Strategic ThinkBox uncovers the Key Issues facing a brand



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I always believe strategic thinkers see questions before they see answers. With that in mind, I want to introduce a process for you to discover and narrow in on the best questions you can ask. Michael Porter describes how strategy must be based on the situation and unique circumstances. So, let’s show how to dig in and find those Key Issue questions that will help identify the unique circumstances facing a brand. These key issue questions are the foundation to any strategic plan.

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To start, you need to conduct a situation analysis

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

SWOT assessment

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. 

To illustrate, click on the SWOT assessment model to zoom in.

First, 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. 

Next, 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. 

Then, 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. 

Finally, 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. 

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.

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To me, the key issues and strategies are the guts of your plan.

Take all your thinking on your brand and start organizing the best strategic questions and answers. The key issues answer, “Why are we here?” Then, use the summary findings of the deep-dive analysis. Draw out the significant issues that are in the way of achieving your stated brand vision. 

Our methodology for finding key issues is to use our Strategic ThinkBox with my four strategic questions model from the strategic thinking chapters. Our Strategic ThinkBox ensures you take a 360-degree view of your brand—your brand’s strength, consumer bond, competitive dynamic, and business situation. 

  1. First, what is the core strength that will help your brand win?
  2. Second, how tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  3. Third, what is your current competitive position?
  4. Finally, what is the current business situation your brand faces?

To illustrate, click on the Strategic ThinkBox model to zoom in.

With each of these four questions, you need to decide on your main answer and see if your investments, communications, and execution deliver on that answer. Once we have the issues expressed as questions, we can provide our strategic solutions for Gray’s Cookies.

What is your brand’s core strength?

Engage our core strength model to trigger your strategic thinking mindset.

Here is the game I have created to help choose your brand’s core strength. Use the diagram above, start with four chips. You must place one chip where you believe you have the highest competitive advantage to win. Then, put two chips at the medium level that backs up and supports the core strength. Finally, the game forces one chip to be at the low end. This is a throwaway weakness that will not be part of the strategy. It is a great game to try with your team. And, it sets up a great debate among your team members. To read more, click on this link: How to find your brand’s core strength.

To illustrate, click on the core strength model to zoom in.

How to interrogate your brand using our core strength.

First, do the homework to discover your core strength. Next, we need to figure out what the underlying issues related to that core strength. Here are four questions that will trigger your strategic thinking.

  1. First, is your core strength the product, story, experience, or price? Are you lined up with it? 
  2. Second, where are you investing? What has paid off or not? 
  3. Third, are you communicating your core strength? Are you moving consumers?
  4. Finally, what is working well? What needs fixing? 

Example of how to discover the key issues surrounding Gray's Cookies related to the core strength.

Gray’s Cookie started as a product-led brand, but it met a ceiling on growth. The market is cluttered. There are signs that consumers accepted the product, but the brand idea has yet to connect. Gray’s cannot gain enough share if perceived as the best product. The open space is an idea that combines the physical and psychological elements of diets—focusing the brand story on helping get past the guilt of cravings. How do we communicate our brand story, so we own it?

How tight is the brand's bond with consumers?

Engage our brand love curve model to trigger your strategic thinking mindset.

Marketers need to use consumer strategy to tighten the bond with consumers, to provide more power and set up the potential to drive added revenue and profits. To show the differences in how consumers feel about a brand as they move through five stages, I created the brand love curve. It defines consumers’ feelings as unknown, indifferent, like it, love it and onto the beloved brand status. To read more, click on this link: How to map out your consumer strategy.

To illustrate the consumer strategy model, click to zoom in.

How to interrogate the consumer bond of your brand.

First, do the homework to discover how tight is the bond with your consumers. Next, we need to figure out what the underlying issues related to consumers. Here are four questions that will trigger your strategic thinking.

  1. First, where are you on the brand love curve. Is your brand unknown, indifferent, liked, loved, or beloved? 
  2. Second, do you know the consumer target, knowledge, insights, match with benefits? 
  3. Third, what triggers consumers to move along their journey? 
  4. Finally, what does the brand funnel indicate? Penetration, frequency?

Example of how do discover the key issues surrounding Gray's Cookies related to the core strength.

Like many new brands, Gray’s Cookies has some consumers who love them already, but Gray’s is unknown with the vast majority of the market. Even with those who love, stated loyalty is high, but usage frequency is far below the mainstream cookies. Do we focus our investments on getting more new consumers, or do we get our current fans to use more? How do we use our brand fans to create more awareness?

What is your current competitive position?

Engage our competitive strategy model to trigger your strategic thinking mindset.

Our competitive strategy model lays out four types of competitive brand strategy situations: the power player, challenger brand, disruptor brand and the craft brand. To start, try to identify and choose one competitive situation, which best fits where you are today, and where you want to go next. If you wish to read more, click on this link: How to manage your competitive strategy.

To illustrate the competitive strategy model, click to zoom in.

How to interrogate the competitive situation of your brand.

First, do the homework to discover which competitive situation best suits where you are today. Next, we need to figure out what the underlying issues related to competitors. Here are four questions that will trigger your strategic thinking.

  1. First, is your brand the power player, challenger, disruptor, or craft brand?
  2. Second, what is the unique positioning space you win with?
  3. Third, what is the intensity of competition? Are you attacking or defending?
  4. Finally, are you winning battles: investment, messages, innovation, retail, location?

Example of how do discover the key issues surrounding Gray's Cookies related to the competitive situation.

Gray’s has quickly disrupted the cookie category, capturing the consumer shift to healthier alternatives. Gray’s has become the dominant power player brand in the ‘good-for-you’ cookie segment. However, there are rumors that the mainstream brands (Nabisco, Pepperidge Farms) are looking to enter healthier alternatives. How do we hang onto our share? Do we attack or defend? What will be the source of the defence plan?

What is your business situation?

Understand your business situation before making your next move.

A smart brand strategy is a smart business strategy. Before moving towards a plan, you must understand the business situation you face. In this article, I will outline four distinct business situations your brand could face: Fuel the momentum, Fix it, Realignment, and a Start-up. You are running a live business, with a need to drive sales, manage costs, and produce profits. Importantly, you should do a deep-dive business review to understand what’s going on. Moreover, you need to understand your profit situation. And, to read more, click on this link: How to understand your business situation.

To illustrate the situation strategy model, click to zoom in.

How to interrogate the business situation of your brand.

First, do the homework to discover which business situation best suits where you are today. Next, we need to figure out what the underlying issues related to your business situation. Here are four questions that will trigger your strategic thinking.

  1. First, what is your business situation? Continue momentum, turnaround results, realignment, or startup? 
  2. Wealth: share, sales, profits? Health: reputation, distribution, pipeline? 
  3. Then, what are the significant gaps that need fixing: message, distribution, innovation?
  4. Finally, what are the current drivers and inhibitors? Future opportunities and threats?  

Example of how do discover the key issues surrounding Gray's Cookies related to the business situation.

Gray’s must maintain momentum as it continues to grow. Now is the time to start filling in some of the gaps early on. As we keep investing in advertising, we need to shore up our distribution, especially at the non-food retailers such as Costco, Walmart, and drug stores. We need to do that before the competitors come in, or we will never get that distribution. 

Narrowing down to the key issues you are facing

Based on all your strategic thinking, now you need to transform that thinking into the best strategic key issue questions.

To illustrate, click on the Key Issues to zoom in.

Looking at the example above, I have used the four Strategic ThinkBox questions to trigger my thinking, and then I developed four specific questions that fit the unique situation facing Gray’s Cookies.

You may end up with multiple key issue questions matched up to one of the ThinkBox questions, or you may end up with redundant questions. 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 five key issues and then five strategies.

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

Strategic Thinking

Smart strategic thinkers ask challenging questions.

To start, take the opportunity to improve your strategic thinking skills. Look to the five steps to building an effective brand strategy

We show how to use our Strategic ThinkBox, and lay out the five elements of strategic thinking. Next, go deeper on to challenge your brand’s core strength, engage with consumer strategy, or competitive strategy

Undoubtedly, you must understand the business situation before making your next move. We show how to write the ideal strategy statements you can use in your marketing plan

Video Lesson: Key Issues

To illustrate, watch our video on how to find the key issues on your brand that you can use in your marketing plan. Importantly, it helps you find the best possible questions. Subsequently, it sets up strategic solutions to answer those questions.

Play Video about Strategic Key Issues Video

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play our brand strategy video. 

Staying on strategy through execution.

As you move to the marketing execution, you need to use in-the-box creativity to stay on strategy. We map out the advertising process, and the innovation process. Take a look at  our Creative Brief and the good and bad creative brief examples. Then, we set you up to make marketing execution decisions using our advertising checklist to evaluate creative advertising ideas. And, you can use our innovation checklist to compare new product ideas.

Importantly, marketers need to understand media planningpricing strategy, and social media strategy

Our brand templates make it easier for you to do your job.

Moreover, we provide brand templates that help you run your brand. For instance, you can find templates for marketing plans, brand positioning, creative briefs, and business reviews. Altogether, we offer brand toolkits with all the presentation slides you need. 

Marketing Careers

On a classic marketing team, there are four key levels:

  • Assistant Brand Manager.
  • Brand Manager.
  • Marketing Director or Group Marketing Director.
  • VP Marketing or CMO.

To illustrate, click to zoom in on the brand management career pathway. 

In simple terms, the Assistant Brand Manager role is about doing, analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.

At the Brand Manager level, it becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan. Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.

When you get to the Marketing Director role, it becomes more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.

And finally, at the CMO level, you must create your own vision, focus on your people to make them better and shine, drive the business results, and run the processes.

Our Beloved Brands Marketing Training program will make your team smarter.

If you are running a marketing team, you will always benefit from having a smarter team. When you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. As a result, you will see them make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth.

We’ll work with your team to help them learn more about the five core marketing skills: Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. Most importantly, your marketers will learn new tools, concepts, and ideas to trigger new thinking. To help their skills, we get participants to take each tool on a test run. Then, we give feedback for them to keep improving. 

To illustrate, click to zoom in on the brand management career pathway. 

Strategic Thinking:

Our marketing training teaches brand leaders how to ask tough strategic questions to slow everyone down and engage in debate of options to move forward. To start, you will be given various tools to approach strategy in a thoughtful, analytical way. Importantly, marketers need learn how to change brain speeds to move from a strategic thinker style to uncover what is holding back a brand, and onto an instinctual thinker style on marketing execution. 

We introduce our Strategic ThinkBox that allows marketers to interrogate their brand. Importantly, our ThinkBox pushes you to take a holistic look at the brand’s core strength, competitive landscape, tightness of the consumer bond, and business situation.

Brand Positioning:

Our brand positioning process teaches how to decide on the target market, consumer benefits, and reasons to believe. To start, you will learn to define the ideal consumer and frame the definition with their biggest needs, consumer insights and their enemy. Then, we provide our benefit cheatsheets to help learn how to discover the functional benefits and emotional benefits that a brand can deliver. Importantly, marketers need to make a decision on trying to stake out a unique space that is motivating to consumers, and ownable for the brand. 

Learn to use our brand idea tool and see how it helps to communicate the brand idea to everyone across the organization. Finally, marketers will learn how to take the brand positioning work and translate it into a brand concept, brand story, and a brand credo.

Marketing Plans:

We see the marketing plan is a decision-making tool on how a brand will spend their limited resources. Moreover, the marketing plan communicates the expectations to everyone who works on the brand. Importantly, we teach marketers how to put together the vision, purpose, goals, key issues, strategies and marketing execution plans

Learn how to write key issue questions and strategic statements that forms the foundation of the marketing plan. In addition, our marketing training provides various marketing planning templates including our one-page brand plan and ideal Marketing Plan presentation deck

Marketing Execution:

Our marketing execution training starts with the concept of our Marketing PlayBox that matches up to the Strategic ThinkBox. To keep marketers on strategy throughout the execution stages, our Marketing PlayBox helps find in-the-box ideas that meet four dimensions: they are focused on our target, fit with the brand, deliver the message, and execute the strategy. 

To start, we show how the creative brief sets up the PlayBox, serving as the bridge between the plan and execution. We go through the creative brief line-by line  and give you examples of the best and worst. Importantly, you will learn to use our Creative Checklist to help make smarter decisions on creative communications. We workshop how to give feedback to your agency based on gaps you see with the checklist. 

Learn to make media decisions that match up to your consumer’s purchase journey. In addition, we provide a similar Innovation Checklist to compare innovation ideas. 

Brand Analytics:

Our comprehensive brand analytics training teach brand leaders how to lead a deep-dive business review. We outline the best analytical thinking so you can become a well-rounded marketer. 

Learn to look at the marketplace, consumer analytics, channels of distribution, competitors or other brands in their industry. And, learn assess the brand itself. Importantly, you will learn how marketing funnels can help assess the brand’s performance. We provide 64 analytical questions that marketers can ask of their brand. Finally, we show how to understand the financial performance indicators of the brand.

Our training looks at three specific streams; Consumer Marketing Training, B2B Marketing Training, and Healthcare Marketing Training. With each program, all the of the examples are tailored to the type of marketer. Undoubtedly, we believe marketers will be at their best when the can see the concepts or tools working on their type of brand.

Take a look at our Marketing Skills assessment tool to see how you or your marketing team measure up.

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