Strategic Brand Agility

In these dynamic times, customers change, trends disrupt strategies, technologies transform the competitive context, and new subcategories emerge. As a result, there is a pressing need to be agile; to have the ability to adjust the offering, the core brand position, the value proposition, and customer relationship.

Strategic brand agility does not mean to change the brand or its presentation to satisfy a manager who is bored with the current brand strategy and wants to put his or her mark on the brand. Nor does it mean a misguided effort based on the assumption that a brand deficiency is holding back growth when actually the brand is not the problem in the first place.

What then is strategic brand agility? A strategically brand agile firm is one that can detect and respond quickly and strategically to significant changes in the marketplace. Such firms need to have four assets or capabilities – (1) flexible brand strategy, (2) market sensing processes, (3) the ability to identify and frame strategic issues, and (4) accelerated brand strategy response capability.

A Flexible Brand Strategy

Brand agile firms must also have a flexible brand strategy. When opportunity arises (trend, technological development, etc.) a company with an arsenal of brands (active and dormant) can modify or adapt a brand or sub-brand to strategically react to the change. A brand portfolio that has some breadth will be necessary as some established brands may not be a good fit and developing a new brand is difficult and expensive.

In addition to a diverse brand portfolio, a flexible brand strategy isn’t constrained to particular subcategories or functional benefits. The portfolio will include brands with enough fluidity to travel to new contexts, associations (such as a higher purpose), organizational values and other characteristics beyond its functional benefits. The brand manager must look ahead and be prepared for the planned and unplanned departures from their current strategies.

Market Sensing Excellence

A strategically brand agile firm will have a continuous understanding of developments and/or shifts in the marketplace. To do this, the firm will leverage data collected from sales, social media activity, brand equity tracking, market trends, competitor actions, product evaluations, latent customer needs and emerging competitive subcategories.

  • It will also have several distinct characteristics:
  • It will turn data and information into strategically relevant knowledge.
  • It will not be so enmeshed in the trees that it fails to see the forest.
  • It will have people with supporting research and creativity that will be able to understand what lies behind the numbers, what the customer is really doing and saying.
  • It will be able to challenge myopic assumptions such as the low end will not migrate up or that the market is saturated and cannot be expanded.
  • It will look beyond the current marketplace to see disruptions in distribution, operations, product, manufacturing and value propositions.
  • It will look beyond the current business to non-customers, adjacent categories and subcategories and brand role models.

The process should also be capable of managing centers to hold and interpret information common to multiple organizational units. Nestle, for example, has centers of excellence around the Hispanic market and dealing with Walmart which can receive and evaluate information around their areas of interest. The need is to turn redundancy into synergistic knowledge

Strategic Issue Identification and Management

A strategically brand agile firm should have a market sensing effort capable of identifying strategic issues that need more analysis perhaps under the direction of a task force.

A strategic issue has two characteristics:

  1. It represents a marketplace change that will potentially have a large impact on future strategic performance of the organization in terms of size and immediacy of impact.
  2. It will likely require a change in brand strategy in order to resolve the problem or seize the opportunity and the strategic course change or even the change options are not obvious.

The issue analysis will involve framing the issue in terms of the decisions affecting the brand that need to be on the table. The fact that the organization should regularly have the option to create a strategic issue and form a task force can stop market and organizational inertia from enabling a response. It basically lights a fire that can lead to action.

Accelerated Response

When a strategic issue analysis leads to a recommendation that some element of the brand vison or strategy needs to be changed in order for the brand to confront a relevance challenge or growth opportunity, a response needs to be accelerated. The normal process of strategic brand development and refinement will be too slow.

One way is to engage in test and learn contexts where several assumptions and brand options are tested in the marketplace. But it’s critical to make sure that any test and learn process will balance short-term sales measures with the impact on brand equity. There is a danger given the “big data” capabilities now present that short-term sales will dominate the analysis and lead to brand destructive behavior.

Final Word

Being strategically agile is indeed an organizational quality that needs to be nurtured in today’s environment. But that does not mean to become hasty with superficial analysis or to allow short-term measures to drive change. It does mean that fundamental reorientation should be considered with respect to organizational structure, process, and people that will enable expeditious change based on solid knowledge, sound analysis, and creative strategy development.