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  • Writer's pictureJoel Alpert

You May Have Sent SWAT Teams…But SWOT Is Killing Your Vision! Let's Level-Up This Model

If you’ve been using the classic SWOT Analysis strategic tool, you won’t be arrested. But your branding and business strategy have been arrested, if you have been using this inadequate tool.

Yikes! Why say SWOT is inadequate? Doesn’t this classic business tool gather essential information needed to understand your business and the marketplace? Isn't it a great tool...a classic tool...part of our vernacular in business, management, and marketing? Yes…but really no.

SWOT gathers information. Of course you remember that SWOT stands for Strengths and Weaknesses (of the company)…and Opportunities and Threats (in the marketplace). I’ve called this a “marketing snapshot” of your company’s current reality.

The reason why we need to pop a cap in the butt of SWOT is because that’s all it is -- a snapshot. A photo which shows you what’s going on in the moment. At best, it’s a good description of what’s going on “now.”

Here’s the punchline: With all the stuff you’ve learnt and agree with — about vision, and thought leadership, and purple cows, and blue oceans...
... don’t you think that real vision…. and a clear look at the components of what you're offering...and why buyers say "yes" — should be pivotal in the model you’re using for branding and organizational strategy?

Don’t you think that, at best, doing a SWOT Analysis "marketing snapshot," and then overlaying a “vision exercise” – later -- is a bit cross-eyed?

If you’re only looking at what you have now (“situation analysis”), you’re killing your vision — not caused by reading in the dark, but because you should be able to see there’s no movement towards creating anything, if your destination and current perspective are not part of the thinking equation!

"Situation Analysis” has big value… but it’s not generative. It doesn’t create anything.

Are you going to suggest that your most enlightened corporate vision and management direction will be based on Situation Analysis, "the way things are"...from among your "available choices?" That's like the difference between what's on HBO tonight… and a subscription to Netflix. Uh-uh, we want to create the best possible options and choices, not be locked-in to "existing" choices.

And while it does have some valuable uses (my confessional is coming up), Situation Analysis is hardly the best tool to use when doing branding work or strategic planning.

Your best vision will be developed by seeing things freshly (yes, absolutely including "what is," Situation Analysis)... and discerning or inventing new direction for your company — whether that’s a functional overhaul or a transformation of the company purpose.

Strategic thinking and strategic planning can start when you know where you're going!

Imagine if SWOT were an Opportunity to take a vacation. If it’s a snapshot of how things are in the moment — and if your destination is not in focus, how do you know whether to pack ski pants and boots....or flipflops and swimsuits?

Want a great option to being stuck with what you got?

"Being stuck with what you got" does not exactly embody brilliant or valuable change. If you’re going to engage the brainpower of your team to create strategic or branding change (without Recurring Eyeroll Syndrome), let's use good thinking tools.

Want to try on a different approach? A very practical model was developed by Robert Fritz, Inc., called Structural Tension...

...which I’ve been using for many years. It’s simple and clear. After some efficient reality-based information-gathering… we bring in key team players from the company, and together…

(1) Specify the destination, gaining a clear picture of the End Results.

(2) In relation to the End Results, we isolate relevant factors and define “what’s going on now?”...what is the Current Reality?

(3) Create Action Steps will help the business move most efficiently from where you are… to where you want to go.

To move past SWOT Analysis, keep both points in clear focus — End Results and Current — this creates a powerful dynamic tension which seeks resolution, which you can do with your Action Steps.

Whether you do branding only or a more comprehensive business plan, (ours are PowerBranding or PowerPlanning Strategic Action Plan), you'll want do some eye-opening work on what your offering is really about... take a fresh look at who wants it, and why (!)... company goals...and where there is a "match of interests" where your prospects turn into customers.

You need to know where you are, otherwise your best driving directions — “1,280 miles east, then head 170 miles north” — won’t work, if you think you're driving from Kansas City to New York… but you're really in Miami.

While that process can indeed be straightforward, it requires guidance and ongoing re-clarification. And it should have deeper levels of consulting thinking that ensure we produce accurate, relevant and adequately-detailed input. That often does not happen.

Corporate America — it’s generals and foot soldiers — are famous for ensuring that their legions make things sound better than they actually are in reality. Otherwise they lose influence in the company, or lose their jobs. And many of us marketers swell up like puffer fish when we describe products and services. Our challenge is akin to what Oscar Wilde said: “To be clear at all costs."

You just can’t create results effectively if you’re not living in reality

If you’re not clear on your starting point and your current state, any steps you take might, at best, help you stumble in the right direction … and at worst have you hit the pavement face first.

So a good consultant or internal team leader will help keep your destination in sight, and help you take a clear hard look at your current reality. That is the most powerful and effective way to produce results. Clear destination… clear starting point…practical action.

So how do I know this model is better?

I’ve worked with folks who have used all kinds of models, including SWOT and Structural Tension. I've checked it out.

For example, I even worked with a notable ad agency that brought me in to help with branding, run targeted marketing tactics and produce the repositioning and targeted creative campaign for a 3-lettered global technology company.

At first I was intrigued — we used a process they were all buzzed about — with colored Post-It Notes to display everyone’s input, confidentially. Top executives participated, this was going to be transformative, innovative, kinda magical. Everyone had a large Post-It Note pad of their own color, and could guide the direction of this new technology product and program

However, it didn’t take more than about 4 minutes for everyone in the room to figure out that the Big Boss’ personal note color was lime green. And the symphony of almost-disguised sycophantic behavior that endorsed every lime green Post-It that hit the whiteboard... also didn’t move the ball ahead. The Big Boss was clearly unfamiliar with the developmental thinking that was done, which might have lead to a Big Idea... but his "guidance" merely solidified old strategic and branding direction that was... at best, weak. (Arghh.)

I can tell similar tales of Gimme A Break, with various processes that are well-meaning... but just not powerful enough.

I will say, that used correctly, the Post-It Notes thing can work for ideation — you can gain input and consider many ideas efficiently using this approach. But do you really want to base the business and marketing directio of your company on hastily-assembled input, and quick votes. Obviously, I'd say "no"... you want to consider the cases and implications these ideas present. Then you rock and roll.

Okay, okay, long has it been since my last confession?

I’ve used SWOT about 10 months ago, when a business owner asked for it, and a level of detail was actually quite valuable for a competitive analysis. It was useful at that point — only after the “structural tension” model was deployed, and we had established clear direction.

If you haven’t established that clear direction....much of the detail in SWOT is of limited value or irrelevant…falling like a spent sniper shell… splattering under the sudden flick of a fly swatter.

Why would you care that you pass 3 slope-side pro shops where you can get your snow skis waxed at half price....if you’re on the way to the beach? Information collected when there is no strategic focus is just… noise.

Here's your challenge: Can you and your team stop texting long enough during your strategic planning meetings to do your best work — to figure out where you’re headed… and take aim at your goals?

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Joel Alpert has been working for many years with the unique consulting tools developed by Robert Fritz, Inc., and has paired up to work with a variety of branding and marketing leaders. He's developed branding, strategy and marketing for the Fortune 500 and the SMB "Fortune 500,000," using Structural Tension and other Fritz consulting methodologies.


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