There aren’t too many advantages to growing old, but having been “round the block” a few times is one of them. And if there’s one activity in the corporate world that makes you feel like you’re going round the block, if not round the bend, it’s the business planning cycle, which I have experienced as a brand manager, marketing director, sales director, HR director and managing director.
What I’ve noticed over the years, and in the various roles I’ve had, is that the fundamentals of a good business – and indeed, brand – plan don’t really change that much. They need to cover most of the business bases, be clear and specific on key measures, and define and allocate typically precious resources.
But the best plans go a bit further. The ones that I’ve found most memorable, compelling and – yes – inspiring tell a great story. OK, it’s a story with more numbers, columns and jargon than your average bodice-ripper, but it can be just as riveting. 50 Sheets of Great, you could say.
So what makes for “great” in the context of brand planning? I would argue that, first and foremost, you need a BHAG: a big, hairy, audacious goal. Something that gets you and others out of bed in the morning feeling excited about the challenges of the day ahead. Like a strapline, it needs to succinctly and accurately define what you are seeking to do with your brand and, ideally, create a sense of purpose for people.
Which of these inspires you more: “maintain a leading share of the parks and amusements market” or “create the happiest place on earth”? Both apply to Disneyland Theme Parks. And just in case you thought it was difficult to inspire with something more bog-standard, compare these for Persil: “consolidate our number 2 position in the household cleaning market” versus “transform the concept of washing and cleaning by demonstrating that dirt is good”. No marks, if you excuse the pun, for guessing which one Unilever invested behind.
Once you have your BHAG, you need to commit to it. Specify and quantify the key milestones. Allocate the bulk of your resources to it. Connect it as much as possible to your broader business or organizational endeavour. In short, ensure that your thinking is aligned.
Next, you need to bring your plan to life, because otherwise it’s just words on a screen. That means sharing your plan with both internal and external colleagues, and captivating the minds and hearts of your production, finance and sales people as well as agency folk. It means referring to the plan regularly to check progress, and it involves linking incentives to success for as many of the team as possible so that you all have some “skin in the game”.
Remember, also, that the best plans strike a balance between creating purpose and direction and allowing for well-judged opportunism. WW1 German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke famously opined that “no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”, and if that was true a hundred years ago it has even more validity in the rapid, vapid, social-media-driven world that we live in today. That said, no business can cope with constant change, so my suggestion is that you formulate plans for 80-90% of your resources and keep the balance for those unforeseen opportunities and challenges that will doubtless emerge.
If you do all of the above, and combine it with lashings of common sense, you have a great chance of putting together an inspiring plan. And that plan could just be central to the success of your organisation, because all the things I’ve referred to apply just as much to how you achieve sustainable growth; in other words, create an inspiring Vision, and develop an internal Culture and external Identity that are aligned to your vision.
John is a blue-chip trained Marketing Director who has worked across three continents creating significant value for some of the world's best-known and most successful alcoholic drinks brands including Heineken, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma (CCM) and Carlsberg. John is founder of Calo Foundcation and co-founder of Spirit Level with Charlie Robertson of Red Spider.