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

To read more on Strategic Thinking, click on the Powerpoint file below to view:

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

Case study: How Apple builds everything around simplicity

Apple Case StudyIn 1996, the Apple brand bordered on bankruptcy. It was 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 the company. The Windows 95 launch by Microsoft had severely eroded 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, as it was a poorly run organization through the early 1990s. Executives made terrible decisions with inconsistent strategies and, most importantly, there was no brand idea for what they should be. After Steve Jobs came to Apple in 1997, he shifted the focus to rebuilding around the  brand idea of “Apple makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” He took a consumer-first approach in a market dominated by an obsession with gadgets, bits, and bytes.

Here’s how the five elements of smart strategic thinking show how Apple completed its turnaround plan:

1. Set a vision of what you want

Apple’s vision was to make it easy to get everyone to be part of technology in the future. The main issue was how to create brand fans then mobilize them to spread the word to the masses.

2. Invest resources in a strategic program

Apple invested and aligned everything behind a brand idea defined as “Apple makes technology so simple; everyone can be part of the future.” The company uses this brand idea at every touchpoint, including the brand positioning, communication, innovation, purchase moment and experience.

3. Focus on an identified opportunity

For decades, Apple consistently focused on empathizing with—and taking advantage of—the consumer’s frustration with technology. In the 1980s, Apple attacked IBM personal computers as being too complicated. In 2005, they used “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” advertising to attack Microsoft. Each time, Apple used its “consumer-first” mentality to transform leading-edge technology into accessible consumer technology.

4. Leverage a breakthrough market impact

Apple takes a fast-follower stance that takes current technology and makes it simple to use. Every platform, including desktops, laptops, phones, watches, tablets, and music streaming delivers the brand idea of “simplicity.” And, Apple deploys high profile launch hype to use vocal Apple advocates to spread the word to their friends.

5. Performance result that pays back

Apple created a consumer bond with their brand fans to enter new categories. On top of that, Apple is now the most beloved consumer-driven brand, with premium prices, stronger market share, sales, and profits. They used brand love to help drive a remarkable 40x revenue growth over 10 years, skyrocketing from $5.7 billion in 2005 to $240 billion in 2015. This rapid growth helps cover the high costs of advertising and R&D, giving them very healthy operating margins, up over 35%. All this strategic effort has increased their market capitalization approaches $1 trillion.

 

The Apple Brand Plan

If you took the strategic thinking model and began to outline a brand plan for Apple brand, these would be the  core elements:

Vision: Apple wants everyone in the world to be part of the future.

Goals: Continue aggressive sales growth, geographic expansion into China, launch a major new consumer-friendly technology each year.

Key issues: 1) How do we convey Mac’s superior user experience versus the traditional PC?  2) How do we enter the music industry and increase the availability of online music to support our iPod?

Strategies: 1) Apple will launch a full communications assault to challenge the PC/Microsoft Windows dominant position by finding flaws in the PC to contrast with Mac computers’ simplicity to steal significant market share by enticing frustrated PC consumers to buy a Mac.  2) Apple will launch a full assault against the entire music industry with a disruptive innovator stance to show how iTunes provides higher quality digital music on your iPod much cheaper, faster and smarter than CDs to gain an entry point into the music industry.

Tactics: TV advertising to highlight new features and challenge competitors. Launch innovation each year including phones, tablets, online music, watches and personal computers. Laugh specific products for China. Increase retail space around the world. Build out the e-commerce program.

How Apple builds everything behind the “simplicity” brand idea

The brand idea for Apple is “making technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.”  They take a consumer-first mentality, as they transform leading technology advancements into “consumer-accessible” technology, helping fuel the perception among the mass audience that Apple is an innovative leader. 

Apple has done a great job in taking that brand idea and stretching it across their brand story through advertising, and their innovation plan (as they have entered many new technology categories). They have also used their brand idea to guide how they manage the purchase moment (to make sure their retail outlets are easy for consumers), and how they create happy experiences for consumers. And when they don’t nail the ideal consumer experience, they go out of their way to help out. They also have the genius bar and on-site lessons, which help increase the knowledge of consumers.

Apple’s advertising has delivered “simplicity” since the 1970s

Apple’s advertising has been relatively consistent for over 40 years and incredibly connected with consumers. The early print ads of the 1970s talked about how we designed the computer, so you don’t have to worry about the details.

The “1984” TV ads for the Mackintosh launch spoke about the freedom from machines. Although the message was a little ahead of its time, it fit with simplicity.

The brilliance of the side-by-side “Mac versus PC” TV ads epitomized the brand idea by making the PC seem overly complicated and frustrating while setting up the Mac as the simple alternative.

Apple builds product innovation around simplicity

Apple has taken many failed technology ideas like online music, tablets, or mp3 players, and turned them into consumer-friendly platforms such as iTunes, iPads, and iPods. With each new product, Apple uses launch hype to generate excitement to spark the enthusiasm of the early adopters who spread the word. Also, Apple has successfully taken its cherished brand fans into new categories. 

Purchasing Apple products is very simple, including its own retail store experience 

Apple uses simplicity to manage the purchase moment through its retail stores, making sure the experience is simple and straightforward. All staff carry a credit card machine and complete the transaction very quickly. No lines or cash registers. Simplicity shines through the store layout, with the genius bar for one-on-one tech questions and support and the training area to teach classes. The brand also puts every Apple product on display to allow consumers to take them for a test drive. 

Even when Apple products are in other stores, the brand has used its power with that retailer to create a distinct store-within-a-store concept, which replicates a similar look and experience from Apple’s own retail locations.   

Apple obsesses about the consumer experience

As Steve Jobs famously said, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.” Apple even believes opening your Apple products should be like unwrapping a gift.

The brand wants the consumer to be able to use any Apple product right away rather than spending hours loading software or setting up your machine. Regarding product integration, Apple products work together, and they work the same way, which makes it very simple for consumers when they move from one Apple product to another.

Brand Love leads to power

As Apple has achieved an extremely tight bond with a loyal mass of followers, they use the tight consumer bond to generate brand power that they quietly wield in the market. Apple’s retail network of stores generates twice the sales per square foot of any retailer in the world, yet it is a very soft-sell environment. I was recently on a double-decker bus tour of New York City, and when the bus went past the 5th Avenue Apple flagship store, half the bus stood up to take a photo. And, Apple has such a power over the supplier network with an array of engineers following extremely tight procedures. Also, they have a power over the media, generating over $2 billion worth of free media each year. Moreover, Apple fans want to work at Apple, many times giving up lucrative jobs just to be part of the brand.

Apple Case Study Big Idea Simplicity

Brand Love leads to Profit

Apple extrapolates the power they generate into profit, with their incredible financial performance over the last 15 years. And, they generate significant price premiums, relatively lower cost of goods and moderate marketing spend ratios. This holds their margins at healthy levels for a technology firm. Furthermore, Apple has entered many new categories over the past 15 years, each time their army of loyal fans has followed, moving into laptops, phones, tablets and the music business. In each segment, Apple continues to gain share to drive volumes. Finally, the higher margins and higher volumes make for a beautiful profit statement.

Apple Case study big idea simplicity

 

Even though Apple gives the perception of an extremely friendly brand who is on the side of the consumer, they are now a huge mass market corporate brand, with a market capitalization of $500-600 billion, which 2-3 times the value of companies like Coke, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and IBM. So, if you invested a mere $10,000 in 2005, you would have $240,000 a decade later.

Apple uses their brand’s Big Idea to turn Brand love into higher power and profits.

At Beloved Brands, here is an expanded version of the Apple Case Study, including how Apple’s Big Idea guides everything they do, how to develop Apple’s Brand Strategy Road Map and how Apple’s brand love drives power and profit. Click on the Powerpoint file below to view:

 

I am excited to announce the release of my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

To order the e-book version of Beloved Brands, click on this link: https://lnkd.in/eUAgDgS

And, to order the paperback version, click on this link: https://lnkd.in/eF-mYPe

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

 

Graham Robertson bio