Backing Into (Or Away From) A Brand

Right now, as you read this, hundreds or even thousands of companies are doing something completely weird but widely accepted.  They’re working on their strategic plans, and when those plans are complete, they’ll (maybe) look at how the plan impacts their marketing or brand.

That’s totally backward.

Before anything else, a strategic plan should focus on what makes your company or organization unique — what differentiates it from all its competitors.  That’s the essence of branding.  And it’s where every strategic plan should begin.  But they almost never do.

So try this.  Whether it’s your own organization, or a nonprofit on whose board you serve, the next time strategic planning time rolls around, challenge yourself and everyone else to begin by answering the brand questions.  Why us?  What makes us better?  Is that difference relevant to today’s buyers?  Is it worth a premium price?  Can it be easily copied by our competitors?  What will we do then?  Or what will we do to be one step ahead of that?

It’s impossible to set realistic goals for growth, expansion, product development, talent acquisition or anything else if you don’t know – and can’t articulate – what makes you worth the consideration of prospects, investors or team members.

But when you begin by tackling this question – and it’s probably the thorniest one you’ll deal with – the answers to all of those other questions become much more obvious.  And when you either discover your true brand or commit to creating one, you find that your strategic goals become bolder, and the people charged with meeting them become more engaged.

Here’s another benefit.  Putting your brand at the center of your strategic plan puts appropriate emphasis on marketing.  And marketing is one of the few budget items that’s an investment rather than an expense.  Done strategically, with a powerful brand as the engine, it generates a real, measurable ROI.

So the next time you roll up your sleeves for one more SWOT analysis, begin with your brand – or lack of one.  Is it a strength (be honest) or a weakness?  An opportunity (always) or a threat (often)?  Because getting your brand right adds a sharper focus to your entire strategy – and increases the likelihood that your plans will reap the benefits they should.