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Brand Strategy - discovering the now. Defining the next.

I was recently asked about how I go about helping my clients. I replied that in a nutshell I help them discover the now and define the next.

After writing out what this means in more detail it occurred to me that all good leaders should have a firm grasp on these two areas of their business. The principles are universal. Thereof I thought it might make an interesting post for my blog. So. Here goes.

Discover the now

To effectively lead change you need to know where you are leaving from.

All of my strategy projects start with a Discovery phase. This phase is crucial to the success of a project because it not only helps inform me of where a business is and where it needs to go but it also helps to inform the leadership team of that business too. Getting a united picture on where we are is so important because if we need to change we can access the amount of change needed to make the new a reality. The "change gap".

Of course, the outcome of the Discovery phase is important. But I'd argue the process is even more valuable because if done correctly leaders get to understand the decisions being made and can therefore forge forward with passion. They get to see blind spots. Assumptions. The unknown becomes known. The challenge to any change is often that of mindset and of differing views in a leadership team but if everyone can see the realities of a situation and the need for change then this can make any transition much easier.

So how do you go about getting an understanding of a situation? How do you know what a brand means in the minds of its audiences? The way I go about this is pretty rudimentary. Simply put, I spend time with the right people - asking questions and listening. I challenge. I probe. I document my findings. I spend time with the leadership team. With the CEO. Even with members of the board (if I can!). With People Managers. With a cross section of staff. I spend time with partners and supply chain and service providers. Most of importantly I spend time with customers. Where needed I will do desk research. I may also get the HR team to send out an internal survey or customer success team to send customers a short survey.

The time spent is so valuable. Its rare leaders get a 360 view of things and understand how their brand is truly being perceived right now, what the realities of the perception are, where people feel the value is, where customers experience positivity and what problems are solved. As an outsider I get to ask the stupid questions. To uncover the truth.

For certain clients we might get a research company to help us assess market size and fit. To uncover industry trends and potential market shifts.

All in all with this type of work I get to understand if an organisation realises the value it is delivering. If it understands its weaknesses and strengths. If it appreciates its opporuntities. If it know about its threats. Most important is to appreciate what, if anything needs to change to ensure a brand retains relevance in the future and this mainly comes from understanding customer pain and desires.

Usually I set all of my findings out in an insights deck which is used to help me meaningfully challenge leaders. We are here. We need to change because...

Defining the next

Next, having established where we are today, I work with leaders on their vision for the future. This I tend to do in high energy workshops where we swarm on the core principles of the brand and where it needs to be to compete and win in the future. This work is best done collaboratively. It wont work if it comes from one person who dictates it. It has to be co-authored.

I use the findings of my initial discovery work to fuel conversations and better understand where a leadership teams wants to take the brand and why this is important. I usually see my role is to add the voice of the customer to the conversation. The brand is what they say it is after all. Helping leaders to justify and reason their decisions is key. This will be better for customers because...

Together we define what we'd like the brand to stand for, why it exists, who it exists to serve, how it will show up and the value it will bring. Depending on the people, the industry and the challenge this can take a single session or a number of sessions but ultimately I’ll create another deck which will set out the positioning and definition of the high level principles of the brand.

The hard part

Having undertaken these two areas of focus on the now and the next the final part of the puzzle is to get the leadership team together and present them with my findings and recommendations.

Assuming they are on board the final step is to operationalise the process of change. This is often the hardest part. Creating a plan, holding people accountable. Adding cadence and check-points. Launching and communicating the plan to all parts of a business. This is the hard part. Crossing the "change gap" from the now to the next. This is where a business leader earns their pay. Can they effectively rally their team. Can they paint a picture of the next which is compelling and exciting?

This is what the principles of brand can help you to navigate.

I find the key to success is to engage the main stakeholders and decision makers in teach stage of the process. It's essential to parallel think though the current situation and the vision for the future. It's important a plan is co-created to get there. To build it together. The more alignment and synthesis you can get the more likely a plan will stay on track and the more engaged the people are who are executing on it.

So have you got a good grasp on the now and the next? And is your team aligned around this? If not then perhaps some activity around this is worth considering.


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