What do you need to do to take your business to the next level?

Where do you want your business to be in 12 months? What about 5 years? How are you going to get there? This is one of those business tasks which requires time, a big sheet of paper, and asking a lot of questions. Dan Ince, of Brandworks, has 20 years’ experience in developing effective brand strategy as Head of Marketing for Dorset Cereals, Jordans Cereals, Mr Kipling, Ambrosia and Pataks. We asked him to take the chair for an Ask The Expert session on how to create an effective growth strategy for your brand.

Dan InceDan talked about the importance of SWOT analysis and how to do it; how to make choices to develop an effective growth strategy; and identifying the marketing levers that will help your brand grow.

This is a transcript of a live discussion.

What is a brand?

Q. What would you define as a “brand”?

Dan Ince Great question and loads of definitions. My view is your business is a brand these days whether you think about it as such or not. Ultimately everything your business does, what it looks like, how it acts etc is your brand. What a brand isn’t is just a fancy logo applied like a thin veneer. In today’s interconnected, transparent world customers see straight through a business that says one thing and does another.

How to do a SWOT analysis for a brand

Ann Hawkins Would you give us some examples of what might show up in a SWOT analysis for a brand Dan?

Dan Ince SWOT is a fantastic tool and where I always start when developing brand strategy. Done well, it gives a fantastic view of where your brand is at and the challenges it is faced with.

Initially, to populate SWOT I ask the following questions:

  • How things are currently going for your brand?
  • Are you growing or declining?
  • How are market trends affecting your performance?
  • What’s happening with your consumers, shoppers and trade customers?
  • What are your competitors up to?
  • How does that affect the market and your brand?
  • Which of your brand activities are working? Which aren’t? Why?

The challenge is to get as long a list as possible by asking yourself what’s happening (the surface issue) and why (the root cause).

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses (internal factors), opportunities & threats (external factors) and allow you to plot most of the issues your business is faced with in one place. But like any tool, you get out what you put in, so keep your SWOT fact-based and tightly focused on just the main points per area.

It looks like this:

An image of a SWOT chart

Three golden rules of a SWOT analysis

When putting your swot together from your brand audit, there are 3 golden rules to remember:
1. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors while Opportunities and Threats are external. Don’t mix them up!
2. Challenge your internal Strengths and Weaknesses by assessing your brand against your competitors. If it’s not a strength vs. competitors, it’s not a strength, it’s just wishful thinking!
3. Keep it tight – 4-5 by area.

To really get under the surface & identify what’s important, its useful to ask yourself (or even better have someone else do it) lots of WHY? Questions. By asking WHY? 3-5 times, it forces you to really drill down and understand what the underlying drivers are…this is where you’ll find the most juicy stuff.

Q. Do you mean something like: My strength is ‘—‘, why? Because ‘—‘, why? because ‘—‘.

Dan Ince Yes – just like a 3 year old, keeping challenging til you get to something meaningful. There’s always a tendency with SWOT to put statements in that are flattering to you but if it’s not a strength vs. a competitor, it’s not a strength, it’s just wishful thinking!

Ann Hawkins How do small businesses separate the brand from the rest of the business, or is it all the same?

Dan Ince For small businesses it’s often the same, the owner/brand and business become very interchangeable.

Q. What are common pitfalls you see businesses falling into time and time again when it comes to SWOT analysis and how can you sidestep them?

Dan Ince Mixing up internal elements (S & W) and external (O & T). Making the SWOT too long & complex. You’re gunning for 4-6 statements per S W O T segment. SWOT shouldn’t contain everything about your brand, just the big things you’re faced with.

How to research your audience

Q. Thinking about micro businesses, what’s the best (with a heavy emphasis on cheapest) way for them to research their audience/potential audience?

Dan Ince The cheapest and most effective way is to work out who you think they are, then go talk to some. This doesn’t have to be fancy paid for research. Get out and about where you think your target will be and get chatting, business to business, at networking groups, conferences, trade shows, to the end consumer, in the supermarket (if you’re selling consumer products), go online, run Google searches and use Google trends to see what other people are searching for. This will give you great insight into what your target audience want.

Q. Thinking about developing the brand/business strategy, could you give a rough break down of % time people should be spending post SWOT developing what they’re going to do – research, planning, implementation, testing, delivery etc etc etc.

Marketing is an action sport!

Dan Ince Great question…marketing is an action sport. so while getting a clear SWOT, identifying your BIG issues & opportunities and outlining your next 12-18 months marketing plan are vital to give clarity & focus. You then need to execute activity to see what results you get. It will also vary based on size of business/brand etc. but I tend to work on 30/70% split: 30% of time spent developing strategy and 70% executing it.

For a large brand like Dorset Cereals, we’d spend 2-3 months planning & the rest executing, reviewing and modifying our activity as needed.

Q. A micro business can be much more agile than this though…right?

Dan Ince Absolutely. I’ve worked with some minor businesses where we’ve nailed brand positioning, SWOT & developed our strategy roadmap in a few days. As an example, in the Small Business Marketing Bootcamp we cover SWOT & strategy development in just one day. We use the same tools, but move quickly as within a micro business the founder has a great sense of all elements of the brand.

The most important thing is to give yourself some time/permission to step out of the day to day ‘doing’ to really evaluate where you’re going and what you’ll need to do to get there.

How to develop an effective growth strategy

Q. What are the choices one needs to make to develop an effective growth strategy?

Dan Ince I use the output from the SWOT analysis to start identifying the big issues & opportunities that the brand is faced with. The important thing is to make choices by identifying the 3-5 biggest things that will drive your business forwards (or backwards if you don’t address them).

To help do this, I use a prioritisation grid like this:

Prioritisation grid

Dan Ince Mapping the issues & opportunities your business is faced with on the grid, helps you work out where to focus by forcing you to identify the areas of greatest impact and ease of delivery.

Q. What would go in this grid?

Dan Ince I take the output from the SWOT analysis, turn them into actionable statements such as ‘how can I drive awareness of my brand locally to build my customer base’ then plot the statements on the grid to help me work out where to focus.

Your biggest Issues and Opportunities will be in the top half of the grid…and this is where you should focus 80% of your resources (time, ££, effort). If the low hanging fruit is really easy to deliver, then by all means go after it, but recognise that as it isn’t making a big impact on your brand you may end up a busy fool. Its all about focus!

Must haves v time sucking money pits

Q. What sort of things would you class as a ‘must have’?

Dan Ince These are things that will have a BIG impact on your brand but may be hard to do…the fizzy drinks market needing to make a choice to either reformulate their recipes due to sugar tax or put prices up would be a good example of something that isn’t easy, but will make a big impact on their business and brand now and in the future.

Q. Are there things people think are a Must Have but actually turn out to be time sucking Money Pits?

Dan Ince This can happen, which is why you need to really challenge yourself on whether this action is needed because it will have a BIG impact on your business…it’s a judgement call, but if it’s hard to do (time/cost etc) and isn’t going to have a BIG impact, its a time sucking money pit!

How often should you look at your brand strategy?

Q. Would you advise doing a brand strategy (swot) when starting or after a year or two of running a company?

Dan Ince Annually, as it will change over time as your business starts and develops.

Q. What about companies that are just starting? Do they do it at the beginning or once they have some data to work with?

Dan Ince Doing it at the start is equally important…you may have less data/evidence, but it’s still a useful exercise to do. At startup, you’d still want to be clear on your strengths & weaknesses (one of which could be lack of reputation/awareness in your market)…as well as understanding the opportunities & threats you face in your chosen market…

Armed with this knowledge, you can then decide where you’ll focus your effort…eg weakness…we’re unknown in this market…possible action ‘how can we build expert status as quickly as possible’…

How to use levers to grow your business

Q. What are marketing levers?

Dan Ince Levers are all the different things you can do to grow your brand…most people have heard of the 4P’s…price, product, promotion & placement…but I use around 7 different P’s to help focus marketing plans.

The key is to consider which levers would make the biggest growth impact for you and use this to develop marketing activities that are right for your business.

1. Product
Would redeveloping your existing products or adding new products increase your distinctiveness and standout?

2. Pricing
Is your pricing too high or too low?
Often brands stand out more strongly and are more successful when they’re premium priced. Just ensure you always offer great value to your customers.

3. Packaging
For most product-based brands, packaging is a most important, but often overlooked, awareness tool.
DON’T follow the herd.
How can you use your packaging to communicate your distinctiveness and standout?

4. Place (where your brand is sold or enjoyed)
Are you being seen in the right places?
Make sure your brand is available where your target consumers go and isn’t available where they don’t.
Think broader than just where your brand is sold…for example, Dorset Cereals is often seen in upmarket B&B’s.

5. Promotion
How could you use promotions to encourage consumers to try, buy and repeat purchase?

6. Paid Advertising
Paid advertising is by no means as powerful as it once was…but whether online or offline, paid advertising can have a role to play in building brand awareness and maintaining loyalty.
If you do pay for advertising, can you ensure what you deliver is new or different?

7. Communication
There are loads of communication tools that can be used to build awareness and engagement with your target customers.
The tools you use will vary however; social media, your website, email, newsletters, sampling and events all allow you to engage directly with customers.
Generating word-of-mouth marketing through PR is a vital element in helping your brand stand out. Publishers love to share engaging content with their audience. How can you leverage this?

Q. That’s a really useful rundown. So, I take it from your comment above that I focus on some but not all of these to achieve my main goals.

Dan Ince Yes, focus is key. the question to ask yourself is which levers will deliver against the BIG issues & opportunities your brand is faced with. Most businesses will use 3-6 levers…they could have multiple activities under each lever…but if you try to do everything you’ll struggle to achieve much (no matter how big your resources)…. with micro businesses, the lack of resources (time, ££) is very useful in driving focus.

Would you like to know more? Get in touch with Dan Ince. Follow him on Twitter @brandworksmktg.