Is it time to press the re-set button on your brand? Is it time for a business relaunch? 5 critical exercises to chart your course forward
What does your corporate audit reveal? In March’s blog, we wrote of the likely effects of COVID-19 on corporate cultures, big and small, the world over. We suggested a formal audit to determine what impacts COVID-mandated changes, such as working in isolation, juggling job and family demands, and ubiquitous Zoom meetings, would have on corporate cultures. But we also raised the question: What if the corporate audit uncovers more fundamental issues? What if it reveals, for example, that these unprecedented times and conditions have shifted the very underpinnings of your business?
Painful results may include: Your Vision doesn’t just need clarifying, staff no longer see it as relevant to your markets’ evolving needs. Your Mission, far from having a place in your employees’ daily jobs, is actually felt to be irrelevant, obstructive, contentious. Your Core Values provide no guidance or inspiration for employees in diaspora-mode. Your clients are deemed unconnected and disengaged because your strategy is suddenly off-trend and uncompetitive.
Is it time to re-think and re-evaluate your business?
Should your audit reveal similar, bitter truths, something you must admit with eyes-wide-open is possible, it is not yet the moment for a corporate refresh. It is rather a time prior: A time to press the reset button on your brand and your business. To re-think and re-evaluate everything about your business: your market, your clients and customers, your competitors, your supply chain, your marketing, your offering – everything. This means a deep-dive into your business situation.
5 critical exercises to chart your course forward
We gather here five key exercises we routinely employ with companies going through major change. Because make no mistake, this is about change management. We also offer a framework in the Brand Octagon to capture your evolving business and brand: notably, your Vision, Mission, Core Values, Target Audiences, Positioning, Promises, Total Offering and Brand Personality. Some of these elements you may very well keep, some you are likely to shed, others you will surely need to evolve. This is fine, this is what a strategic plan is all about.
First, however, you have to fully articulate each brand element. This is not easy. The exercises are designed for you and your Management Team to jointly conduct your business’s deep-dive, to be optimally ready, together, for pressing the reset and relaunching your business, in order to pro-actively manage what lies ahead.
I. SWOT exercise: Towards vision and mission
Few exercises are more comprehensive, or more revealing, than a SWOT: What are your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? Originating in the US in the 1960s, the SWOT provides Management Teams a frank, up-to-the-minute evaluation of their organization’s internal fitness as well as external competitiveness.
If your company maintains a current SWOT analysis, it is surely time for an update. If you haven’t before performed a SWOT, ask each member of the Management Team to complete the exercise alone using the chart (above) for definitions. Task: For each box in the matrix, identify the three to five factors that you believe are the most important for your company. Then convene them (doubtless, remotely) to discuss all input, and conclude with a ranking of the team’s top three to five—no more—responses for each of the four blocks.
The hidden beauty of a SWOT:
Responses to Strengths and Opportunities provide the basis for a company’s Vision: Where are you headed? What potential do you want to exploit? What long-term impact on your markets, on society, do you want to make?
Responses to Weaknesses and Threats provide the basis for a company’s Mission: What gaps, absences or work-in-progress are less than optimal? What needs to be addressed immediately in order to make the Vision a reality? Surprised? You can already tick two boxes.
II. Think-Feel-Act: Target Audience exploratories
Even as normal business contacts and communications have experienced near total disruption, there is no better time than now to get closer to your clients, customers and audiences. What’s on their minds? What are their businesses experiencing? Will they need something more, something different, from your services going forward? Are they, in fact, unconnected? disengaged?
In a previous blog, we discussed communicating with target audiences via the Think-Feel-Act exercise. This tried-and-true exercise requires you to ask:
- What do our audiences really think and feel about our company, our offering today? How do they act?
- In the future, what do we want them to think and feel about our company, our offering? How do we want them to act tomorrow?
We fully recommend not only to reflect on these questions with your Management Team, but to explore these questions with your audiences as well. Is what they require from you today what they will actually want and need tomorrow? What do you need to say or do now to make sure their attitudes and behaviors track with your best intentions, and vice versa? Be prepared to be surprised.
III. Values Ladder exercise: positioning, promises, total offering
In the last year, we have written extensively on the Values Ladder, even including its likely parallels with Aristotle’s four causes. A powerful tool, the Values Ladder offers a structured, analytical process to help you understand and articulate the benefits and values of your business. It will be the basis of your brand strategy, what your business delivers, and what your customers receive in return. It is a solid, logical process that asks the questions, at each step, Why? So What?
The values of the values ladder
Here are links to how the Values Ladder works, with an example long in the public domain, the Kevlar Values Ladder.
It is admittedly a difficult, but invaluable, exercise that explores your business in terms of three questions: What? How? and Why? These questions ever-so conveniently correspond to Total Offering (Attributes,) Promises (Functional and Emotional Benefits) and arguably, most importantly, your company’s Positioning (End Value:) Your Why? What your brand, your business empowers your customers to do. What larger impact—on the category, on society, on a region, on people –your offering enables or facilitates.
So, are your Promises (messages) maximally relevant and on-trend? Is your Positioning exquisitely relevant to your audiences and richly differentiating to your brand? Has the punishing year of lock-downs and unprecedented isolations rocked your business model and shifted your business propositions, or not? Are you communicating with the clarity, authority and ownership of the market that leadership requires? Prepare to find out.
IV. Core values examination
Core Values are the emotional intelligence that defines a company; the intangible “glue” that holds an organization together; the ethos that propels us through times of high performance and guides us through down-times of stress and confusion. As (still) now. No one has ever articulated the value of Core Values better than Mahatma Gandhi
Arguably, of all brand elements, the stresses of working remotely and in isolation have put the most pressure on companies’ Core Values. Irregularly meeting with colleagues, sporadically interacting with management—these situations point directly to Core Values to be the “glue” holding your corporate culture together; to help fill the gaps and motivate, challenge and inspire every employee, every day. Yet, you could reasonably ask, in the absence of normal corporate life, are our Core Values working for us? Does our staff look to our Core Values to keep them on a daily course? Does everyone know our Core Values? Do we even have Core Values? There is no guarantee of this in b2b companies, in particular, as the intangibles that Core Values represent are frequently under-rated for their importance.
Core Values should guide and endure. If needed, here is a link to help you sort and create and align your Core Values anew.
V. Brand personality exercise
We have published three postings on Brand Personality. In the last blog, we discussed Brand Archetypes/Personality as a scientifically-grounded, universally applicable platform for staking out, among other things, differentiation, category ownership and competitive advantage. As such, Brand Archetypes/Personality are pure business strategy, and no surprise, a favorite exercise of many CEOs we have worked with.
We invite you to revisit this exercise in the light of these unprecedented times and the impact of all the new findings generated by these exercises.
- Do they affect the choice of your Brand Personality?
- Will your Brand Personality necessarily change due to new requirements, demands or needs from your audiences?
- Will the “new normal” put more emphasis on kinder, gentler relationships?
- Will the emotionally-driven, collaborative Guardians, Companions and Sages be more valued than, e.g., independent-minded Explorers, Warriors and Jesters?
They very well may. (And in this context, you cannot not consider shifts in US politics, in particular.) What uniquely matters, however, are the implications for your Brand Personality.
The Brand Octagon: the framework to capture your evolving brand
Far more than a logo or graphic identity, a brand is the enterprise itself, its culture, its strategies, the focus of its future and a key driver of its success.
A brand takes the form of an Octagon and serves as the model to capture your evolving business and brand: notably, your Vision, Mission, Core Values, Target Audiences, Positioning, Promises, Total Offering and Brand Personality – all elements that you have created in the course of these five exercises.
All are intangible, all are continual sources of richness, abundance and renewal. Our clients have referred to their Brand Octagons™ as their “Compass”, their “Diamond” and their “North Star.” What better time than now for discovering exactly that?