Published in Thought Leadership Volume 1
While we all know of brands that muddle through and survive, high performance brands practice discipline; they are methodical in their approach to planning and succeed as a result.
I have managed brands within teams that do plan, and teams that don’t. My experience tells me that a brand has a propensity to achieve its big hairy goal when a clear strategy is in place, rather than figuring it out along the way.
It’s common to feel overwhelmed at the start of this process, but with the right brand plan template you can trust in the process and learn that following designated steps is productive. It enables the right questions to be asked at the right stage of brand thinking, and this helps you arrive at what the picture of success looks like and how to achieve it.
Step one is the brand assessment. This is the reality check that sets the scene for the plan to come; it involves reflecting on what has previously happened and provides a summary of the good, the bad and the ugly. Start by asking: what is working and not working for your brand? What should you continue doing and what should you stop? How healthy is your brand compared with your competition? What could you be doing better? From here, you gain insight that will start stimulating ideas.
Step two is the brand statement. This is your brand platform. It’s where you create a vision and essence for the brand, then identify your target consumer, price position and major brand objectives.
Of utmost importance is the brand vision. A strong, actionable vision will place your brand on the path for success. A strong brand vision is realistic, yet optimistic enough to hope for a better future. It describes where you are moving from, where you are going to, and by what means you are going to get there. Ask yourself, does it talk about what your brand will look like in 10 years from now? Does it have purpose? Does it represent a challenge worth going after?
While the vision is where you want to go, objectives are the footsteps you have identified to take you there. Without objectives, your vision will never become a reality.
As part of the brand statement, you need to profile your target consumer.
Identifying your target market is based on the principle that your offering and your audience are highly interdependent. Yet without the budget to commission research or the confidence to tackle it yourself, profiling and understanding the consumer is often overlooked. You must find a way to gain consumer insights, as consumers are the source of your brand’s growth. Research on a shoestring may mean talking to staff and customers, analysing your database members or simply asking questions at your cellar door.
The brand statement you create becomes the blueprint for your brand. At this point, it is time for step three – a deep dive SWOT analysis. This is a detailed examination of internal forces in the form of strengths (S) and weaknesses (W) and external forces that represent opportunities (O) and threats (T) in your growth trajectory. The more specifically you can define your market and competition, the more enlightening this exercise will be. With the SWOT complete, you will have a comprehensive understanding of your brand and a good feel for its position and performance in the marketplace.
From here, you are ready to initiate step four, which is to formally identify core brand challenges and consider how to overcome these so you can achieve your brand objectives and ultimately success. Examples are brand awareness is low; limited distribution points; brand health is weak. List, then prioritise.
Once you have these listed, you can apply strategies and initiatives to each challenge as a way of providing a solution. This is step five. Create a table starting with the challenge, then work through the strategy and initiative. For example, to address low brand awareness, your approach potentially becomes to build brand awareness (strategy) through an integrated communications plan (initiative). PR, social media, advertising and promotion become important elements to address this brand challenge. Lastly, remember to detail how you will measure success.
The finale, step six, is to put these initiatives into an activity plan. I recommend a simple calendar as a one-page view of brand actions for the year ahead.
Above all, remember that your brand plan is your roadmap and it should guide all brand behaviour and communication, with the ultimate aim to ensure relevant conversations and promotion with your target consumer. It also engenders confidence in your business that you have a brand with a plan, and ultimately a strategy for success.