In retrospect, it may sound simple and obvious but too many great brands and some very smart leaders have made bad decisions by not asking the right tough questions.
So, what are the right tough questions and how do you get to them? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the most common wrong questions.
Wrong question #1: “How can we grow?”
Should Bic launch pantyhose?
Should Dr Pepper launch BBQ sauce?
Should Virgin launch wedding dresses?
Should Diesel jeans launch wine?
All of these brand extensions were launched. And then failed. Most likely because they didn’t have the credibility to play in the new arenas.
The right question, however, is “How should we grow?” After being more than $800 million in debt in 2003, Lego reinvigorated its brand, not by adding light, sound, AI, and VR to its toys, but rather by re-entrenching in its famous brand promise – delivering the joy of building and pride of creation. Ten years later, they charted profits of $600 million thanks to The Lego Movie, a brilliant marketing device that stayed true to the brand. Lego now places #96 on Forbes’ World’s Most Valuable Brands.
Wrong question # 2: “How can we stay market leaders?”
These days, innovative brands are taking advantage of machine learning and artificial intelligence to disrupt nearly every industry. Iconic brands that once dominated the marketplace and seemed like they would be successful for the long-term, think Kodak, Blockbuster, Sears, and BlackBerry, have disappeared because they failed to confront the inevitable.
The right question is “What business are we really in?”
And the equally important question is “Who could destroy our business?”
What did Kodak not see in Shutterfly, Blockbuster in Netflix, Sears in Amazon, and Blackberry in Apple? Disruption comes in many forms and consumers are eager to take advantage of any new brand that works to understand who they are, who they want to be, and how to reduce or eliminate barriers and pain points. Though marketers are often at the mercy of quarterly earnings, they really need to ask “What purpose can the brand meaningfully serve – today and in the future?”
Wrong question #3: “How do we compete on price?”
With prices often lower than Walmart’s, thousands of dollar stores have moved into cities, small and large, across the country. There are more than 30 000 in the USA alone and thousands more in Canada. It is no longer possible for mainstream or even price sensitive grocery brands to compete on price alone.
The right question, instead, is “How do our customers see value?” Rather than focusing on price, value is defined by your customers and can be found in product portfolios, customer experience, personalization, and other areas.
Wrong question #4: “How do we shore up our weaknesses?”
Rather than simply trying to fix or improve upon a weakness, some marketers ask themselves “How do we make our weakness a strength?” Buckley’s (“Tastes awful. And it works.”) and Smuckers (“With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good”) clearly asked the right questions.
With social media instantly at our fingertips, consumers can easily find and share their criticisms and complaints about any company. But those weaknesses don’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, when companies are upfront about their weaknesses and respond to them quickly and genuinely, it builds trust and engagement among their customers.
Wrong question #5: “How can we win with Millennials?”
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a hundred times. What’s our millennial strategy? How can we appeal to women? Latching onto the generation or minority group du jour may seem like easy revenue but it’s often nothing more than a distraction, and sometimes an expensive one. Just ask Bic about their Lady Pens or Frito Lay about their Lady Doritos.
The right question is “Who must we win with?” Clarity on a singular, inspiring target group galvanizes the organization. It also ensures targets are built from fact – what drives spend or choice – which has much longer term sustainability than the group du jour, likely to soon transfer from millennials to Gen Z.
Yes, there are tactical opportunities to win with sub groups that may allow a brand to pick up some extra revenue but nothing is more powerful or growth-generating than an entire organization executing relentlessly against one clear consumer target.