Why read this? : We go through a SWOT example to show what to look for in a well-written SWOT. Learn how reviewing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats helps you organise your marketing thinking. Read this to see an example of a SWOT driving priorities and and actions.
SWOT analyses in marketing are like making pancakes in cooking. They’re one of the first things you learn how to do. They’re pretty quick and simple. And everyone knows what they are, and what they’re for.
But, like pancakes, nobody really gets excited about SWOTs. In fact, it seems the more experienced the marketer, the more dismissive they are about SWOTs. We think this is a bit unfair. The SWOT’s only a tool, after all. And we all know what people who blame the tool are, right?
But a tool’s only as good as how it’s used. And who it’s used by. Your SWOT’s quality depends on how good you are at :-
But before we get to our SWOT example, let’s quickly look at :-
- what a SWOT is.
- when you’d use a SWOT.
- what a SWOT does for you.
What a SWOT is
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a common strategic framework used in business and marketing plans to help you review the current situation of your business and / or your brand.
You use it to capture and organise relevant external and internal factors, and articulate what they mean for your future plans. To start a SWOT, you gather data about :-
You end up with lots of data and insights. But because the SWOT output is usually a one-page summary, it forces you to make choices. You can only include what’s absolutely necessary about your current situation and its impact on your future plans.
This helps you organise your thinking. It helps you work out what to prioritise in your marketing plan. This forced conciseness is partly why SWOTs are so popular.
When you’d use a SWOT
SWOTs normally happen early in the brand planning process.
They’re part of analysing the market. They draw from your market research and competitor analysis as you first look externally, and then internally to identify opportunities and issues.
But as your plan develops, they’re usually reviewed and updated. Typically, this would be every 6-12 months. Circumstances change. You get new data and insights. Customers, competitor and retailers start doing something different.
All these can impact your SWOT.
That often means you review last year’s SWOT as part of this year’s plan. And obviously, this year’s SWOT gets reviewed as part of next year’s plan.
What a SWOT does for you
Despite those critics who call SWOTs old-fashioned and too simplistic, we still believe they have a clear role in your marketing plan. But only, if used properly.
In fact, the tool’s long-term existence (it’s been around since the 1960s) backs up its value. Current marketers still use the 4Ps of marketing, for example, and that also dates back to the 1960s. They also use the brand adoption funnel, and that tool’s origins go back even further.
Generally, if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t get used again. So, clearly SWOTs do deliver something, or no one would use them.
The challenge on being simplistic is unfair, too. Simple is good. It helps make your thinking clearer. And to be fair, you rarely use SWOTs on their own anyway. They’re used with other tools, and as part of the planning process. The SWOT’s a means to an end to help you organise your thinking, prioritise key facts and make better decisions.
Case study - Brand X
This SWOT example is based on a number of real-life brands. To protect their identity, we’ll call this overall brand “Brand X”, and obscure some of the more specific numbers from the data.
However if it helps, Brand X would be very similar to the case study brand Sustenagen we used in our recent tone of voice article.
As background context to brand X, it :-
- is health focused with a large and varied range of products.
- sells nationally through retail and online channels to consumers.
- does lots of innovation with a focus on packaging and product quality.
- relies heavily on healthcare professionals (HCPs) as influencers.
- has a national field sales team who cover different regions.
- mainly communicates via advertising, digital marketing and CRM.
Impact focussed and action-oriented factors
We’ve made the factors we’ve included in the SWOT as actionable as we can. We’ve also tried to avoid random observations. (often what you find in bad SWOT examples).
As we go through each section, ask yourself 2 key questions :-
- so what impact will that have?
- so what should we do about that?
Any time you look at a SWOT example, you should be thinking impact and action. If there’s no impact or action, those things shouldn’t be in the SWOT.
First strength is the brand’s credible and differentiated positioning. The SWOT doesn’t need to explain what that is, or how it’s been delivered, but should provide evidence to show its impact.
In this case, it’s working well (making it a strength) based on the data showing :-
- influencers (HCPs) rate it as the #1 brand.
- the brand equity tracker shows consumers rate it x% ahead of the next competitor on its “staff providing the highest quality service”.
Next up, is a strength based on the brand’s market-leading share in Region 1 and Region 4.
Being market leader has lots of benefits. Better awareness levels with customers, for example. More shelf space with retailers. Market leaders are often also thought leaders in the market. They’re seen as an authority in the category, and more customers listen to what they say. That’s a clear strength.
Then, we have a key fact about the brand’s digital marketing impact. When customers experience Brand X online, they’re 5X more likely to consider the brand than those who haven’t. That suggests the quality of the digital marketing is good, but also implies we could use it to grow if it reached more people.
Lastly, the SWOT identifies a strength around some new packaging where the design scored highly with customers in pre-testing. This gives you some confidence about at least a part of the innovation plan.
What’s also a key lesson here are the diverse sources which strengths can come from. They’re not all from the same area as we have examples of :-
- customer engagement with the brand.
- geographic coverage.
- a communication channel.
- product development.
In terms of weaknesses, we can see Brand X is only #4 on brand awareness. There’s 3 other brands which are more top of mind.
This suggests it hasn’t spent as much on media as media spend’s often closely linked to awareness.
That’s reinforced by its low Share of Voice (media spend versus competitors) relative to its market share. (Note – low awareness could also be driven by the brand not having been around as long as competitors).
In fact, advertising and media are a real weak spot for Brand X. Its current campaign is over 2 years old. Market research data suggests it may be wearing out and isn’t cutting through as much.
Lastly on weaknesses, customer data shows there may be an issue with retention and loyalty. When competitors run price promotions, x% of Brand X consumers switch. This suggests the brand could do more to keep customers loyal and stop them switching.
Note here that the weaknesses cover a narrower range of topics than the strengths. That’s common in cases where you have a brand in a relatively good position as Brand X is here. If there were more and broader weaknesses than strengths though, that would suggest a brand in a bad position.
Looking more external to Brand X, we note competitors have been slow to go after social media. Combine that with our own strength in digital marketing, and it suggests there’s an opportunity to build up more of a competitive advantage in social.
We also note a low sign-up rate to Brand X’s CRM program. Combine that with the retention / loyalty weakness, and it suggests an opportunity to improve the brand’s CRM and loyalty activities. For example, to incentivise more people to sign up, or send out stronger communications and offers.
Next, there’s an innovation opportunity. The SWOT identifies new purchase occasions Brand X don’t currently have products for, with 2 new products (X and Y) in development to launch this year.
Lastly, it’s noted that the salesforce headcount is lower in Regions 2 and 3. So there’s an opportunity to put more salespeople into those regions to help with the switching issue.
Like our summary of strengths, the sources of topics goes relatively broad :-
- communication channels.
- product development.
- geographic coverage.
First threat we note is a likely change in the regulations around advertising claims. This will impact what Brand X can say in its advertising, and where and when it can book media.
Next, we also note a competitor planning a major NPD launch early in the year. (This was picked up in conversation with retailers, as they need a lot of notice (typically 6-12 months) to fit in new products. The NPD was noted on one of the plans they shared).
We also note one of those retailers is planning to launch an own label product range.
New products are a threat because they impact how much shelf space existing products get, as well as potentially bringing in new price point options for customers.
Finally, we note an upcoming increase in the cost of raw materials which will worsen our profit and loss.
Again, this example gives you an idea of the diversity of factors which can impact a SWOT. None of the other 3 areas touch on regulation, retailers or production, for example. And competitive strategy is only alluded to in strengths and weaknesses.
Pulling out the key actions from this SWOT example
It’s tempting to stop there, because you’ve now done the S,W,O and T of the SWOT model. But in actual fact, we’re only halfway through.
You now need to turn these into recommendations. Remember, the SWOT needs to drive impact and actions. And those aren’t yet clear.
One of the challenges with SWOTs is that the boxes fill up quickly, and cover so many different areas. We only listed 4 facts per box here. But with 4 boxes, that’s 16 different factors to consider.
To complete your SWOT, you need to condense all that data and insights into the most important 3 to 4 points. As per our design psychology article, 4 is about the maximum number of points people can process and remember at any one time. So, you chunk SWOT facts together to get to a much shorter list of recommendations.
For this SWOT example, our recommendations were on :-
- digital marketing.
- loyalty program.
- launch new products.
- regional strategy.
Take-out 1 : Digital marketing
Brand X’s digital marketing drives consideration (a strength), but we also know competitors have been slow in this area (an opportunity).
So put these together, and digital marketing becomes a key activity to push harder in the marketing plan.
That would mean a specific GAME plan for digital marketing. As per our marketing plan guide, a GAME plan is a one-page activity summary which covers the Goal, Activities Measurement and Evaluation on a specific marketing action area.
The GAME plan is usually accompanied by a resource and timing plan. That would cover areas like :-
- how much you plan to invest.
- which people need to be involved.
- when and where key actions will happen.
Take-out 2 : Loyalty program
Next key take out is Brand X’s issue with customer loyalty (weakness).
There’s that weakness of customers switching when competitors price discount. We need to encourage existing customers to be more loyal. To stick with the brand no matter what competitors do. One way to do that would be to increase the low sign-up rate of the CRM program. (opportunity)
So, again we’d expect a specific GAME plan around CRM and loyalty. That would recommend key actions, resources and timings. The scope of this would also cover both consumers and B2B CRM for the HCPs.
Take-out 3 : Launch new products
The SWOT highlights new products already in development to drive new purchase occasions.
Though this SWOT example doesn’t specify the size of that opportunity, new launches like this are usually a big part of a brand’s growth plan. They require lots of time and investment and are expected to contribute strongly to the next year’s profit and loss.
So the year ahead’s marketing plan would include more specific details on these launches. Not just the GAME, resource and time plans, but also their impact on the brand’s overall position in the market.
Take-out 4 : Regional strategy
Finally, Brand X’s SWOT also showed it was strong in 2 regions, but had gaps in 2 other regions, especially around its salesforce size.
So, a business case and plan for more headcount in the weaker regions would roll into the marketing plan. This would include sales targets to justify the extra investment.
Final thoughts on writing a good SWOT
Obviously, every brand’s SWOT will be different. But this example gives you a good idea of what type of factors, and how many of each typically go into a SWOT. But beyond the SWOT contents, this example also helps show :-
- how you write a SWOT.
- where SWOTs fit in the process.
- who the team and audience for SWOTs are.
How you write a SWOT
You need good writing skills to write a SWOT.
The limited space means you need to write clearly and concisely. You eliminate unnecessary words. Only words which have to be there go on the page. (see our writing about marketing article for more tips on this).
Most of the sentences here are short. Most are less than 10 words. That makes them very clear, direct and easy to understand. They’re very readable for anyone who reads this SWOT.
SWOTs in the planning process
The SWOT’s there to help you tell a clearer story about your brand’s plan. It shows why you’ve chosen to focus on certain areas, and to back up the recommendations you’ve made.
So make sure, it fits in with the story of your plan. That the research findings it pulls from are introduced before the SWOT uses them. And the GAME plans which follow relate back to your SWOT recommendations.
Who the team and audience for SWOTs are
Finally, you need to think about who writes the SWOT plan, and who makes the decisions based on what it covers. It would typically be a brand or marketing manager who writes it, but with lots of inputs and feedback from other functions in the business.
You may even have multiple SWOTs if your business has multiple brands. In that case, it’s even more important the SWOT is well-written.
The audience are usually business approvers like the leadership team who review and sign off the recommendations.
Remember, the purpose of the SWOT is to move your marketing plan forward. It’s to drive impact and actions. Those only happen when decision makers understand and buy in to the recommendations.
Conclusion - Lessons from this SWOT example
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the SWOT have been greatly exaggerated.
The tool itself is still useful, not least for its simplicity and wide level of familiarity. The challenge is to get good at using it, and to use it at the right time and in the right way.
In this SWOT example, we showed how strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats can come from many different sources.
You then pull out 3-4 recommendations which become the focus for your next year’s marketing plan. The SWOT structure helps you organise and tell your story, and forces you to be clear on your priorities.
Your SWOT’s contents depends on what’s most relevant for your brand. But how you write a good SWOT is consistent across most brands. Tight, concise writing. Linked to the rest of the plan. And designed to make it easier for its audience to understand the story and buy in to the recommendations.