Brand Planning: the bridge from strategy to action

If you’re a marketeer in one of the many businesses, who, courtesy of HMRC, are approaching your year end at the end of March, you’re now thinking about brand planning. Brand planning is a vital building block of all business as well as marketing, but it is often treated as something that ‘just happens’, for which common sense alone is good enough to do an adequate job, and gets steered by finance or strategy.

Unless marketeers apply greater rigour and ownership to the discipline of planning, we will limit our ability to deliver the primary aim of brand building companies, to positive impact target customers to effect successful change. And if we can’t do this, we won’t be taken seriously by others in the business.

As it is, sadly, most brand plans don’t get implemented. Why?

Confusing tactics with strategy. Getting excited by and jumping straight to the things you want to do. “Strategy” is an amplifying word, added to other terms to give them a sense of greater importance. Planning embraces three phases, each with a specific goal, sequentially linked and each distinct.

  1. Diagnosis: understanding the situation the brand (or company) is in, and why.
  2. Decide: working out how do we deal with the situation we face. Where do we want to be? What are the options for getting there cognisant of our competitive situation? This is the strategy.
  3. Do: the plans or tactics. Working out what the few, high impact, activities are that we need to execute in order to achieve our strategy. Being clear on what the distractions are.

Getting the diagnosis wrong based on the situational analysis, likely caused by data gaps, overbearing opinions or underplaying owned strengths of the brand or a competitor

Derailed process due to misalignment. Mid-way through the process an intervention from a senior leader questions the work so far, losing momentum and bursting the precious bubble of confidence that had been created.

Choosing the wrong competitive strategy e.g. not leveraging a real strength or perhaps taking on a competitor in the wrong way.

Failing to unite, align or enthuse key stakeholders involved in signing off or implementing.

In response to these issues, we have developed ‘Hourglass’ brand planning, reflecting the shape of the process planning needs to follow. Starting broad, narrow at the centre when focusing on the needs of the customer and the business and then flowing out again to the actions.

Hourglass planning is built off a small number of critical foundations, themselves rooted in the insight that cause planning to trip up:

  • Start by going broad in analysis; not just in terms of the content and approach to gathering data and making sense of it, but also in listening to the perspectives, opinions or strongly held views of key stakeholders in the process.
  • Make sense and choose what’s important. There are lots of tools available to aid with situational analysis but what’s missed is the human act of sensemaking and choice. You don’t want to end up with a very comprehensive but utterly useless synthesis of the current state. It’s what you choose to pull out and take action on that’s important. You’re looking for company or brand strengths that are distinctive, defensible, ownable, leverageable or competitor weakness that are the same. Boil it all down. Focus on the few enablers and blockers of growth because these will be at the heart of your action plan.
  • Be clear on who you’re competing for and evaluate and test everything through their lens.
  • Ensure you have long term foundations in place. Purpose, mission, vision are not interchangeable. You need to know the role of each and how it helps you make clear decisions that more often than not, are right.
  • small number of action platforms that flow directly out of the diagnosis. If you can’t see the insight threads from the diagnosis at the top of the process to the actions at the end, then your plan is likely misdirected and you’ll struggle to get buy in and engagement.
  • Brand activities that deliver against the essentials: we have yet to see an effective brand plan that does not deal with three themes: the brand’s ‘mental availability’, its ‘physical availability’ and bridge between the two, trial & repeat. The 4P’s fit here.
  • Great brand plans sacrifice. Don’t confuse this with prioritisation. Too often, prioritisation is a pretence that some things are more important but, through sleight of hand, we can still do everything. You can’t. Kill stuff properly and just focus on what’s really important.

Our experience in brand planning is built from both client side and agency experience. If we can help you with your planning challenge, get in touch.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh. © The Crow Flies, 2022

Mashup Time!

Yes, Crow Friends, yes, yes YES! It’s Christmas Brand Mashup time – and we’ve got EIGHT wonderfully festive brand mashups for you to get your beaks into. Every one is synonymous with Christmas, just say what you see and mmmmmash them together…

HIT THE LINK TO MASH AWAY… Crow Christmas Mashups

Answers posted on Christmas Day at 3pm here and on our socials:

FB @thecrowfliesltd
Insta @thecrowfliesltd
Twit @crowflieshigh

Enjoy and Get Mashing!

Christmas Chronicle

A few more days and it’ll be a new year – another cycle of life and naturally, of brand planning too! Here’s our latest Christmas edition of the Crow Chronicle with a focus on brand planning. Too often it’s left to common sense and the ebb-and-flow of the business planning cycle (led by finance? Or strategy?). No more! As a brand guardian it’s time to grab control and be prepared to sacrifice! Onwards!!

Crow Chronicle Christmas

Consumer Closeness

In our last Chronicle we wrote about designing and running Consumer (or Customer) Closeness programmes. Off the back of a number of enquiries and questions about it, we thought it would be worth writing a short blog with a few more details.

Let’s start with the issue – it’s entirely natural working in a business that you lose the impartiality about your consumers or end customers. Weeks, even days, into starting with a new employer the culture, belief systems, opinions and company narratives build up layers of filters or lenses through which you begin to view your market. Inductions accelerate it. It’s entirely natural. So it takes some real skill to objectively and impartially shed those comfy company moccasins and slide yourself into a pair of your consumer’s shoes. Not actual shoes mind, that would be weird.

The real warning sign here is if you think (or if you hear others saying), ‘No, this isn’t me. I have the skills and experience to be impartial’. Really… no; you don’t. And you can’t. And it’s not a problem, providing you’re open to it. The real knack is being able to move deftly from one foot (business world) to the other (consumer world) and think about the consequences, correlations, causes and patterns that link the two.

That’s the role of a closeness programme – and it can be designed to suit you. The idea, ultimately, is to get the people that matter closer to the people that matter. To get – to force – your stakeholders to shift onto that other foot. Whether it’s facilitated groups; home visits or extended Consumer Connections; whether it’s online diaries or consumer-accompanied safaris (around stores, round an online shop, mooching in competitor environments or just hunting for ‘clues’ for inspiration) the effects are powerful, long-lasting and can profoundly affect your brand building efforts and build engagement for your important strategic shifts or executional plans.

Closeness programmes can be organised as impactful ad hoc sessions to inform strategy or plan development, as on-going campaigns with a varying focus each time or even as part of a team engagement event.

If it’s something you think could help your brand building, get in touch.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2021

Crow signs up to MRS Net Zero Pledge

As a small company committed to mitigating our impact on our environment we know that we can make a bigger difference if we act together as a sector. That’s why we’ve signed up to the Market Research Society’s Net Zero Pledge meaning we can be part of applying the scale of the market research industry towards a positive goal.

The Pledge means we sign up to four commitments:

1. Making our business net zero by 2026.

2. Tracking and publishing our carbon emissions, working to reduce and offset those emissions and publishing these figures annually in the Industry Report.

3. Collaborating across our sector and beyond, to share learnings and best practice to achieve the above goals.

4. Supporting and encouraging conversations and call outs by our employees, partners and clients about environmental concerns and viewpoints.

We believe we have a role in using our extensive understanding of consumer behaviour in advocating and supporting clients with their sustainability agenda. We also commit to educating ourselves and our employees to positively impact the planet.

It also means that we will continue and upweight our efforts in supporting great environmental causes, such as The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Click here for further information on the MRS Net Zero Pledge.

Research update, August 2021

Howdy Crow Friends! Hopefully you’re all enjoying / have enjoyed or are about to enjoy some precious staycation. We’ve had a few questions on #market#research and specifically when face to face qualitative research can begin again. The answer is now – viewing facilities are opening up in a Covid secure way (and need our support) and many hotels are happy to welcome you.

However, it’s important not to forget the needs and current feelings of participants. Many people are nervous about turning up to strange rooms with strange strangers (and equally strange moderators!) for obvious reasons.

And as well as that, many people are working from home, making a trip to do research ‘live’ a specific destination rather than a convenient add-on. As always, the best advice is to think mixed methodology – targeted face-to-face, targeted online as both have brilliant strengths. In fact, there’s no doubt that going forward, the opportunity to blend approaches to get more actionable insight is enhanced as participants who were nervous about online research previously, now feel fluent and confident.

Drop the Crow team
a line if you want to chat more about it [caw@thecrowflies.co.uk}

#marketresearch #research #brands #strategy #diagnosis #innovation

Vanity & Venality

Back in 2015 we penned a piece about ‘Vision and Values’ in light of the VW emissions scandal. It’s worth a quick refresher: https://thecrowflies.co.uk/2015/09/27/vision-blah-values-blah/

The message then, as it is now, 6 years on, is ‘if you really believe in a cause, make it your purpose’. A purpose, at the top level of the business can drive engagement, give clarity of direction and off this help the business make good decisions.  The same is true of brands; if your brand does believe in something, put it front and centre… let the brand positioning flow from it and feed back into it.

But if it’s just words, just a management tick-box exercise; if it’s just something you are doing to make shareholders value you more, save yourself the time and bother and pursue profit. Vanity and venality have made many business attractive and many people rich. But in truth, you can still be profitable in a responsible way, you can still do this in a way that is good for people and planet, but frankly it saves everyone the BS.

Just ask BrewDog; a company lauded for its manifesto – or charter – (“We bleed craft beer”, “We are uncompromising”, “We blow shit up”) but now, a company that will forever carry about that oddly mendacious whiff of weasely word-smithing, big on style, low, very low, on real substance. And the real salt in the wounds is the claim that “Without us, we are nothing” which according to the seemingly substantive and certainly substantial allegations rings hollow at best, malicious and deeply worrying at worst.

Companies and brands have the power to change the world for the better. They can – they have in the past and they do today – impact people positively, either through the generation of wealth, meeting of needs or even just feeling good about yourself. But the persistent desire to believe the hype in the business world about silver bullets just doesn’t help.

At The Crow Flies we work with clients to put strategic foundations in place – including purpose and values – that brands believe in and can unleash potential. But, these things only make a difference if you mean them.