Doing Brand Strategy? Here Are 4 Smart Ways to Prepare04.23.19 / David Lemley
If you’re the leader of a better-for-you brand, you may be most comfortable flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to marketing. After all, you know your tribe of fans well.
But there’s a point in any company’s life when a greater strategic foundation is needed in order to grow. And you’re now at that point, ready to undertake a brand strategy process to point your business to new opportunity.
If you’re a bit nervous about it, that’s healthy. Because the brand strategy process will take you on a deep dive into research that will reveal your biggest challenges — and your most significant potential.
How to Prepare for the Brand Strategy Process
So, what is brand strategy anyway? It’s a process of gathering and synthesizing data into meaningful insights about your brand, category, competition, and culture. At the end, you’ll have a bedrock that underlies all decision-making: about marketing campaigns, new products to develop, channels to enter, customers to engage, and more.
Powerful as these insights are, executives are often wary of the strategy process. Maybe they’ve done it before (it’s a lot of work) and haven’t seen results. Or they fear that it will reveal problems they don’t want to know about.
Here are four smart ways to prepare yourself and your team for the brand strategy process:
1. Have an open mind and an appetite for change.
Done right, the brand strategy process leaves no rock unturned across your company’s sales, operations, culture, and product development. It may identify gaps or shortcomings — people you need to hire (or fire), shifts in marketing, issues in manufacturing or fulfillment. That can be concerning, but it’s actually a gift. You’ll know where you need to focus in order to grow.
Brand strategy is not worth doing if you’re not going to act upon what the data gives you, or if you choose to accept some insights but not others.
2. Understand that bad news is good news.
Some of what you uncover during the brand strategy process might look like bad news. Surveys of key stakeholders — an essential part of strategy work — might tell you that employees or retail partners have lost faith in your leadership team. Consumer research could reveal that your origin story (something you’re passionate about) doesn’t matter to them. You might need to reverse a previous decision. Or discover that your manufacturing processes are hamstringing growth.
Bad news is a blessing. Identifying problems means you’ll stop repeating them. You can’t move forward unless you know what’s holding you back.
3. Expect resistance from colleagues.
Don’t be surprised if your team pushes back against any big changes revealed by the strategy process. Remember that you undertook the process for a reason: You wanted to start at the core and establish the right foundation for future growth.
Anticipating this fear of change, take steps to identify the resistors in leadership ahead of time and involve them in the process. They’ll become your biggest advocates in the long run. Include all of the right decision makers representing the key areas of the business, especially those who are prepared to advocate for the changes that come from strategy. They will need to help rally the troops to help activate the new way forward. Make sure HR has a seat at the strategy table as they’ll be involved in managing change throughout your organization. Your HR and finance people may be skeptical about being involved; this is a brand project, after all. But by the end of the first meeting you — and they — will be surprised by what they have to contribute.
4. Allocate resources for implementation.
Make sure you are prepared to invest in the changes needed to grow. It sucks to have a plan with a roadmap, but no way to implement it. Don’t get stalled out at the end of strategy; make sure you are ready to invest in the ways that will really matter to propel your brand forward into the future.
If the strategy points to repackaging the product line, that’s an obvious and easy expense to account for, but other implementation costs may be hidden. Despite its name, brand strategy looks beyond the outward expression of the brand to find opportunities across the business. It might reveal that you need to overhaul your R&D process, upgrade inventory management, or build marketing and sales support for new products. Those costs are more difficult to anticipate before the strategy starts.
In our experience, it will take at least 1X the cost of the strategy work, and up to 6X, in the first year to roll out the rebrand and any related business changes.
Yes, the brand strategy process is deep and personal and intimidating. You’ll want an experienced partner to guide you gently and firmly through it. As you’re getting started, conduct your own assessment of your brand (and ask your leadership team to do the same). You’ll be better prepared if you’ve thought about it ahead of time. Come into the process ready to share and be part of the solution.