Challenge your thinking to focus your brand strategy

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” That really fits with brand planning. Many brands I see don’t even know where they are–either have their head in the sand in denial, or have a team mis-aligned in debate.  But if plans move brands, then if you don’t understand where you are, then how can you decide where you want to move them. So in marketing terms, we’d say “if you don’t know where you are, you might not know where to go next”. 

Here are five questions that will help focus your plan

At the start of every planning cycle, I would take a few hours, put the feet up on the desk and put down 2-3 bullet points for each of the following questions.

1. Where are we?

2. Why are we here?

3. Where could we be?

4. How can we get there?

5. What do we need to do?

Answering these questions really helps to focus your thinking because you can see the guts of the macro brand plan before you even start to dig in. It will give you the starting point on your situation analysis, map out the key issues, frame the vision/purpose/goals, lay out the strategies/tactics that will enable you to hit your vision and then provide a top-line look around how you might execute.  


And if you want to take those questions and answers further, you can build a plan-on-a-page using the 6 key areas as outlined below:


Here are four questions that will help focus your brand strategy

As you’re looking at your brand strategy, you need to look at the brand from all sides. Here are four questions to be asking that force you to choose four possible solutions to each.

1. What is your current share position in the market?

2. What is the core strength that your brand can win on?

3. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?

4. What is the current business situation that your brand faces?


  1. What is your current share position in the market?  Where you rank is a great indicator of how much power you can command in the market.  You have four choices, using Marketing Warfare (Trout and Ries) you are either the Leader, Challenger, Niche or a Guerilla.
    • Leader (defensive): Leader of category or sub-category defending their territory by attacking itself or even attacking back at an aggressive competitor.
    • Challenger (offensive): Challenger’s attack on the leader to exploit a weakness or build on your own strength.
    • Niche:  An attack in an open area where the Leader is not that well established.
    • Guerilla: Going into an area where it’s too small for the Leaders to take notice or are unable to attack back.
  2. What is the core strength of your brand?  Most brands should have a focus to what they win on, either winning on product, idea, experience or price.   Slide1
    • Product Brands:  your strategy should focus on superiority, ensure that you invest in Innovation to stay ahead of competitors, and likely focus on rational advertising that makes sure you leave consumers knowing you are the best. In a crowded market, it has become increasingly difficult to win on product alone. Thirty years ago, P&G pushed this at every opportunity, but technology gaps have closed. And even P&G has successful switched to focusing more on being different and less on being better. That leads us to choose more of the idea brand below.
    • Concept/Idea Brands:  your strategy should focus on being different.  To tell that story, you need to invest in brand communication. You want to connect consumers emotionally to your brand idea. Apple builds everything on their brand around the idea that “apple makes it so simple that everyone can be part of the future”, whether that’s the easy-to-use products, concept focused advertising or the stores that help them execute the idea.  Are the products great?  Yes, but not likely better.  Just different.
    • Experience Brands: your strategy and organization should focus on linking culture very closely to your brand. After all, your people are your product. You want to build values and align the culture to those values. And as you go to market, invest in influencer and social media that can help support and spread the word of your experience.
    • Price Brands:  your strategy has to focus on efficiency and drive low-cost into the products you sell and high turns and high volume. You have to be better at the fundamentals around production and sourcing. Use call-to-action type advertising to help keep the turns very high. McDonald’s of the 1970s perfected this model, but we’ve since seen WalMart take it to the next level. You might not like all that WalMart does from an ethical point of view, but it’s on strategy and helps you get toilet paper cheaper. What consumers don’t notice at Walmart is their obsession with retail turns. On average Walmart sells through their stock within 28 days, compared to other retailers who might average 100 days. You rarely see slow-moving items and rarely see clearance items.
  3. How tightly connected is your brand to the consumer? Consumers move along a “Brand Love Curve”, as they become more connected to Brands, their feelings and behavior changes. Slide1There are four phases of the Brand Love Curve, moving from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally to the Beloved stage.
    1. Indifferent: At this stage, consumers are either not aware, confused or not interested in your product.  You treat your brand like a commodity, and your consumer treats you the same way, sticking with their current brand. Promotional pricing becomes your only weapon. As brands only have 4 real choices in survival–better, different, cheaper or not around for very long–I would not bet on these surviving long-term.
    2. Like It: At this stage, brand satisfy the consumers’ basic needs.  They use it, see it as a very functional, rational choice. To survive without emotion, you must have a better product or service offering. Your lack of connection means no relative power and you risk substitution as you battle for every penny earned. If you are leapfrogged with something better, your brand dies a quick death.
    3. Love It: Here we start to see brands building loyalty with consumers. There is an emotional connection and you become the consumers’ favorite brand, possible building into their routines. We see power shift to the brand, as it can use this emotional connection to charge premium prices, enter new categories and build added volume through heavier usage.
    4. Beloved:  At this stage, consumers become fans of the brand.  Here consumers are un-relenting in their conviction, they are possessive and outspoken, seeing the brand as a personal choice.  It goes beyond routine and becomes a ritual, not just a favorite brand but a favorite part of the day. These brands do everything right, align their brand promise, strategy, story, innovation and experience behind the big idea they stand for. Slide1 

4. What is the current situation your brand faces? As your plans are designed to move your brand, you need to understand where they are before you can decide where you want to move them.

  • Continued Momentum: Sales growth and profitability in good shape, team is aligned on direction for the future. Underlying brand metrics and relationships beyond organization are strong. Keep business going strong. Fuel growth drivers, while resisting temptation for wholesale change
  • Turnaround: Continuing decline in sales, being attacked by competitors or category shrinking. Margin squeeze, either due to price/cost or the shrinking sales line. Downward momentum over 2-3 years. Lack of alignment, internally or externally, on the solutions for the future. Need to get business back on track. Change the direction: new people, new plan, new ideas, new attitude.
  • Re-Focus: Circumstances on business have changed, driven through either external market forces or internal dynamics to the point where there is now a lack of alignment on the direction or next steps for the brand. Alignment around Brand (positioning, plan) and Culture (values, behaviors)
  • Start Up: Getting a new brand into he market, or launching a current brand into new categories of innovation. Organization needs setting up (team, culture, structure, values, behaviors) Need for focused strategic Investment choices to get brand going. Moving from blank slate to big idea, plan and team. Focus Focus Focus!

Strategic Thinkers ask “what if” questions before they see solutions. 

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To read more on strategy, here is a workshop for Brand Leaders to make them better Strategic Thinkers and write better Brand Plans. To view, click on the Powerpoint presentation below:

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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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 or phone me at 416 885 3911