A brand plan done right will focus your company’s talents and resources towards meeting your goals for the next year. It’s such an important part of your business that Areva Martin for Entrepreneur claims it’s more important than your business plan!
We agree. Without a clear brand, it’s difficult to survive in today’s business world where potential customers will Google everything before considering your business. Even the golden standard of a word-of-mouth recommendation still leads to an online search before you can welcome a new customer.
Whether you’re a restaurant, a biotech research company, or a consumer product, your brand is your business. And if your brand plan is ineffective—or worse, non-existent—you’re losing revenue and opportunities.
Creating a brand plan is an annual process that provides a detailed roadmap for the next 12 months. It directs your budgeting, marketing, product development, and sales. If your brand planning isn’t helping your business reach new heights, this article can give you some critical optimization points.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Learn from the Past
Look at your previous brand plan(s). What worked and resulted in goals met? What didn’t work? Did you set aside adequate time to create a usable plan? In the Pharmaphorum views and analysis, Sunil Ramkali writes, “More often than not [companies] allocate insufficient time for marketers to perform the brand planning process optimally, often resulting in last year’s brand plan being ‘cut & pasted’!”
There’s no point in using an out-of-date brand plan, and it can be costly if old goals and strategies are followed when they haven’t worked in the past. On the other side, look at what did work in your previous brand plan, and how it worked. What strategies increased customer engagement?
Take a step back to try to understand why a previous brand plan was successful or not. Did a fresh look on an old product generate more sales? Did the allocated marketing budget achieve its targets? All of these things are essential to brand planning.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Know Where You Are Right Now
You can’t navigate to your destination unless you know where you are. Successful brand planning must start with a clear understanding of exactly what state the business and market is in. Nick Williams describes it in Pharmafield this way: “The team gathers relevant data and generates meaningful insight to accurately diagnose the situation of the brand, the market and possible opportunities/challenges to be tackled.”
So, before you sit down to start brand planning, you must know where the business stands and how that fits in with the current market. For example, if the market for a product has grown 23% year-over-year, but your company’s market share has only grown by 4%, you know you’re missing an opportunity.
Having a starting point before planning is also essential next year when you review this year’s plan and will set you up for further success with less investment. The research and documentation you put into where you are now will be an invaluable resource in the future.
“When you know where you stand, it’s a lot easier to create practical goal priorities. For example, if you are dominating the market for your service this year, those lead generation and customer acquisition goals that were always so important should probably take a back seat to customer retention” Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Involve the Right People
Brand planning is not just a marketing ‘to do’. It requires carefully thought out input from people and departments throughout the company. You need insight and recommendations from “all the relevant internal stakeholders from brand marketing, pricing, reimbursement and market access (global & affiliate) and R&D (medical, clinical and regulatory) at each step” as Ramkali advises. Involve “key colleagues in the process to develop the brand plan in a meaningful way, encourage honesty and healthy debate, ensure that key decisions are clearly explained, and that resultant communication of the plan is kept very simple, very clear and very consistent…repeatedly!” (Williams).
Part of brand planning may involve training employees, closing skills gaps, and advising teams of new objectives and strategies. When the brand plan is complete, ensure it is distributed to all the invested individuals and departments: everyone who participated in the planning process, corporate communications, sales and marketing, etc.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Focus on Clarity
It’s possible for a brand plan to include a lot of information without actually saying anything useful. When a brand plan fails to clearly lay out what will be done and how it will be done, it won’t accomplish much. As Williams says, “the purpose of the process is to align and execute so the outputs should articulate choices and decisions very simply and incredibly clearly.”
Don’t get caught up in industry/marketing lingo and fail to communicate clearly. Anyone involved in the execution of the brand plan needs to be able to pick up the plan, read it, understand it, and know what their tasks and goals are.
Be clear about how you will measure the implementation of the plan. It’s no good having a goal of increasing customer engagement if you don’t have a way to track and measure it.
If you’ve looked at past performance and current performance (part of the ‘where are you now’ fix), you’ll know how good your measurement tools were. Clarity includes a plan for how to track the effectiveness of the plan. Your plan needs to include specifics on how to evaluate each goal and target.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Partner with Your Agency
The most effective brand plans are a partnership with your agency that “requires a careful balance of wide input from across the organization and strong, focused leadership from the brand team” (Williams). The partnership is really an investment from the company and the agency into the long-term success of both.
Current market research can overlap with updates to your customer personas, plans for the next 3-5 years, and insights for R&D. Both the company and the agency will see different advantages and applications for market research during the brand planning process. The partnership between the two perspectives can give a strong competitive advantage that is mutually beneficial.
Make sure that your agency is including their boots on the ground subject matter experts in the brand planning process. Insights from analytics, search engine marketing, social media, UX designers and all relevant practices should provide insight and input into what has worked, what fell down, and how to improve it. This will add actionability to your brand plan.
It’s also critical to ensure your agency has a clear line of sight into available budget ranges, overarching marketing objectives and imperatives, and the goal metrics that will demonstrate success or failure against each specific strategic objective. It is impossible to effectively manage something you can’t measure so make sure you have a clear measurement plan included in your brand plan.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Get Consumers to Take Action
In the past, companies could set out a plan for annual print and radio ads, throw in some television spots, and watch the numbers for expenses and profit generally keep everyone happy. Now, that archaic approach is a great way to shorten your business’ life span!
Branding is essential. “Never before have you had the chance to build a brand like you can today, then leverage it to expand your business, increase your sales, and enhance your credibility and your bottom line” (Areva Martin). This can only be accomplished with a brand plan that includes consumer engagement—not just sales. The entire customer experience must be part of brand planning.
There may be a specific segment of consumers that your company is best suited to target. Not all consumers’ needs are the same, and not all consumer actions are equal. Here’s a great hypothetical example from Williams on identifying a specific patient need for a pharmaceutical:
Objective: Achieve 10% market share within 12 months of launch
of a new anti-diabetic drug.
Strategy: Create exclusive partnerships with the foremost digital health-tech players and be the only organisation to offer innovation-minded GPs with valued drug+service combinations for patients who need a more holistic disease management approach at a price that value-oriented payors will support.
In this example, the brand plan would include understanding the GP as well as the patient and using this knowledge to create experiences that provide clear value to enable them to engage with and achieve a specific action from each.
Fix Your Brand Planning: Follow the Steps
MarketingBright.com offers this clear chart that shows each step in the brand planning process from a marketing perspective:
Without the solid foundation of marketing research, the rest of the plan becomes hypotheticals, rather than strategies based on known information. If you’ve done excellent research in previous years, you cannot rely on this for your current plan (although knowing what has worked and what hasn’t worked is essential). Customers and markets change, and with the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 in particular, each company needs to know exactly what has changed in their customers’ needs, pain points, and motivation, and how the market has shifted.
Using data from previous years is an excellent resource for understanding what strategies were effective in meeting goals, but it is no substitute for knowing what is important now and how to adapt so this year’s goals are met. Factors such as overall demand, who your competitors are, and current health concerns are constantly changing. Make sure you know what you need to accomplish now for your business to succeed.
Fix Your Brand Planning: A Solid Plan that is Flexible
Companies who wrapped up their brand planning for 2020 at the end of 2019 will vouch for the fact that any plan is only as good as its current application. Brand plans must be solid, clear, actionable—and flexible.
Going forward, we all need to adapt our approach to allow for flexibility and contingencies that can’t be predicted in advance. There isn’t a single company that hasn’t been impacted in one way or another by COVID-19. While many aspects of brand plans are still relevant, some goals and strategies have become impossible to implement. If your plan included customer traffic in physical locations, you need to be flexible. If it involved conferences, in-person meetings, or ‘boots on the ground’, you need to be flexible.
However, a solid brand plan’s objectives will still be relevant, and while methods for achieving those objectives may change, the stakeholders can still look to these objectives for clear direction throughout the year.