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5 reasons brand strategy is DEAD

I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this. Brand strategy is dead.

In this fast-paced world, brand owners and leaders are abandoning the tried and true for the quick hit. They get just enough small bits of success that it feels like they're doing ok, but maybe just not getting the breaks they need. They can blame the economy, or retailers, or those dang competitors, or even if you can believe it, the poor little consumer.

All the while, not knowing the secret was always right there at their fingertips.

You might be wondering what brand strategy even means. I don't blame you - it's like a foreign concept these days!

Brand strategy is a carefully crafted plan of action to deliver against brand goals. In other words, what are we trying to do and how are we going to do it.

And a strategic planning process helps you get to a brand strategy.

Seems pretty straightforward, no? How can you get where you need to be if you don't have a plan to get there? Well, let me tell you five reasons why brand owners are taking the easy road and killing brand strategy in the process...

1 - brand strategy means branding

photo: marina vitale,

You can't build a plan of action without knowing what you're offering. And while these days you can't throw a smartphone without hitting an article about branding, the reality is the fundamentals of branding are LOST. Too many brands are focused solely on either brand design (who doesn't want to be the next Apple?) or brand purpose (who doesn't want to be the next Tom's?).

Don't get me wrong - both of those are vitally important for the brand. But so is consumer definition, knowledge and insight; point of difference; reasons to believe; functional and emotional benefits; essence, voice, and personality; and all the other fundamental components that allow your brand to communicate its unique offering to the world most effectively AND guide all other decisions you make.

This can't all be done on day one -- building a brand doesn't happen overnight. But these are all elements that must be the foundation of your strategy, even if you are recognizing that you have outages and devise a plan to get there.

But, it seems none of that is as sexy as a beautiful logo and some cool Instagram posts. Sigh.

2 - brand strategy demands time

photo: harry sandu,

I work with brands that operate at the speed of light because sometimes business and consumers operate at the speed of light. You'll never hear me say to slow down at the expense of an honest connection with your consumer.

However, you must be willing to put in the time to get your brand planning in order. A solid strategic planning process is three years long, and at a minimum 18 months long, to ensure the insights, objectives, plans, and execution are all given their due time. There are ways to start up a planning process that doesn't slow you down today and yet sets you up for the future -- so that is no excuse not to start.

Unfortunately, in today's world, we are simply reacting to whatever opportunity is put in front of us. The fact is, you risk losing so much more when you are lacking a clear vision to your end goal and instead make decisions on the fly.

3 - brand strategy needs analytics

photo: glenn carstens peters,

In a world where brands, especially smaller brands, are led by passionate leaders who believe they know their market and their consumer better than anyone else, analytics go by the way side. I'm not talking about top line performance -- everyone keeps their eye on that. But deep, truly insightful analytics that helps guide the brand towards big, meaty goals are missing all too often.

There is absolutely a role for intuition -- I rely on it heavily to connect the dots between facts in order to make smarter decisions. But intuition alone will not get you far enough.

And there is also a role for personal experience and connection to the product and/or the consumer. But keeping a continuous pulse of the consumer, category, competitor, retailers, etc is crucial to making good decisions quickly. And setting dedicated time to thinking hard about your business (aka strategic planning time) is just plain smart.

You want to eek out a few steps closer to your goal? Maybe intuition can get you there. You want to make big strides to deliver big wins against your mission? Dig into some data, dude!

4 - brand strategy means investing in experts

photo: tim gouw,

You might not be able to tell by my "I know it all" tone 😊, but I believe STRONGLY in letting the experts be the experts. I am not talking about talking-head experts. I am talking about cultivating a culture where people's opinions, strengths, and experiences are valued and leveraged for the greater good.

Right off the top, the brand team must be the expert on the consumer. Brand leaders must invest (yes, invest!) in building a team that knows the consumer better than ANYONE. Give them all the opportunity to learn - participate in research, engage with the product, tap into social media chatter, embrace trend watching, etc. Yes, this means resources and time away from other tasks but it can pay back in multiples when you need to make smart choices that further connect you to the consumer.

One of the most under utilized resources in brand planning is the sales organization. They have such valuable insight and experience not only on what is realistic at retail, but what they are seeing from competitors and hearing from customers.

Similarly, other cross functional groups can provide powerful input on the realities of executing our great big ideas. This is especially true when plans include innovation and transformational brand change. Partner with these teams, don't fight them!

And yes, external experts also play a role. Your agencies and vendors have their own unique experience with the brand and the consumer that can bring a diversity of thought to the table. And sometimes an external consultant or subject matter expert is appropriate when you have an outage on any of these matters.

What's key in leveraging all of these experts is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and find the resources to round out your knowledge.

Unfortunately, brands are too often rushing through just a marketing plan, so not only are they not investing in experts, they often are just over-working strengths to make up for the outages they have. Bad move!

5 - brand strategy forces choice

Ah, last but not least. The twisting of the arm. The holding up at gun point. The pushing into a corner. The moment of truth!

People hate making choices. I get it - FOMO is real! Forbes said so.

But strategy, by definition, is making a choice. It's about using the best information available to intuitively choose the path and tactics that will get you closer to your goal. Because not making an informed and considered choice is simply a gamble.

And big wins (at least consistently) will continue to evade if you can't make a choice between opportunities and focus your resources. Unless of course, you have unlimited resources... In which case, have at it!

For the rest of us, reconsider brand strategy and strategic planning as necessary -- only good things can come of it.

Is there any chance we can save brand strategy? Love to know what you think.


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