Breaking up may be the hardest thing to do in relationships,* but scaling up may be the hardest thing to do in business. Something like nine out of 10 start-ups fail.
If you want to be among the few that survive and thrive, your brand can serve as a compass and guide as you navigate the challenges that befall others. But you must have a solid strategic brand platform in place. With this in mind, I’m kicking off a blog post series on how to scale-up your brand.
I’m going to lay out the steps I take with clients who are looking to grow from a mid-sized business into a large enterprise or from later-stage to post-IPO. I’ll start with how to conduct a Brand Diagnostic, then describe the key dimensions of brand power, and finally show you how to use five tools/exercises to develop or refine your strategic brand platform.
My intent is to provide a roadmap to a strong, valuable, sustainable brand that will help you scale. I’m inspired in part by my friend and role model Verne Harnish, who wrote a whole book on how to scale up, Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t (I highly recommend it — check out my Brand Book Bites post on it, including a podcast interview with Verne.)
Verne writes, “For many business leaders, scaling the business is a nightmare. Does every employee you hire, every customer you acquire, and every expansion you drive actually make you tired?… You’re experiencing the growth paradox: the belief that as you scale the company — and increase your dream team, prospects, and resources — things should get easier, but they don’t. Things actually get harder and more complicated.” His book goes on to provide many valuable approaches and indispensible tools for scaling your business.
In combination with Verne’s methods, I believe your brand can serve as a tool for helping you scale up. I recommend starting with a sober and thorough examination of your brand.
Here are the steps to conduct a Brand Diagnostic, a diagnostic evaluation of your brand to assess its current strength and to identify opportunities for brand-building and growth. A Brand Diagnostic involves auditing and analyzing your brand through three critical lenses:
1. Customers. Understand who are your current and prospective customers and assess perceptions of your brand among those who are your most ideal customers — the people who are likely to become your most loyal, profitable customers.
- Assess how customers can be segmented into distinct and meaningful groupings; then determine which ones are the best fit with your brand and how well you are acquiring and retaining those.
- Identify your primary segments’ needs, wants, usage occasions, and drivers of purchase and re-purchase.
- Determine how your brand is perceived on these dimensions.
Use industry data, your own market research, and even social listening to glean these insights. If you have a lot of data and sophisticated research and analytics capabilities, your findings will be very specific and projectable; if you don’t, use whatever information you have to make educated hypotheses for you to validate in the future
2. Context. Understand your competitive strengths and vulnerabilities as well as category trends and macro-factors that will affect your brand performance.
- Use your target customers’ consideration sets to identify your primary direct and indirect competitors; then assess how your brand compares to them on your customers’ decision-making criteria, e.g., price, quality, convenience, etc.
- Identify key trends in your category such as technological developments and emerging competitors and determine how they might impact your brand performance.
- Identify macro environmental factors such as the economic climate, cultural influences, and social trends and determine how they impact your brand perceptions.
Again, the depth and scope of your analysis depends on the amount and type of data you have access to, but most of this information is available through Internet searches, trend reports, and media audits.
3. Company. Understand the current state of your brand and your business.
- Evaluate your existing products/services and those in your pipeline in terms of perceived value, differentiation, and long-term viability.
- Assess your current capabilities, assets, and resources (human, financial, etc.) and identify underleveraged ones.
- Evaluate your current brand strategy and how it is used — is it clear, focused, and differentiating? Do all stakeholders share one common understanding of it? Is it operationalised throughout your organization?
You can learn most of what you need to know here through organizational self-assessments, interviews/surveys among key external stakeholders, and internal audits.
Based on the learnings from these three areas of investigation, conduct a S.W.O.T. analysis on the objective of achieving — or sustaining — a leadership position in your category. Organize your points by:
- strengths: internal factors that are helpful to achieving the objective
- weaknesses: internal factors that are harmful to achieving the objective
- opportunities: external conditions that may be helpful to achieving the objective
- threats: external conditions that might hinder achieving the objective
The outcomes of your S.W.O.T serve as a diagnosis of your brand today, giving you clarity on what needs to improve and what can be leveraged and exploited. It will also point to new growth opportunities for you to explore. A Brand Diagnostic is the first step in your scale-up journey.
Subscribe to my feed so you’ll be notified when the next post in this Scale-Up Your Brand series is ready. It covers the most critical dimensions of brand power for you to use while developing or refining your strategic brand platform.
(*Yes, I am a Carpenters fan and think Karen Carpenter’s voice was absolutely sublime — don’t judge me!)
- kicking off a brand journey
- do you do what great brands do? find out with this brand assessment
- build a breakthrough brand: how to do a brand diagnostic (video)
Image via flickr