As we start another year with all the usual wishes to do better, it’s sobering to review how your intentions from this time last year panned out. What didn’t happen, and what do those disappointments tell you about your brand and the state of your brand heading into 2016?
- If you missed your sales targets – Regardless of where you set those targets (same as the year before, above the year before, way above the year before), chances are that your strategies and market demand are out of sync. You either believed there was more organic growth than there was or you weren’t able to overcome consumer resistance to what you offer. That could mean you were overly-ambitious. Or it could mean that your products are fading. Check the successes of key competitors to see whether everyone struggled (in which case, is this a sector you want to stay in?) or did someone else succeed at your expense? (in which case, what did they do that you didn’t – and how will you counter that?)
- If you lost customers – If your volumes of customers are down, customer retention is receding or your Net Promoter Scores have dipped dramatically, chances are you have a customer experience issue. Check your frontline for issues around fulfilment or contact, look at review sites to get direct customer feedback and try to identify where the leaks occurred in order to establish patterns. Check too whether competitors have lifted their experiences and, in so doing, have rendered what you offer less attractive. Mystery shopping problem locations should quickly identify where the issues are.
- If you lost market share – Three key things to identify here. Assuming the market itself is stable (and you haven’t simply lost share because the market has expanded and you haven’t), who has taken market share off you, how quickly has it happened and how sustainable is the strategy that they are using to do that? If your competitor has engaged in a price war for example, in order to get quick wins, reacting to that with price cuts of your own may stabilise market share in the short term but it may also drive down pricing overall. In this scenario, actions are more effective than reactions. Instigate campaigns in the market that play to your strengths and reinforce your value proposition and brand rather than allowing yourself to be dragged into a situation where someone else is deciding the rules.
- If you found yourself over-shadowed – This is the price some brands pay for not maintaining their market profile. Either, the case for advertising wasn’t made strongly or clearly enough – or marketing was distracted working on other projects. The result in both cases is the same. Your brand didn’t assert its position in the market strongly enough and someone else has lifted their awareness and pushed their message at your expense. That change can manifest itself in ways ranging from less sales to less chat about your brand on social platforms. The key concern here is that you may be perceived by your customers as a brand that is losing ground. That signal alone may send some packing. If the problem is internal, in terms of allocating resources, you’ll need to make the business case for greater investment. If the problem is that your marketing has simply failed to keep pace, you may want to re-look at your suppliers and the work they have been doing for you.
- If you chased bad goals – Chances are you got distracted by someone else’s strategy or you were lured by the siren-song of the latest shiny bright object. Those actions have pulled you off course. You need to collect your thoughts, reset your goals, un-do or resolve the damage that has been done and set your team new tasks. The successes of others are exactly that – they are not necessarily a precedent for how your brand should proceed. The secret is knowing when a strategy is not working and being brave enough to call that and regroup. Persistence is not a virtue in this situation.
- If you took a hammering in the media – You now need to rebuild faith, and you need to allow the time for that to happen. Trying to repair your reputation and push through an aggressive sales program at the same time will almost certainly end in a car-crash. Talk with others inside your organisation about the need to slow down, patiently repair what’s gone wrong and carefully answer the questions and concerns of investors, media, regulators and others. Highlight the actions you are taking to put things right. Grit your teeth if consumers don’t believe you – and forge on with the brand rebuild. Discipline and consistency will get you through. Impulse and defensiveness will hurt you badly. If possible, use the situation to galvanise the culture by bringing people together to solve problems and find ways forward. And remember, depending on what has happened, it can take several years to restore brand strength, so stay the course.
- If you gave away margin to stay competitive – If consumers have been bickering with you over what you charge, it’s a sure sign that they don’t value you or that they’re trying their luck. You need to work with your product teams and others to reframe how buyers judge your worth. Or you need to adjust your pricing to better align with what the market expects to pay (which in turn may require you to rethink your production approach). The cruel fact of the matter is that if this was the reality for your brand last year, you’ve lost desirability or others have gained the upper hand and are now driving the competitive environment. You need to rethink or re-assert your value equation. Fast.
- If nothing changed – Every brand today is expected to iterate its offerings over shorter and shorter timeframes, so if your brand hasn’t changed at all (and particularly if that lack of change has affected your sales, market presence, pricing and/or reputation) then someone needs to hold the feet of executives a little closer to the flames. There is no holding pattern in markets today. So if you’re not moving on, you’re moving backwards. Make sure that others understand that ‘busy’ and ‘effective’ are different ideas.
John Lennon famously remarked that “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Your brand is the same. It happens whether you have planned for it to go that way or not. The critical judgments are fourfold: recognising you’re not where you wanted to be; knowing why; seeing how your plans will need to change; and then executing on those revised plans.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the same title.