Brand Planning 2021: An Agile Approach

The global pandemic has turned businesses upside down and because there are so many unknowns about the future of retail, many organizations struggle with determining how to allocate their marketing budgets. Now is the time to embrace the reality that ongoing adjustments and reallocations are a must. Shifts to your marketing strategy today that take into account how you’ll meet evolving customer needs and ease their pain points will ensure you come out ahead of the competition over the coming year.

Strategic planning is about deciding where and how your brand should compete—and more importantly—where it can win. Effective strategic planning is as much about choosing the initiatives you don’t execute as it is about identifying the initiatives you do execute to reach your business goals.

It’s understandable in uncertain times like these, companies focus on tactical efforts that appear to offer profitability and growth, e.g., receiving TTB approval for a new-to-world brand, launching a direct mail campaign, or improving efficiency in manufacturing processes. Yet, ideally, the focus should be balancing such tactics with strategic imperatives. Ultimately, sustaining a competitive advantage comes down to understanding your target audience, knowing exactly how your brand provides value, and aligning the entire organization behind an appropriate marketing strategy.

As you continue to actively optimize your 2021 planning during these challenging times, here are 3 key points to consider:  

1. The planning process should begin with confirming you know your brand inside out. If you haven’t already, uncover your key point of differentiation—what makes you truly special to consumers and better than your competitors, particularly in this environment—and hone your positioning and values. Once you’ve identified these pillars of brand strategy, the right plan will ensure you have smart initiatives and meaningful messaging to support them. 

2. Strategy and execution go hand-in-hand. The strategic planning process is about using key insights to get from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. It requires aggregating and analyzing the data you acquire along the way, conducting scenario planning, and applying those learnings quickly and effectively. A strong brand strategy will inform how you navigate the path to achieving business goals, while effective activation will incorporate key performance indicators (KPIs) to check progress along the way. It’s essential your KPIs are well defined, with clear objectives and supporting lead measures.

3. If you haven’t already done so, plan now for making necessary adjustments throughout 2021. Establish several strategic sessions throughout the year with your brand’s stakeholders to adapt, refocus, and reenergize plans on an ongoing basis. Strategic planning meetings are most effective when the managing team comes prepared with specific objectives and leaves with a clear plan of action. A well-executed strategic brand planning session can uncover key insights into shifting consumer sentiment, identify new challenges, and tune priorities to get you closer to your goals.

There are roughly five weeks left in this calendar year—use them to optimize your brand for success in 2021. Here are several questions to help your team get started with your strategic brand planning process.

  • ▸ How do you keep the DNA of the brand intact while pivoting during this unique time?
  • ▸ Who will participate in your ongoing strategic planning sessions? Will it involve only the executive team or will you seek a wider range of perspectives by including people from other parts of the organization?
  • ▸ In this environment, what is the single most important thing that customers need to know about your brand and how it fits in their lives?
  • ▸ Are you getting the most out of your digital marketing channels – social, email, website, content, etc. – as consumers continue to rely heavily on them?
  • ▸ What truly sets you apart from your competitors? Are you doing a good job of communicating that?
  • ▸ Do your employees understand your mission and values? Do they embrace them and know how to embody them?
  • ▸ When looking back to your last strategic planning session, what was successful and what wasn’t?
  • ▸ Did you put lag and lead measures in place to help you achieve your goals? Did you assign roles and specify KPIs to track your progress?
  • ▸ Right now, what are the biggest drivers of success for the brand? What actions will create the greatest impact on achieving your goals?
  • ▸ What challenges and obstacles stand in your way, and how will you work around them?

These are difficult times for the most experienced marketer. Taking an agile approach to 2021 brand planning ensures you’re able to make the necessary adjustments throughout the year, helping navigate uncertainties, mitigate risk, adapt to consumer behaviors, and ultimately win in the market.

Need Help With Your 2021 Strategic Planning Session?

Affinity Creative has a talented team of brand strategists that can help you plan for 2021. Get in touch today to find out how we’ll uncover key insights about your brand and use them to create a comprehensive brand strategy that will give you a competitive advantage and help you win!

About the Author:
Bob Kersten is the Executive Director of Strategy at Affinity Creative Group. Bob has spent the last 20 years with the world’s top brand agencies helping clients across a range of industries, and from startups to Fortune 100 companies. He brings his extensive experience building brands that accelerate growth, customer acquisition, and organizational change to Affinity’s diverse clientele.

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