Fall not only marks the start of cooler weather and football, but also the planning and budgeting season. Companies of all sizes use September, October and November to create their strategic communications plans for the following year and beyond. There are multiple ways to conduct a planning session that will yield a plan that is strategic, easily executed and on budget. But no matter how you go about developing your MarCom plan and budget, it’s always important to consider your brand and your business goals.
To use a football analogy, if you’re engaged in strategic planning this fall, think of your role as a quarterback coming up to the line of scrimmage. You not only need to see the entire defense before you (obstacles, challenges, opportunities), but you need to remember your offensive assets (your brand, your products, your people, etc.) If you’re not sizing up the entire field and taking a holistic approach, you’re missing opportunities to score and win.
Below is Part One of a three-part blog on top-line tips for how to integrate your brand and your business goals with your strategic communications plan. When considering your brand, it’s important to ask three essential questions: Who are you? Who do you care about? And what do you do? Although the questions are simple, finding the answers can be complex. But knowing the answers to these questions can help develop a communications plan that is in line with your brand.
1. Who are you?
Review Your Mission Statement – Do you know what your brand stands for? What is its relevance today and tomorrow? A good place to find answers to these questions is by reviewing your company’s mission statement. If you don’t have a mission statement, you need one, as a mission statement articulates your organization’s purpose and direction.
Know Your Company Values and Culture – It’s important you analyze your company’s values and culture. This information could be gleaned by reviewing the mission statement, but I suggest you go deeper. Talk to a wide cross-section of people – from your CEO, to your sales people, to your customers, to the people in the office or on the factory floor. Are you a company that cares about its people and the community you work in? Are you a company focused on growth and bottom-line numbers? Are you a company with tradition and heritage, or a young company with a “take-on-the-world” approach?
2. Who Do You Care About?
Know Your Customers and Stakeholders – Who are your primary target audiences? Certainly you have customers; indeed you may have multiple types of customers. It’s important you know exactly who your customers are and what they care about. But beyond customers, you have other important stakeholders, such as employees, suppliers, the local community, etc. In order for your brand to resonate with these stakeholders, you must first understand who they are and their desires.
Know Their Perception of Your Brand – In addition to knowing your stakeholders and what they care about, it’s also important to gauge their perception of your brand. What do they think about your brand – do they love it, hate it or even know about it?
3. What Do You Do?
Know What You Do Well – Knowing what you do should be easy to articulate. But this is more than simply saying, “We make widgets.” This is about knowing your brand’s marketplace position and niche. What is your sweet spot? Where do you really, really excel? There are lots brands claiming they are a “low cost leader,” “innovative,” or “highly customer-focused.” You need to go deeper and discover why and how you are truly different.
Benchmark Against Your Competitors – One of the ways you can discover your difference is by objectively evaluating your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. A second way to discover your difference is by evaluating your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. By comparing these like criteria against one another, you’ll be on a better path to knowing how you’re different and unique, which can play a big role in your branding and communications strategies.
Know Your Relevance – Lastly, when trying to answer “what you do,” it’s good to look at your brand relevance. For example, can your brand answer the questions: Why [your brand]? Why now? And how is your brand helping and/or making life or business easier or better?
I’ve Asked the Questions: Now What?
By asking and answering the questions above, you can walk away some important deliverables, such as: your brand’s unique selling point and claim of distinction; your brand’s obstacles to overcome; your brand’s voice and personality; and a succinct brand positioning statement.
All of these deliverables (and many more that can be uncovered) are important in creating a communications program that articulates, emulates — and most importantly — embodies your brand.
Obviously, undertaking the above activities can be time-consuming and daunting. But for many companies, simply knowing the right questions to ask is an important step in defining your brand and its value.
Check back soon when I’ll be discussing Part Two for strategic planning: Understanding your sales and growth opportunities.