Updated: Aug 19, 2019
How to protect your brand's strategic endurance while maintaining the sprint pace required in today’s digital world.
If you sat down and built a pie chart segmenting the time you spent on the different components of your job, and you grouped these activities into those that delivered short term progress vs. those that are for the strategic long term, I am pretty confident your pie chart would look something like this.
In an era of increasing accountability and in the rapid pursuit of business results, marketing teams are finding themselves spending disproportionate time on the short-term tactical demands of their job.
A victim of this "short-termism" is the allocation & prioritisation of time & investment to longer-term strategic thinking.
The majority of your time, depending on your industry, is likely spent managing complex projects that will deliver small but quick wins, sitting in meetings gaining alignment from many stakeholders, working on tactical promotions that will deliver results next month or spending money on research that proves an ROI on the marketing budget you’ve spent. All very important tasks!
However, time spent sharpening brand propositions, writing strategic marketing plans, building breakthrough innovation funnels, mapping consumer communication journeys and spending money on research that discovers white space and game-changing ideas is always intended but often put to the side as diaries fill and days pass in a blur. As one of the only functions in the organisation who are charged with taking a long-term, more strategic view, this is very dangerous. Someone needs to man the lighthouse!
All of these activities mentioned above are as important as each other, so how does one ensure the long-term ‘thinking’ is not forgotten as the short-term ‘doing’ takes over?
The trick to balancing the short term sprint with the long term endurance, is an absolute commitment that the long term must come first. The long term thinking must drive short-term doing. Strategies must guide execution, so every piece of activation plays its role in building the bigger picture.
Now I think I just heard you scoff and mutter “ I already know that” and I am sure you do believe this is the case. However, I am also pretty sure you had a pie chart similar to mine at the top of this page. Your intentions are there, loud and clear, but unfortunately, your actions aren’t.
How Do You Take Intention Into Action?
Breaking the journey into three manageable steps means you can set yourself up for the long-term but remain flexible enough to sprint when needed to stay ahead of the pack.
Step 1: Audit your brand positioning…...regularly!
It is highly likely you have your brand positioning documented somewhere, but in today’s fast-paced world, this needs to be continually audited to ensure it is still relevant, unique, and believable.
This audit can be as simple as asking three essential questions (and answering honestly and without bias)
Who is your consumer, and are you still relevant to them? Beyond the standard demographic and psychographic description, have you identified which need or problem your brand solves for them and therefore ensures you play a meaningful role in their life? Consumers needs and problems have evolved rapidly in recent times so you may have to course correct.
How are you distinctly different or better than your competitors? Like consumers, the competitive landscape is constantly changing, and if you have been successful in the past, it is likely that competitors have started cutting your grass.
What do you deliver to solve your consumer's needs, better than your competitor? What is your brand promise? Importantly in today’s skeptical world, where is your proof? Why should people believe you? What used to convince them, may not be as effective today.
Berocca is an excellent example of a brand that has evolved to be more relevant and distinctive in today’s busy world. As the original ‘hangover’ recovery that gave you back your B-B-Bonce, Berocca got swallowed by the energy drink market with their high caffeine levels doing a much better job in giving us some sense of normal after a long, late night.
However, as our lives got busier and more stressful, so came the emerging need for sustenance just to get us through a typical day, even if we were asleep by 9.30pm the night before. Berocca pounced on this new need and repositioned itself with Big Days Start with Berocca. With its sustained energy boost thanks to it's vitamins & minerals reasons to believe, this was a much more distinctive and credible strategy for Berocca vs. the quick reboot an energy drink gives you.
Step 2: Build your brand guardrails to guide fast decision making.
Your freshly defined brand will need to stay dynamic & flexible to compete in today’s fast-paced world. Brand guardrails will spell out which elements of the brand positioning and the marketing mix are classified as ALWAYS BE and should never change, what COULD BE if the situation called for it or should NEVER BE as it would damage the long-term equity and positioning.
Every day someone in your business will need to make a decision that will affect how your brand is perceived in the market place. This decision making needs to be fast, but it also needs to be informed to keep the brand tracking towards its long term goal.
So it is essential that you not only define your brand guardrails but ensure everyone who plays a part in executing your brand positioning is also fully informed and aligned. This may include cross-functional partners such as the sales team, R&D or external partners such as your agency village.
Strategically, these guardrails may define which categories your brand can or cannot enter into or which brands you would or would never collaborate with. Tactically, it could be the tone of voice and humour in a social media post, or a price you are willing to drop to on Amazon before you devalue your brand position in the market.
Even the mega master brand Virgin has made the mistake of stretching beyond its brand guardrails, usually into a category or industry that didn’t need the disruption and the “better deal” that the Virgin brand is renowned for (e.g. bridal wear) or because they didn’t deliver a substantially better product than the competitors (e.g. cola). Richard himself admits these decisions were ill-informed and made on a whim or an emotion. A good set of guardrails would prevent decisions like this from being made.
Step 3: Make planning more manageable by focusing on the Core Four P's and Filling the Gap
Brand planning can often be perceived as complicated and time-consuming. However, you can break the planning down into a more manageable, less time-consuming task if you focus on:
The Core Four in the marketing mix: Product/Pack, Price, Place & Promotion. You have already visited your Positioning in step 1, and the other elements of the marketing mix will flow once you have the Core Four sorted.
Understanding & Filling the Gap: Understanding where you are now vs. where you need to be to achieve your long term goals. Unless your business is really struggling, you don’t usually need to start from scratch. Setting the vision in step 1 and the guardrails in step 2, means you have the end goal and the perimeter fence set. You just need to map out the path to get there with your short-term activities. Some of these activities may already be live projects, but they now have strategic backing and a defined role in the bigger picture. Others you may need to develop.
Step 4: Remove the complexity and bureaucracy from your execution processes
I bet an honest look at your processes will reveal too many levels of hierarchy and bureaucracy are involved in your approval processes, an innovation project has copious rounds of product development, research, refinement, approvals and a creative or design brief is usually followed up with a reverse brief and multiple rounds of creative development while you try and appease everybody's needs.
I can guarantee that start-up and insurgent brands that are disrupting your category are not drowning themselves in process, debate and opinions. Once their vision is defined, they are acting swiftly, developing a Minimal Viable Product then launching, watching, learning and adapting as they go. This is the new execution speed and you need to catch up. You need to clear the runway for take-off.
Long term strategic thinking can be achieved within the hustle of today. In fact, it needs to be completed to make your hustle more effective and efficient.
By mapping out your brand vision, understanding your guardrails and developing a clear action plan, your day-to-day activities and decision making will be faster and more confident, knowing you are making the right choices for long term growth.
The process doesn’t need to be long and arduous. You don’t have to start from scratch. Start by auditing what you have then seek to understand & fill the gaps. Focus on getting the foundations & the structural components strong. They are your enduring assets, and when they are strong, you can easily flex the tactical elements within.
If it still feels like allocating priority, resource and time are going to be a challenge; then this is where via Marca can help. We can structure a program, facilitate workshops, and provide you with the tools & checklists to guide disciplined, efficient thinking. We will hold you accountable and help you balance your strategic endurance and your sprint pace. We’d love to help so drop us a note to set up a FREE consultation. firstname.lastname@example.org