Brand strategies can no longer simply fall from the skies, or to be more precise, from the brains of CMOs and their agencies. Gone are the days when ad executives conceived of fully-formed campaigns, to present to companies and then roll out in a one-size-fits all format.
The world of branding has become immeasurably more complicated. For every billboard that existed two decades ago, not only are there ten more billboards, but there are interactive ads, social media ads, ads disguised as GIFs, ads shown to you depending on your location… the list goes on.
How do you know whether it’s better to be aiming at people through the social media feeds on their phones, or grabbing their attention with personalised audio ads, or only bothering to spend budget on people within a one mile radius of your pop-up.
The answer, of course, is that it’s very difficult. Books have been written on the back of this dilemma, and CMOs build their careers everyday trying to find the perfect formula. In the absence of a magic answer, the best, most realistic quick-fix you can get, is to acknowledge that one-size-fits-all is never going to work. Your strategy needs to be as tailor-made to the people it’s aiming to reach as possible. For that to happen, your ideas need to be rooted in deep thinking, and backed up by consumer insight.
Here are 6 of the very best tools and frameworks for anyone looking to create a robust brand strategy.
To dig to the root of problems [5 whys]
The ‘5 Whys’ are a well-known phenomenon. Like many great frameworks, it’s a simple process: take a problem you’ve encountered, and ask why five consecutive times, to get to the root cause of the issue and shine a light on what you need to change.
Let’s imagine you’re a new, digital bank and you’ve been running a pop-up stall that’s not performed well.
Problem: We’ve made a loss on our pop-up stall
1st Why: Because not enough people signed up to our app to make it worth while
2nd Why: Because they all said they didn’t need it: they already had a bank
3rd Why: Because they hadn’t understood how our app is different to traditional banks
4th Why: Because our marketing materials hadn’t properly communicated our USP
5th Why: Because we need to look inwards and properly define what sets us apart
This thought process isn’t rocket science, but it helps you slowly sift through the causes to get to the root of a problem. And, as Taiichi Ohno, a pioneer of the Toyota Production System (where this framework was conceived) observed, “having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” He saw problems as “a kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunity in disguise.”
Tackle problems with this Toyota spirit. Even if it seems like an enormous hurdle, with multiple causes, spotting it and setting about fixing it is a great chance for your brand to refine and excel. If you find that there are multiple causes for one problem, separate them out into various ‘1st Why’s and repeat the process for them all.
The reason it’s so important to work all the way to the bottom is because here is where you will identify the areas you have the power to change. Often, when something’s not going to plan it can seem like it’s because of external factors (people aren’t receptive to your adverts; a competitor’s racing ahead of you), but if you make everything you can change the best it can be, many of the external challenges will fall away.
To make sure the inside matches the outside [SWOT]
The SWOT technique follows on very nicely. SWOT forces you to see your business from the inside and the outside, and compare how the two stack up.
Again, the framework is nice and easy to use:
S – Strengths
W – Weaknesses
O – Opportunities
T – Threats
Making a list about your company, or your team’s, strengths and weaknesses will force you to consider what is happening at the moment. They typically represent an internal view of your company.
The opportunities and threats lists ask you to think about the future. They typically take an external view of your market.
Take your biggest strength and ask which opportunities it can help you achieve? These will be your quick wins: you already have the tools to make these things happen. Seize this low-hanging fruit by creating a strategy to bring these opportunities to the fore.
At the other end of the scale, take your most powerful threat and ask which weaknesses leave you open to it becoming a reality. This is the most important hole to plug, and should be made a priority.
Then look at your strengths next to your weaknesses and threats. How can you use what you’ve already built to neutralise these potential potholes?
The Economist suggests a second acronym at this point:
A second four-letter acronym is sometimes brought into play here: USED. How can the Strengths be Used; the Weaknesses be Stopped, the Opportunities be Exploited; and the Threats be Defended against?
Since fresh problems crop up as companies grow (and equally, a company’s new strengths can become strong very quickly too), it’s important to reassess often. SWOT can be a great way of checking in on a quarterly, monthly, or weekly basis as an overview of the key upcoming hurdles, and a plan as to how to leap over them.
So in the context of using SWOT to define your brand strategy, you might consider:
- Great designers
- Agile social media team
- Win over Millennials
- Go international
- Lack of consumer insight
- Tagline no longer resonates
- 4 VC-backed startups all launched in our space this year
From this, you might focus on a brand strategy that emphasises beautiful imagery and responds quickly to current events, work with a platform like Attest to bring in more agile consumer insight, and use that to test updated taglines. You could then also run surveys to better understand Millennials’ needs and attitudes, explore the best markets for expansion, and run competitive intelligence to understand their weaknesses.
To understand the landscape around you [PEST]
The PEST framework concentrates your mind fully on external factors affecting your business. It works well in tandem with the SWOT framework, the difference being that it focuses on the wider picture.
P – Political
E – Environmental
S – Socio-Cultural
T – Technological
PEST factors will fall predominantly into the Opportunities and Threats category of your SWOT analysis, and will help you identifies future issues in plenty of time to do something about them. With this advanced warning, you’re less likely to start projects that will fail due to external factors. This is why the PEST framework needs to be run frequently: all four of its variables change all the time, and you need to be aware of how this will shape the environment you’re business is operating in.
You will also need to run through this framework if you open in different markets. It will give a distinct view of the different countries in which you’re trying to succeed. It can be tempting to roll out successful strategies across all areas of your business, but PEST will alert you to when, perhaps what worked in London, for any of these four external reasons, just will not fly when you push it in New York.
Running through the ‘PEST’ exercise is great way to get that longer-term view of where the market is heading. And if it’s backed up by real consumer insight, you can be confident you’re building towards a long-term trend and growth, while avoiding declining markets or areas ripe for disruption where you might be less competitive.
Lay your PEST analysis out visually, or on flash cards so you can move them around when you come to strategise action plans
To think about how you fit in [Business Model Canvas]
Unlike PEST, this framework asks you to hold a mirror up to your company and look inwards. Essentially, the Business Model Canvas strategy gets you to construct a full picture of all areas of your business so you can see where there is a potential trade off.
You must break your organisation down into 9 building blocks:
- Customer Segments
- Value Proposition
- Channels to each customers
- Customer relationships you establish
- Revenue streams
- Key resources you require
- Key activities you must engage in to create value
- Key partnerships
- Cost structure of the business model
Here is the canvas on which you should map it out.
There are plenty of sites just a google search away, which will allow you to edit this sort of template with all the key details about your business. Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to visualise the business as an ecosystem, in which everything hinges together, and nothing works in isolation.
Forcing yourself to consider every atom of the business will show you what does, and what doesn’t make sense. If there’s a something in your ‘key resources’ box, but you can’t see anything appearing in any other boxes as a direct result of it, you know that it’s something you need to stop spending money on. Equally, if you see that your revenue streams are coming out of one customer segment, you know you need to focus a lot of energy on this segment, and question the channels you’re using to access the other segments since, clearly, they’re not being effective.
In short, it’s a great tool to ensure your whole brand strategy is connected with every part of your business.
To know what resonates [Buzzsumo]
Exceptionally necessary for consumer brands, Buzzsumo is the perfect place to find out what is popular on social media. Know that, and you’ll know which conversations you can get involved in.
Use the search field to type in big buzzwords in your industry. By putting ‘OR’ between these buzzwords, you can search for a data set of what the conversation that’s already happening looks like, while still maintaining relevance.
Let’s say you’re in healthcare technology, and you need to know which direction to take your marketing strategy in to get word out to as many people as possible. Search for:
“healthcare technology OR healthcare AI OR healthcare big data OR healthcare robot”
You’ll very quickly see which articles are getting the most traffic; which words work best in titles to draw views; and which topics are most frequently discussed online.
It’s a sweeping view of the online, and social media landscape that allows you to see where the peaks of interest lie, so that you can direct your energy into fertile pockets.
What’s more, this is a particularly easy strategy to repeat regularly because you can save your searches in the sidebar. Simply give them a name, and check back every now and again to monitor if the conversation is moving, and where it’s heading next.
With this information you can then build a brand strategy that is sure to work across social media, attract the right influencers, and create the buzz you want.
To answer people’s questions [Answer The Public]
Questions can be as telling as answers, particularly when it comes to sussing out what information people are hungry for. Answer The Public is an awesome tool that builds on our fascination with the autofill options that drop down form the google search bar.
Type in any word or phrase, and the tool will give you an infographic of the questions that most people are asking to do with that word.
This can help you in two ways. Firstly, knowing people’s search queries can literally tell you something about what people are searching for. If people are googling it, they’re hungry for an answer. It’s a snapshot into an impulse someone’s had: there are sparks of interest there, which shows you that content created to answer these questions, will be well-received.
Secondly, it can help you monitor your own brand’s performance. Type your company name into the box, and see which conversations you’re dominating, and where there’s room for improvement.
If you build your brand strategy around answering your audience’s biggest questions, they’ll feel like you know them, and it will help to quickly build trust and credibility.
To get insider tips [Attest]
All of these frameworks illuminate subtly different areas of your businesses success. It’s important, as we’ve seen throughout, to look both inwards and outwards, and at what you’re currently doing, and towards the future at what you could be doing.
In the spirit of making sure you are looking both outwards and forwards as you carry out these exercises, you need to be sure that it’s not just your team who’s having their say. At the end of the day, whether you have a set of beautiful diagrams and analyses of your business as a result of working methodically through these frameworks, they won’t mean anything if they’ve been created in an echo chamber.
You need to seek out the voices of consumers to validate all your thinking. It’s a safer technique, because it means if you set off up the wrong path, you can quickly correct yourself and reset your navigation. Without customer input, you could be wandering for miles in the wrong direction and never know.
Attest is the best way to validate your thinking—and get some support and answers from consumers about what they need and want—because of its dynamism. Schedule two strategy meetings, one initial brainstorm, and one follow-up action plan. Even if they’re only a few hours apart, within that time, you can have launched a survey to test out your ideas, or as questions to fill the gaps you have, and Attest can have the answers back with you in time.
It will save you the worry of stewing over questions you don’t have the answers to, and it will elucidate the reasons behind the bumps in the road that you couldn’t figure out how to fix.
When it comes to what customers need and want, it’s best to look outside the boardroom and ask the people themselves.
Whichever framework, or frameworks, you decide is right for you, get in touch with us and we’ll help you to know that your thinking is backed up by real, current consumer data every step of the way.