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How to chart the best course for brand growth
Welcome to the Sociology of Business. If you are not subscribed, join the community by subscribing below. To kick the new year off, here’s also the 30% off promo code ADC21 on my book The Business of Aspiration, applicable on the publisher’s website.
The biggest question for brands is how to grow in the right direction.
Even global brands that are set on the path of consistent and steady growth, like Tesla or Nike or Apple or GOOP, face the need to keep evolving, stay focused, build organizational resilience and innovation and amplify the intangible parts of their brands that made them different and exciting. Too often, we see brands who lost discipline in pursuing their vision or the spark that made them successful in the first place.
A good way to avoid this from happening is to keep in mind at all times: a) what consumers value and how that changes; b) how is a brand different and unique and whether it offers something that no one else does; and c) what does a brand value the most in the products it creates.
To audit a brand in order to set it on a right growth path, I devised a series of questions, grouped in five areas: Business, Brand, Category, Consumer and Culture. The objective of a brand audit is to provide information on the unique business, consumer and cultural environment that a brand operates in. Audit’s output guides a company’s leadership to set objectives, approach challenges, grow the target audience and move forward into YoY growth.
Purpose of the questions below is to assess the overall business fitness and get clarity of which business initiatives were successful and which were not. Having a team’s alignment on business objectives and core challenges helps everyone move in the same direction and work towards the shared, and agreed upon, outcome.
What is the headline describing the overall state of our business?
What are our key business objectives for the next two years?
What are our biggest challenges right now?
What do we see as the key growth opportunities for our business in the local market? What about globally?
What are our key products and services at the moment? How are they different than before, if at all? What do we value most in our products and services?
Value Chain Analysis: What are the major business functions in our company? Which ones are the most responsible for adding value? E.g. R&D, Manufacturing, Distribution, Product Design, Merchandising, Marketing, Customer Service, Something else?
What is the inspiration behind [a specific business initiative]?
What needs to happen for this initiative to be a success?
How will we measure success? Increase in sales? Increase in brand awareness? Increase in brand affinity? Improved efficiency? Market expansion? Cross-sell? Something else?
Questions below aim to address the overall brand health and its specific strengths and blind spots. It also forces a team to achieve a shared vision, agree on the key brand attributes, and define brand objectives and its role in the world. Once determined, these answers act as the binding principles for organizational decision making. They answer a perennial question of whether something is “on brand” or not.
What are our macro brand objectives that guide all our efforts? What are we working towards?
What is our vision?
How can we describe our brand in three words?
What would the world be missing if our brand didn’t exist?
What are our core brand values? What does our brand stand for?
Are there any misconceptions about our brand?
What is the topline perception of our brand in the market? What do we want it to be?
What are our brand strengths? What are our brand weaknesses?
Where do we want to see our brand in 10 years?
What are our most successful marketing efforts? What are those that haven’t been successful?
Understanding the business and the brand in relation to its category and in relation to other companies helps determine how and if a venture is different. It reveals the idiosyncrasies and the 1+1 = 3 of teams - and whether they exist or not. Anything can prove to be a differentiator, so it’s important to both do deep and cast a wide net.
Who and what do we compete with?
What differentiates us in the market, both on the strategic business level and on the brand perceptions’ level?
What are our biggest business challenges in our competitive context?
What is our greatest opportunity to become competitive in our market? Have we already maximized it?
How has our competition changed in the last few years? Has it changed at all? Is this a good thing?
Are we envious of anyone?
What do we offer that no one else does? Do we offer anything that makes us different?
What are brands that we admire?
Clarity on the consumer helps all teams, not just marketing. Having a robust and consistent audience view throughout an organization helps enforce customer-centricity and breaks down the inter-departmental silos. Making customer happy is everyone’s job, and not just customer service’s. Knowing who the customer is and what they do and why, what motivates them and what they value, is a source of unexpected innovations throughout the value chain.
How do we describe our typical customer? How does this change across our different product categories?
Who do we want to attract to our brand that we’re currently not attracting? Who is our aspirational audience?
Do we have a problem to engage new customer segments? If so, what are the key barriers in reaching them? What are the key barriers in building a long-term relationship with our audience?
How do we prioritize our current audience? What are our most valuable audience segments?
What does our audience value? What and who they pay their attention to?
What are the key lead generators for our audience’s purchases? What are they key decision-making factors?
How do our prospects hear about us?
What have been some of our more successful recent initiatives to expand our audience reach?
Having a clearly defined internal and external culture that a company operates within is key in achieving brand longevity. It proofs a company against internal scandals and it ensures it is aligned with the cultural mood. It fine-tunes a brand’s receptivity to cultural signals and to internal organizational shifts.
How do we describe our brand in 3 words?
What are our internal culture’s biggest strengths? What are our weaknesses?
What kind of leadership succeeds in our company?
What is our appetite for risk?
What inspires us?
What cultural conversation do we want to be part of? How do we add value to culture?
What are the most inspiring things happening in culture at the moment? Who is leading these things?
How do we describe the current cultural mood? How do we fit with this vibe?
Who are the modern tastemakers?
What is the modern consumer willing to pay for? What are they looking for from brands they choose?
What is the most important lesson we have learned so far about our business?
Later this week, I will be speaking at the TBD (Technology. Behaviour. Data.) conference. Described as “the only two-day conference specifically designed to help you focus, reframe and plan for what the foreseeable future (and a little bit further) brings your way. You will gain insights, knowledge and inspiration from a wide variety of experts, interesting people and change-makers.” It’s on January 28 and 29th and you can get the tickets here. This year’s theme is ‘MOLLITIAM’ (pron: moll-ish-um), or ‘resilience’ in Latin. I will be speaking about resilience and aspiration. Rory Sutherland will be speaking, too (about something else).