Strategic Planning and Brand Strategy: Can you do one without the other?

Does your corporate brand influence and inform your strategic planning efforts? If your answer is NO then in my opinion, have a major opportunity in front of you. If you want to align your organization, create clear focus, and open up your team to a new platform that will generate innovative ideas, then take the time and effort to establish a corporate brand platform.

A corporate brand should align your entire organization around a common core purpose and set of values. To take Jim Collin’s lessons a step further it should also help you develop your organization BHAG and thus lead to a strategic plan around growth or change (Yes I really drank the ‘Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’ Kool Aid).

In every strategic planning engagement I undertake in my practice we always start with getting the leadership team to clearly define the company as they see it today being as specific as possible. We’ll outline # of employees, revenue, client mix, products & services, position in the market, competitors and so on. Then they are charged to define the ideal vision of the company in 5 or 10 years in very broad terms followed by those same measures we outlined in the today version of the company. Once we have defined a clear picture of the organization today and a clear ideal future I then ask “Now what is the core purpose of your organization; your North Star or guiding principal that informs everything to decide to do as an organization. I’m surprised at how often I either hear silence or several different answers from the team.

How can you define your strategy for growth or change without basing it on the organizations fundamental reason for existence. At that point, if its clear we don’t have an agreed upon corporate brand strategy, we back up a step and change our focus on defining a clear purpose, outlining the company's core values, their differentiators and brand promise. I do this “backwards” approach deliberately. The reason is that many business, not-for-profit and regional leaders do not see the many business and cultural benefits of a corporate brand and this helps to bring them into the right frame of mind. Most senior marketing execs get it but often the other leaders in the organization do not so we have to put it into a context they understand – strategic business terms. Just because you have a logo and tagline, doesn’t mean you have a brand.

Once you have that clear core purpose and values, its amazing how it can create a platform for better and more focused strategic planning. The mission (or core purpose) of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) for example is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. Knowing this gives them a clear barometer for whether or not they should do or not do some major initiative. The question that Arnold Donald (former President & CEO of JDRF) used to always ask was “Does this get us closer to a cure?” It made it much easier to make strategic decisions with that simple question in mind. It also helped to inform the entire staff and board and keep everyone focused on the same over arching objective in everything that they did.

Also, if a clear core purpose is defined in a way that it outside of typical corporate speak, it opens minds up to more innovative ways to achieve that clear purpose. Do you think your employees are motivated and inspired by “creating shareholder value?” UPS shifted from delivery company to a global logistics company. Do you think they would have made that strategic shift if their mission was to be the best delivery company? The client centric “What can Brown do for you?” would have never been born.

So can you develop strategies without a solid brand platform? Sure but I think that is one of the differentiators between average and exceptional and inspired organizations.

I could go on also about the BHAG and infuse some thinking from Dan and Chip Heath who wrote “Made to Stick” but I’ll save that for another post.

1 comment:

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