Making sure brand strategy makes a difference

Post by David Nichols, Managing Partner and Head of Invention.

Today, more organisations than ever before are busy working on brand strategy; its no longer the domain of only consumer goods companies. If you are considering such a brand strategy exercise, a challenge is to make sure it makes a difference to your business, ultimately helping you "SMS" (sell more stuff). Below I share some idea on how create a strategy with practical value, based on our work on over 150 brand strategy projects across geographies and categories. 

Get a Good insight

No matter where it comes from (or what you call it) you need one of these; they "open the door" to your brand strategy. But what is a “good” insight? And where do you look for one?

Our FIRE test helps you get a first feel about how powerful the insight is: it should be FRESH (a new take on the category), INSPIRING (lead to action), RELEVANT (to consumers & your product) and ENDURING (will remain relevant for years). The insight on the Omo/Persil brand that "Dirt is good, part of kids learning, developing and growing" passed the FIRE test, when we helped the team work on the global brand positioning. However, to really know if the insight is powerful you need to develop a proposition and marketing ideas and try that out with your target audience. 

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And where to find a good insight? They very seldom, if ever, drop out of the conclusions page of a qualitative research debrief. They just don’t. Good insights are “As rare as rocking horse shit,” as David Arkwright, creator of the OMO ‘Dirt is Good’ brand, once said. One way to increase your chances of finding one is to broaden your scope. Look beyond your direct competitors to indirect ones for inspiration. Look back at what made you famous, but also forward at future trends.

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Trial and Error

“If you don’t make mistakes, how do you know if you’re doing it right?”

When it come to your process, inputs, participants, research techniques, concept format, workshop style, venue etc., teams often rely on tried & trusted approaches, sticking to what they've used before. However, by relying only on ‘approved’ techniques, you reduce your chances of getting fresh ideas and new thinking?

My best strategy results have come when clients have been prepared to try out something new – just to see what happens. This has often been the source of those precious ‘ah-ha’ moments when a new direction suddenly opens up. They didn’t gamble on an entirely experimental process. Rather, they agreed to build some ‘room to fail’ into the process. That’s what got the sparks flying.

Examples of ‘room to fail’ techniques we have used successfully include:

  • Asking film students to write stories about engine oil
  • Getting a musician to ‘play’ the future of a brand
  • Asking a Hollywood screenwriter to write your brand’s story
  • Getting documentary makers to film single mums lives

Believe in Better

It seems rather obvious, but you have to truly believe that the new strategy will make a difference to the business. If your brand is tanking down by 10% a year, then you may be sure you need a new strategy. However, when you are growing +5%, it can be a challenge for many in the business to believe a new strategy is needed. A warning sign when I interviewing stakeholders is getting the impression that the brand positioning process is just a ‘tick box’ exercise; something that ‘needs to be done’ but with no genuine expectation of significant business uplift on the other side. This risks what we call "strategy tourism": a theoretical exercise that wastes both time and money. To avoid this trap, "start with the end in mind", by clearly highlighting how you think a new strategy can help you SMS (e.g. by driving penetration, increasing appeal in new markets) 


Your brand strategy should help you SMS. To make sure it does, then these three might help you:

  • Get a good insight
  • Make room to fail
  • Believe in better