Getting Help with the Brand Leader’s #1 Job
In 2020, many brand leaders focused on the short term: delivering the company’s top-selling items by addressing supply and manufacturing constraints, along with increased selling online. While these issues are important to brand leaders, longer-term brand growth took a back seat and so did brand strategy consulting focused on the long-term.
A Challenging Environment for Brand Strategy?
In 2020, innovation was frequently shelved or deferred. In some cases, new product introductions were delayed because of supply issues outside the organization’s control. In other cases, the organization chose to use its limited capacity to focus on existing products.
Now in 2021, these same brand leaders are managing price increases (driven by component and labor cost increases), customer allocation, and fighting for talent while navigating hybrid, remote and return to the office work situations.
Businesses that historically made slower price adjustments have pivoted to a faster pace. And industries that have been known for sophisticated pricing algorithms and yield management, like airlines, are reworking those models.
“We rolled out a price increase on Monday, and had to recall it on Wednesday in order to go to a higher level on Thursday.”– Food & Beverage Executive, 5/19/21
“Every time the minimum wage is raised by $1, our margin decreases $53,000. After a few years of wage increases, we are no longer profitable. We have no choice but to raise our price to customers. Even though we pay above minimum wage, there aren’t enough people to hire. We used to get 300 applications, and now we get 20 for an open spot.”–Business Owner, 5/6/21
“Allocation and pricing have been a focus for the past six months. We had to tell a large global customer that we finally won after years of competing for their business that they are on allocation, and we can’t fulfill their order.”– Global Business Executive, 5/4/21
“The raw material cost on one product line has gone from $0.30 to $1.40 in the past three months. It’s now stabilizing at $1.20, roughly four times what it was previously.”–Chief Operating Officer, 5/11/21
With this context, it’s tempting to feel that there’s no time to focus on brand strategy and working with a brand strategy consulting firm.
Brand Strategy is the #1 Job of the Brand Leader. Period.
But as former P&G executive Tom Laco made it clear in 1981, and Jim Stengel doubled down on in a May 2021 interview with Steve Boehler, the number one job of the brand leader is the brand and its strategy.
Below is Boehler’s recap of the brand leader’s focus:
- Development of persuasive positioning and advertising
- An annual testing program that can drive significant growth
- Collaborate with R&D on product improvements
- Purposeful cost management to enable important investments
- Promotional activities to drive trial
The 1981 seminal talk “If I were a brand manager today” also gives several case examples of brands that turned around their business through brand strategy, specifically better copy strategy, creative execution and focused testing. Some of these brands, like Sunlight, achieved these results despite inferior blind product performance.
As the #1 player in many categories, Tom suggests that P&G frequently faces a challenging situation with large businesses that go into decline. And that the “tough part is to turn a declining brand around.” He also recognizes the importance of pricing and identifies private label as the #1 competitor, not other branded players.
It’s clear that brand strategy remains the brand leader’s job despite the need to update “specific, contextual, dated stuff (i.e., copy, media, selling channels).” Winning brand strategy requires real attention and focus on the part of the leader. And brand strategy consulting can help with this focus.
Brand Strategy Consulting Today
Despite the general preoccupation with challenges and transitions, we’re seeing some brand leaders carve out the time, budget and headspace to engage in brand strategy consulting and focus on brand strategy in 2021.
Specific examples include:
- Omnichannel brand expansion strategy for two healthy food and beverage brands moving beyond the current product categories.
- Brand strategy, including role of the brand vs. corporate trademark, brand positioning and new product categories.
- Growth strategy for a leading B2B food brand portfolio, including foodservice and retail in US and CN.
It’s encouraging to see the focus on brand strategy from these brand leaders.
Getting Started with Brand Strategy Consulting
There are at least four types of brand strategy consulting firms for a leader to consider.
- The Generalist (e.g., Bain & Co., L.E.K., BCG, McKinsey)
- The Brand and Design Agency (e.g., Siegel and Gale, Landor)
- The Hybrid Agency and Consulting (e.g., Prophet)
- Strategic Experts (e.g., Equibrand)
For those who are budget-minded or simply prefer to work with a freelancer, there are also individual brand strategist practitioners, e.g., the myriad freelance brand strategists listed on Upwork and other forums.
Brand Strategy Consulting Guidelines
Some guidelines we’d suggest when evaluating brand strategy consulting firms, and the approach that is suggested:
- Start with the customer first
- Avoid common traps in defining the customer (e.g., the most vocal voices, self-identification as the customer, targeting too many groups)
- Employ discipline and use research
- Align on the framework and the intended application of the brand strategy
- Examine purpose-driven brand strategy, e.g., “Unilever today announced that its purpose-led, Sustainable Living Brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth.”