Time to show your brand character
Why read this? : We look at the meaning of character in telling your brand’s story. Learn why choices made under pressure define your true character.
Why read this? : We look at how brand activation turns your marketing plan into action. Learn from our specific product, promotion, price and place activation examples taken from the marketing mix. Read this to learn how to run an effective and efficient brand activation process.
How this guide raises your game :-
1. We show how to go from marketing planning into brand activation.
2. Learn the key steps to measuring and tracking brand performance.
3. Read how to overcome the barriers which get in the way of brand activation.
Great marketing takes a lot of preparation.
Key activities like market research, segmentation, targeting and positioning, brand identity and your marketing plan are all about getting ready to do marketing well.
Being prepared gives you the confidence to act. And action is when the marketing rubber hits the road. Customers don’t see your plans, they see the actions which come from your plans. Actions bring marketing to life. And actions in marketing are all about brand activation.
This guide goes through how to make that leap from planning to action by doing great brand activation.
From your marketing plan you should already know what your brand plans to do with its 4Ps marketing mix. But you need to brand activation to turn those product, promotion, price, and place plans into action.
This guide will show you how to do that with examples from each of the 4Ps. It’ll also draw on the GAME plan format from our marketing plan guide. That format summarises each key activity, and can help you organise the budget and people you need to carry out that activity.
GAME stands for Goal, Activity, Measures and Evaluation. It’s how you set out what you’re trying to achieve, how you’ll do it, and how you’ll work out if you’ve done it.
But the GAME Plans should also start your thinking on the key resources needed to deliver each activity :-
To answer these questions, you convert the GAME plan into a brief. This brief will have different formats and content depending on the context. But the overall goals are the same. It’s to secure the resources, define the tasks and start turning your plans into actions. Let’s look at some examples.
Your market research and SWOT analysis help identify opportunities to create and launch new products or services.
This innovation process can be tough to manage. For this example of brand activation, we focus on the direct link between the marketing plan and marketing innovation process.
Before you start the innovation process, research the idea to see what the target audience think of it. Work out if there’s a big enough sales opportunity.
Assuming enough customers like the idea, most innovation projects start with a high level project plan.
This plan captures all relevant details of the project.
You use these details to communicate what needs to be done, and what you need from the rest of the business.
The summary helps you manage the project.
Let’s work though what’s included in a typical innovation project summary template.
Teams of people with different expertise come together to launch new projects.
As it starts to take up people’s time, give the project a name so everyone knows what it is. This project name helps people easily refer to the project. It gives it an identity . People know what to expect when you set up meetings. Or send requests for information or help.
You can choose to keep the Project Name simple. Call the project directly after what the project will deliver. Let’s say Project New Widget, Project New Size or Project Attract Older Customers, for example.
But while simplicity is generally good, bear in mind, you may want to keep the scope of the project within the team itself.
If members of the project team discuss the project, people outside the team who hear the project name will know what your product launch will be. You may not want this to be widely known. In the early stages, you often want to keep knowledge of the project under wraps.
Project meetings might not always take place in your offices or premises. People often take work calls on public transport or in cafes. There’s always a chance your competitors will find out about your plan. So, it’s quite common to give New Product Launches a “code name” to maintain secrecy.
Some businesses choose project names which allude to the project scope, without giving it away. For example :-
You get the idea, right?
Of course, while this helps give some secrecy to your intention, if a competitor did overhear one of these project names, it wouldn’t be an impossible code to crack.
Some businesses use a randomised list of project names for innovations to protect their secrecy. A list of male or female names. A list of countries. Or a list of figures from Greek mythology to give you some examples we’ve seen.
Next, you define who’s going to work on the project. This project team is usually made up of 3 key roles :-
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 co-ordinate updates and 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 depend on the nature of the project. 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 impact on the profit and loss.
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 at least some sort of issues.
Check out our project teams article for more on how to allocate and get the most out of these different project team roles.
The new product project plan should include dates when key actions need to 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. Of these, the launch itself is obviously key.
Other milestones could include, for example, the market research and testing phases of the project. Or specific creative approval sessions. They could also include approval of the final business case or marketing plan.
If the project requires retailer engagement or creation of new warehouse capacity, typically these items have long lead times. So these types of actions need to be set as major milestones before the product launches.
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.
The aim of this section is to capture succinctly why you’re launching the product.
Identify the opportunity in no more than 3 or 4 bullet points. Include key facts or evidence. Does the new product meet an unfulfilled need, for example? Or does it stretch the brand to a new target audience or occasion? Maybe, it exploits a new ingredient, process or piece of technology?
Whatever the reason, have the summary here, because it’ll be a constant reminder to the project team. The strategy is more likely to ‘stick’ in the mind when you put it in this key part of the project status summary.
Similarly, the project summary should include the high level goals and KPIs so they’re easy to find and track.
In particular, when these objectives are clearly articulated at the start, it helps resolve disagreements later in the project.
This is a short summary of how the project itself will be done.
Identify only the high level actions, changes or developments associated with the project. So, this might be a new ingredient. Or 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 who is unfamiliar with the project understands what it’s about.
We covered much of how to identify the target audience and create a Point of Difference in our guide on Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning.
The structure of your positioning statement looks 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).
For the project summary, you need to pull out the target audience and the Point of Difference from your positioning statement.
The point of difference is the benefit, the reason why and the reason to believe.
While you don’t need to re-do your whole positioning statement for each new product launch, you should note any changes, updates or amends caused by the product launch.
For example, if the product launch 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.
Your success criteria define how you’ll know the project has worked. While this might be as simple as meeting the overall business objective, it often includes more factors.
You could define success as launching the product on time and within budget for example. 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.
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.
This section covers the 3 main questions that anyone outside the project team will have about the project :-
Your project status document will remind 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 to help you do this. Where there’s an issue, add commentary to explain why the status is that colour :-
You should include the 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 between different innovation projects.
You should also include the high level budget required to deliver the launch including cost of goods / production, advertising and any significant other costs in the summary document.
All the above details are usually written at the start of the project. Though there may be some changes as the project progresses, these are usually minor changes.
However, all the remaining elements in the template are more dynamic. They capture changes at each major milestone of the project and you need to update them more regularly.
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 status of the risks :-
This is only one example to show how Product might be brought to life in brand activation. For a full review on 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.
Let’s move on to look at promotion, the next of the four Ps impacted by brand activation.
In many businesses, the word promotion has multiple meanings, as 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. So, our brand will be on “buy one get one free” promotion in November for example.
But since price has its own P in the 4Ps, 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.
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 contents of this brief comes from key elements you define in the brand development process.
Firstly, there’s the brand vision, essence, personality and values we cover in our brand identity guide. Next, there’s the business opportunity, marketing challenge and growth target from your marketing plan. Then, there’s the communication challenge identified both from market research and from the marketing plan.
The brief then specifies the Point of Difference (benefit, reason why and reason to believe) from the positioning statement. And finally the brief captures key details from the GAME plan and activity calendar including budgets, timings and who’s responsible for each activity.
Each of these elements answers a question or provides context to a marketing agency.
The agency review the brief and respond with a plan on how to deliver the requirements it outlines.
Our guides on how to advertise, media planning and website planning give move detail of this process in action.
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.
(it’s also worth checking out out checklist on how to evaluate marketing agencies).
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. It should include the change in sales when you run price discounts. And it should details of 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.
Let’s look at each of those in turn using a hypothetical example from a T-shirt producer.
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 less units. But they’ll make more dollars per unit sold.
Brands with lower regular price points sell more units. But they’ll make less 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, obviously, your competitors will also adapt their prices. This clearly impacts on the attractiveness of your regular price to customers. So you’ll want to run sales promotions to drive short-term sales as required. You should look for an ideal promotional price to combat competitor price promotions.
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 evaluate price in a totally rational way. For example, the widespread use of “.99” pricing, also known as charm pricing. You’re more likely to see $9.99 as a price than a rounded up $10. Studies show this $0.01 saving has a disproportionate impact on purchase.
Logically, it should make little to no difference. But, it seems many customers tend to process the left hand number more than the right hand number. So they give undue preference to the $9 and don’t really process the $.99 part. So they see the saving as more $9 vs $10 than $9.99 vs $10.
There are many such other psychological price factors to consider. For more on the subject, check out this great summary.
Your second price consideration should be how you price relative to competitors. This depends on your positioning statement and how your target audience perceives price.
For example, if you position your brand as delivering the highest quality in the market, the implication is you’ll be the most expensive product. Customers expect to pay more for better quality products.
On the other hand, if you decide you want to appeal to the greatest number of customers, a lower price point would be more appropriate. (known as cost leadership – see out article on competitive strategy for more on this).
The price point you choose positions your product against competitors. Use market research and feedback from the sales team and customers to help decide on the ideal price point. Work with your finance team to look at different P&L scenarios based on volume and price forecasts.
In our hypothetical T-shirt example above, we might be a #2 player in the market looking to take volume share from the #1 (Competitor A). So our price plan is to maintain 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 might set a cap of 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.
In this case, we would also detail any additional benefits or limitations to the promotion. So, securing more in-store space when we have a promotion that will run through more units, or running a specific promotion through only one channel or one customer. So, free delivery for online shopping in this case.
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, on our T-shirt example above, we have three 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 year.
We’d base this on our understanding of what drives the biggest increase in sales for each product.
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 on changes to competitor price positions until they go live. And of course, your underlying costs can change due to market conditions. You need to work closely with sales and finance teams to monitor and track the impact of changes on pricing in your marketing mix.
While your “place” could be your own shop or store or even your online shop if you work in e-Commerce, for many products, the “place” is through a third party retailer or distributor. So, your brand activation here normally connects into 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.
An objective for the sales team 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.
So in this example, the launch of 2 new innovations require the sales team to prepare a business proposal for the retailer to stock those products.
They’d need to define the various terms, conditions and measurements which will govern 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.
So, in this case, the customer account 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.
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 teams and resources together to go implement that activity.
Whether it’s a new product launch, a new communications 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 rolls out.
In the above examples, we focussed 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 on-going 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 measurement for each activity.
This includes checks to measure if projects are on track, and if the impact is meeting expectations. To do this, you need to gather together all the relevant marketing data.
One obvious measure to track is sales. Both your own and those of competitors.
Depending on the industry, 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. Or in some cases, you can access it through third-party research companies like AC Nielsen or IRI Worldwide.
But look at other information beyond total sales. The more information you have, the more you can analyse what’s happening. Can you find out price and promotional information about competitors for example? Can you find out when and how often competitors advertise? Or how widely distributed they are?
This information helps you build a clearer picture of the market. It helps you make better marketing decisions on what works and what doesn’t.
But you can also measure brand performance by talking to your customers. Ask for regular feedback on their thoughts and feelings about your brand. This commonly takes place in a brand health or brand equity tracking study.
This type of study 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 quarterly or six monthly basis.
Include questions to measure your brand identity in brand health studies. Track these over time to look for trends.
If your essence is about “healthy snacking’ for example, you’d check if “healthy” is how your brand is perceived. Or if customers see competitors as more healthy than you. Same, with your brand values. See, if customers recognise them in your brand activation and rate you as better than competitors on them.
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 is not to rewrite the whole marketing plan, but to identify changes in the market 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).
The agenda at these reviews can vary by company, but typically you’d expect to see :-
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. So the quarterly review can also serve as a way to inspire and inform the rest of the business.
Talking of the rest of the business, you’d think with all the benefits of brand activation to drive your sales, it’d be easy to gain support from other functions. Because driving sales is the main goal for businesses, right?
But, unfortunately, most businesses aren’t that simple. In most businesses, there are competing goals, working styles and processes that can make brand activation tough.
You can run into many barriers. For example, check out articles on typical business barriers in :-
Usually these barriers are driven by certain types of people. Here’s a couple of examples of working styles you’ll find that can make brand activation tougher to do. And some thoughts on how to work around those styles, so they don’t hold up your brand activation.
In general, asking questions is a good thing. There’s nothing worse than that awkward pause after you’ve presented something and ask “any questions?”. And you get nothing.
Urgh. That’s never good.
So, yes questions are good. But you can come across people in organisations who use questions as a weapon. People who use questions as a way to divert, delay or destroy initiatives. (it’s a subtle way of being a ‘critic’ as per our article on how to be a more creative company).
While some questions may be born out of genuine curiosity and a desire to collaborate and be involved, this is something entirely different.
The constant questioner is often driven by fear. A fear of change or disruption. A fear of things being not perfect or making mistakes. Their reasoning is it’s better to be late than to be wrong. But this caution can lead to missed opportunities, and a lack of learning from your mistakes.
We’ve found the best way to work with these types is to allow questions, but structure carefully the way you ask and capture them. Avoid vague generic questions, and direct the questions towards specific parts of the project.
Phrase your questions in a way that looks for positive feedback to improve the project, rather than negative feedback to delay the project. “How” is a great way to start questions with these types.
Questions like “How could we deliver this project ahead of deadline?” or “How could we use this project to improve system efficiency?” make the questioner look for answers rather than excuses.
A close business cousin of the constant questioner is the helpfully unhelpful. They have similar underlying motivations of fear of change and failure. They have a strong desire to maintain routines and the status quo.
However, they recognise questions can be an obvious delaying tactic. So instead they overload your brand activation idea with so many “helpful” builds and processes that it becomes unwieldy and difficult to complete.
So, they’ll refer you to other people in the business for ‘extra inputs’ to the project.
They’ll refer you to process and systems which ‘protect the business’, ‘drive efficiency’ or ‘avoid mistakes’.
Even if those things are not the actual goal of the brand activation.
They don’t want to appear unhelpful, but they are. They don’t realise the ‘help’ they offer often delays or kill projects.
Here’s the way to manage it though.
If their suggestion clearly makes the project better, or it’s something mandatory that if you don’t do, the company would be put at risk – like a legal or quality issue – then suck it up and do it.
But if not, make one step towards following up the suggestion, but if that one step leads nowhere, then kill the suggestion.
Most of the helpfully unhelpful rarely check back on what they’ve suggested anyway. And if you’ve made at least that one step, you can show you listened. But ultimately you were accountable for the project, and you made the decision about what was and wasn’t important.
Our final challenging style is what we call the grenade launcher. Typically, these are more senior people in the business, who’re only involved as stakeholders and approvers rather than deeply involved in the project itself.
The reason we call them grenade launchers is because their “input” to the project has the impact of a grenade. They spend limited time on the project, so they want to maximise the impact of the time they do spend on it.
So they’ll often find one big deal-breaker of issue with the project. And launch it at the project team like a grenade. But then they run for cover because, they don’t want to deal with the impact of their input and how it’s blown up the project.
A project that doesn’t quite meet profitability threshold in the first 12 months. Or a customer insight that means a new pack won’t meet the retailers’s shipping specifications. Or an IT process that nobody knew about before, that’ll delay your project by at least 3 months.
Just some examples we’ve seen of feedback ‘grenades’ thrown at brand activation projects in the past.
The only real way to deal with grenade launchers is to get to them before they’ve a chance to pull the pin.
Informal check-ins before approval meetings, regularly circulated project summaries, and a clear risk matrix and mitigation plan. These sorts of forward thinking actions help reduce the chances of feedback grenades blowing up your brand activation project.
As we’ve outlined in this guide and the one on the marketing plan, brand activation works towards structured milestones through the year (the marketing plan and quarterly reviews), but with added flexibility to adapt the plan as market circumstances change.
Though we’ve covered many examples of typical brand activation challenges that come out of the marketing plan, we’ve only really scratched the surface in terms of the variety of challenges you can face.
Check out our guides to marketing communications and digital marketing for more specific brand activation challenges in those areas. Or contact us, if you need more help with brand activation.
Segmentation, targeting, positioning
Need help to build your brand strategy? Confused by the amount of information and the many claims of agencies who say they can solve all your problems? Before you’ve even told them what the problems are?
We have many years of experience as marketers building successful brands. We offer coaching and consulting services to listen to your marketing challenges and get you to successful and pragmatic answers quickly. Contact us for help and advice on brand activation.
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