brand planning questions

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There is a battery of questions I use when doing brand discovery; questions I ask of senior executives at the client company.  One such has to do with product or service roadmap. Today I’m thinking the question should be focused to probe around “consumer health.” Past road map questions may have prompted answers about efficiency or lower cost but as many markets are moving toward healthier life choices it makes sense to ping this way.

“What are you doing with your product or service that will promote healthier consumers or a healthier planet?”

When Tyson Chicken invests in Beyond Meat, it is making a bet on healthy. When Campbell Soup Company bought Bolthouse Farms Juices, it was a bet on healthy.  When fast food companies stop frying French fries in trans fats, it was investing in healthy. These are telling moves and important investments. They undergird brand strategy and must be understood.

A brand with a conscience is a brand that sleeps well at night. And sleep is not an over-rated activity.



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I’ve been around large corporate environments. I’ve worked for some powerful people. I’ve seen what it take to reach the top. I’ve seen what it takes to stay on top. And I’ve also seen what a precipitous fall from the top looks like.

I say this as I read about the ouster of Disney’s Thomas Stagg, the heir apparent to Robert Iger. Did he see it coming? Did he know he wasn’t meeting expectation? When you are that high up in a company, do you know upon what you are being judged? It’s rarified air up there.

Remembering friends who ascended the mountaintop and were removed while reading about the sturm and drang at Disney has me thinking about adding a question to my business planning discovery questionnaire.

Here it is:

“If you were to be removed from your current position by the CEO or board of directors, to what would you attribute the firing?”

Freud doesn’t allow powerful men and women a wonderful night’s sleep without a few “naked-in-school-without-your-homework” dreams, so C-level executive think about this stuff. Don’t let them off the hook if they answer with high drama scenarios. Make them talk metrics.  That said, don’t allow them one-word answers like “growth” or “stockholder value.” Probe it. Ask them to storify it.

I’m thinking this is rich and richer territory. I can’t wait for my next assignment to try it out.



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Part of the secret sauce of brand planning is the interview; be it of customers, prospects, partners, sales people or company management. And the art of the question is in the ability to ask and extract rational information that helps “follow the money” and “follow the preference,” but also emotional interests. Emotional connections with the product, brand or category.

The art of the question also lies in listening and the redirect…taking a path the interviewee establishes and working it is where contextual serendipity takes over. Don’t get me wrong, I have a battery of questions I use as thought starters, but the riffing is always good. It shows the interviewee is interested.

Questions that get people to warm up and open up tend to be less rational. I use one question with company management that goes something like this, “Fast forward one year, after we’ve worked together, and everything has gone beyond your wildest expectation, tell me what we’ve accomplished?”  Here’s a new one I came up with while reading the paper today. It sounds a little goofy and simple but I’m going to try it.  “What are your dreams for this company?” It may be one of those “idea to have an idea” prompts, but in the c-suite, with different department leaders answering, it may prove telling. Stay tuned.



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The best way to get to good insights is to ask great questions. That’s after the “How do you make money ?” questions, of course. When asking C-level executives you often get answers that feel polished and rehearsed – “handled” information that might be written by corporate PR people. When asking managers, many of the answers feel guarded, as if the bosses will read them. I try to protect the names of salespeople and managers when they are really opening up, if the insights are helpful and business-building. (One trick is to always interview the company’s best sales person. S/he is typically a fearless rock star.)

Where I tend to get the real good stuff is not when I’m asking less about business success and failure but about emotions and feelings. The questions are hard to defend against. Hard to see coming. And they tend to be answered from the heart. When the guard comes down, the probes following the line of questioning are fluid. And by the time you back someone into the corner and they refuse to answer or waffle, your answer is obvious. Often accompanied by a wry smile. As the kids might say “awk-waaard.”

Pride is a good word to play with in your questions and probes. Admire another good one. Think feelings rather than behaviors. When the overall vibe is one of discussion and interest rather than probe and judgment you’ll find yourself in hallowed planning ground. Peace.


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The secret sauce of the What’s the idea? brand planning rigor (WTI is my blog, but also a brand consultancy I had for 3 years prior to coming on board at Teq) is the battery of questions I use when interviewing company stakeholders. Finding out what a company does best and matching it with what the market wants most is the goal.  I may have just found a new question.  The inspiration was an amazing story today in The New York Times of Lonnie G. Thompson, a man in search of proof that global temperatures are rising.

The secret sauce question is most powerful when asked of an individual, yet it can be altered to apply to a company. Let’s stay with the individual, for simplicity’s sake:  

What is your life’s work?

Not an easy question to answer.  Or is it? Most will probably say something like “Be a good parent.”  Or “Be a good spouse.”  Maybe “Leave the world a little better place.” Perhaps “Be a better person.”  Following up these answers with probes will get you to the meat of the discussion. Using the question with a company, however, may get bogged down in “mission statement miasma,” but don’t let it.  A “life’s work” has to have import. If a company has a hard time answering, it likely will have a have a hard time branding it.

As my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said “Tink about it.” Peace.       

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If allowed only one question with a consumer during a brand planning interview I would use that question to delve into “pride.”  In my years doing strategic work I’ve found it to be the most personal of questions. And the answers are always pregnant…and telling.

Planners can dig into anger, happiness, product usage stories, displeasure with competitive offerings, and a cocktail of other consumer probes – all of which are valuable, but pride, be it individual, societal or cultural often cuts to the chase.

If doing strategic planning for a business, marketing probes typically end up in the land of margins and revenue and sales, but asked about pride and the color of the answers change. Pride is soul stuff.  Pride gets you into emotional territory.  Though it can be touchy,  a little personal and may require careful handling, it is very fertile ground and almost always provides powerful brand insights.

Now go forth lions and find your pride. Peace.


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