Strategy for marketing success

Five simple questions every CEO and marketer needs to know the answers to.

One of the most common marketing mistakes we witness is companies who expend valuable marketing dollars on marketing tactics before they have a clearly defined and understood marketing strategy underpinning those tactics.

That is, many companies move straight to the “doing” stage before they have developed the “thinking” stage: the marketing and brand strategy.

We liken that to building a house without having architectural plans to guide you, or hopping on a bus without knowing your destination or, worse still, where the bus is going.

As the great combat strategist Sun Zu wrote over 2500 years ago, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Without a thoroughly developed and guiding brand and marketing strategy to underpin your marketing tactics, you are marketing by guesswork and without doubt wasting hard earned and precious money.

How you build you brand strategy

We fundamentally believe the most valuable, enduring and authentic brands come from within and not from outside. They are not the result of an outsourced creative endeavour; rather they are born of the founders and staff who work within a company.

A great brand is a living, breathing, growing organism. If it were brought to life as a person, it would be an amalgam of “What that person says” (the MIND) and “How that person says it” (the HEART).

“Without a thoroughly developed and guiding brand and marketing strategy, you are marketing by guesswork.”

Our process relies on the people inside the organisation, a core team working with us to develop a robust, authentic and enduring brand strategy. A strategy on which marketing tactics can be confidently undertaken to build brand and sales.

Think of this team as your own highly experienced internal focus group who will drive the vision for your company and provide required valuable insights into the current brand as well as the ongoing development of your brand’s future. This exploratory internal group research provides the necessary data points that will lead to the revealing of your greatest competitive brand asset, ie your Brand Canvas™.

The five questions

Simple as they may outwardly appear, the answers to these questions will unlock the potential for your company to achieve your desired growth objectives through the application of a considered brand and marketing strategy.

1) Where do you want to be?

This question is made up of the following two sub-questions:

  1. Where are you from? Develop a shared brand story. Using the workshop participants to develop a shared narrative that helps define where the organisation has come from, try to focus on the “key wins” and defining moments that have made the organisation successful. Ensure all participants contribute to the story.
  2. Where are you headed? Develop a five-year brand vision that articulates, in metrics, what future success “looks like”, what change will be required and how it can be best achieved.

Your business vision is set far enough out to provide a quantum leap for your business and is a “vivid description” of what your business might look like in five years’ time. By setting your vision five years out, you will discover that your annual growth rates are more readily and easily identified.

2) What do you need to say to get there?

Develop the “what” of your brand (the mind) with clearly articulated points of difference, ie “what” messages will best resonate with potential target customers? This question examines the defined market as a whole, in order to create a motivational driven segmentation analysis to reveal a defined number of rich and valuable segments within the specific market that your business needs to focus on in order to develop your market position.

3) How should you say it?

Develop the “how” of your brand (the heart), the unique brand essence that will guide future behaviour, culture, actions and company values. Your brand essence establishes a positive, powerful connection with everyone it touches and also creates a sustainable corporate culture for all to deliver to.

Your unique brand essence represents the relationship and intrinsic value your brand delivers to the customer, how it is communicated and marketed, the type of care and concern customers receive, and the way all stakeholders support the brand.

For those who serve the brand, the essence is a beacon that drives, motivates and inspires continued commitment and cultural direction.

4) How do you do what you say?

The answers to question two – what you should say (the “mind” of the brand) – and question three – how you should say it (the “heart” of the brand) – provide the axis to determine your unique and authentic Brand Canvas™. This provides guidance on objectively auditing your current brand (“Are the current brand assets capable of delivering to the agreed future vision?”) as well as guidance and recommendations for future growth and tactical initiatives.

Your Brand Canvas™can be applied to assist or make judgment calls on issues as wide ranging as marketing communications and messaging, research and development, potential acquisition fit, partnering ‘fit’ etc.

Equally importantly, it also frames the consistency for internal and external messaging – from sales pitches and tender documents to elevator pitches and their tone of delivery.

Think of your Brand Canvas™as the overriding “heart and mind” of your brand that drives the culture of management, staff and your business.

5) When should you say it?

The answer to this question results in a set of prioritised tactical recommendations setting out the next steps to delivering on the brand strategy.

Perhaps one of the most important, and often neglected, marketing tools is the use of an annual communications calendar.

Every proposed marketing activity – from attendance at expos or trade fairs, to printing of stationery to advertising to website and newsletters – needs to be planned, budgeted for, and then placed within the calendar.

Once agreed as a marketing need, each activity then needs to have a person responsible for the delivery of that activity – on time and on budget and on the marketing calendar.

You will notice that these five questions are devoid of marketing jargon. In other words, they are not teaching marketers how to market; rather they are there to guide everyone in the organisation.

When carried out in order they form a replicable process to building a brand and marketing strategy.

Are your brand and marketing tactics aligned and consistent?

Your strategy needs to provide clarity and direction, and most importantly, your management team or executive team needs to ensure they are aligned when it comes to strategy.

A brand strategy provides all the necessary hardwiring required for sales success. A brand strategy is so much more than simply advertising.

So, ask yourself if you can answer the five questions. Then, more importantly, can your leadership team and your staff also answer the same questions exactly the same way? If the answer is “no” you need a brand and marketing Strategy.

Importantly, the answers have to be simple enough that they win the hearts and minds of all your staff, from the most junior person in your organisation to the most senior.

All staff must understand the critical role branding plays and the importance of communicating a uniform and unified brand message. Only in this way is it possible for all stakeholders, clients and customers to become advocates and evangelise the organisation’s customer benefits.

Jason Eisner, co-founder and principal, BrandQuest

This story first appeared in issue 30 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine