We often get asked to help businesses get closer to customers and to develop new business, marketing and brand strategies. Yet businesses plan, organise and manage in different ways. Virtually all also have their own lexicons. Thus sometimes a challenge to address the latter really requires the former and vice versa.
However, a marketing mindset is powerful to address either, and indeed all of these challenges. Marketers are also increasingly empowered to lead business strategy, and many of the world’s most successful businesses are led by CEOs who previously held marketing functional skills.
However, marketing has not always been viewed as a strategic planning and management discipline. It only emerged formally as such in the 1950s (1). Marketing functions evolved from sales, and brand functions, from communications. However, customers and brands are the only constant in a fast-moving digital world.
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Simplified strategic planning: 3 steps to success
So here is a simplified strategic planning process that is adaptable for all (2) (Figure 1 – Infographic). By understanding where a business or brand is now and where a business wants to be in the future allows you to plot a route from A to B.
Step 1: Clarify where the business or brand is now
The first step is to understand where the business or brand is now. So determine what are your current business, marketing and brand strengths and weaknesses and what drives growth and profitability?
The marketing discipline uniquely looks through the lens of customers and customer segments to assess issues, size market opportunities and demand influences. It also looks at competitive relativities. So the answer these questions looking through these lens. To do this most robustly, understand your own profitability where the profit opportunities are in the market.
Step 2: Use imagination and analysis to generate ideas, and determine where you want to be
Bring together your colleagues and use your combined imagination to envision your future (2). What does this look like? What would motivate your stakeholders? Then write a series of clear, challenging, and inspiring goals. 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 idea or opportunity. Right brain thinking requires stepping away from the detail, and taking inspiration from the world around, to imagine new opportunities and destinations. In our experience no-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and employing different methods leads to better outcomes.
Planning from the customer, market and brand point of view requires considering how to establish or meet customer needs or change customer perceptions. As distinct from setting financial goals, say increasing sales by 5% or realising £Xm. The limitation with the latter is that it is not initially market and customer based. Though financials will need overlaying at a later date.
Step 3: Conduct gap analysis and figure how to bridge the gap
By clarifying where you are now and want to be, will allow you to quantify and qualify the size of the gap that needs bridging. In so doing, potential roadblocks or key issues to address should also become clear. So the challenge is then to design strategies – ‘how to’ solutions, to address the key issues. If this is not possible, then new goals need setting.
Strategic planning success factors
Engage colleagues to win a mandate for change
Engaging colleagues is important to gain buy-in to a way forward.
The best solution is seldom the one that is 100% technically correct if only 20% of stakeholders agree with it. However, a better solution is one that is 90% technically correct where most stakeholders agree with it.
Thus engage a broad church to fact-find, understand hopes and fears, and generate ideas. Then work together to turn your ideas into concrete strategies and solutions.
Through working together, and judicious market research, the best ideas should naturally surface to the top. And with agreement every step of the way, comes a mandate for, as well as desire and commitment to change.
Anticipate and mitigate risks
Change, and the journey to success will not happen overnight. Especially if the journey involves shifting customer hearts and minds. So be pragmatic about what’s achievable, at what cost, and by when. Also understand the risks and barriers to change and factor these into your plans.
Strategic planning context: The product to brand journey
Figure 2 shows a typical journey from basic product to power brand led business. At each stage on the product-brand continuum you’ll realise additional customer and business benefits (3).
If you are a product, service or sales-led organisation, there are benefits in simply understanding and meeting the needs of customers. So put the customer and his or her needs first and centre using market research.
For organisations in markets where brands are emerging as a differentiator, you also need to understand your competitors. And use these insights to better position your brand.
For digital and service organisations delivering through people, and for larger product brands, understand and influencing perceptions through all brand encounters. This needs structures, skills and processes to focus and align people activities and behaviour to deliver consistent brand experiences.
Finally, the very largest organisations and those contemplating expansion into new countries and categories require more sophisticated relationship building strategies. So build brand personality, structures, skills and processes to extend your brand.
- While strategic planning is as simple as 1-2-3 it is complicated by different functional leads, who and what went before, and who is in charge. Yet customer and brand marketing views are gaining increasing traction to drive business growth. So help senior management understand this point, and start by working collaboratively to define relevant business goals.
- Rarely will success follow if the strategic planning is conducted in a silo, by one person or without engaging the business at large. It is more likely to work by engaging across the entire organisation.
- It is easy to have ‘rose-tinted’ spectacles, in other words, be overly positive about your own skills and competences. The acid test of a ‘strength’ is through the customers’ eyes and relative to competition.
- As business and brand drivers continually wax and wane, stay abreast of changing dynamics, and also what works and doesn’t. As a result you’ll be better able to deploy your businesses’ finite resources to influence customer choice.
- Finally, for those new to marketing, investing in a brand may be a step too far. However, for an inspiring view on the way forward just ask away; our marketing consulting services are always bespoke.