Great Brands Don’t Rely On Strategy Alone

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Friday, July 29, 2005

Some brands will fail – despite having great strategies behind them – largely because of mediocre implementation and mistakes in execution. What seem to be excellent strategies on paper, borne out of market-driven insights and enhanced by creative and promotions strategies hardly make a stir in the market due mainly to several execution fiascos. Ironically these mistakes, costly as they are, are often controllable and preventable. Yet, these errors deter the timely delivery of the brand to the end-user.

Successful brands are masters of both strategy and execution. People behind these brands recognize the importance of momentum. They know how important it is to ride the tide while responding fast to the market realities or changes that may not have been accounted for during strategic marketing planning sessions, sales planning and brand visioning workshops.

Following are some deadly sins of execution and how they can be addressed.

Failure to walk the talk of the brand’s copy strategy. Some companies painstakingly develop the brand’s differentiating benefit, even taking part in rigorous brand visioning exercises. However, they fail to mount the physical evidence in place to support the benefit. In some cases, some marketers fail to notify the rest of the employees of new brand initiatives. Thus, an internal buy-in of the brand is sorely lacking. On the other hand, successful brands carry the mandate of the entire organization’s staff. Together, everyone lives and breathes the brand and make real the brand’s promise to the consumer.

Lack of sustaining value in the brand’s copy strategy. The essence of marketing is to prolong the life of the brand. In so doing, it is important to identify the brand vision including its copy strategy and identity. Once this has been achieved, it is the marketer’s role to communicate the message to the brand’s target market. Here lies the test of the brand’s copy strategy are the creative executions reinforcing the brand vision and strategy? Is the creative concept and handle sustainable or poolable as copywriters call it, leading to several related executions that help create and reinforce the brand’s message over time? Is there a balance of insight and creative impact in the
poolable materials?

Production slip-ups. Stock outs happen when supply and demand is not at par. In some cases, the timely delivery of goods into the hands of the retail trade and eventually the consumers can be affected by production related problems that include among others gaps in production forecasts, delay in raw materials delivery, product considered a second class citizen and therefore not a priority in the production line, production group’s failure to seriously accept marketing forecast and on the positive side, demand and sales turnover may simply be faster than originally expected despite hundred percent, on-time stock replenishment at retail and shelf space level.

Absence of product or service in key trade areas â€“ The marketer may have accurately described the target market’s demographic and psychographic qualities. Unfortunately, at the moment of execution, the product or service may be inconspicuously absent in key trade areas and retail outlets where the target market is likely to make a purchase.

Here lie a number of reasons why this can happen: outsourced trade and distribution partner is not seriously in sync with the manufacturer’s objective; sales and trade marketer may sorely lack an actionable plan, scoreboard and sadly, accountability; possible rift and gap in communication between the brand or marketing and trade and sales people including failure to cascade plans from top down to staff specially among people with customer contact; inaccurate sales and trade forecast; absence of or weak clout or relationships in trade level; error in budget appropriations including failure to allocate expenses for merchandisers and listing fees to get better shelf space and ascertain regular stock replenishment, among others.

Gap in media implementation. Media plans are often picture-perfect. When media agencies make their pitch, brand marketers are often presented the most ideal client customized plan replete with high rating TV and radio media programs, high subscription print publications, etc. Unfortunately, come media implementation time, it is not surprising that certain brands get to experience bump-off situations particularly in popular TV programs. When this happens, marketers are faced with situations having to choose sometimes among far poorer alternatives at the last minute.

This situation is likely to happen when: (1) media agencies sometimes fail to notify the media supplier in advance and obtain a guarantee way before implementation; (2) media launch dates are changed or (3) in many cases, media representatives are not in sync with their media agency partners in achieving client objectives, among others. Often, though, most media representatives have a vague idea of client objectives and do not fairly understand the implications of their recommendations.

Disjointed ATL (above the line) and BTL (below the line) efforts. Below the line activities are meant to enhance the consumer experience around the brand while reinforcing the brand’s unique, differentiating message. Unfortunately, some special event organizers simply focus on the entertainment value or gimmick of the event often failing to assess the relatedness of the event to the brand’s identity and meaning.

On the other hand some marketing public relations (MPR) event based stories for some reason simply fail to achieve the targeted media space thus, further watering down the brand’s visibility in the market and falling short of the brand’s objective of generating high impact integrated marketing communications.

In the final analysis, many of the execution errors could have been avoided but to do so may need the following:

1. Establish a buy-in across the entire organization and its partners to seriously support a brand or product. While brand marketers drive the process, the success of the product in the market place is actually a testament to the entire company’s and its partners’ responsiveness to market forces. To obtain a high grade in this area, the entire organization, its people and its partners must be
united in achieving the goal.

2. Strong team engagement and accountability. A brand’s success is not simply the success of the product, brand or marketing manager. It is the success of the entire brand team including the sales, trade, promo and distribution team; production, research and development, finance and back office work groups; brand partners like the creative, PR, media, BTL agencies, etc. Thus, each member of the team must know and fully understand the goals behind the brand and hold each member of the team accountable for the brand’s performance – all the time.

3. Individual scoreboards and actionable plans. With full knowledge of the brand goal comes the understanding that each member of the team knows how to achieve the goal. Each member takes his part and creates his own scoreboard and actionable plan to meet the objective with appropriate hurdles, deadline driven plans and milestones.

4. Strong and inspiring leadership. When in doubt or in need of help, the brand’s work team must be able to turn to their respective functional heads for their wisdom, guidance and resolute direction. It is the chief’s inspiring leadership that keeps the brand team committed to their goals.

5. Keep the work team constantly focused on the brand’s big, important goal (BIG), compelling them to forge ahead stronger than ever with every success. This way, there is no room at all for complacency to set in.

6. Maintain an oversight committee comprised of experts in their functional areas who are not foggy head, bookworms but on their own are sharp-witted, responsive and in tune with marketing realities. A growing trend in many countries and among serious players in the industry, the oversight committee
is much like the Board of Advisors serving the Board Level or in some cases the Execom Level to see if any, possible gaps in brand marketing.