Growing a business can get a little….foggy. Without the right tools and strategies it can be easy to get led into a wrong direction, and miss the target altogether.
Today we are constantly inundated with solutions. We see them in our feed, hear about them from our network, and they are even offered as advice from our friends and family. Tools, tech, and tactics offering perhaps the best of intentions, but often only ‘shiny objects’ that get us off course and led into a wrong direction.
In order to grow our business we need to act. But executing without a navigation plan can just get us more lost in the fog; costing more time, money, and frustration from efforts that just aren’t working. We need to plan first, then execute. We need a clear, documented path to predictable growth for our business. We need a way to see what’s working, or not working. And we need a way to make sense of all this chaos, and simplify it for what works for us.
In order to create a plan, we need to research. Our Brand Strategy Worksheet is our go-to for initiating research for any marketing solution: digital ads, websites, social media, content…anything. It’s the document that sets the stage for the continued research and strategy to come, and is invaluable for tying your business model to your marketing efforts.
But first, context.
It may be safe to say that “predictable growth’ is the want and need that every business is after. Having it means owning total control of your marketing direction, having confidence in your decisions, knowing what’s working or not working, and it allows you to more boldly take calculated risks toward your growth.
In order to achieve predictable growth, we need three things (the Growth Triad):
(1) A documented Customer Value Journey (that accounts for all eight stages of the customer relationship),
(2) Actionable Metrics (so you know what’s working, or not working, in your business), and
(3) Tools and Tactics (to help unblock the flow of your customer journeys, and promote fluid, efficient, and sustainable marketing efforts).
The Customer Value Journey is the framework that drives the Growth Triad, and is based on the natural order of relationship building (you wouldn’t propose marriage on a first date, would you?) To maximize it’s potential a complimentary marketing strategy is not enough, we also need the more long-term and big-picture views of the business and branding strategies. Leveraging these three in tandem will create a more informed approach to mapping your customer’s journey (see the Customer Journey Triad), and inevitably yield more productive marketing efforts that align with your documented business goals.
The business model is often centered around your offer, audience, and touchpoints. It records your value proposition and revenue streams. It also documents key resources and partners, audience segments and relationships, and communication channels and touchpoints. It’s the springboard for your business, but where it is often lacking is in the competition, positioning, messaging, and creative asset category; this is often left for the marketing team. And it’s often the document that is left in the dust and forgotten in favor of the marketing plan.
On the marketing side approaches can vary. We value a more simple approach to marketing for predictable growth that centers around the customer experience, a journey that is empathetic toward your customer’s path from awareness through promotion and advocacy. It’s a methodology that doesn’t only rely on leads or a specific technology or tool, but one that accounts for all stages of the Customer Value Journey and ensures that it propagates referral business.
Herein lies the problem: we have two crucial strategic frameworks, one for the business side and the other for the marketing side; with no clear, documented bridge between the two. The Brand Strategy Worksheet helps bring the two together, eliminate the disconnect, and directly ties the business plan to what every successful business inevitably ends up becoming: a marketing company.
The last thing I want to do is over simplify. This “bridge” isn’t the only one we’ll need to cross, but it does serve as a starting block for inspired and informed decisions down the road. It’s meant to be part of a bigger picture that can help facilitate cohesive growth efforts, informed messaging and targeting, and internal marketing culture, among other things.
Using the Brand Strategy Worksheet:
As you use this worksheet, keep in mind that it is meant to be a fluid document that will be ever-changing. You will have several iterations of this worksheet, the latest one building on the last.
This discovery process will help build that “bridge” from your business model to the marketing strategy to come. And the benefit will be a more informed and validated approach to your marketing strategy that will be more efficient, cost you less money, and save you some headache.
This worksheet has limited space; this is intentional. When working with it focus on key points and avoid getting too detailed. This will come later as you continue to research and develop your strategy.
Download the Brand Strategy Worksheet
Let’s Dive In…
There are seven “pillars” represented on the Brand Strategy Worksheet, and they go like this:
It’s important to acknowledge why we don’t lead off here with your “offer” or “value proposition,” this is by design. Your offering should be inspired by the needs of your people, not the other way around.
Who are your people? What problems do they have you are trying to solve? Remember that your audience isn’t everyone.
Use this pillar to define and document to a point where you can refine using the Customer Avatar Canvas. If you’ve been in business for awhile, compare your target audience to your actual audience. Are you serving the people you had originally intended? If not, is this a good or bad thing? What bottlenecks or opportunities can you discover?
Work in a company with a customer service team? Live in the department, ask questions and listen. Talk to your customers.
Document your products and services. What are you offering to the world? But also include the less-tangible: what do you deliver (or not deliver) that is indirect of your product/service? Customer service and/or communication and other key activities are examples.
Here you should tie in with your business model, and document key partners or other resources, cost structures and revenue streams. And perhaps most important, consider your current state, but also be on the lookout for opportunities. Be aspirational, identify where you lead, where you fall short, and where you want to be.
But keep it simple. How would you describe your offer to a young child? Remember: a confused mind never buys.
Who are your main direct competitors? What is their brand strategy? Any new entrants into the market? Who are the disruptors and what is their level of threat? The great thing about the Brand Strategy Worksheet is that it can be turned on your competition. Use it to perform a detailed brand audit of your competitors so you can better position yourself in the marketplace. This can influence all aspects of your branding and marketing, and put you in position to be the disruptor.
Also consider indirect competitors. There are influences out there that are constantly shaping mental models and the overall environment of business. They alter the perception and expectation of business in general. Amazon, for example, has changed the way we shop and the value we put on instant gratification. Other companies who rely on content marketing are building relationships by delivering value in advance. Where you do stack-up?
Perform SWOT analysis for your company and main competitors.
What is your market positioning relative to your competitors? How do you differentiate? How are you central?
A Perceptual Map is a popular tool for evaluating various attributes against competitors. Here you get a validated sense of your strengths, your weaknesses, and who you want to be to your audience. It is also here where you establish the foundation for your voice.
Positioning is often the forgotten pillar, stuck between more exciting topics to consider and explore. But evaluation can have incredible impact. After all, people have choices. Why should they choose you?
Another tool for evaluating positioning is the C-D Map, a relatively new tool used for mapping the relationship between distinctiveness and centrality, and how this relates to overall sales volume. This is next level positioning insight, and can open your eyes to challenges and opportunities that exist in your marketplace.
We now have a foundation for our voice. Here we define it.
Your messaging can’t be defined until the previous pillars are satisfied. It relies on a clear definition and validation of your audience, offer, competition, and positioning, each one building on the next. So once you’ve defined (or refined) your positioning, it’s time to review your messaging platform.
Start with word lists and themes. Making these simple lists can be an invaluable guide for what’s to come. You don’t necessary need to flesh out marketing slogans at this time (copywriters are helpful with this), but what you should aim for is an outline of verbiage appropriate for your brand.
Mood boards can also be helpful for this. Words on paper is the ultimate goal, but how you get there is just process. Using a Pinterest board for visual inspiration can get the creativity moving. Be aspirational, but remember to always be true to your audience and capabilities.
Remember to consider not only your target audience, but also the segments within. What words, themes, or moods are uniquely appropriate for them? Which of your differentiators resonate more? Explore the variances so you can speak more directly with your segmented audiences.
Document all sales touchpoints and communication channels.
First, do you. Where and how are your customers interacting with your business? What is your communication strategy for each channel? Look at your website, social media, and other utilized promotional platforms. Consider both the differences (positive and negative) and also the consistencies for your brand. Are you on target? Can you make adjustments? Consistency across the board is the goal, but nuance can be desired when appropriate.
Next, do your competitors. Document the communications of your main competitors, and then add it to your “Competitors Pillar” above.
Take inventory of all content and creative assets, past and present. This serves multiple purposes.
First, it archives past content for brand evaluation. Is the content on brand? How could it be modified to be more appropriate? What can we learn?
And second, it serves as a reference and resource for future content and creative assets. We take what we learn, adjust, pivot if needed, and then create.
The “Assets Pillar” can also be used independently as a resource for creatives outside your organization, giving them a reference for your brand constraints. Such constraints are invaluable to creators, as they provide the parameters for their creativity. Setting these expectations in the beginning can also save you money.
If you don’t have one yet, this pillar can also be used to develop a Brand Standards Guide, a more clear, comprehensive view of your brand identity and parameters. A Guide such as this can pay for itself easily with only a few creative projects. An example of a few can be found here:
A printable PDF used to be the preferred deliverable format for a Brand Standard Guide, but more companies are beginning to favor ‘ditching the PDF,’ and going 100% digital:
The Desired After-State
The biggest problem we see with marketing today is the work done in a vacuum. Work that is based on whim and flash, and not an over-arching plan designed to achieve predictable growth.
When we think of our customers, we should first think of their problem, and then the solution. We should consider their ‘before’ state and then their ‘after,’ and try our best to deliver this transformation. We need to stop being product-centric, and more customer-centric. In order to do this we need a plan, and a plan needs research.
The Brand Strategy Worksheet is a tool to help facilitate this. A way to connect the dreams outlined in your business model with the day-to-day execution of your marketing efforts. It’s a way to achieve deeper insight into yourself and your competition, and can deliver to you an ‘unfair’ advantage in the marketing landscape.
It’s a tool we use everyday to help inform our design, marketing, branding, and business decisions. We hope it will bring you some value as well.
We want to simplify your marketing. Our goal is to provide you with clear-cut solutions that have transparent pricing, fit into your overall strategy, and give you the return you expect.