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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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How to best Execute your Brand Execution Plan

Brand LeadershipIf 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?

 

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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

 

Brand LeadershipI 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

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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.

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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 colours.  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”.  

 

I run Brand Leader Training programs on this very subject as well as a variety of others that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  Click on any of the topics below:

To see the training presentations, visit the Beloved Brands Slideshare site at: http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations

If you or team has any interest in a training program, please contact me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

 

 

About Graham Robertson: I’m 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. 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. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth.  To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/   or visit my Slideshare site at http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader.  Feel free to add me on Linked In at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1  or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1

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How to Think Strategically

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

Slide1After 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.”  Slide1I 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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