Digitalisation and 24/7 global connectivity increases customer power and supply-side reach. Search and algorithms also reduce brands to keywords. As a result, markets become increasingly competitive over time and not less. These therefore create pressure for change. And dealing with change requires foresight and innovative business strategy skills and processes.
We often get asked to help businesses get closer to customers and to develop new marketing or brand strategies. Yet businesses plan, organise and manage in different ways. Further, marketing has not always been viewed as a management discipline. It only emerged formally as such in the 1950s (1). Marketing functions evolved from sales, and brand functions, from communications. Digital functions also evolved from the need to master new information and communication technologies. Yet customers and brands are the only constant in a fast-moving digital world.
Yet business strategy, marketing strategy and brand strategy are different
At the outset also recognise that marketing and branding are often misunderstood concepts. Further customer marketing and consumer marketing are different to brand marketing. Some businesses also have dedicated ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ teams and some do not. Even when dedicated teams are in place, the functions and skill-sets tend to be very different. Marketers are also seldom empowered to lead business strategy. While some businesses employ rigorous strategic planning processes others also encourage entrepreneurship. What’s done now, tends to follow from the past, with the pace of change, depending on the knowledge and views of senior managers. So while, there is no ‘one-size’ solution for all there is a useful strategic planning process to work out the right solution (2) (Figure 1 – Infographic).
Clarify where the business or brand is now and in the future
By understanding where a business or brand is now and where a business wants to be in the future allows route-map development.
So first understand current business, marketing and brand strengths and weaknesses, business drivers. Then create clear, challenging, and inspiring goals.
The marketing discipline uniquely looks through the lens of customers and customer segments to assess issues, size market opportunities and influence demand.
By clarifying where you are now and want to be, the size of the gap, potential route-maps or strategies to bridge gaps will become clear. Potential roadblocks or issues should also become clear. So opportunities and solutions can then be developed to address key issues. If this is not possible, then new goals need setting.
Use human imagination and analysis to generate and build ideas
Work with colleagues and allow human imagination to generate and build ideas (2). While some organisations prefer an analytical approach to business strategy development, others prefer a more creative approach. However, there is merit in dual ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ thinking. Left brain thinking involves assessing the pros and cons of each opportunity. Right brain thinking requires stepping away from the detail, and taking inspiration from the world around, to imagine new opportunities and strategies. In our experience no-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and employing different brains speeds the progress.
Planning from the customer, market and brand point of view also inspires. In particular, versus technology, creative or financially-led methods.
Engage colleagues to win a mandate for change
Engaging colleagues is important to fact-find, ensure understanding and reassure. Thus revealing hopes and fears and adding colour to issues and opportunities. Also clarifying what’s understood and agreed, or not. All thus helps focus attention on what’s required.
By agreeing goals and collaborating, the best ideas should naturally surface to the top. Though the best solution is seldom the one that is 100% technically correct if only 20% of stakeholders agree with it. A better solution is one that is 90% technically correct where most stakeholders agree with it. Only then will there be a mandate for change.
Remember that change is difficult and takes time
The journey to create truly customer-focused businesses and powerful brands is a long one. So be pragmatic about what benefits are achievable, at what cost, and by when. Also understand the barriers to change to devise more effective strategies and plans. Figure 2 shows a product-brand continuum with benefits delivered at each stage (3).
For product, service or sales-led organisations, there are benefits in simply understanding and meeting the needs of customers. This needs structures, skills and processes to put the customer and his or her needs first and centre.
For organisations in markets where brands are emerging as a differentiator, there are benefits in understanding customer awareness and perceptions. Also in using these insights to better set your offer apart. This requires structures, skills, planning and management processes to design, promote and manage brand(s).
For digital and service organisations delivering through people, and for larger product brands, there are benefits in understanding and influencing perceptions through all brand encounters. This needs structures, skills and processes to create distinctive communications, align people activities and behaviour to deliver consistent experiences.
The very largest organisations and those contemplating expansion into multiple geographic markets and categories, require more developed relationship building strategies. In addition, brand personality, structures, skills and processes to expand across countries and assuage multiple cultures.
- Customer and brand marketing are both strategic business development disciplines. Yet also different ways of thinking about business strategy. So help senior management understand this point, and start by working collaboratively to define relevant business goals.
- Successful customer or brand-led business development requires strategies, structures, skills and processes to work across entire organisations. Rarely will success follow if expectations rely on one person or activity. So with clear goals in mind work out clear ways to realise them as a collective.
- Understanding a business and brand’s current position is vital to define the ‘gap’ to bridge to reach your goals. So research customers to understand current brand relevance. And also avoid giving undue importance to unexplained digital information such impressions and clicks.
- As business and brand drivers continually wax and wane, stay abreast of changing dynamics. Also what works and doesn’t. As a result you’ll be better able to deploy your businesses’ finite resources and influence customer choice.
- Use creativity to strengthen customer relationships though key touch-points.
- Finally, for those new to marketing, investing in a brand may be a step too far. However, for an objective view on the way forward our marketing consulting services are always bespoke.
- Webster Frederick E. “A Perspective on the Evolution of Marketing Management” Journal of Public Policy and Marketing Vol. 24 (1) (Spring 2005)
- Harari Yuval Noah. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind (2014)
- Arnold Tim, Tomlinson Guy. The Marketing Director’s Handbook (2008)