The articles here, unless indicated otherwise, are written by me. They cover a range of business-related topics along the spectrum from strategy to marketing.
They represent more extended opinions on a range of topics than you will find in the blog.
Strategy is about making informed choices with limited resources, in ways that strengthen your business. There’s no easy way to be sure that you have the right strategy, but there is a process that yields consistent results. In this post I’ll summarize a proven process for strategy development. Then I’ll describe each step in turn.
The seven key steps are these:
- Problem definition – what’s the scope of the strategy? Who is the end customer for the information? What are the success criteria?
- Environmental scan – get hold of every piece of information that’s easily available. Talk to people within your circle. Build up a basic education about the area in which you need a strategy.
- Research plan – on the basis of the environmental scan, you’ll have an idea of what you know, and what you need to know. Make a plan to find out the things you need to know.
- External research – through interviews, reading, and if necessary purchased research, gather the information you need in order to develop a strategy.
- Hypothesis – given all the information you have from your environmental scan and research, develop an argument around solving the strategic problem you set out to address.
- Validation – before you’re ready to make a firm recommendation, you need to test your thinking, internally and externally. This step will increase the credibility of your recommendations and begin the process of buy-in.
- Recommendation – finally you’re ready to present your proposal. Good strategies are easy to…
We especially ignore things that are like other things we’ve seen before. It’s a natural response to the clutter that surrounds us every day. Our brains have learned to look for the new and the different, and to ignore that which is undifferentiated. Most of marketing is about efficiently defeating this built-in, natural reflex, and causing potential customers to see our offering as new and different and valuable. In product and service positioning, it’s vital to stand out. In this article I will talk about some simple ways of setting yourself apart from the pack. First, some preconceptions that we might as well remove right at the beginning.
- Nothing has to be a commodity
- Differentiation isn’t always about the product
- Business is not a war with your customers.
Here’s an instructive story about differentiation in the most difficult of circumstances:
You might think that construction sand is the ultimate commodity. You can get it from anywhere, the standards are very basic. It comes off the back of a truck. Well, it turns out that construction sand is a critical deliverable in the life of a building project. In large cities with unionized workers, the cost of an idle construction team is crippling. So if the sand is late, it can cost you a fortune.
One construction sand company in New York figured this out, and added a performance guarantee to their product. They charge significantly more…
There’s an important role for creative work, clever jingles and tag lines, but they won’t work for you reliably unless they are built on a solid understanding of the market.
Market research is a large and complex discipline, worthy of a book in its own right. If you have the opportunity, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced market research company to design and execute a thorough study of your market, in a manner that will directly help you to prepare an effective strategy and campaign.
That’s not always possible, for reasons of time, budget, or perhaps your company has a policy of avoiding external contractors. Don’t despair—there are many efficient and robust ways in which you can gather your own market research data without depending on an external vendor. They can be very effective, depending on the qualities of the knowledge and skill you are able to tap into.
These methods are quik and suitable for a workshop or group meeting, perhaps combined with some interviews or conversations with customers and sales people.
Good marketers don’t just let the creative process happen: they gather data where and how they can, and they build an ongoing resource of market information that they re-purpose as needed. To capture and organize the information you need to create powerful messages, it’s a big help to have a pre-defined structure for organizing your information as you…
however millions of farm animals over the centuries would attest to its effectiveness. The original of the word “brand” is in old Norse—the language of ancient Scandinavia. It means “to burn.” It was a good idea in Scandinavia to burn an identifying mark into the rump of your livestock, because the cattle had to roam about to find enough food, and anyhow, building fences was a lot of work.
The Purpose of Brands
Brands were originally a way to identify property and to distinguish it from everyone else’s property. They still identify property, but not always in the way they used to. The old way was like nametags on your clothes.
When I went to school, it was a requirement that my uniform (yes, we wore uniforms) was labeled. That was like a brand in the original sense. It told people whose clothes were left lying around in the locker room.
And there was another sign on some of my school clothes: a badge. The school badge was also a brand, because it identified me as belonging to that particular school. In fact, it did something else: it also identified my school and differentiated it from other schools. So from the age of about six, I was branded. Marked, you might say.
The American Marketing Association has a definition of a brand. It goes like this:
A brand is a ‘name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a…