Key Strategy Questions
by Bonnie Janzen
“To be or not to be, that is the question” was famously asked by Shakespeare’s Hamlet as he pondered the value of choosing life over death.In business, opposing positions (such as Hamlet’s) often lead to asking more marketing-nuanced versions of this question: What does your brand or your company wish to be? Or what does your brand or company not wish to be? The answers to these questions form the essence of your company’s strategy, and the answers can lead to corporate life or death as well.
The essence of strategy is in the activities you are choosing to perform - are you doing those activities differently or doing different activities than rivals? Otherwise, a strategy is nothing more than a marketing slogan that will not withstand competition. (Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review)
As you consider your strategy, you must also think about the environment in which your company or brand lives. This environment is shaped by many market forces that affect your corporate or brand strategy.
Forces from competitors: What your direct competitors do has an impact on your business. You monitor the competition because your customers shop them and experience them. As a consumer yourself, you personally see them in the stores and hear about them. Your customers routinely compare your products/brands with competitors’ products and services. Competitors’ ads, websites, products, pricing, and even promotions on Amazon and other e-commerce websites are influencers within the market that directly impact your corporate strategy.
Forces from customers: Each and every day, savvy customers push your corporate strategy, asking for more from your business. Customers want faster delivery times, better customer service, or more personalized products than you have ever delivered. Though you improve each year, the customer’s relentless drive for “more or better” makes it hard to keep pace. The “expectation bar” gets raised higher and higher for your brand and your company.
Forces from social media: Changes in the ways customers use social media may force your company to change pricing or promotional strategies. Customers shop your brand both online and brick and mortar, so any inconsistencies in pricing or promotions will be noticed. They share these inconsistencies via social media with “many” followers/friends.
These forces exert pressure on your corporation’s strategy, from pricing and promotion to advertising to customer service. To ensure your corporation adapts to changes in the competitive landscape from these forces, conducting strategy research can provide a solid understanding about how to best plan for and address these issues.
Given the many streams of data now available for many businesses (including clicks, likes, shipments, sales, as well as how many were on promotional offers, and at what level) all should be evaluated and analyzed. This will provide a very strong bedrock of understand on which the strategy research will be built. It is important to gather everything you can know as foundational knowledge in the beginning.
For a sound corporate brand strategy to have strong internal support, stakeholder buy-in is key. To elicit this buy-in, it is ideal to have a working session with your team to fully uncover and understand all the viewpoints and expectations. This also could be accomplished with private key stakeholder interviews if interviewees would be more comfortable sharing thoughts one on one instead of in a group setting or if scheduling a work session is not possible. In some organizations, individual key stakeholder interviews are more practical for scheduling or geographic reasons.
Depending on the type of business, qualitative research among customers and potential customers would be highly useful in uncovering their insights to help focus and direct brand and corporate strategy. Qualitative research might be conducted as focus groups, depth interviews, ethnographic interviews, or shop-alongs. This research taps into consumer insights we have uncovered, such as these found in research we conducted solely to share at past conferences:
- First-time moms (despite loving their new role) feel they come last—after babies, spouses, and household responsibilities. They frequently express that “it can be overwhelming.” Research helped identify products that speak to the moms who are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
- Young mothers feel that housecleaning is truly a never-ending task—all the rooms in the house are never cleaned at the same time unless you have a paid housekeeper. Research identified a cleaning product that cleans when mom isn’t even home.
- Consumers who considered and used a packaged-good product only during “special occasions” greatly limited its use. Research uncovered the motivations leading to use of the products at those times, which provided insights that enabled a shift in corporate branding strategy to position the products for daily (common) occasions, increasing product usage significantly.
- A restaurant chain was considered in many of its regions to be a health-food restaurant, while in other areas it was seen as serving gourmet sandwiches. Communications and positioning for the chain weren’t clearly articulated, causing consumers’ perceptions to be muddied. Research discovered wording and positioning statements that improved communication of the brand’s positioning strategy, increasing restaurant usage significantly.
In addition to qualitative research, specific analytic techniques could be added to bring quantitative analysis to your corporate strategic planning. A well-planned, strategy-research study could include segmentation, choice modeling, or MaxDiff exercises to help find answers to the strategy questions. Adding advanced analytics, the wide array of quantitative techniques would help us to provide you insights to answer some of these key questions:
- How do I communicate with my best prospects?
- How do I price my new product to avoid cannibalizing my existing line?
- How do I provide my corporate office with a volumetric projection for this product line, both with and without next year’s proposed line extensions?
- How do I “future proof” my sales estimates, assuming that this technological advancement has a fast two-year adoption or a slower five-year adoption, nationally?
- How do we estimate the sales of this product when it does not yet have FDA approval, but it is expected next year? What if it isn’t approved next year? What if it has physician recommendation?
- How do I continue to maximize profitability based on currently operating this business for three to five years, knowing it will end and then shift to another start-up business that is in its infancy currently?
Ask yourself what has made your company or your brand unique. Who are you? What defines you? Where do you have “permission to play” as an organization? Go innovate, but be true to who you are as a company and a brand. Stay true to your strategy. Utilize customer insights and analytics to help guide the journey to define and refine the best strategy for your company and your brand. Armed with right Strategy Research, you will then know what specifically “To Be, Or Not To Be!”
About the Author
Bonnie Janzen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Executive Vice President at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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