Hey Brand Managers, Is Your Strategy Working?
by Felicia Rogers
The word “strategy” is one that sometimes feels overused—or maybe just misused. To make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition(s) of the word. According to Webster, “strategy” is:
- A careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal, usually over a long period of time.
- The skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal.
At its core, a strategy is a plan. It’s a plan that is skillfully and carefully formulated and carried out for the purpose of achieving a goal in the future. And it’s important to note that it may be in the distant future, as the first definition indicates “a long period of time” is involved. When we discuss brand strategy, then, we’re talking about a long-term plan for a brand’s success. Unfortunately, in a world that moves faster each day, it seems to be difficult for some organizations to muster the fortitude required to give a strategy time to work for their brands. There’s pressure from every direction to succeed—and to do so quickly.
It seems appropriate to take a look at some of the tools available to help ensure a brand has a winning strategy. From a research and insights perspective, a number of types of studies can be deployed for a solid understanding of how end users and other constituents will be influenced by a new strategy or even a minor pivot in direction. Here are a few important research steps to consider when strategy is the focus.
Start with qualitative exploration
Early in the process, we must have a grasp of what makes the user base or target audience tick. The way to gain a deep understanding of customers is to talk with them one-on-one or in groups. To go where they go. To observe them and listen to them—Really listen. What are they saying? And what are they not saying? This type of thorough exploration typically provides enough insight into the audience’s needs, desires, habits, and motivations to develop several possible strategies for the brand. (It’s important to note that qualitative work is also often woven in at other points in the development process and throughout the brand’s life cycle.)
Develop and evaluate multiple strategy concepts
Following the initial qualitative work, the brand and creative teams will develop a variety of strategy concepts. Well-defined, distinct concepts can then be tested quantitatively among the target audience. A proven testing system that incorporates analytical models to aid in the interpretation of the results is well worth the investment. Such a system should be both predictive and diagnostic. That is, we want to know not just how the audience responds to the concepts, but why they respond that way. With an in-depth, concept-evaluation system, the team will gain an understanding of how the various elements of the strategy concepts perform: which ones work well, which elements need to be tweaked, and how do we need to change the concept to improve our chances of success.
A brand team will do lots of communicating with its target audience through a variety of channels. Before developing the final plans, we need to be sure the messaging is optimal. We can do this through traditional concept and copy testing. We can also take it a step further and develop truly optimized messages and communications by using choice-based conjoint. Discrete choice modeling allows us to isolate specific ideas, words, phrases, and even visual images that are most likely to motivate the audience to buy the brand.
Monitor the effectiveness of the brand’s strategy over time
Once the right brand strategy and communication plans are identified and we are executing against them, it’s critical to make sure that marketing and customer experience elements stay true to the plans and that they remain effective.
Important long-term monitoring tools include:
- Periodic product testing to ensure that product quality is consistent over time and that it lives up to the quality promise of the brand strategy.
- Advertising and other communications testing to be sure campaigns and individual executions are on strategy.
- Website and app usability testing to ensure digital interactions with the target audience are intuitive, and easy to use, and support the strategy.
- Customer service monitoring system to ensure the people on the company’s front lines represent the brand well.
- Brand equity measurement and tracking to monitor consumer perceptions on an ongoing basis, relative to strategic goals as well as relative to the brand’s competitors.
This is all meant to be food for thought. I’m definitely not saying we have to do each and every one of these types of research to develop and maintain an effective, winning strategy. But each one can play an important role in the life and health of a brand. If you are responsible for a brand’s success, I would encourage you to find a good partner with the skills to develop plans to utilize the types of sophisticated qualitative, quantitative, and analytical techniques mentioned here.
About the Author
Felicia Rogers (email@example.com) is an Executive Vice President at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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