly with their best instincts on execution. A brand leader’s brain should operate like a racecar driver, slow in the difficult corners and fast on the straightaway. You must slow down to think strategically. Did you ever think that the job might get in the way of thinking about how to do your job better? With wall-to-wall meetings, constant deadlines, and sales pushes, you have to create your own thinking time.Strategic Thinking

You should block off a few hours each week, put your feet up on the desk, and force yourself to ask really difficult questions. Pick one problem topic for each meeting you book and even invite a peer to set up a potential debate. The goal is not to brainstorm a solution, but to come up with the best possible question that will challenge the team. Go for walks at lunch or a drive somewhere just to get away from it all. My best thinking never came at my desk in front of my computer. If you have your head down in the numbers you will miss the obvious opportunities and threats that are right on the horizon. To be more strategic, you should assess the situation, frame questions that challenge your thinking, and consider every element that could have an impact on your brand.

How to slow your brain down and think strategically

  1. Find your own thinking time. Go for walks at lunch or a drive somewhere to get away from it all. Block hour-long “thinking meetings” with yourself.
  2. Organize your week to fit your thinking pace. For instance, maybe talk “big ideas” on a Friday morning so you can take the weekend to think.  Schedule quick updates on Monday afternoon that clears your mind for the week.
  3. Do the deep thinking before the decision time comes? Always be digging deep into the analytics to stay aware, prepare yourself, no matter your level.
  4. Next time in a meeting, spend your energy asking the best questions. Too many leaders try to impress everyone with the best answers. Next time stump the room with the best questions that slow down the team so they think.
  5. Proactively meet your partner team. Get to know their needs, rather than wait for a problem or conflict. Come to them proactively with possible solutions so you both win.

Five elements of smart strategic thinking

Everyone says they are a strategic thinker, but not many Marketers really are. Early in my career, I confess that I was more of an instinctual marketer. So, I know the effort and discipline it takes to slow the brain down and evolve into a strategic thinker. Here are four elements of strategic thinking to help slow your brain down.

Strategic Thinking

1. Always set a vision of what you want for your brand

A strategic thinker thinks about the future to map out a vision for five or ten years from now. A vision sets aspirational stretch goals for the future, linked to a well-defined end result or purpose. Within the vision, you should focus on finding ways to create a bond with your consumers that will lead to a power and profit beyond what the product alone could achieve. With every vision, you should write the statement in a way that should scare you a little, but excite you a lot.

The vision should steer everyone who works on the brand. In fact, I believe every little project should have its own little vision that is closely linked to the overall brand vision to help determine what success looks like on that project. As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you do not know where you are going, how will you know if you get there?”

To be a visionary, you must be able to visualize the future. Imagine that it is five or ten years from now. You wake up in the most amazing mood. Think about your personal life and your business, and start to imagine the ideal of what you want. Start to write down the things that have you in such a great mood. Visualize your perfect future and write down the most important things you want to achieve, and begin brainstorming a vision for the future. Even think about language that will inspire, lead and steer your team towards that vision.

Always ask questions

To challenge how to make your vision happen, you must ask interruptive questions of what is the way of you achieving your vision. As the definition of strategic thinking talks about asking questions, the smart strategy must ask questions that frame the issues that are in the way of what you want to achieve. Look to come up with an interruptive type question that will make everyone on the brand stop and think. The brainstorm I use is to list out everything in the way of the vision—trying to come up with at least 20; then narrow down to the three biggest issues you see, and frame it as a big question for the team to solve.

Strategic Thinking

2. Deployment of your brand’s available strategic options

A brand has options to build programs behind the brand’s core strength, build the consumer relationship with one of the five consumer touch-points, battle competitors on positioning, address situational opportunities and engage consumers as you go to market.

3. Focus your brand’s resources against an identified opportunity

The biggest myth of marketing is to believe that a bigger target market is the path to becoming a bigger brand. Too many marketers target anyone. It is better to be loved by a few than tolerated by many. You have to create a tight bond with a core base of brand lovers, and then use that base of lovers to expand the following.

The second myth is to believe that if you stand for everything, it will make your brand stronger. There are brands that say they are faster, longer lasting, better tasting, stronger, cheaper, and have a better experience. They mistakenly think that whatever the competitor does best, they will try to do it better. They will say everything possible with the hope the consumer hears something. Hope is never a strategy. To be loved by consumers, a brand must stand for something with a backbone and conviction that it will never go against what it states. Trying to be everything to anyone just ends up becoming nothing to everyone.

The third myth is to try to be everywhere, whether that means in every channel of distribution or on every possible media option. The worst marketers lack focus because of their fear of missing out on someone or something. By trying to be everywhere, the brand will drain itself and eventually end up being nowhere.

Focus your limited resources

Every brand is constrained by limited resources, whether financial, time, people, or partnership resources. Yet marketers always face the temptation of an unlimited array of choices, whether those choices are in the possible target market, brand messages, strategies, or tactics. The smartest brand leaders are able to limit their choices to match up to their limited resources. They focus on those choices that will deliver the greatest return.

Strategic Thinking

The best brand leaders never divide and conquer. They force themselves to focus and conquer with the confidence of strategic thinking. The smartest brand leaders use the word “or” more often than they use the word “and.” If you come to a decision point, and you try to rationalize in your own brain that it is okay to do a little of both, then you are not strategic.

For a strategy to work, brands must see an opportunity, to find an opening in the marketplace based on a change in consumer needs, new technology, competitive opening, or new channels. In today’s electronic world, everyone has access to the same information and in turn can see the same opportunities. You must use speed to seize the opportunity before others can react or else the opportunity will be gone.

4. Leverage the breakthrough to create an impact in the marketplace

Many underestimate the need for an early win. I see this as a crucial breakthrough point where you start to see a small shift in momentum towards the vision. There are always doubters to every strategy. The results of the early win are crucial proof to show everyone the strategy will work. This helps change the minds of the doubters—or at least keep them quiet—so that everyone can stay focused on this breakthrough point.

The magic of strategy happens through leverage, where you can use the early win as an opening or a tipping point where you start to see a transformational power that allows you to get more or achieve more results in the marketplace than you put into the strategy.

5. Performance result that pays back and opens a gateway for more growth

The final element of smart strategic thinking is the gateway opening that a marketplace win allows the brand to achieve more growth for the brand. There has to be a shift in positional power in the marketplace that allows you to achieve your vision, drive business results and make gains in terms of a future pathway to even more consumer connection, power and profit for the brand.

For a brand, the end result must either be more power or more profit. In terms of power, a brand can become powerful versus the consumers they serve, the competitors they battle, the channels they sell through, the suppliers who make the products or ingredients, influencers in the market, any media choices and the employees who work for the brand. In terms of profit, there are eight ways a brand can add to their profitability. Those are through premium pricing or trading consumers up on price, through lower cost of goods or lower sales and marketing costs, through stealing competitive users or getting loyal users to use more and by entering new markets or finding new uses for the brand.

As a strategy must pay back to the brand, you should know which power and profit driver your strategy is focused against. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE was notorious for asking employees he would meet, “So how do you add value?” Do you know how you add value? You should.

Strategic Thinking

How Apple re-built their brand around ‘simplicity’

In 1996, the Apple brand was bordering on bankruptcy. They were basically just another computer company, without any real point of difference. Years of overlooked opportunities, flip-flop strategies, and a mind-boggling disregard for market realities caught up with Apple, Windows 95 has seriously eroded the Mac’s technology edge. Apple was rapidly becoming a minor player in the computer business with shrinking market shares, price cuts and declining profits.

Apple looked like it would not survive.

This was the year before even contemplating the return of Steve Jobs. This really showcases how badly Apple was run through the 1990s. They were making bad decisions with inconsistent strategies and most importantly, there was no big idea for what Apple stood for. After Steve Jobs came into Apple in 1997, everything he did was built around the big idea of “making technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” He took a consumer first approach in a market that was all about the gadgets, bits and bytes.   Strategic Thinking

Apple’s Smart Strategic Thinking

Here are the five elements of smart strategic thinking that allowed Apple to complete their turnaround plan.

  1. Vision of what you want for your brand: Apple wants everyone to be part of technology in the future. The challenging question for Apple: how can we strengthen and leverage our bond with our most loyal Apple users to help the brand grow.
  2. Deployment of your brand’s available strategic options: Apple needed to drive the ‘simplicity’ big idea into the mass market by using their brand love to influence others. Every brand message, product innovation, consumer experience, purchase moment must drive home ‘simplicity’
  3. Focus of your brand’s resources against an identified opportunity: Focus on a “consumer first” mentality that transforms leading-edge technology into “consumer accessible technology”. Apple has been able to capitalize on consumer frustration with technology that has prevented the mass consumers from experiencing everything that technology can offer. The famous “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” ads brilliantly focused on the antagonist consumer enemy of “frustration” to which Apple’s simplicity is the solution.
  4. Leverage the breakthrough to create a market impact: Take a fast follower stance on, making technology easy to use, with consumer-friendly laptops, phones and tablets. High profile launch hype to generate excitement, transforming early adopters into vocal Apple activists to spread the word.
  5. Performance result that pays back and opens a gateway for more growth: Apple created a consumer bond around the Big Idea of “making technology simple” leveraging tight connection with their brand fans to enter new categories. Apple is now the most beloved consumer-driven brand, with premium prices, stronger market share, sales and profits.

The impact on Apple’s Performance Results

Apple has used brand love to help drive a remarkable 40x revenue growth over 10 years, going from 5.7 in 2005 billion up to $240 billion in 2015. This type of rapid growth helps cover costs of Advertising and R&D, giving Apple very healthy operating margins that are up over 35%. All this has increased Apple’s market capitalization to over $500 Billion.

Apple’s Revenue and Profit Growth (2005-2015)

Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking Workshop

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Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or call me at 416 885 3911

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson

Why Can’t Brand Leaders Focus?

Slide1Every part of what you learn about marketing starts and ends with FOCUS.   Yet, the area that marketers struggle the most with is FOCUS.  If you sit in an elementary marketing class, you’ll learn about target markets, brand positioning and making choices in strategy.  These are all the element of focus.  Yet, in the “real world”, we get scared to target because we might be leaving someone out, we try to be as many things as possible because we aren’t sure of what we are and we try to do as many activities as we can, just in case one of those activities sells a few more of our brand.  Fear of missing something.  

I once worked with a bank who told me that their target for a First Time Mortgage was 18-65, new customers, current customers and employees.  I said “you’ve forgotten tourists and prisoners”. aboutus_roi_70812766-300x228 By the very nature of advertising, we’d expect current customers and employees to see the ads, so let’s take them off the target.  And yes, the odd 18-year-old might be wanting to buy a house, and there might be a few 64 year olds that have been renting for 40 years and tired of their land lord.  But in reality, they won’t be offended if there is a 32-year-old in the ad.  Now you can take this focus even further.  You have to matter to those who care the most.  The only people who care about your message are those that are close to buying a house. No one needs a mortgage until they are buying a house. And no buys their first house on an impulse. It likely takes up to a year to buy.  So what if we said your target is “28-33 year olds who are already considering buying a house within the next year”.   Imagine the difference in the message and in the media choices you might make now.

Focus starts with making decisions.  Slide1And that’s where the difficulty lies.  If you present an either-or situation to most brand leaders, they struggle with the decision, so they say “let’s do a little of both”.  They call themselves a “good decision maker”.  But in reality, what separates out a great brand leader from the pack, is great brand leaders know that decision-making starts with the choices where you have to pick one, not both.  Great marketers use the word “or” and avoid the word “and”.  If you aren’t making choices, then you aren’t making decisions.

The reasons why you need to Focus
  1. Every brand is constrained by resources—dollars, people and time.  If I went up to the biggest brands in the world and said what’s your biggest problem, they would say “we don’t have enough money to do everything we want to do”.  That’s normal. But that doesn’t mean you then go do everything you want to do.  Focus makes you have to matter the most to those who care the most.   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.
  2. 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.
  3. Trying to do everything spreads your resources and your message so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”.  With a long to-do list, you’ll never do a great job 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.
Good Strategy starts with Focus

There are Four elements to a good strategy:  1) Focus 2) Early Win 3) Leverage point and 4) Gateway to something bigger.

  • FOCUS all your energy to a particular strategic point or purpose.  Match up your brand assets to pressure points you can break through, maximizing your limited resources—either financial resources or effort.  Focus on one target.   Focus on one message.  And focus on very few strategies and tactics.  Less is more.
  • You want that EARLY WIN, to kick-start of some momentum. Early Wins are about slicing off parts of the business or population where you can build further.  This proves to everyone the brand can win—momentum, energy, following.
  • LEVERAGE everything to gain positional advantage or power that helps exert even greater pressure and gains the tipping point of the business that helps lead to something bigger.  Crowds follow crowds.
  • See beyond the early win, there has to be a GATEWAY point, the entrance or a means of access to something even bigger.   It could be getting to the masses, changing opinions or behaviours.  Return on Investment or Effort.

Sometimes in marketing strategy, we borrow from war.  d-dayAnd if we look at World War II and D-Day, we see a great example of how focus came into play.  While Germany was fighting a war on two fronts (Russia and Britain), the Allied Forces planned D-Day for 2 years and joined in full force to FOCUS all their attention on one beach, on one day. The surprise attack gave the Allies an EARLY WIN, and momentum which they could then LEVERAGE  into a bigger victory by using the victory on that one beach to gain a positional power on continental Europe.  Getting on mainland Europe gave the allied forces the GATEWAY they needed to steamroll through on a town by town basis and defeat the Germans.  The allied forces had been on the defensive for years, but landing on that beach on D-Day gave them one victory and the tipping point to an offensive attack and a pathway to now winning the war.  Imagine if D-Day had used an UNFOCUSED approach.  Instead of focusing on the beaches of Normandy, they could have taken all their troops and spread them every 15 feet from Denmark all the way around Europe to Holland, France, Spain and around to Italy.  The unfocused approach, without a source of power such as that beach in Normandy, would have resulted in the allied soldiers being picked off one-by-one. No focus means no power. If it’s so easy to understand that with a war analogy, how come we can’t do that on our own brands.

Where You Should Focus
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pick a Focused Strategy:  how_to_focusBrands 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.
  • Need a Focused Objective:  As you take your strategy to those who are going to execute the plan, you need to make sure that everyone is delivering against a very focused objective on their program, so that each program adds up to moving the brand.
  • Focused Activities.  While everyone talks Return on Investment (ROI), I also talk Return on Effort (ROE) as well.  Return on Effort forces you to prioritize all your activities.  Things like social media are not free, if they occupy the time of our limited people resources.
When you focus, five things happen for your brand
  1. Better Return on Investment (ROI):   With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be find out if the strategy you’ve chose is able to actually move consumers drive sales or other key performance indicators.
  2. Better Return on Effort (ROE):  Whether it’s your own marketing team or all the people resources you utilize through your sales team or agencies.  Having focus allows you to get the most out of your people resources.marketingroi
  3. Strong Reputation:  When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing—externally and even internally.  And, eventually you become very good at that one thing.  When I’m giving speeches, I love to ask the room to think about the one word connected to brands.  And when I say Volvo, almost in unison, the room shouts out “safety”.
  4. More Competitive:  As your reputation grows, you begin to own that on thing and your are able to better defend the positioning territory
  5. Bigger and Better P&L:  As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits.  And that means more resources will be put to the effort to drive even higher growth.  When you show movement on your brand, go back to your finance person and say “look how well that program worked, now we need even more money”.
fork-in-the-roadSo next time you are faced with a decision, make the choice. Don’t pick both just in case you are wrong.  All you are doing is depleting your resources by spreading them across both choices.  And you’ll never see any movement on your brand so you’ll never find out if you were right or wrong.
Focus Starts with Making Choices

 

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At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

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How to best Execute your Brand Execution Plan

If you are getting tired of me saying “FOCUS” then you might want to stop reading.  I’m not quite getting tired of saying it just yet.  I’ve talked about focusing on a target, a single benefit when we went through brand positioning and creative briefs. I’ve talked about ONE big idea that the brand can stand for. I’ve talked about focused strategies when it comes time to annual brand plans and brand strategy road maps.  I’ve even talked about focused media when it comes time to communication plans.  

FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS!!!

So now as we move on to the execution plan, should we still focus?   Of course.  As you execute, you are constrained by 3 things, time: people and money.  

My challenge to all brand leaders looking at an Annual Brand Plan is to pick 3 strategies and 3 tactics per strategy.   That means 9 things to do really well.  Sounds kind of crazy right?  It gets crazier when I tell you to put 50 to 75% of your resources to the 3 most important tactics overall.  If you have 7 strategies and 7 tactics per strategy, then you’re now doing 49 things compared to my 9 things.  If I asked you to pick your most important 9, and we compared how good of a job we both did on executing, then I believe my 9 would kick your 9’s ass.  In fact, there’s a good chance your team hasn’t gotten to 1 or 2 of your most important 9. When it comes time to execution, focus means I can do a better job, bring some passion and magic to each tactic.  Focus means impact, because I am able to put enough resources against it to be noticed and that impact might be the start of me driving a return on investment.

I once had a Director working for me that kept generating so many ideas that none of them ever got executed.  Every day, 5 new ideas for his team to look into.  The team was in chaos and ready for revolt.  So I asked to see his quarterly project list and he came in proudly showing me 81 projects they had to do in the next 12 weeks.  I was dumbfounded and said “narrow it down to the top 5 most important projects”.  He said “they are all important”.  About an hour later I had his finance director in my office telling me that he was overspent by 20%.  While I couldn’t convince him to focus, he didn’t survive the quarter.

Every day I must tell at least 5 people they need to focus more.

Beloved Brands Start with a Big Idea

The most beloved brands are based on an idea that is worth loving. It is the idea that connects the Brand with consumers.  And under the Brand Idea are 5 Sources of Connectivity that help connect the brand with consumers and drive Brand Love, including 1) the brand promise 2) the strategic choices you make 3) the brand’s ability to tell their story 4) the freshness of the product or service and 5) the overall experience and impressions it leaves with you.  Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers.  It is not just one or the other–it’s the collective connection of all these things that make a brand beloved Look at a brand like Special K who for years was offering a low fat low calorie cereal with modest success.  Only when they came up the Big Idea of “empowering women to take control and maintain their healthy weight” were they able to align their brand to connect with consumers and drive success. Slide1 Special K created the powerful Brand Promise that with Special K, just twice a day for 2 weeks, you can lose 6 pounds or better yet, drop a jean size.  The brilliant strategy is around the usage occasion of the second meal each day.  Cereal had been a category that grew +3% for years, steady only with population growth and some demographics around boomers and echo generations.  But now, there was finally a reason to eat cereal twice in one day.  The communication of the Brand Story become about empowering women to take control using the Two Week Challenge.  With a Brand Idea bigger than just a cereal, Special K’s innovation rivalled that of Apple.  It started with the launch of Berry Special K that thrust the brand into a good tasting cereal, and has since added bars, shakes and water.  Most recently, they’ve now launched potato chips (only 80 calories for 20 chips) and a Breakfast Sandwich option.

What is your big idea?  And how will you align your promise, strategy, story, innovation and culture around that big idea?

The 3 Step Process

When I was at the Brand Manager stage of my career I remember being frustrated when I had to take my plan to the agencies.  We spent so much effort trying to get everyone on the same page, aligning the tactics behind the plan, doling out the money and then waiting to see the execution ideas coming back from the ad agency, the in-store agency, our professional agency, PR agency etc etc.  We’d see each idea and we’d try to piece them all together into a cohesive plan.  Then I came to the point where I had finally had it with playing traffic cop.   And came up with a simple “3 Step”:  

  • Step 1: Briefing
  • Step 2:  Ideas
  • Step 3: Tactical Plan.

Slide1

Once you get your Brand Plan approved, you now start in on the execution Here’s the trick of how this works best.

For Stage 1, you get every agency in the room and you give them a 2 hour briefing so that everyone hears the same message.  At this stage, I like to give agencies a high, medium and low-budget level, which gives me the control and flexibility to move dollars around to the best ideas.  Yes, it creates some competition but that just makes my plan better.

At stage 2, we do an entire day where the agencies present their best ideas with everyone in the room at the same time.  Everyone hears the best ideas and hears why I’m excited about those ideas.  They might also hear what I don’t like or what I think might be missing.  The agencies present big ideas hoping to get to the higher dollar figure.  And we start moving money right in the room.  The feedback is direct, tough and yet challenging.  I love ideas that are aligned to the strategy and big idea and reject those that aren’t. Between stage 2 and 3 is usually where the magic happens. The agencies actually decide to meet and start acting like one agency.  They get the feedback and start aligning their ideas together.  They come up with new tactics to re-earn any lost dollars.  

And by the time they come back to Stage 3, I’m now seeing a fully aligned and enhanced Tactical Plan  The process did the work for me.  All that frustration of me being traffic cop was replaced by the process. In year 2, this works even better.  And when you put it across all your brands like we did at Johnson and Johnson, it works even better.

Filtering the Best Ideas with THE BIG EASY

For Tactics to an annual plan, you can use a very simple grid of Big vs Small and Easy vs Difficult.  You can decide on criteria for Big and Easy, or you can use judgement.  Create the grid and put the ideas on post it notes you can then plot.  You’ll see the best of ideas rise to the BIG-EASY zone. The reason you want BIG is impact, to drive share and revenue growth.  The reason you want easy is to efficiently ensure it has a good return on effort, believing effort and investment have a direct link. Slide1

If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your brand?

To read more about creating Beloved Brands:

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  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Plan:  The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about.  However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise.  Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  3. Consumer Insights:  To get richer depth on the consumer, read the following story by clicking on the hyper link:  Everything Starts and Ends with the Consumer in Mind

 

I run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

To reach out directly, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

Brand Focus: Great Marketers use the word “or” more than “and”

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 graham@beloved-brands.com or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

Positioning 2016.112

How to Think Strategically

If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.  Yogi Berra

After 20 years of managing marketing teams, I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of marketers–some classically trained CPG and some with just good instincts.  While 100% of them would proclaim of themselves “I’m a strategic thinker”, in reality only about 15-20% were actually strategic.  Yet, even some of the best implementers I know still want to be strategic.  I don’t get it.  Why?  I want someone to just finally say “I’m a really good tactical thinker and not really that good at strategy”. I have finally started to ask some of my friends who are great implementers:  “Why do you want to be strategic?”  I finally got an answer that made sense.  “Strategic people get paid more”.  

Are you sure you are Strategic?

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.  Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better  than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers. Aren’t we all.

But to be a great marketer, you must be a bit of a chameleon.  While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action.  And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff we need done.  I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. You must be able to talk with both types, at one minute debating investment choices and then be at a voice recording deciding on option A or B. You need to make tough choices but you also have to inspire all those non-strategic thinkers to be great on your brand instead of being great on someone else’s brand.

OK, then you can’t just one day wake up and be strategic. You need more discipline in the way you think. Here’s some thoughts on how to force yourself to be strategic. Here’s HOW TO THINK MORE STRATEGICALLY.  

Focus, Early Win, Leverage, Gateway

So Let’s see if there is a model that can help people be better at strategy.  When I teach people this model, I tell them it will force them to structure their thinking at first, but then it should just start to flow easily. It’s like driving a car in England, it feels different at first, but then natural very soon after.

A simple way is to break it down into the 4 elements of a good strategy: there is usually a good Focus of resources on what has the biggest potential return, an Early Win that allows you to confidently keep going, a Leverage point you can twist and turn and finally a Gateway to something even bigger.  Here’s how the 4 stages of thinking works:

  1. FOCUS all your energy to a particular strategic point or purpose. Match up your brand assets to pressure points you can break through, maximizing your limited resources—either financial resources or effort. Make tough choices and opt be loved by the few rather than tolerated by the many.
  2. You want that EARLY WIN, to kick-start of some momentum. Early Wins are about slicing off parts of the business or population where you can build further.  Without the early win, you’ll likely seek out some new strategy even a sub-optimal one.   Or someone in management will say “it’s not working”.  You don’t want either of those–so the early win helps keep people moving towards the big win.
  3. LEVERAGE everything to gain positional advantage or power that helps exert even greater pressure and gains the tipping point of the business that helps lead to something bigger.  This is where strategy provides that return–you get more than the effort you’re doing from it.
  4. Seeing beyond the early win, there has to be a GATEWAY point, which is the entrance or a means of access to something even bigger. It could be getting to the masses, changing opinions or behaviours. Return on Investment or Effort.
Looking at using “Focus, Early Win, Leverage, Gateway” in Real Situations

Lots of explanations on strategy use war analogies, so let’s look at D-Day and see how it matches up.  While Germany was fighting a war on two fronts (Russia and Britain), the Allied Forces planned D-Day for 2 years and joined in full force to focus all their attention on one beach, on one day. The surprise attack gave them an early win, and momentum which they could then leverage into a bigger victory then just one beach. Getting on mainland Europe gave the allied forces the gateway they needed to steamroll through on a town by town basis and defeat the Germans. The allied forces had been on the defensive for years, but landing on D-Day gave them one victory and the tipping point to winning the war.  For those who struggle with focus, imagine that if the Allied Forces decided to place one soldier every 15 feet from Denmark all the way around Europe to Greece. Would it have been successful? Not a chance.

If you were to write the brand plan for D-Day, it might look like this:

  • Vision: Win World War II
  • Goals: Re-claim Europe, remove Hitler, minimize losses
  • Key Issue: How do we turn the tide in the war effort in Europe?
  • Strategy: Focused Pin Pointed Attack to gain a positional power on Continental Europe. 
  • Tactic: D-Day, take all our troops and attack the Beaches of Normandy to get back on mainland Europe and battle Germany on an equal footing. 

While war analogies put some heightened sense of intelligence into marketing, let’s look at an example using Avril Lavigne and see if it still works. If it does, then maybe it’s still a good model. In 2005, Avril’s career was flat, a normal path for young musicians. To kick off her album, she did a series of free mall concerts—and was criticized as desperate. She was desperate and no one really understood the logic. But think about it:  mall’s are exactly where her target (11-17 female) hangs out, allowing her to focus all her energy on her core target.  She attracted 5k screaming 13 year olds per mall—creating an early win among her most loyal of fans: those who loved and adored her. She was able to leverage the good will and energy to get these loyal fans to go buy her album in the mall record stores which helped her album debut at #1 on the charts. And everyone knows the charts are the gateway to the bigger mass audience–more radio play, more itunes downloads and more talk value. The comeback complete. Madonna has done the same strategy, except she seeded her songs into dance clubs for the last 20 years.

If you were to write the Avril Brand Plan, here’s how it might look;

  • Vision: Recording Super Star
  • Goals: New Album Sales, increase popularity, new recording contract
  • Key Issue: How do we drive album sales for a slumping Avril? 
  • Strategy: Reconnect with core teen fans to create momentum to trigger album sales
  • Tactic: Free Mall tour to get most loyal fans to reconnect and buy the new album.

Avril Lavigne Wows Thousands At Free Indy Concert

INDIANAPOLIS  — Pop singer Avril Lavigne serenaded more than  2,000 fans during a free concert at a shopping mall.   “You guys are awesome,” the 19-year-old Lavigne told the  enthusiastic crowd Thursday at Glendale Mall.  Some people waited several hours to see the singer perform songs  from her upcoming CD and 2002 hits “Complicated” and “Sk8er  Boi.”   The half-hour acoustic concert was part of a 21-date “Live and  By Surprise Tour” promoting her new CD, “Under My Skin.”   People started lining up at the mall early in the afternoon for a chance to see Avril Lavigne up close and personal.

Starbucks experienced tremendous growth through the 80s and 90s, mainly because of the their coffee. Starbucks quickly become a life ritual in the morning to wake you up. The focus shifted to build a broader portfolio of products around these two time slots.   The early win were a series of new products that made Starbucks seem big on innovation. Sandwiches, Wraps, pastries, cookies. All high quality. The leverage point was turning a coffee routine into a breakfast/lunch routine. The gateway is expanding the life ritual of Starbucks so that it’s now a broad-based place for breakfast and a light lunch, but still connected with coffee.  No longer are they just for coffee. Recently, Starbucks has been giving incentives through their “treat receipt” program to get people to come into the store after 2pm. 

If you were to write the Starbucks, here’s how it might look;

  • Vision:  Cherished meeting place for all your quick service food needs
  • Goals: Increase Same store sales, greater share of requirements from Starbucks loyalists
  • Key Issue:  How do we drive significant growth of same store sales?
  • Strategy: Move Starbucks loyalists to lunch with an expanded lunch menu.
  • Tactic: Light lunch menu, increase desert offerings.

Most Marketers Struggle with Strategic Thinking

However, even though all these marketers are saying they are strategic, strategy actually runs counter intuitive to many marketers. You mean by focusing on something so small, I can get something big.  That makes no sense.  I better keep trying to do everything to everyone.  But that’s exactly how a fulcrum works to give you leverage. Next time you’re taking off your tire on your car, try getting 6 really strong guys to lift your car or just get a tiny little car jack. This is the same model for brand strategy. Focus on your strengths, focus on those consumers who will most love you and focus on the one potential action point you can actually get them to do.

Many marketers always struggle with the idea of focus and always try to do it all.  And for everyone. They worry they’ll pick a potential target too tight and alienate others, focus on one message and forget to tell all they know and miss a crucial fact or focus too tight on one part of the business and forget the others.  I saw a brief describe their target was “18-65, current customers, potential customers and employees”.  I said “all you’ve eliminated is prisoners and tourists.”  I get it that it can feel scary to focus.  But it should feel even more scary not focusing, just in case you’re wrong. You always operate with limited resources no matter how big of a brand:  financial, people, partnering, time. Trying to do everything spreads your limited resources and your message  so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. 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.  When you focus, three things happen: 1) you actually become very good at what you do 2) people perceive you to be very good at what you do since that is the only thing you do 3) you can defend the positioning territory

Many times, marketers fall in love with the best ideas—not always the best strategies. This is where they tactical and they end up chasing down a path with a hollow gateway.  It’s crucial you always start with the best strategies and then find the best ideas that fit with those strategies, not the other way around. What you need to do, is try to map out all the potential wins, try to understand what’s behind that win, and if there is something bigger then go for it, but if there isn’t, then you should reject this path. There has to be a large gateway behind those cool ideas, so you love what the idea does more so than just loving the idea.

 

Strategic Thinking: Focus, Early Win and Leverage should lead to a gateway to Something even Bigger

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We offer brand coaching, where we promise to make your brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your brand’s full potential. For our brand leader training, we promise to make your team of brand leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential. Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles: