If you’ve ever written an annual marketing plan before, then you’re no stranger to the SWOT analysis. It’s a basic element of any plan, or at least it certainly should be. While it’s basic, it is crucial to a good plan and it can be very enlightening -- at least with the spin that I’m about to put onto it.
For anyone not familiar with the staple that is a SWOT analysis, then here’s how it rolls:
S is for strengths: These are assets that give your organization a competitive advantage in the marketplace, or the skills that you possess that really set you apart from everyone else in your industry.
W is for weaknesses: These are areas where your competition has a leg up on you, leaving your business vulnerable to some sort of loss. These are issues that you really should address if you want to remain competitive.
O is for opportunities: Places that you could or should pursue to really grow your business, based on a particular strength, to correct a weakness, or to capitalize on something going on in the marketplace. These are the things you should do to take your business to the next level.
T is for threats: Factors that could be detrimental to your business should they come to fruition. Threats may be true for any business in your industry/category, but you should pay most attention to the threats that your business uniquely faces.
Most SWOT analyses that I’ve seen have been very product focused, which is all fine and good. Examples of a very product-focused SWOT analysis may include:
Strengths: A competitive claim, like a food product that is able to reduce cholesterol by 10 percent.
Weaknesses: The lack of presence in certain markets like a low market share in Los Angeles vs. New York.
Opportunities: Adding new service options to a product portfolio such as gift-wrapping, delivery or customization.
Threats: A sudden change in technology that renders your product obsolete.
These product-focused SWOT analyses are very effective in guiding your marketing plan for the year. I don’t want to take anything away from their importance, but as I teach in my marketing class at New York University, there’s another dimension that would make the SWOT analysis even more meaningful.
You should do your SWOT from both a product and brand standpoint. The product piece is important for sure, but looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from a brand standpoint can be even more illuminating.
Examples may include:
Strengths: The highest brand awareness of any company in the industry -- you should leverage that recognition.
Weaknesses: The strongest attributes of the brand are not what drive sales in the industry -- that’s a problem.
Opportunities: Start targeting a new customer base to increase sales. It could be an easy win.
Threats: An impending crisis that could damage the brand’s reputation, destroying customer trust, so start planning for it.
Hopefully you can see how a brand SWOT analysis would lead you to a different set of priorities for your marketing plan above and beyond what you might uncover from a product SWOT. While the product SWOT may lead you to new product introductions or markets, the brand SWOT will guide what you need to do to drive your brand forward.
Both are equally important, which is why I urge you to do both for your marketing plan.