How to build a smart brand plan everyone can follow

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

A smart brand plan gets everyone in your organization on the same page. Everyone drives against the same vision, key issues, strategies, and tactics. In this article, I will show you all the brand plan definitions and provide brand plan examples and brand plan templates.

 

A plan should allocate your limited resources

A smart brand plan makes choices on how to allocate your brand’s limited resources to drive the biggest return. The plan gains approval from senior management around spending, strategies, tactics, goals, and projects. The plan aligns, steers and inspires all functional areas of the organization including marketing, sales, finance, supply chain, product development, human resources and any outside agencies. And lastly, the Brand Plan even helps the Brand Manager who wrote it, to stay focused on delivering on what they said they would deliver.

 

 

Five questions to set up your rough draft of your Brand Plan

An effective Brand Plan answers where are we, why are we here, where could we be, how can we get there and what do we need to do. Once you answer these 5 strategic questions, you will see that you have your analysis, key issues, vision, goals strategies, execution, and measurement. 

 

 

While there is a lot of work with our planning process, you will end up with a Brand Plan on ONE PAGE. Here is a brand plan example.

 

Start with a rough draft outline

Before you start in on working on the brand plan, I recommend that you write 2-3 bullet points for each of the five strategic questions. This provides an outline to ensure the overall flow of the plan. Below is our recommended strategic worksheet with a brand plan example using Gray’s Cookies to help:

The elements of the brand plan

Following our Brand Plan we recommend building your plan around the following elements of the plan:

  1. Situation Analysis
  2. Key Issues
  3. Vision/Purpose/Goals
  4. Strategies
  5. Execute
  6. Measure
 

Situational Analysis

Start the planning process with a deep-dive business review that answers “where are we”, by looking at everything connected to the business including the category, consumer, competitors, channels and the brand.
 
From the deep-dive business review, summarize what is driving the business, what’s holding it back and then lay out the risks and untapped opportunities. Try to focus on the top 3-4 points for each box below:

Brand Vision

When I see brand teams struggling, they usually lack a vision. As Yogi Berra once said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there”. The vision answers “where could we be” and becomes a beacon for everyone working on the brand. It is the one that defines your success. If you achieved it, everyone would feel proud.

We like to ask brand leaders: “if you woke up ten years from now and you were in a great mood because of what was happening on your business, what are the 2-3 things you would have achieved”. This gives you a straw dog vision, framed as a very large goal. We then provide some examples of the best-in-class vision statements to see if sparks some creativity in writing a final vision statement.

A good vision should scare you a little, but excite you a lot.

It should be motivating and enticing to stretch your mind while getting everyone focused. Ideally, it is Qualitative (yet grounded in something) and quantitative (measurable). It is perfectly fine to embed a financial ($x) or share position (#1) element into it as long as it is important for framing the vision. The vision should easy for everyone to understand and rally around. It should stand at least 5-10 years or more. It should be a balance of aspiration (stretch) and reality (achievement)

A brand vision is not a positioning statement or a strategic statement. These both come later in the plan. Try to be single-minded in the statement. You do not need to include everything. Make sure you haven’t achieved it already.

Key Issues

One tool we recommend with finding the key issues is to ask 4 questions that determine “why are you here”:

  1. What is your current COMPETITIVE position?
  2. What is the CORE STRENGTH your brand can win on?
  3. How tightly CONNECTED is your consumer to your brand?
  4. What is the current business SITUATION your brand faces?

Combine the deep dive analysis with the answers to these 4 questions and you will have a good start on your competitive, brand, consumer and situational issues.

Strategies

The strategy is always about “how to get there”. At the strategic level, you have to make choices. When Marketers come to a decision point that requires focus, too many try to justify a way to do both. You have to decide. The best strategic marketers never divide and conquer. They make choices that help to focus and conquer. Marketers always face limited resources in terms of dollars, time, people and partnerships. They have to apply those limited resources against unlimited choices in a target market, brand positioning, strategic options, and activities. The best Marketers are able to limit the options through decision-making helps to match up to the limited resources.

The Brand Love Curve can help pick your strategy

The Brand Love Curve guides your strategy. We have created a hypothetical “Brand Love Curve” to assess how tightly connected brands are with their consumers. Brands move along the curve from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved with consumers becoming outspoken fans, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings and thinking is replaced with feelings. Brands use their connection with consumers to become more powerful against the very consumers who love them, against the channels who carry them and against the competitors trying to beat them. With that added power, brands gain more profit through price, cost, share and market size.

Where you sit on the Brand Love Curve influences your next major strategic move.

At the Indifferent stage, focus on establishing your brand in the consumer’s mind. You have to create an opinion. At the Like It stage, consumers see you as a rational choice. There needs to be strategic work to separate your brand from the pack to generate a following. For the Love It stage, the focus should be on tugging at the heart-strings of your consumers to drive a deeper connection with those who love you. And, at the Beloved stage, the strategy has to continue the magic of the brand and get your loyalists to speak on the brand’s behalf. Mobilize brand fans as advocates.

Use the Brand Love Curve to focus your activies. While you will come up with your own unique strategies, we have used the Brand Love Curve to map out 20 core activities to begin playing with.

Don’t try to do two things at once

The biggest strategic flaw of most brand plans is trying to drive penetration and usage frequency at the same time. This is a classic case of trying to get away with doing two things instead of picking just one. Look at how different these two options really are and you will see the drain on the resources you will experience by trying to do both.

A penetration strategy gets someone with very little experience with your brand to likely consider dropping their current brand to try you once and see if they like it. A usage frequency strategy gets someone who knows your brand to change their behavior in relation to your brand, either changing their current life routine or substituting your brand into a higher share of the occasions. By doing both, you will be targeting two types of consumers at the same time, you will have two main messages and you will divide your resources against two groups of activities that have very little synergy. If you are really strategic, pick one, not two.

As we wrote our key issues in question format, then the strategy becomes the answer. Look how they match up. This brand plan example uses Gray’s Cookies, and this type of brand plan format can make a great brand plan template for you to lay out your strategies.

Tactics and Execution

“What do we need to do to get there” matches up marketing execution activity to the brand strategy, looking at communicating the brand story, managing the consumer towards the purchase moment, launching new product innovation and delivering the brand experience. We use our Big Idea to drive each of these key areas of the brand. To read more, click on this link:

How to use a brand Idea to capture the consumer’s mind and heart

Marketing Execution has to make your brand stronger. It has to create a bond with consumers who connect with the soul of the brand, it establishes your brand’s reputation based on a distinct positioning and it influences consumers to alter their behavior to think, feel or act, making the brand more powerfully connected, eventually leading to higher sales, share, and profit.

Start with a Consumer Buying System that can match your brand’s Marketing execution to where your consumer stands with your brand.

Focus your marketing activities by prioritizing on return on investment and effort (ROI and ROE). For each strategy, you want to find the “Big Easy”. Start by putting all your ideas on to post it notes, then map each idea onto the grid as to whether they will have a BIG versus the SMALL impact on the business, and whether they are EASY versus DIFFICULT. The top ideas will be in the BIG EASY top right corner. The goal of this activity is to narrow your focus to the best 3 activities.

Bringing the Plan together

The power of 3’s: As we said earlier, the plan is about making decisions. We recommend that you narrow your effort down to 3 strategies and then 3 tactics for each strategy. That means 9 core projects for each brand to focus their resources on during the year. Compare the subtle difference that 5 strategies with 5 tactics for each strategy explodes into 25 projects that might cripple your brand’s resources. By doing less number, you will be focusing your limited resources on making each project has a big impact. When your team lacks time to do everything with full passion, they run the risk of turning out OK work that fails to connect with your consumers.

Avoid misfits within your brand plan

When you write a plan, think of it like conducting an orchestra. There are a lot of moving parts and, if you do not stay organized, the plan may begin to look like many scattered thoughts. When your plan is disjointed or looks like a collection of disconnected ideas, it will confuse and meet resistance, which are the opposite desires for why you create a plan. A smart brand plan should have a consistent flow in the writing as you move from the vision through to execution. Like an orchestra playing in perfect harmony, everyone is playing the same song. 

When you write something that does not fit, it tends to stand out like, “a tuba player playing their own song.” When I managed a marketing team, I came up with this analogy and started to call plan misfits “tubas.” 

From my experience, senior leaders are skilled at finding “tubas,” which can derail your presentation, as the debate becomes more about why the “tuba” is there and less about the bigger aspects of your plan. Go “tuba hunting” by reading through your brand plan and eliminating the “tubas” before your management finds them.

The worst “tubas” are those elements of the plan that seems to ‘die a quick death’ in the document or they ‘come from out of nowhere’ with no analytical setup. 

 

The two worst types of “tubas”

  1. A reasonable idea is presented early on and dies a quick death never to be seen again in the plan. If, early on in your plan, you say part of your brand vision or purpose is “to be the disruptive leader in innovation,” then why is there no innovation strategy, innovation process or new products for the next four years? Sure, your vision sounds catchy. However, it appears to be a misfit “tuba” with very little to do with the rest of your plan.
  2. A creative tactical idea presented late in the plan seems to come out of nowhere. If the focus of your plan for a new product launch is to drive early trial, then why is there a significant investment in your tactical execution plan to create a VIP club for high-frequency users? If there is no analytical set-up of an opportunity or strategic set-up, then a tactic that comes out of nowhere late in the plan is a “tuba.” It risks causing conflict or confusion. 
 

Brand plan definitions of key terms

Vision: 

The vision should answer the question, “Where could we be?” Put a stake in the ground that describes an ideal state for your future. It should be able to last for five to 10 years. The vision gives everyone a clear direction. It should motivate the team, written in a way that scares you a little and excites you a lot.
 

Brand purpose:

The purpose has to answer the question, “Why does your brand exist?” It’s the underlying personal motivation for why you do what you do. The purpose is a powerful way to connect with employees and consumers, giving your brand a soul. 
 

Values: 

The values you choose should answer, “What do you stand for?” Your values should guide you and shape the organization’s standards, beliefs, behaviors, expectations, and motivations. A brand must consistently deliver each value.
 

Goals: 

Your goals should answer, “What will you achieve?” The specific measures can include consumer behavioral changes, metrics of crucial programs, in-market performance targets, financial results, or milestones on the pathway to the vision. You can use these goals to set up a brand dashboard or scoreboard.
 

Situation analysis:

Use your deep-dive business review to answer, “Where are we?” Your analysis must summarize the drivers and inhibitors currently facing the brand, and the future threats and untapped opportunities.
 

Key issues: 

The key issues answer the question, “Why are we here?” Look at what is getting in your way of achieving your brand vision. Ask the issues as questions, to set up the challenges to the strategies as the answer to each issue.
 

Strategies:

Your strategy decisions must answer, “How can we get there?” Your choices depend on market opportunities you see with consumers, competitors, or situations. Strategies must provide clear marching orders that define the strategic program you are investing in, the focused opportunity, the desired market impact, and the payback in a performance result that benefits the branded business.  
 

Tactics: 

The tactics answer, “What do we need to do?” Framed entirely by strategy, tactics turn into action plans with clear marching orders to your teams. Decide on which activities to invest in to stay on track with your vision while delivering the highest ROI and the highest ROE for your branded business.
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This type of thinking is in my book, Beloved Brands

Learn how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze

You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 

  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. When it comes time for the analytics, 
  • I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

 

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Kobo and Apple Books

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