How to conduct a key issues review on your brand

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The key issues facing a brand start with what is in the way of achieving the brand vision. 

From my consumer-packaged-goods marketing days, I learned the discipline of asking the right questions, before moving to figure out the solution. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. Strategic thinkers first dive deep to make sure they understand what is truly happening. Then 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 planners who can see connections. So it fits that you should do the work to figure out the right questions on the business before figuring out the right answers.  

Start with our Strategic ThinkBox and Marketing PlayBox

I want to introduce you to my ThinkBox concept, which I have borrowed from sports. For instance, in golf, using a ThinkBox forces you to consider everything you are facing before taking the shot. Look at any lakes or bunkers in the way, the wind condition, or how well you are playing that day. Then, decide on your shot strategy. As you move to a PlayBox, visualize the ideal shot, think and feel your way through the mechanics of your swing, and trust you are making the right shot. Do not over-think the strategy during the execution. 

With your brand, you should use a Strategic ThinkBox, to get a 360-degree view of the situation, before taking action. Consider your brand’s core strength, the bond you have with your consumers, your brand’s competitive position, and your brand’s business situation. Once you have completed your thinking, use the Execution PlayBox to see the ideal execution, think and feel your way, then trust your instincts.  

As I created the Strategic ThinkBox, I made it so that each of the four questions uses a forced choice to make decisions, where you must focus on only one possible answer for each question. 

  1. What is the core strength that will help your brand win?
  2. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  3. What is your current competitive position?
  4. What is the current business situation your brand faces?

Start with your brand’s core strength 

Decide which of four choices you will lead with: product, brand story, consumer experience or price. Your core strength will change your entire strategy, including the brand messages and the focus of your investment. In the next chapter, I show a unique process for how to choose your brand’s core strength and then show you how to write smart, strategic objective statements around your core strength.

Look at your consumer strategy 

Start by determining where your brand currently sits on the brand love curve, whether your brand is unknown, indifferent, like it, love it, or at the beloved stage. The goal is to tighten the bond with your consumer and move them from one stage to the next. In a later chapter, I will show you how to use brand funnel data, the voice of the consumer, and market dynamics to determine where your brand sits on the brand love curve. I will outline clear game plans for each stage.

Choose your competitive stance

Regarding the competitive strategy, you must choose from one of four different types of competitive situations you find your brand operating within. The power players are the dominant leader in the category and take a competitive defensive stance. The challenger brands have gained enough power to battle head-to-head with the market leader. The disruptor brands have found a space so different they can pull consumers away from the significant category players. Craft brands aggressively go against the category with a niche target market and a niche consumer benefit. They are small and stay far away from the market leaders. Each competitive situation leads to different strategy choices.

Assess your situation

A brand must look at the situational strategy, which starts with understanding your brand health, looking at both internal and external factors. Choose one of four potential situations: whether you keep the momentum going, face a business turnaround situation, realign everyone behind a strategy, or your brand is a start-up. Each situation leads to distinct strategies and leadership styles to deploy. 

Conduct a situation analysis

Before you plan where to go next, you need to understand, “Where are we?” A deep-dive business review should look take a 360-degree view to dig into the issues related to the marketplace, consumers, competitors, channels, and the brand. Later in the book, I will go deeper into how to conduct a deep-dive business review. 

For the brand plan, provide a summary of the factors driving the brand’s growth, the factors inhibiting the brand’s growth, the untapped opportunities, and the potential threats you see. 

  • The drivers are the factors of strength or inertia, which are currently accelerating your brand’s growth. These are brand assets, successful programs, favorable consumer, technology, and channel trends. Drivers also include new products, successful advertising, and performance in retail channels. 
  • The inhibitors are the factors of weaknesses or friction that slow down your brand’s growth. These are the “Achilles heel” of the brand, which could include unfavorable consumer trends, changes in the way people shop, competitive pressures, and even gaps compared to your competitors. 
  • The opportunities are specific untapped areas in the market that could fuel future brand growth. They include unfulfilled consumer needs, new technologies on the horizon, regulation changes, competitive openings, new distribution channels, or the removal of trade barriers. 
  • The threats are identifiable activities that could impact your brand’s growth in the future. These include significant competitive activity, competitive technology gains, changing consumer dynamics, unfavorable distribution changes, or future potential trade barriers, which would impact your brand’s growth. 

Narrow your focus

While you brainstorm a long list, narrow your focus to the top three points for each of the four areas. As you move from the analysis to the issues, ensure you find a way to continue or enhance the drivers, while you minimize or reverse the inhibitors. You also want to build specific plans to take advantage of the opportunities and reduce or eliminate the most severe threats.

Key issues

Lay out the key issues that answer, “Why are we here?” by taking the summary findings of the deep-dive analysis and drawing out the significant issues in the way of achieving your stated brand vision. 

A great way to find the issues is to brainstorm up to 30 things in the way of your vision. Then, narrow down your list to the top three to five significant themes you see. Take the themes and begin to write the top issues in a rhetorical, strategic question format to prompt a few different strategic options for how to solve each issue. Spend serious thinking time on these questions because the better the strategic question you ask, the better the strategic answer you will get.  

Example of using the four strategic questions to focus your brand’s key issues

Another excellent methodology for finding key issues is to go back to the four strategic questions model I outlined in the strategic thinking chapters. This thinking ensures you take a 360-degree view of your brand. Looking at the example below, I have used the four strategic questions and developed four specific questions that fit Gray’s Cookies.


With various ways to brainstorm and find the issues I recommend for the annual brand plan, focus on the top three key issues, which set up the top three strategies. A long-range strategic roadmap can typically handle up to five key issues, then five strategies.

The better the question, the better your solution.

Make sure you find the right level of the key issue

Too low: How do we get consumers to use more coupons?

  • In this example, the key issue is too specific and too tactical to set up a strategic solution. 

Too high: How do we become the #1 brand? 

  • This key issue is too general and too broad of a question to lead to a pinpointed, strategic solution. It is more suited to a question on brand vision.

Just right: How do we drive usage among loyal consumers? 

  • With this example, the key issue does an excellent job of addressing an obstacle in the way of the vision, yet it is big enough to leave you sufficient room to explore various strategic solution

You can purchase our brand plan presentation format in a downloadable PowerPoint template

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Our playbooks will show you new ways for how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  1. You will find new strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  2. To define the brand, I 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 show a 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. 
  3. 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 marketing communications plan, innovation process, and sales plan. 
  4. To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution with chapters on how to write a creative brief, how to make decisions on creative advertising and how to lead the media choices. 
  5. When it comes time for analyzing the performance of your brand, I provide all the analytical tools you need to lead a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand.  

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand and be successful in your marketing career.

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