Skip to content

Brand activation

Why read this? : We explore how to convert your marketing plan into brand activation. Learn how to drive actions and results across your product, promotion, price and place marketing mix. Read this to learn how to execute an effective and efficient brand activation process.

Brand activation

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn how to make the leap from marketing planning to brand activation.
  2. Explore case study examples across brand activation in product, promotion, price and place.
  3. Plan how to measure and track brand performance.

Great marketing demands preparation. Your market research, segmentation, targeting and positioning, brand identity and marketing plan are all about preparing to do marketing well.  

Being prepared gives you the confidence to act. Brand activation is when the marketing rubber hits the road. Customers don’t see your plans, they see the actions which come from those plans. Your brand activation brings your marketing preparations to life.

This guide shows you how brand activation helps you leap from planning to action.

Man leaping between two cliff edges with signs for planning on one edge and action on the other edge

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about brand activation?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-Brains brand activation quiz and see how much you know about brand activation already.

Marketing mix to brand activation

Your marketing plan should outline key decisions you’ve made about what you will do with your marketing mix. Brand activation converts those product, promotion, price and place plans into actions. These decisions can be summarised as a GAME plan. GAME stands for Goal, Activity, Measures and Evaluation.

You write a single page for each key activity in the marketing mix to define what you’re trying to achieve, how you’ll do it, and how you’ll work out if you’ve done it. This helps you define the project team, budget and time you need to deliver that activity.

From there, you can then turn your GAME plan into a brief. This brief may change format and content depending on the context.

However, the overall goal is usually the same. It’s to secure the resources, define the tasks and start turning your plans into actions.

Let’s look at some examples.

Marketing mix 4Ps to Brand activation examples

Product example : Launch a new product

Your market research and SWOT analysis help identify innovation opportunities. You identify a target audience with an unmet need and create new products or services to meet that need.

However, this innovation process has many challenges. You need a clear marketing innovation process with the right tools to run this part of brand activation smoothly.

One of those tools is the high-level project plan. This summarises the most important details of the project to help you communicate what needs to be done, and what you need from the rest of the business.

Let’s look at what it normally covers. 

One page blank project summary - includes project leader, project team, a timeline, strategy / rationale, objective, project description, target audience and point of difference, success criteria / competitive advantage, financial data, budget, recent tasks completed, project and product risk assessment, next steps, and a traffic light on track / off track table for business deliverable, budget and time

Project Name

First, pick a project name to give the project an identity so people can refer to it. So they know what it’s about when you set up meetings. Or ask for information and help.

You can keep it simple by naming it after what the project will deliver. For example, Project New Widget, Project New Size or Project Attract Older Customers. Simplicity is generally good.

However, for more sensitive or confidential projects, you may want to mask the scope of the project. If you want to keep it within the project team, use a project code name instead. 

Project code names

It’s also worth considering code names as project meetings might not always take place at your place of business. Plus, people often take work calls on public transport or in cafes. There’s a chance competitors will find out about your launch. A project code name helps you hide what the project will deliver.

You could use a project name which alludes to the project scope, without giving it away.  e.g. :-

  • Project New Widget could be Project Elastoplast. Because you’re ‘sticking on’ a new widget.
  • Project New Size could be Project Jumbo. Because you’re making an extra-large version of your product.
  • Project Attract Older Customers could be Project Grey. Because you associate grey with older people. 

You get the idea, right? 

Of course, while this helps give some secrecy, these wouldn’t be impossible to crack if a competitor did overhear the project name. So some businesses use randomised project names for innovations drawn from a list of, for example, Christian names, countries or Greek Gods.

Project team

Next, you define who’s going to work on the project. The project team usually has 3 key roles :-

  • Project leader.
  • Functional experts.
  • Sponsor / stakeholders.

The project leader is responsible for setting up and organising the processes which will drive the project.

They’ll lead the creation of project documentation (e.g. the project plan, and the project task list / timeline), run regular status meetings and coordinate communications.

Functional experts are the team members who have the skills, resources and authority to do the required project tasks.

Which functions you pull these from depends on the goal. You’ll have supply chain experts for new packaging, for example. IT experts for anything digital. And you’ll almost always have some sort of finance person, to help you track spend and the profit and loss impact.

Lastly, you have sponsors and stakeholders. These are usually more senior people in the business who don’t get involved in the day-to-day tasks. They help with decision-making and approvals, give feedback on progress and help resolve issues. Very few projects run without any issues. 

Check out our project teams article for more on how to allocate and get the most out of these different project team roles.

Project timeline and key milestones

The plan should include dates when key actions must happen for the project to launch. It starts with the kick-off date and ends with the post-launch review date and includes all major milestones in between. Including, of course, the launch itself.

Other milestones could include market research, testing and creative approvals   They could also include approval of the final business case and marketing plan.

Milestones like retailer engagement or major operational changes typically have long lead times. You’ll need to set them far enough in advance of the launch date.

Calendar

Plan a post-launch review

Often the launch feels like the ‘formal’ end of the project. But it isn’t. You also need to set a date for a post-launch review. This is a specific check-in review AFTER the product launches. You use it to share learnings and learn from your mistakes. It documents what did and didn’t work, so you can do it better next time.

Strategy / Rationale

This section aims to capture succinctly why you’re launching the product. You should identify the opportunity in no more than 3 or 4 bullet points. Include key facts or evidence. For example, does the new product meet an unfulfilled need? Does it stretch the brand to a new target audience or occasion? Or does it exploit a new ingredient, process or technology?

Your opportunity summary here acts as a constant reminder to the project team. The strategy is more likely to ‘stick’ in the mind when it’s looked at regularly as part of the project status summary. 

Objective

Similarly, the project summary should include the high-level goals and KPIs so they’re easy to find and track. This acts as a regular reminder of what the team is trying to achieve and often helps resolve any disagreements about priorities. 

Project description

This summarises how the project itself will be done. You should identify the project’s high-level actions, changes or developments. e.g. a new ingredient, a new way to manufacture a product, or a new process to deliver a service. The project description should outline the key steps that need to happen, so anyone unfamiliar with the project understands what it’s about. 

Target audience and point of difference

Our segmentation, targeting and positioning guide has full details on how to identify the target audience and create a Point of Difference. You should have these in your positioning statement which is structured like this :-

To (target audience), the (brand) is the (category frame of reference) that delivers the (benefit) due to (reason why) as proven by (reason to believe).

The point of difference is usually the benefit, the reason why and the reason to believe.

You shouldn’t need to re-do your positioning for each new product launch. However, you should note any changes, updates or amends caused by the product launch.

For example, if it targets the existing audience but at a new consumption occasion. Or it upgrades the core benefit through improved performance. You should include these changes to the positioning on the project summary.

Success criteria and competitive advantage

Your success criteria define how you’ll know the project has worked. This may be as simple as meeting the overall business objective. But it often includes more factors.

For example, you could define success as launching the product on time and within budget. You may have other factors such as influencing customers or changing brand perceptions. 

If your project includes new processes, systems or ways of working, you can set success criteria for these too. These relate to how you’ll carry out the project.

Competitive advantage

You should also capture what type of competitive advantage the project will deliver. In terms of how consumers and customers perceive the brand, the Point of Difference may already have captured this.

But you should also include any additional advantages that the innovation will deliver. For example, cost savings, speed of delivery, quality or reach to a new or different segment. These are all new competitive advantages which you should track on the project summary. 

Business deliverables / Budget / Time status

This section covers the 3 main questions that anyone outside the project team will have about the project :-

  • Will the project delivery be as expected?
  • Will the project be delivered within the agreed budget?
  • And will the project be delivered on time?

Your project status document reminds you to always have answers to these questions. When you update it, make sure it covers where you’re at in these areas. 

Use a traffic light system. Where there’s an issue, add commentary to explain why the status is that colour :-

  • Green shows the project is on track – no action or commentary required.
  • Amber is a warning that some action needs to happen to manage or resolve an issue.
  • Red indicates that the project will miss expectation on either delivery, budget or time. Action is required. 
Traffic lights with sign stating Australia's most remote traffic lights outside the Daly Waters pub in the Northern Territory

Financial data

You should include a high-level financial plan of what the product will deliver over the first two years. Not a full profit and loss, but the key elements like unit sales, revenue and profit margin.

While there may well be a more detailed financial analysis that sits behind the summary page, having this information available here helps stakeholders easily compare different innovation projects.

Budget

You should also include the high-level budget required to deliver the launch including the cost of goods / production, advertising and any significant other costs in the summary document.

Recent tasks / Risk assessment / Next steps

All the above details are usually written at the start of the project. Though there may be changes as the project progresses, these are usually minor. However, all the remaining elements in the template are more dynamic. They capture changes at each major milestone of the project and you should update them more regularly.

  • The recent tasks completed section outlines the 2 or 3 biggest achievements since the last project update.
  • The next steps section shows the 2 or 3 most important tasks to be completed by the next update.
  • The risk assessment identifies any risks to the project where it won’t meet expectations.

The project team identify these risks at the start of the project. They should also include any actions to resolve the risk. Use a traffic light system to show the risk status :-

  • Green shows the risk is under control and won’t impact the project.
  • Amber shows some work is needed to manage or resolve the risk.
  • Red shows a risk with a high chance of impacting the project outcome.

This is only one example to show how Product might be brought to life in brand activation. For a full review of how to manage innovation, check out our separate marketing innovation guide. 

Use this template as an example of how a high-level GAME plan on your “Product” part of the marketing mix, can become a plan to organise and manage a team to deliver an innovation launch. 

Promotion example : Launch a new communication campaign

Let’s now look at promotion, the next of the four Ps impacted by brand activation.

The word promotion can be interpreted in multiple ways. It can mean any broad activity you do to promote the brand.

But it’s also often applied to a narrower event or campaign, and often related to price discounts. For example, our brand will be on a “buy one get one freepromotion in November. 

But as price is a separate P in the marketing mix, here we’re talking about promoting the brand with marketing communications activity. We’ll come back to price and what to do with it shortly. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

Example : Communication brief

Let’s imagine the marketing plan proposes a new communications campaign to talk about a new benefit. Or to create more impactful advertising for your target audience.

In this case, we’d start with a communication brief for the agencies. The brief contents come from key elements you define in the brand development process. For example, there’s the :-

Work with marketing agencies

Each of these elements helps you provide direction on what you need from your marketing agencies.

Each agency (e.g. creative agency, media agency) reviews the brief and responds with a plan on how to deliver the requirements it outlines. 

Read more about how an agency responds to a communication brief in our agencies skill guide, including key people you’ll meet in the agency. (See also our how to evaluate marketing agencies article). 

Our advertising, media planning and website planning guides also give lots of examples of this process in action. 

Communication brief template with 5 sections - brand, objectives, Communications, Rationale and Project - including additional copy about how to complete

Pricing example : Regular / competitive and promotional pricing

As part of your market audit, you should’ve analysed the impact of price in your category. This analysis should include the sales performance of your products when they’re at the ‘regular’ price and how sales change when you run price discounts. It should look at what your competitors do with pricing. 

From your marketing plan, you’d then typically write a pricing plan as part of your brand activation.

You’d build this plan with your finance and sales (retail customer) teams.

This pricing plan would typically have 3 key components from a marketing point of view.

  • Your regular and recommended promotional price.
  • Competitor price tracking.
  • A price promotional calendar for the year. 

Let’s look at each of those in turn using a hypothetical example from a T-shirt producer.

Pricing plan example - shows there examples 1. Regular price vs promo price on a chart 2. Competitor price packing on a chart 3. Price Promotion calendar - product and price on an annual monthly calendar

Regular price vs promotional price

In most categories, there’s a trade-off between the number of units sold and the regular price. The regular price is the price at which your product normally sells. 

Brands with higher regular price points typically sell fewer units. But they’ll make more dollars per unit sold. Brands with lower regular price points sell more units. But they’ll make fewer dollars per unit sold.

As you adjust your price, you’ll typically find a sweet spot regular price. This is where your trade-off between profitability and volume has the best return.

However, your competitors will also clearly adapt their prices. This alters the attractiveness of your regular price to customers. So you run sales promotions to drive short-term sales when you need them. You look for an ideal promotional price to combat competitor price promotions. 

Psychological pricing

We should also mention the phenomenon of psychological pricing. (An offshoot of behavioural science in marketing).

This is based on research that shows that shoppers don’t always rationally evaluate prices. For example, the widespread use of “.99” pricing, also known as charm pricing. You’re more likely to see a $9.99 price than a rounded-up $10. Studies show this $0.01 saving has a disproportionate impact on sales.

Logically, it should make little difference. But, it seems many customers process the left-hand number more than the right-hand number. So they give undue preference to the $9 and less to the $.99 part. So they see the saving as more $9 vs $10 than $9.99 vs $10.

(Check out this great summary for more on psychological price factors). 

Competitor price tracking

Another key price consideration is how you price relative to competitors. This depends on your positioning and how your target audience perceives price. 

For example, if you position your brand as delivering the best quality, the implication is you’ll be the most expensive. Customers expect to pay more for better-quality products. 

On the other hand, if you want to go for scale, a lower price point is more appropriate. (Known as cost leadership – see our article on competitive strategy for more on this). 

Your price point helps customers position your product against competitors. Use market research and feedback from the sales team and customers to find your ideal price point. Work with your finance team to look at different P&L scenarios based on volume and price forecasts. 

In our T-shirt example above, we are a #2 player in the market looking to take volume share from the #1 (Competitor A). So our price plan is to keep a 10-15% price discount at all times.

But we also recognise that a lower quality cheaper competitor (Competitor B) might start to take volume share from us if the price gap is too wide. So we set a cap on how much more expensive we would ever be than them. In this example, we would never be more than $10 more expensive than Competitor B. 

We would also detail any extra benefits or limitations linked to the promotion. For example, securing more in-store space when on promotion. Or running an exclusive offer via a specific customer (see our advanced e-commerce techniques article for more on this). In this case, it was free delivery for online shopping.

Price promotional calendar

The final component of your price plan is your promotional calendar. Here you detail all the different types of sales promotions you’ll run across your range.

So, in our T-shirt example above, we have 3 different types of promotion. A 25% discount, a 2-for-one offer and a free delivery offer.

But we’d choose to run these promotions on different products and at different times of the year.

We’d base this on our understanding of what drives the biggest increase in sales for each product.

Sale sign in white on a red window with outline of a person walking past in the background

Price challenges

Price can be one of the more challenging parts of the marketing mix.

In particular, when you work with retailers, you can’t set the price in-store directly. Setting a resale value goes against anti-competition measures.

You can only set the price the retailer pays you and make recommendations on the in-store price. This is why you see “Recommended Retail Price” on a lot of products.

In addition, you’ll always be in the dark about changes to competitor price positions until they go live. And of course, your underlying costs can change due to market conditions. You should work closely with sales and finance teams to track the impact of pricing changes.

Place example : Retail customer plan

Your “place” could be your own store or even your online shop if you work in e-Commerce. But for many products, the “place” is through a third-party retailer or distributor. So, your brand activation here normally connects to a customer plan like the one below.

The customer plan contents and layout are similar to what you might have put together in your GAME plan. But they’re written from a sales channel point of view. 

They’ll include the ambition and objective for that customer for the year, and then high-level pillars to summarise key initiatives over the next 6 to 18 months.

As you can see from our example, these activities may be specific to the sales team themselves.

Sales team objectives

A sales team objective could be to build a better relationship with that customer. They’d achieve it with a shopper insight project with that retailer’s customers.

However, the sales team objectives might also overlap directly with your marketing plan.

In this example, launching innovations requires the sales team to prepare a business proposal for the retailer to stock those products. They’d need to set up commercial agreements to manage the launch and sale of the new products through that particular customer.

Then, you can also have some customer activities which partly overlap with the marketing plan.

Retail customer one page summary - Template for customer plans shows ambition, objective, pillars, priority activity and enablers

In this case, the sales manager has identified online as an opportunity. But to deliver this the marketing team would need to support with materials, content and other brand assets. 

Marketing plan to brand activation summary

Before we cover how else the marketing plan drives brand activation, it’s worth recapping where we’ve got to.

Where the marketing mix identifies a particular P of the 4Ps to focus on, you can use different templates and processes to pull project teams and resources together to go implement that activity. (See our case study article with an example marketing mix for more on this).

Whether it’s a new product launch, a new advertising campaign, a price change or an in-store or online activity, the marketing plan sets the direction for the business from which all brand activation plans then roll out. 

From GAME plan to measuring performance

The above examples focused on the start of each activity. We did this to highlight the leap from the marketing plan into brand activation.

But in reality, you’re likely to have a mix of new and ongoing projects and brand activation to look after. 

So, as per the GAME plan section in our marketing plan guide, you also need to include performance measurements for each activity.

This includes checking if projects are on track, and if the impact is meeting expectations. To do this, you have to gather all the relevant marketing data

Three different types of rulers seen from above on a plain background

Performance measure - Sales

One obvious measure is sales. Both your own and those of competitors. Depending on the category, you can check and evaluate sales either daily, weekly or monthly. 

Where you sell through retailers, aim to get hold of their sales data to the end customer where possible. This gives a better indication of actual shopper demand as your sales to the retailer will be subject to their stock levels.

This sales data may be available as part of your retailer agreement. In some cases, you can access it via third-party research companies like Nielsen or Circana.

You should also look for information beyond total sales. The more information you have, the more you can analyse what’s happening. For example, look at competitors’ price and promotional information. Look at when and how often they advertise and how widely distributed they are.

This information helps you build a clearer picture of the category. It helps you make better marketing decisions on what works and what doesn’t.

Performance measure - Consumer metrics

You can also measure brand performance by talking to your customers. Get regular feedback on their thoughts and feelings about your brand. This is often in the form of a brand health or brand equity tracking study.

This is a quantitative research approach. It asks a statistically representative sample of the total audience questions about the category and the brands within it. It typically reports on a monthly or quarterly basis.

You should include questions to measure your brand identity in brand health studies. Track these over time to look for trends. For example, if your essence is about “healthy snacking’, you’d check if customers perceive you as more or less “healthy” than competitors. Same, with your brand values. See, if customers recognise them in your brand activation and how they rate you versus competitors.

Marketing plan quarterly reviews

To pull together these sales and consumer metrics, you should also set a regular schedule to look for any other major changes which might impact your marketing plan.

As per our marketing plan guide, a quarterly (or sometimes six monthly) review of the marketing plan helps you do this.

The aim isn’t to rewrite the whole marketing plan but to review market changes since the plan was written.

This review should be documented and circulated to stakeholders. Have an open discussion to review changes and make recommendations about how best to respond to them (if a response is needed). 

Extreme close up on someone's blue eye

Quarterly review agenda

The agenda at these reviews can vary by company, but typically you’d expect to see :-

  • review of the last quarter’s performance.
  • summary of the brand equity trends.
  • update on any changes in the marketplace. 
  • summary recommendation about the 3 -6 month activities.

Contents can include, for example, all the Innovation project one-page summaries we shared earlier. This would show progress on all your innovation projects.

You can include the communication headlines and initial campaign results to show how your brand is or isn’t building equity with customers.

And finally, you can update the SWOT analysis from the marketing plan. In particular, flag where Opportunities or Threats have changed.

Have your competitors made any major moves since you wrote the marketing plan? How has your relationship with your customers gone? Do you have insights from your online data sources that might impact your future brand activation? 

When you’re in the middle of brand activation it can be easy to focus only on the here and now. Quarterly reviews force you to step out of the daily grind of brand activation and look ahead to the next quarter and beyond.

They’re also a great opportunity for teams to share data, progress and successes with the wider business. This helps flush out any issues that might block your marketing plans. (See examples in our articles on barriers to marketing, creativity and e-Commerce). The quarterly review usually provokes robust discussions, but if you’re prepared properly, they’re a great forum to inspire and inform the rest of the business. 

Conclusion - Brand activation

Brand activation brings your marketing plan to life. It drives marketing mix actions based on working towards structured milestones through the year but with enough flexibility to adapt as category circumstances change.

Though we’ve covered many examples of typical brand activation challenges here, we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the variety of challenges you can face. 

Check out our communications and digital marketing guides for more specific brand activation challenges. Or get in touch if you need help with brand activation. 

Man leaping between two cliff edges with signs for planning on one edge and action on the other edge

Three-Brains and brand strategy

Need help building your brand strategy? Sceptical about all those agencies who say they can solve your marketing problems before they even ask what those problems are?

We’ve many years of marketing experience building successful brands. Our coaching and consulting services start by helping you work out what your marketing problems are. Then, we help you find the right answers to solve those problems for your business. Get in touch to learn how we can help you build your brand strategy skills and grow your business.

Latest blog posts on brand strategy